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Customers express hopes for, concerns about SAP BusinessObjects 4.0

Some SAP users say they’re either using BusinessObjects 4.0 or are looking into it. Others are content with the BEx tools they’ve been using for years.

As SAP continues to tout the advantages of its new BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 software, customers at a recent SAP World Tour conference in New York expressed a range of opinions about the company’s flagship analytics suite.

User opinions about BOBJ 4.0 are still evolving, mainly because the analytics suite only became generally available in September, about a month behind schedule. Some SAP customers are content enough to stick with SAP Business Explorer (BEx), SAP's traditional reporting tool for the SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (BW) system -- for now. Others are interested in upgrading to BOBJ and the bells and whistles it provides, but they are looking for more information before they decide.

JetBlue Airways, for example, recently upgraded to SAP ERP ECC 6.0 and currently only uses standard SAP reports, in addition to a few customized reports, according to Sid Dwivedi, who oversees the company’s financial reporting.

As a part of the upgrade, Dwivedi said the airline wants to acquire more sophisticated business intelligence capabilities and thinks BusinessObjects 4.0 may be just the ticket. But the Forest Hills, N.Y.-based airline has some questions about integrating the suite with the rest of its IT landscape.

For example, the company needs to pull in non-SAP data from the sprawling Sabre passenger booking system that it and roughly 400 other airlines use worldwide. 

“We need to offer the business user tools they can use to make better business decisions," he said. “But we also need to do our homework. We have to build our business case.”

Konica Minolta Business Solutions, a U.S.-based manufacturer of copy machines, is in the process of going live with a BusinessObjects 4.0 pilot project for profit and loss and sales analysis, according to Dilip Varier, head of business intelligence for the company.  

The firm was using the BEx tools but decided to move to BusinessObjects for a number of reasons, Varier said. While some of the functionality is the same, the company is moving to more Web-based reporting to make it easier for business users to access information and customize their own reports.

Varier said it's clear that SAP is putting a great deal of energy into developing the BusinessObjects platform. That's another reason his company is considering a change. “That’s the direction that SAP is taking,” he said.

The launch
BusinessObjects 4.0 touts a number of improvements over BusinessObjects 3.1. For one thing, tools like Crystal Reports, Web Intelligence and Xcelcius reports now use the same application programming interfaces (APIs) to connect to SAP NetWeaver BW. SAP says this has resulted in a simpler architecture and enhanced performance. 

Customers should also look at 4.0 because it can also pull in unstructured data from social media channels and boasts several improvements to the user interface, said Steve Lucas, who oversees the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio.

“Every version up until 4.0 looks exactly like we acquired several different technologies and put them together [and] I was very critical of the user interface and the user experience from an integration standpoint," he said. "4.0 is the first time we’ve created a consistent user interface and user experience for the different paradigms: dashboards, reporting, self-service query and that kind of thing."

Adoption rates
Although SAP would not say how many customers were now on BusinessObjects 4.0, Lucas said adoption rates have been high, especially among companies already using both SAP ERP and BusinessObjects.

“Our business intelligence product in that base is doing extraordinarily well. Deep penetration and adoption there,” Lucas said. Adoption among customers that use BusinessObjects but are not SAP ERP customers has been good, he added. 

Making inroads with new customers has been more difficult, he said.

“It’s definitely harder fought. You’ve got new entrants in the market. You’ve got longtime foes in the market. The premium on a new customer has gone through the roof,” he said.

Why the delay? 
Lucas said he would have liked to have had even more time to develop the product before announcing 4.0’s general availability. He said one of the reasons the product was delayed had to do with the company's drive to make sure the platform was fully integrated with HANA, SAP's high-speed analytics appliance, and that SAP had underestimated the time required to work out all the bugs.

“That’s nobody’s fault but ours,” Lucas said. “We kind of felt like any issues we had in the code line we could get resolved by June, so launching in February didn’t seem like that big of a deal.”

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