The SAP-BusinessObjects go to market show was mildly interesting but left key questions unanswered. Colleagues Dan Farber and Mike Krigsman were on the call as was James Governor.
I asked how the combined operation might incorporate non-financial measures into the new solutions. I was thinking about how customer service and human capital measures serve to contextualize financial information that tends to rear-view facing. The interviewee team of Henning Kagermann, CEO of SAP and John Schwartz, CEO of BusinessObjects ducked the issue, talking vaguely about futures and reinforcing their belief the primary market is in the office of the CEO. I think they missed a trick.
There is a genuine opportunity to add huge value way beyond the old business intelligence model which I tend to characterize as rear-view mirror operations. The opportunity is something I see emerging from efforts around governance, risk and compliance (GRC) and corporate social responsibility (CSR.) But if they say demand isn't there, then maybe they've not figured the full story. Given that SAP is in the early stages of working out how to offer solutions as opposed to the current emphasis on consulting in both areas, this should not be a surprise. And to be fair, they did skim around GRC. They could however have used the opportunity to grab some thought leadership, something they seemed reluctant to do. Instead, they talked about strong market demand in the broader BI space. That could well be a reflection of where their customers are at in the adoption cycle.
From a competitive position, Dan Farber asked about Hyperion:
SAP predictably believes that Business Objects offers a more capable platform. I asked Kagermann if Hyperion would work as well with SAP as it would with Oracle’s stack. He said, “No.”
I don't get this. Hyperion shares a lot of customers with SAP which in turns sells about $1 billion a year in Oracle databases. BI is data driven, ergo there should be no material difference between the ability to work off one or other stack. While on the topic of Hyperion, fellow Irregular Vinnie Mirchandani asked in email:
I wanted to ask...why was there no mention of SAP BI, Duet, SAP customers with Hyeprion - almost as if none of that matters?
It does matter and Vinnie is right to ask but we were time constrained in Q&A so we'll keep those for another day. James Governor dived into the issue of convergence between BI and search asking how they see this playing out. John Schwartz laid out BO's Polestar capability, noting that it can search through hieracies and handle unstructured data. Dan probed further on this asking the speakers about plans to incorporate RDF and while SAP-BOBJ didn't go into details, John Schwartz made what for me was a strange observation when he said:
"I also want to point out that search as a product in and of itself is not a very interesting business proposition unless you can connect search to a data environment or you can connect it to other ways of visualizing the information that comes out. It's a pretty pin point product that I don't think delivers value to business users. Maybe OK for consumer. In our context, search has to be one of the tools in the portfolio of tools we give customers."
Relegating search in this manner is odd because for years, observers have said that search is the killer app for internet applications. If anything, I'd argue that search is a stronger contender for the killer app title given most businesses are drowning in a sea of information. Knowledge workers in particular are wrestling with thousands of data feeds and I am seeing more companies entering the enterprise search space as they see opportunity to marshall and manage the sea of business data. Even so, it was not clear how SAP and BOBJ's individual search capabilities will be melded. Working this out is critical because business users will get confused if they have to jump from one tool to another.
As always, it was good to be briefed about the plans of major actors in the enterprise space but equally, I walked away scratching my head and wondering how this marriage will work out.