Sapphire 2009: SAP's BI for the masses gets thumbs up from beta testers

SAP has themed its Sapphire conference in Orlando this week around the need to make decisions based on of real time business intelligence as it officially launched a new BI application, BusinessObjects Explorer.

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SAP has themed its Sapphire conference in Orlando this week around the need to make decisions based on of real time business intelligence as it officially launched a new BI application, BusinessObjects Explorer.

The new tool aims to help average business users easily navigate and mine company data without the help of IT staff, and is the “first real concrete outcome at hard core technology level,” of the acquisition of Business Objects, 18 months ago, said John Schwarz, CEO of SAP’s Business Objects portfolio..

The Explorer tool combines the Polestar technology SAP acquired by buying Business Objects, with SAP's NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator software. It represents "the first huge salvo" in a strategy to push BI to all users in a company, said Schwarz.

Beta testers were enthusiastic about the capabilities of Explorer and the potential business benefits of rolling it out, but more circumspect about some of the issues this would raise..

Food manufacturer Sara Lee has connected the software to a sandbox that contains 300 million rows of data, and despite the size of the data store, performance has been strong, said Vincent Vloemans, director of global information management.

The preliminary response among Sara Lee's business users was "very positive," he said. “I'm getting questions like 'When can we have it.'"

But Sara Lee has not yet decided to purchase the software, and there are substantial underlying tasks to perform as well, he added.

"This is giving us the horsepower [to analyse data] but we need to have harmonised and structured data underneath it."

The company also hasn't done a deep investigation into security measures or protocols, he said.

But the tool does seem to have some clear positives, according to Vloemans. For one, it doesn't require much training. "If you can use a PC then you can learn how to use it in one or two minutes."

Secondly, Sara Lee has a broad BI strategy, and making changes to respond to user demands, such as for a new type of report, is costly, he said.

Vloemans said he has "a gut feeling," but is not yet certain that Explorer could cut expenses overall, even weighed against the cost of preparing the data to be searched by the tool.

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