SAP to release new BOBJ suite for midmarket

SAP is launching BusinessObjects Edge 4.0 and Crystal Server 2011, two new upgrades to its business intelligence suite targeted to small and midsize companies.

SAP is releasing new versions of its analytics applications for small and midsize companies, SAP BusinessObjects Edge 4.0 and SAP Crystal Server, based on the premise that all companies need the same analytics tools regardless of size.

“We realize that midmarket customers have a lot of the same needs that their large enterprise brethren have,” said Mindy Fiorentino, vice president of business analytics for small and medium-sized enterprises at SAP. “We didn’t dummy it down.”

The applications are identical to the BusinessObjects 4.0 software used by larger enterprises, plus a number of new features. The difference is that the midmarket BI suite limits customers to a single server and a certain number of users. Both applications are in ramp-up now and will be generally available next month.

The suite makes sense for small and medium-sized businesses that want to buy into SAP’s business intelligence stack, as well as for departments within larger companies, according to Rita Sallam, a business intelligence analyst with Gartner Inc. “It can be very cost effective,” she said.

Midmarket companies is one segment that is “underserved” when it comes to analytics, Sallam said.

What’s new in SAP BOBJ Edge

SAP BusinessObjects Edge 4.0 now allows users to create a single semantic layer -- called the “universe” -- for online analytical processing (OLAP) data as well as relational data and front-end tools like Web Intelligence or Crystal reports, or Explorer, Fiorentino said.

“It’s all unified, not only across an individual product but also across the entire spectrum of the BI platform," she said. "That’s important because IT doesn’t have to maintain multiple universes, and the end users at the end of the day only see a single interface.”

That’s a big deal for midmarket companies that are deploying BusinessObjects but perhaps have minimal IT staff, she said.

The new package also includes a text analysis feature that allows users to monitor various kinds of social media for references about them or their products, for example.

“If I’m a midmarket customer and I’m watching comments on Facebook or Twitter, I can see if the sentiment of my products is positive, negative or neutral,” Fiorentino said. “The importance of social media is just as important to small and midsize companies as it is to large enterprise customers.”

The new suite also now includes enhanced mobile support, plus the ability to also perform natural searches using Crystal Reports on employees’ mobile devices.

“It allows people that are very novice, that don’t understand a query structure, they can just type in something like ‘how many red shirts did I sell in Brazil last month’ and it will return a response,” Fiorentino said.

Users can interact with the underlying data without having to understand anything about the query, she said, and play around with it to extract some interesting information.

SAP BusinessObjects Edge 4.0 currently supports Blackberry, Symbian, Windows Mobile and Apple devices, according to SAP. Android and Blackberry Playbook support will be added to that list in the second half of the year. 

Event Insight

BusinessObjects Edge 4.0 also includes a complex event processing (CEP) tool called Event Insight, which lets companies process a wide range of events and pieces of information, with the intent of making decisions on that information in real time. 

IONX, a maker of hardware and software used in tracking freight trains, has been using the new technology to provide real-time information to its railway and shipping company customers. 

The railway cars are equipped with GPS-enabled devices that send data back to IONX by satellite on a range of steps in the freight delivery process, like where the car is, if it’s been unloaded, or how long it’s been sitting on the tracks waiting to be unloaded. That information can help drive efficiencies in the supply chain process. Canadian National Railway has also used the same technology for similar purposes.

Although IONX still uses its own customized software for some features, the company has moved to Event Insight because it will grow with them as a business.

“It’s very scalable. It can handle hundreds of thousands of events simultaneously. So we’re not worried about if we sell other devices in the future, and if we need to upgrade our hardware and software,” said Matt Bonnes, IONX’s software application lead. “We have the scalability path built in.”

As the information comes in, IONX is able to refine the data to make sure its customers get the most actionable, most compelling data possible, he said. That information gets shared with customers through a portal in the form of dashboard reports.

However, if a company is also running the same BusinessObjects Event Insight technology, that data can be fed directly to that company’s system for them to dissect, he added.  

“All we have to do is add another ‘publisher’ which says the data will be published out through this secure link," Bonnes said. "The customer subscribes to that service, and now suddenly, immediately, [the customer] has that information in their Event Insight, where they can quickly and easily update their dashboards, their business warehouse, as well as any of the other modules.”

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