SAP Releases "BI for the Rest of Us"

2009 was a rocky year for the on-demand business intelligence market. Namely with software-as-a-service (SaaS) BI player LucidEra shutting its doors, industry pundits were left wondering if perhaps companies were not ready to put intelligence in the cloud. SAP's business intelligence unit BusinessObjects, however, has remained steadfast in promoting its on-demand BI services. This week, in fact, the company released a new toolset that is geared toward casual analytics users called BusinessObjects BI OnDemand.

"With the aggressive growth projected [for business intelligence], we think this is just the beginning," says Marge Breya, Executive Vice President of SAP. Research from IDC predicts that the on-demand BI market will grow three times the rate of that of the overall BI market in the next five years. To that, Breya adds, BI is one of the fastest growing areas in software, period.

The market may be poised for growth, but recent market blips have indicated the relatively immature state of SaaS BI. "It's a road full of peril -- at least two BI SaaS startups have failed this year -- but what software market segment has not seen its share of failures?" writes Forrester analyst Boris Evelson in a research report about SaaS BI. Evelson continues, "There are plenty of operational and financial reasons why executives and IT professionals may consider SaaS as an alternative approach to building and managing BI applications."

This particular BusinessObjects release zooms in on the less-technical segment of BI users. "The area in the market we believe has been fairly undeserved has been for the casual user," Breya says. The solution, which integrates both on-demand and on-premise tools and data can be summed up by the tagline Breya uses: "Instant insight for the rest of us." She cites research that suggests that only one in four business people has access to BI tools. "We are eager to raise the penetration and adoption of analytical information and tools to a much higher rate," she says, suggesting 70-80 percent adoption over the next coming years.

The impetus for this "BI for the rest of us" solution is that, as Breya says, "so many users today don't have access to the information they need to do their jobs." The solution is characterized by five stakes:

  1. simplicity,
  2. breadth,
  3. ease-of-use for the end user,
  4. peace of mind for the technology department, and
  5. an acknowledgement of budgetary constraints.

The interface enables users to come through data in a few clicks. Meanwhile, it provides managers the ability to see big-picture analytics to really get an idea of what is happening in the business. The solution integrates both on-demand and on-premise CRM solutions - such as SAP and Salesforce.com. "It's a pretty intuitive product," says Dan Vesset, program vice president for business analytics for IDC. "If the goal is to expand the user base for BI, you need something that requires basically no training, something that resembles a consumer retail-type website, and I think SAP is moving in that direction."

Business users are able to navigate data from any source with the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer software. The solution also integrates with SAP's BI solution Crystal Reports. "We found that companies would love to have a single relationship for on-demand and on-premise offerings," Breya says. "They would like to go behind the firewall with their advanced analysts using on-premise tools and to also have secured shared services for the on-demand offering from a BI standpoint." The solution also includes an on-demand tool for creating ad-hoc reports and conducting what-if analyses.

Although pricing of the solution was not shared at press time, the SAP executive team insisted it will include flexible pricing that will be attractive to businesses of all sizes.

In a demonstration of the product, SAP senior vice president David Meyer showed an interesting tool that incorporates user feedback into the solution. Essentially, the BusinessObjects software will change to suit a user's needs, Meyer said. A collapsible box on the lower right hand of a user's screen encourages feedback. Users can suggest new features, and vote and move up or down, the suggestions from the BusinessObjects online community. "You can change the system based on your use," Meyer says.

Vesset says he imagines that BusinessObjects BI OnDemand will in the meantime be used to complement existing on-premise solutions and will likely be geared toward SAP's current customer base. "It's going to take years," Vesset says. "But there's an important shift toward supplementing those existing BI requirements with a SaaS-based component."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.

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