Business Objects chief juggles independence, integration with SAP

Nearly three months after closing the biggest merger in its history, SAP has set the dual challenge of integrating Business Objects' BI tools more tightly with its enterprise resource planning software, while also maintaining the independence of those tools to appeal to non-SAP customers.

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They would like to get a single view of the consumer, and there isn't a power in their organization who has the right to decide which is the right view. So they struggle and they compromise and they build subsets of those views that they try to reconcile, and even that's hard to do.

Having good tools is only one part of doing BI. There is also governance and how a company should architect its systems. How much of a role should BI vendors play in telling customers how to design their IT?

Schwarz: A very large role, because BI is wholly dependent on access to information. If the information is not available or architected poorly, or incorrect for that matter, which is 90 percent of the problem, the BI doesn't deliver any value.

So the ability to create a trusted broad universe of information is a fundamental success factor for the customer, which is why we went after the EAI market ourselves, because we didn't want to depend on other players to do it for us.

So what advice do you give them about the ways to architect their system?

Schwarz: We try to deliver reference examples of other customers who have done this successfully, we work with our partners who make their living designing data environments, partners like BackOffice Associates, a premium MDM solutions provider, to make sure their tools are mapped to ours in a way that makes the solution easy.

There are some fairly intellectually intensive techniques that are brought to this problem because it's not a tools issue, it's a design issue.

You've talked about creating a closed-loop process where SAP users will be able to draw from real-time BI data at key decision points in a business process. What does that mean?

Schwarz: That closed-loop process is where we try to link the management of strategy to the management of the execution of day-to-day business processes, and ultimately optimize those processes by understanding, in real time, how well they are delivering results.

What we now need to build are the analytics that will give the business user the opportunity to understand how well is the process performing and how well is the data supporting decisions that the user might want to make. There are already many analytics embedded inside the SAP suite, but we need to add more, we need to make the analytics more industry-specific, and we need to make the analytics more intelligent.

We need to give managers a broader perspective. Today the analytics tend to be buried inside the process, they tend to be very single-process specific, so you get a lot of data out but the synthesis still has to happen in the human mind. We'd like to begin to synthesize bigger pieces of it and deliver analytics that are more useful to a decision maker.

That work is under way right now. We have people across 26 different industry sectors who are building the knowledge and the analytics that are required to bring value to the customers.

Forrester Research Analyst Boris Evelson said the only way BI will become really pervasive is by integrating it tightly with business processes. Instead of having a separate BI portal, an analytics tool will pop up at key decision points in a business process. How do you see the future of BI, will we always have stand-alone BI or will it merge into the background?

Schwarz: You have two types of BI. What I think Boris is talking about is in-process analytics, and I think it's essential and we are doing our piece of that as I'm sure will the other application providers.

However, in order to do what we talked about, which is linking strategy to execution and giving them this closed-loop process, you need to see all your processes operating in concert end-to-end. So, yes, you can instrument any one process in the series and get a view of what that process is doing, but the process may be perfectly fine. If the linkage of the processes is not working well, then the outcome will not be good.

So the value of having an independent BI that can span all these different things and give you the predictive analytics and the model to understand your end-to-end business is just as important as these in-process analytics.

I would argue that there are many BI apps that have nothing to do with the underlying process. Think of a call centre, where you want to do an analysis on the sentiment of the people calling in.

The process that manages the call might be OK, and you might get analytics on how fast they take you to dispatch or how long did you have to wait in queue, but in order to say if you've dealt with a thousand customers in a day and that, in their spoken words they all talked about a certain issue that wasn't necessarily registered in the process itself, how do you get that info out?

So those kinds of BI solutions that are the higher-order capabilities are just as valuable as the embedded BI that Forrester's talking about.

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