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  • David Heath

How does Business Objects fit with 'modern' analytics?

It’s more than 15 years since I started working with Business Objects. Back then, it was a technology that was quite often regarded as ‘disruptive’, not least owing to the unique concept of the ‘Universe’ which shielded business users from the complexities of relating tables and structuring SQL queries. Allowing the masses to ‘self-serve’ their reporting.

Fast forward to 2019 and ‘disruptive’ is not a term that’s been associated with SAP BI for quite sometime. More often being mentioned in the same sentence as Tableau, Qlik and Power BI, as these are the tools that have emerged in recent years to offer self-service data visualisation, data discovery, and more recently automated analytics and predictive insights.

The use cases for SAP BI and these modern self-service analytics tools are still very different. SAP BI’s flagship product Web Intelligence which superseded Desktop Intelligence is first and foremost a great tool for developing reports, especially when leveraging the value of the aforementioned Universe. Whereas, many of the modern analytics tools don’t have this governed semantic layer and focus on visual analytics rather than traditional reports.

SAP BI had a bash at competing with these technologies with the launch of its data visualisation tool, Lumira. However, it generally flattered to deceive, and was a less than capable alternative to the likes of Tableau and Power BI. Latterly, SAP seem to have been putting the majority of their development resources into the SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC), which is obviously the route it would like to take it’s legacy SAP BI customers down that have a heavy investment into on-premise solutions. Offering a cloud-based, enterprise grade, analytics tool that can connect to SAP BW, SAP HANA, SAP Universe as well as other agnostic data sources.

We frequently come across this scenario where customers have a departmental investment into SAP BI, against none SAP data sources and want to start to develop dashboards, or advanced analytics, but don’t want to invest resources into developing content in a tool (in the case of Lumira) that a vendor isn’t fully committed to, or adopt a tool from a new vendor which may lead to further information silos.

So what’s the solution? Let’s be clear here, there’s no golden bullet. In many cases we apply the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” with regards to a departmental deployment of SAP BI where often it is used to deliver operational reporting. Lots of development time has already been invested into these systems, and much business logic is held within the Universe or report layer. There’s little business benefit in re-creating this content in another tool.

With regards to data visualisation, we see great success in adopting one of the market leading products, Power BI or Tableau. These toolsets can be used to deliver interactive insights at an enterprise level. It is even possible to leverage the business logic held within your SAP BI Universes by using the RESTful API.

This solution offers customers a great compromise, reaping the benefits of a market leading data visualisation tool, whilst continuing to deliver operational reporting from a refined SAP BI implementation.

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