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SAP has launched its Enterprise Information Management (EIM) 4.0 release as part of its “Run Better Tour.”  It includes a broad range of information management components spanning data integration, data quality, data profiling, metadata management and more. The launch was done in conjunction with SAP Business Intelligence (BI) 4.0, which got much bigger billing at the event –to the point where one might call this a stealth marketing campaign. However, the event did identify three themes intended to highlight EIM capabilities: event insight, trusted data and text processing. The goal here was to communicate the integration SAP has achieved within and between its BI and EIM products. IBM announced a similar advance with its InfoSphere products and Informatica has also invested heavily in integrating its information management products. Our Information Management benchmark research validates this approach, finding that incompatible tools create a significant obstacle to organizations’ quest for consistent sets of data.

With this release SAP also announced three new products: SAP BusinessObjects Data Services, SAP BusinessObjects Information Steward and SAP Business Objects Event Insight.

Data Services brings together ETL (extract, transform and load) capabilities, data quality and text processing into a single set of services. With this release, SAP supports address cleansing for more than 230 countries. In addition, the data quality components are available as an embeddable set of self-contained libraries requiring no application server. This architecture makes it easier to embed within third party applications. Data services is also the engine for moving, transforming and loading data and metadata into SAP’s in-memory, high performance analytic application, HANA. This suggests high throughput rates for Data Services, since HANA is about performance and real-time access to data. Text data processing, formerly based on Insight, which was a separate acquired technology, has been consolidated with data services in 4.0.

A demo is available of the text data processing capabilities being used to perform sentiment analysis of a tweet stream in what is becoming a required showpiece for all BI software vendors. While sentiment analysis of social media data makes for an interesting demo, it remains a very difficult problem to solve. If in the demo you view the tweets with a strong positive sentiment, you’ll see that first page includes 10 tweets. While those tweets contain positive sentiment with words like “excellent,” “thanks” or “positive,” it turns out that seven of the ten are actually expressions of positive sentiment about reviews of the event, not the event itself. I’ve seen the same flaw in other vendors’ tweet stream analyses as well. While most of these products, including SAP’s, allow you to extend the libraries used for determining sentiment and context to produce more accurate results, I would use caution before relying too heavily on these automated analyses.

The second of the three new products, Information Steward, provides data governance capabilities designed to help increase, in SAP’s words, business users’ trust in the data. Trust is an important issue. Our Data Governance research found that only 9 percent of organizations completely trust their data for decision-making. Information Steward provides, among other things, profiling and data quality dashboards, including the ability, accessible from the front-end BI tools, to drill down into the details behind quality scores and key performance indicators. Users can even see which records have failed in recent integration processes. Another capability, Cleansing Package Builder, can profile a set of data to derive rules about that data. These automatically derived rules can then be reviewed and modified or augmented as necessary.

The third new piece to the SAP EIM portfolio, Event Insight, manages event-based data to enable operational intelligence using real-time data. The new product is based on the Aleri technology acquired as part of the Sybase portfolio of products. Event Insight has three basic capabilities: the ability to process streams of data such as network traffic, combine that with historical data, and deliver the information in real time to users. In order to help increase scale and reduce network congestion, SAP has architected technology to “push down” some of the event filtering to decentralized servers. The historical data is still centralized, so the rule execution must still happen at the central server. This technology is part of what is known as complex event processing; our research into operational intelligence found a need for improved efficiency of business processes utilizing events.

SAP placed significantly less emphasis on security than have other information management vendors I’ve spoken with. For instance, there was no mention of data masking, which competitive products provide. Another area that was noticeably lacking was integration with Hadoop. Many information management vendors are incorporating Hadoop into the product strategies and I expect we’ll hear more from SAP on this in the future.

Overall, the integration delivered in this release should benefit users; SAP now has the unusual opportunity to provide that integration all the way from ERP applications through information management processes to business intelligence. My colleague has pointed out the importance of business and IT engagement and where SAP is integrating the technologies further to meet that need. In addition, SAP’s HANA provides evidence that SAP wants to exploit the larger information and analytics opportunity further by accelerating the processing of data to information for a range of business needs. Now SAP needs to decide if it should market this set of technology further to capitalize on the demand or just keep it part of the business intelligence efforts.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

Last week SAP launched the 4.0 Release of its Business Intelligence and Enterprise Information Management products in conjunction with the New York City stop on its “SAP Run Better Tour”. My colleague Mark Smith has already covered the announcement in the context of some of today’s major technology trends. In this post, I’ll focus on the specifics of the product announcements.

SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence Release 4, more than three years in the making, supersedes SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI Release 3.1. The new release includes several other product name changes as well – for example, the Xcelsius visualization tool was renamed Dashboards – so if you, like I, were confused you can download a list of all the name changes through the following link:  http://download.sap.com/download.epd?context=1DA760BA0F1EC83BE393EBA644F81666F51DD9A22B64430471986DC9069E0006EA2364413D2990C3DC0B25B525C25CBC22407270EEBDE423.

The name changes were confusing, but it quickly became clear that three common themes run through all 4.0 products: better integration; the incorporation of real-time capabilities; and improvements in the user interface, including support for a variety of mobile platforms.

One of the key reasons to consider SAP products rather than “best of breed” products from independent vendors is integration. Integration can mean different things to different people. From a technical point of view, integration means being able to access to data and information across applications, processes and business silos. From a user desktop point of view, it means being able to work in a common user interface on top and a common semantic layer underneath. (These, by the way, make systems easier to learn as well as to use.) Release 4.0’s improved integration capabilities address both points of view, but pay particular attention to the latter, and with good reason. Our latest benchmark research in business intelligence (BI) found usability to be the number-one consideration in evaluating a vendor and its products, especially on the business side, so these improvements should be welcomed by those evaluating new BI purchases. Other large vendors such as IBM are also focusing on this same theme in their stack of BI products.

SAP executives also stressed that the new release’s real-time capabilities run throughout the product portfolio and its underlying architecture, allowing 4.0 products to collect large and store large volumes of data in real time and to display the results in real time as well. For instance, its Event Insights product collects and delivers real-time information as it occurs, while on the front end, SAP Business Objects Dashboards processes updates in real time and displays revised information as the underlying data changes.

None of these capabilities matter, however, without the ability to collect and to prepare data in a timely fashion. Our benchmark research has shown that 96 percent of organizations take two or more days to deliver important metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to users. We at Ventana Research believe that’s too long. For this reason, release 4.0 supports the SAP High-Performance Analytic Appliance (SAP HANA), an in-memory database technology that speeds the processing of large amounts of data. While it is not a required part of the BI toolset, it is available if necessary to accomplish real-time database processing and analysis.

To present that data, SAP has greatly expanded the capabilities of Dashboards. For example, SAP demonstrated the ability to link dashboard components so that changes in the data selected in one component would be reflected in similar changes to the other components displayed on the screen. It reminded me of work my colleagues and I did on ExpressObjects in the mid-1990s; in fact, in the middle of the demonstration I got a message via Twitter from a colleague who had worked with me on the product and who had the same impression as he was watching the webcast of the event. It was a good idea then and it’s a good idea now. What SAP brings to the table is a broader, more tightly integrated stack of products than we were able to offer at the time and a more modern platform that supports a variety of thin-client and mobile devices. Overall the Dashboards provide a nice user experience and incorporate some reasonable interactive visualization capabilities, including the ability to lasso a data bar to narrow the display or to drill down directly from the graphs. However, they don’t offer all the visualization techniques and interactivity of some specialist products such as Tibco Spotfire or Tableau Software’s Tableau Desktop.

Another area SAP stressed was self-service BI. The SAP Explorer 4.0 provides an easy-to-use, search-based mechanism to access data from a variety of different entry points, including mobile devices. I first saw the 4.0 version of this tool at SAP Tech Ed demonstrated on an Apple iPad and I was impressed. It includes an associative search approach much like QlikView that allows you to search on characteristics you know rather than a rigid set of predefined keys such as product name. The user interface in the latest version is clean and modern, making it both pleasing to the eye and easy to understand. Explorer comes up a little short with respect to a broader definition of self-service, however. SAP has focused almost entirely on enabling ad hoc queries or searches without an existing or predefined query. In most cases, Explorer requires the data and metadata to exist already in an SAP Business Objects Universe. The exception is Excel; users can load and navigate Excel spreadsheet data using Explorer without outside assistance. I hope SAP will develop this aspect of self-service more fully so that users will be able to navigate data from other sources on their own without the intervention of someone with knowledge of Universes.

Two areas that didn’t receive much emphasis at the launch are advanced analytics and predictive analytics. In SAP parlance, “advanced analysis” equals online analytics processing (OLAP) – or at least it did prior to the name changes I discussed above. The OLAP analysis capabilities are primarily oriented around the drill-and-pivot navigation of historical data analysis, in part because SAP’s enterprise performance management technology is still separate from its core BI products. I expect SAP will turn to HANA as a way to provide additional planning and what-if analysis. Today HANA’s Multidimensional Expressions (MDX) capabilities are limited to Excel, but SAP is working on expanding those capabilities. SAP is delivering predictive analytics, another key element, using its Predictive Workbench, but this product is based on IBM’s SPSS technology, which may explain why it had a lesser role in the 4.0 launch.

In total, the Release 4.0 SAP provides a robust and relatively complete set of BI capabilities. Although individual point products may perform a specific set of functions better, if you are looking for a comprehensive, well-integrated BI platform with good mobile support, you should put SAP on your list of products to consider.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

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