Fireside chat with Doug Merritt at Business Objects Summit

Keeping with SAP’s excellent blogger relations, a few of us bloggers had a chance for a quick chat with Doug Merritt about acquisitions in the space, the “walking dead” of BI vendors, popular BI applications, SaaS BI, go-to-market strategies, the transition to being part of SAP, new product segments, selling into big accounts versus mid-market, the challenges of distribution, and recent maintenance fee increases. Interesting stuff.

This is my first Business Objects event, and I’m still getting used to hearing the insiders refer to it as “bob-j” (presumably from the pre-acquisition ticker symbol).

Business Objects Summit: Franz Aman on BI Platform

Franz Aman, VP of Product Marketing, gave us a product roadmap of the BI platform within Business Objects and SAP. Unfortunately, he declared the session as being under NDA, even though a lot of what he talked about had nothing to do with future product directions, so I can’t share it with you.

The true innovation, which I hope that I’m not breaking NDA to report on, is the use of a background gradient that goes from SAP yellow to Business Objects blue in the boxes that represent products jointly developed by SAP and Business Objects:

Secret SAP-Business Objects background

Shhhh…you didn’t see it here.

Business Objects Summit: Sanjay Poonen

Moving from business intelligence to the applications that rely on business intelligence, we heard from Sanjay Poonen, SVP and GM of Performance Optimization Applications. He started off with the cycle that we saw earlier in the day, with insight being linked to execution and process optimization, and focused on the governance, risk and compliance aspects of this cycle.

EPM 7.0He sees business intelligence as a central contributor to EPM, GRC and ERP, and with SAP having a leadership position in all of these, they can provide a total application suite for the CFO. Their product portfolio includes both SAP and Business Objects offerings:

  • SAP Strategy Management
  • Business Objects Financial Consolidation
  • SAP Business Planning and Consolidation
  • SAP GRC Process Controls
  • Business Objects Profitability and Cost Management
  • SAP Spend Analytics

These tools are becoming more collaborative, since almost all situations involving EPM and GRC will require a degree of collaboration between different people within an enterprise, and pull in information from both internal and external sources to create a more complete view of an business situation.

Business Objects Summit: Marge Breya on product portfolio

Marge Breya, EVP and BPM of the Business Intelligence Platform group, gave us a whirlwind briefing on the product portfolio, which is made up of Business Objects assets, some SAP assets, and new products being built jointly:

  • Governance, Risk, Compliance (GRC), where they hold the overall #1 position worldwide with a 21% market share
  • Enterprise Performance Management (EPM), made up of financial performance management (#2 with a 20% share) and operational performance management (#1 with a 23% share), the latter of which includes both standalone and embedded components
  • Information Discovery and Delivery, made up of query, reporting and analysis (#1 with a 24% share) and advanced analytics (just introduced)
  • Enterprise Information Management (#4)

Not surprisingly, they are pursuing a complete integrated stack with other SAP products, but they also integrate with products from Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and independent application and database vendors.

She then introduced John Mayer, director of consulting and testing services at Apotex Group (a pharmaceutical firm), to discuss their use of the products: they’re a big SAP user, and are also using Business Objects in several areas. They’ve been giving the end users tools that they can use to have a view into the corporate data for ad hoc queries, and having seen the value of that, it’s spreading across the organization and helping to drive their data warehouse initiative. IT keeps overall design control over the universes and databases — you don’t really want users doing this since they may not understand the implications of, say, searching on a multi-million record table using an unindexed field — but the users create their own queries and reports.

Breya continued with the message of making this easier for the not-so-technically-minded to create their own queries, reports and dashboards. Their intelligence platform puts a semantic layer over the messy technical stuff (metadata management, master data management, etc.), and creates a common services infrastructure for finding and using those information components as services from the analysis and reporting layer.

They have a large suite of information consumption tools in that query, analysis and reporting layer:

  • Crystal Reports (production reports with drillable visualization)
  • BI Widgets
  • BI Mobile
  • Polestar
  • Web Intelligence (ad hoc reporting and analysis)
  • Text Analytics
  • Voyager (OLAP advanced analysis)
  • Predictive Workbench (advanced statistical analysis)

Today, they’re announcing a new product in that suite: Xcelsius Present, a data visualization tool. From today’s press release:

Xcelsius PresentXcelsius Present is a data-visualization tool that transforms ordinary, static Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheets into captivating visuals and allows business users to share them via Microsoft PowerPoint or Adobe™ PDF files. Through interactive data visualizations and a simple, point-and-click interface, Xcelsius Present enables business users to create professional-looking visuals in just minutes, resulting in engaging experiences for presenters and audiences alike. Using interactive graphics – including dials, charts and gauges that clearly convey business cases and demonstrate “what if” scenarios – business professionals can involve, inform and persuade their audiences in meaningful ways with stunning visualizations.

This is a sub-$200 product, aimed at a broad range of business users who want to add some nice visualizations to their spreadsheet data, but there’s probably also a consumer market for this as well; in fact, one of their online demos is a college cost calculator.

They’re also announcing Crystal Reports Basic for SAP Business One, allowing for easily customizable drillable reporting on SAP Business One data that can be shared with others.

She quickly coverred their data services portfolio, which provides all the usual data management functions but also data federation and management of unstructured data such as RSS feeds.

They provide on-premise solutions, but also have more than 125,000 subscribers for their SaaS BI offerings.

Business Objects Summit: Partner Panel

Narina Sippy, SVP and GM of GRC at Business Objects, hosted a panel of three major partners: Lee Dittmar of Deloitte, Glenn Gutwillig of Accenture, and Dan Miller of IBM GS. Inevitably, this started with the “mine’s bigger than yours” comparisons, because apparently when it comes to Business Objects professional services practices, size does matter.

The most interesting part of the discussion was in response to an audience question about whether it’s possible to reach the nirvana of enterprise-wide information access and sharing, or if we’re stuck with unintegrated silos of information within enterprises. The panel felt that the leaders in moving to enterprise-wide integrated information management will gain such a competitive advantage — compliance, internal collaboration and other benefits — that it will force the rest of the market along quickly behind it.

Business Objects Summit: Day 1 Keynote

I’m here in rainy Boston at the Business Objects Influencer Summit, which was kicked off with Jonathan Becher, SVP of Marketing for Business Objects. It’s a very process-oriented message (which explains why I’m here): using business intelligence to drive process efficiency, improve insight to close the gap between strategy and execution, and add flexibility to create new business processes that align operations to strategy.

He was joined by Doug Merritt, EVP and GM of Business User Global Sales (moving from a product role), who continued with the message of how total insight allows organizations to optimize business performance. He discussed a number of customer case studies, focusing on how their easy-to-use end-user tools are being used to solve real business problems.

He also showed the strong tie-in between business intelligence to core SAP systems: insight, strategy and decisions feeding into monitoring, process refinement, process execution and events.

It’s only been just over six months since Business Objects’ acquisition by SAP, a period when most acquired companies take a bit of a dip in sales, but they’ve managed to keep their numbers on an upward growth path.

Becher then introduced Dr. Robert Kaplan from Harvard Business School and Palladium Group, inventor of such business strategy and measurement concepts as balanced scorecard and activity-based costing. We’ve also been given a copy of his book, The Execution Premium — Linking Strategy to Operations for Competitive Advantage, which I look forward to reading. He walked us through the main concept in the book: closed-look cycle that links strategy and operations:

  1. Develop the strategy
  2. Translate the strategy
  3. Align the organization
  4. Plan operations
  5. Execution
  6. Monitor and learn
  7. Test and adapt

In the middle of this cycle are the strategic plan (e.g., balanced scorecard) and the operating plan (e.g., forecasts, budgets, dashboards), with links to the several steps in the cycle that either create the artifacts of the plans or are informed by those artifacts, as well as interacting with each other.

Sep 2 and 3 represent the creation of the balanced scorecard, and translating that into operational improvement programs (step 4) is a new focus in Kaplan’s book. And here we are again, talking about process — since that’s what step 5 is all about — and how balanced scorecard helps to determine which processes have the most impact on a business’ performance, and are therefore the ones that should be the focus of process improvement efforts.

Becher took us back around the cycle, showing how Business Objects is applied at each of those steps (except execution), which provided an interesting perspective on the different roles of Business Objects within cycle that we in the BPM world know as design-execute-monitor-optimize.

Upcoming conferences

I’ve been sticking close to home for the summer, but my fall lineup is about to begin. So far, I’m definitely attending the following:

  • Business Objects Influencer Summit and SAP SME Day, August 12-13, Boston. This is an analyst/press event, not a public conference, but I’ll be blogging from there.
  • International Conference on BPM, September 1-4, Milan. I’m very excited to be attending this conference since it represents a lot of the academic research going on in BPM, not just what the vendors and analysts have to show. There are some great workshops lined up, such as BPM and social software; interesting sessions; and demos from some of the universities and research labs. You can find last year’s proceedings here.
  • The Appian user conference, September 8-10, Washington DC. This is the first time that I’ve attended an Appian conference, and I’m looking forward to seeing what all those new marketing dollars are buying.
  • The Gartner BPM summit, September 10-12, Washington DC. I’ve been to enough of these lately that I don’t need to attend the whole summit, but since I’m in DC that week for Appian’s conference, I’m adding one more day for Gartner. I think that it’s pretty clever for Appian to schedule like this: it should drive up attendance at their conference, since Appian customers/partners flying in for Gartner will figure that it’s only a couple of extra days to do both.
  • OMG BPM Think Tank, October 6-7, Chicago. I’m on the program committee, and will be leading a roundtable on achieving collaboration between business and IT in BPM on the first day.
  • Business Rules Forum, October 26-30, Orlando. I’ll be giving a presentation on mixing rules and process.
  • SAP BPM, November 17-19, Las Vegas. I’m giving a Jumpstart pre-conference session, an introduction to BPM, on the 16th.

Given that I fly everywhere on Star Alliance, this will bump me over the 35,000 miles for the year that gives me Aeroplan Elite status for 2009, without which I really don’t want to fly.

From a disclosure standpoint, my expenses are being paid for the Appian conference, the Business Rules Forum, and two SAP events; for the latter SAP event, I’m also being paid to deliver the half-day training session.


SAPPHIRE is only a half day today, and there’s really only one session that I wanted to attend: Cheryl Mascaro, Enterprise Architect at Intel, and Thomas Volmering, BPM product manager at SAP, talking about BPM in Action.

SAP NetWeaver BPM stackVolmering started with the now-familiar SAP positioning of BPM that I’ve seen earlier in the week: BPM evolving from human-facing workflow and EAI into today’s process composition environments that allow for the orchestration of both human and system tasks. They’re seeing that business is now driving integration projects, even if they’re mostly system-to-system: it still comes down to filling a business need.

Mascaro is on SAP’s design partner council, who work with SAP (including have access to early versions of the software) during early product development in order to validate the goals, concepts and technology, and influence the product roadmap by identifying their own scenarios and expected patterns of usage. This also helped SAP to set priorities on what features to implement in what order, driving product releases.

She told us a bit about Intel first: with 86,500 employees in 146 locations, they have had to look at standardization and improvement of processes in order to maintain operational excellence. Their BPM efforts are owned by IT, but there’s a business process leadership team across the organization, and many business architects/analysts. They have a strategic enterprise plan — effectively a fully-developed enterprise architecture — in order to align business and IT, and have a BPM model based on Rummler-Brache that they use for driving the BPM enterprise-level strategy down into specific process improvement projects.

She sees NetWeaver BPM as filling in the gaps that aren’t serviced by core SAP applications, and orchestrating heterogeneous systems including SAP. She showed a screen snapshot of the Process Composer with a version of their development service request process (that is, someone requesting that a specific service be developed for use in another project, which includes attempting to locate an existing service, and approving and logging the development request if not), and walked us through the process design. We then saw the form used to kick off the process — where we did see some calendar and drop-down widgets but still no information on how this form is created — then the UI that a process participant would see at a task in the process. There are some human-facing steps in here, but also steps that interface directly with the development request database.

Volmering rejoined the conversation, and they discussed creating the user interface based on the process data and context. Mascaro wasn’t really clear on how that was done, just that the developer who worked on it found it “not hard”; I hope to see more on this in a more in-depth demo at another time.


Wolfgang Hilpert, SVP of BPM for SAP, must be tired of seeing my face by now: an accidental lunch encounter and an interview yesterday, his session at the NetWeaver theater this morning, and I ended my day with his panel on SAP and BPM that also included Benjamin Salter of Valero Energy, Janelle Hill of Gartner, Mandar Nagle of Accenture and Peter Graf of SAP, moderated by Harald Nehring of SAP.

The panel started with a short bit by Hill on the BPM marketplace and how it’s driven by the search for operational excellence. She showed the current hype cycle that has business process platforms just at the technology trigger stage, BPM as a discipline about halfway up the slope towards the peak of inflated expectations, BPMS approaching the top of that peak and BPM pure-play tools just crawling out of the trough of disillusionment towards the slope of enlightenment. She also talked to their projections of BPMS market size, which still uses a 2006 actual figure of $1.7B to project $5.6B by 2011. Given the entry of SAP into this marketplace, we’ll start to see growth that may actually approach this, although I think that this is still a bit aggressive.

It then moved into more of a panel format, with Nehring asking questions of the panelists, starting with Graf talking about how SAP has always been process-oriented (true, although those processes were embedded opaquely in their core applications and could only be changed through coding), and the value of composing processes from services.

Salter’s company has been an influencer during the development of NetWeaver BPM. They’ve grown rapidly through mergers and acquisitions, which has resulted in a patchwork of systems held together with duct tape and string. They’re using BPM to bring discipline into their integration techniques, although it’s not clear that they’ve actually done much to date: he talked about their first BPM process in the future tense. It sounds like a good test case for BPM, covering product quality testing including both automated collation/analysis of test results and human approval steps.

Hlilpert walked us through the process of designing the BPM product over the past two years, and how both ecosystem partners and customers have been involved through much of the process in order to make the product as functional and usable as possible. He also mentioned the how they’re starting to work with the Business Objects team to really bring together BPM, BRM and BI and build actionable process analytics.

Hill sees SAP as being in a position to leapfrog IBM and Oracle in the platform vendor end of the BPM market, and feels that they have more of the tools that will allow customers to actually close the gap between strategy and execution in terms of operational excellence. This is a significant statement to hear from a Gartner analyst in the wild.

There was a discussion about standards (my favourite topic 🙂 ): the chief architect on the SAP BPM team is on the OMG BPMN 2.0 standards committee, including the efforts to include a serialization format, but Hill pointed out that standards are “just specifications” and all vendors have their own particular flavour of standards, making interoperability more of a philosophy than a reality. She sees BPMN as a notational standard to be valuable so that everyone can visually understand the same diagrams the same way, but seemed to imply that not a lot of people were actually moving the process models from one tool to another — something that I’ve also seen in practice. Salter said that his business analysts really like BPMN because it’s so much more business-friendly than UML use cases, and agree that the visual notation has been key for them.

Before Nehring opened up the panel to audience questions, he said that he has read that “BPM is the killer app for SOA” and asked for the panel’s opinion on that; I almost laughed out loud at that one, since Ismael Ghalimi wrote that a couple of years ago, and I’ve unabashedly stolen it in several presentations and blog posts that I’ve done (crediting Ismael, of course).

The question came up about using IDS Scheer for process modeling versus using NetWeaver BPM; Graf made a fuzzy non-statement that “this does not mean the end of the relationship” and that “standards will strengthen the link between the tools”. Having had to deal with a flurry of communications from IDS Scheer’s PR this morning about my comments on this yesterday — who, like many other vendors, refuse to post a comment on the blog post but prefer to lobby me to change the post — I’ll just point out how customers of other (non-SAP) BPMS products use those products with ARIS: they do their enterprise modeling in ARIS, including some level of business processes, then may or may not have a method for transferring those process models directly from ARIS to their BPMS, depending on the support for specific standards and other interchange formats.

With a conference of this size, SAP can arrange a pretty awesome “conference night out” for us: we’re all going to see Eric Clapton tonight. I’ll be back for a couple of BPM sessions in the morning; the conference finishes midday and I’ll be home in time for the last two hours of my other half’s birthday tomorrow night.

SAPPHIRE: Léo Apotheker Keynote

This afternoon, we heard from the other co-CEO of SAP, Léo Apotheker (I think that I forgot to mention Henning Kagermann’s title of co-CEO in my post this morning), starting with some fairly general comments on the nature of competitive differentiation in business, and the power of collaboration.

He was joined on stage by a couple of customers:

  • Proctor&Gamble, who discussed how they’ve used SAP as essential infrastructure for innovation and growth in the consumer products industry; P&G has become well-known in social media circles for crowdsourcing their R&D after being featured in the book Wikinomics.
  • Harley Davidson, who are using SAP to provide the information necessary to enrich their customers’ experience, further deepening the relationship and increasing loyalty in order to increase revenues.
  • Coca-Cola, through a really funny sequence using voice-activated ordering, picking and delivery, ending with a real person from their warehouse delivering two Cokes to the stage, then giving a short (and rehearsed) bit on how it helps his day-to-day work. A Coca-Cola executive was there to help serve the drinks. And, oh yeah, talk about how SAP and a service-oriented architecture have improved their warehouse operations.

All of this is about business processes, and I don’t mean just the narrow view of process that we have in BPM: this is about the business processes embedded within every business application, from legacy ERP to agile composite applications.

Apotheker talked explicitly about NetWeaver BPM and what it brings in terms of process agility; this product announcement is obviously a big deal for SAP, since it’s mentioned in both of the CEO keynotes today. He talked about the power of picking and choosing components from the core SAP applications and assembling them into composite applications for new functionality and increased agility, while maintaining the power of the underlying ERP functionality.