Marge Breya on BusinessObjects Explorer #sapphire09

A small group of bloggers had the opportunity to sit around a table with Marge Breya to expand on what we saw during the press conference on BusinessObjects Explorer. She discussed how unstructured data has being elevated to first class status within SAP, with analytics and reporting tools that can lay over unstructured as well as structured data. Part of this involves parsing structure out of unstructured data through an appropriate semantic layer.

They’re also playing with things (that she couldn’t really talk about, although some customers have access) that provide much more of an hosted Web 2.0-type of experience. They’re working on Explorer On Demand, which allows you to upload spreadsheets and other file-oriented data, then do some analysis and visualization on your own data to get an idea of how valuable tools like this are. They handed out some test drive passes for this, so I may get a chance to play around with it some time soon. I expect that many organizations won’t want their data warehouse in the cloud, but this will at least give them a chance to try it out in a no-risk environment. They’re doing this with more of their BusinessObjects platform, where there’s a free version that allows for some starter functionality, then hope for it to go viral in terms of stepping up to paid on demand or on premise versions. That’s a pretty powerful model in the consumer space, although traditional enterprises may have a more difficult time adopting technology in this manner. Considering that the higher-end of Explorer is targeted at large organizations, this could be the biggest challenge.

Breya had some interesting background on product strategy as well, especially around how SAP had traditionally been doing OLAP-based business intelligence, and BusinessObjects didn’t have much in the way of OLAP, so the acquisition produced a minimum of overlap. Polestar, on the market for a couple of years as an ad hoc query tool, was retooled into Explorer for a million or so rows of data, and Explorer Accelerated, a software and hardware bundle, that can handle billions or rows.

She went on to talk about the ties between BI and BPM, and although she couldn’t talk about anything specific, there are some interesting things coming in terms of operational BI, monitoring and characterizing processes for the purposes of process improvement, as well as invoking analytics within processes for decision support.

In response to a question about the consumerization of SAP products, she promises us “an experience that will take decisioning to the next level, involving collaboration” in something that is just entering private beta now. I’m picturing a cross between Xbox Live and Vanilla Sky, which would be cool, but I still think that there are challenges to adoption of completely new user experience paradigms. Since SAP has a wide customer base in manufacturing and other industries with low margins and the requirement for constant product innovation, this may not be as much of a challenge as it would be verticals such as financial services and insurance.

We had a discussion about the cloud versus on premise as the location for data, with the underlying theme that it’s not an all or nothing proposition: while operational data may be behind the firewall, it makes much more sense to leave third-party benchmarking data in the cloud where it can be shared and frequently updated. The new generation of BI products from any vendor can’t be restrictive in their data sources, but have to be able to aggregate information from a variety of sources both inside and outside the firewall.

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