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SAP Business Objects 4.1 rolls out with fixes, tighter SAP BW integration

The new release of SAP BusinessObjects 4.1 is welcome news for users, especially given the problems with the 4.0 release, according to one expert.

The new SAP BusinessObjects 4.1 business intelligence suite that SAP announced last week helps shore up some of the flaws in the 4.0 release, while adding new functions for tighter integration with SAP Business Warehouse and support for new data sources.

"I do think this is a much-awaited release by a lot of BusinessObjects customers," said Rita Sallam, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "There are a lot of really very necessary items in 4.1."

Last Monday, SAP announced the general availability of SAP BusinessObjects (BOBJ) 4.1, the latest release of its enterprise business intelligence (BI) platform. It is the first major release since the debut of BusinessObjects 4.0, which SAP rolled out in the spring of 2011. BusinessObjects 4.1 went into ramp-up in May. Ramp-up is the period before the product is released to the market in which final bugs are worked out by SAP product development in cooperation with select customers.

Sallam said 4.1 helps remedy some of the problems that SAP had experienced with version 4.0.

"The 4.0 release wasn't exactly smooth for SAP. It took them quite a while, and a number of [subsequent] 'point releases' to get the product to be stable," she said. "They had to take away some user-oriented features … ones that customers really liked, and then are [now] adding them back."

Customers had a number of issues trying to upgrade to 4.0 from earlier versions, Sallam said, calling the transition "one of the most tumultuous" she had ever seen. "This release is being touted as something that will fix a lot of that," she said.

BOBJ 4.1 user likes ease of use, integration

One user, Tammy Powlas, a senior business analyst with Fairfax Water, northern Virginia's largest water utility, commended SAP for improving integration between the BI tools in the suite.

"There's a lot of interoperability between the tools [in the analysis suite]. You can go from OLAP [online analytical processing] analysis, and make it mobile. I think they've really made a lot of improvements in the analysis OLAP tool, and made it user-friendly," Powlas said. "It's always been in the self-service BI category, but now I think it really is, with the improvements made to 4.1. [This release] really makes these tools talk to each other."

Powlas also said that SAP has made the BOBJ installation process simpler.

SAP announced other enhancements, including a greater range of data sources, now totaling 140. New data types that BusinessObjects 4.1 supports include Amazon Elastic MapReduce and Hadoop Hive.

The move reflects SAP's attempts to broaden its appeal, according to Sallam.

"Companies [use] other things, like [Microsoft SQL Server] Analysis Services or [Oracle] Essbase, or they want to use Oracle Exadata or Oracle OLAP or other data sources," Sallam said. "They were maybe not so well served. With this release, they're sort of moving beyond the SAP-centric approach."

SAP also improved interoperability between the BusinessObjects toolkit and the SAP Business Warehouse, according to Ethan Jewett, an independent consultant who specializes in BI.

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In the past, different BOBJ BI tools worked differently with SAP Business Warehouse, including inconsistent support for things like data hierarchies and reporting variables among the BOBJ toolset. "It was a little bit all over the place," Jewett said.

Business analysts can perform data visualization in SAP Lumira, formerly called SAP Visual Intelligence, then share it with casual business users across the enterprise by using the SAP JAM social collaboration platform, according to SAP.

"BI 4.1 includes support and integration with SAP Jam, so analysts and business users can come together to share and collaborate on analytics and visualizations," said Jayne Landry, global vice president and general manager for BI at SAP.

Keeping the visualizations on the BOBJ platform helps with data governance, according to Gartner's Sallam, but ultimately SAP still has to work harder if it wants to close the gap with third-party vendors who have worked harder at data visualization longer than SAP, and offer richer functionality.

"They still have to improve the visual experience for users, [especially] compared with [third-party vendors like] Tableau and Spotfire," Sallam said.

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