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5 Lessons for Navigating SAP's Business Intelligence Roadmap

by Davin Wilfrid | insiderPROFILES

April 1, 2011

insiderRESEARCH recently completed a survey of more than 300 SAP customers, and spoke with a panel of experts, to find the hidden obstacles along SAP’s roadmap for business intelligence applications. The goal was to assess the areas in which SAP customers most needed help and offer advice for moving forward. This article outlines the top five lessons this research uncovered.

If you’ve ever navigated from one place to another using a roadmap, you know that even the most accurate maps can’t tell you everything. Maybe a construction site snarls your route, a minor accident blocks one lane of traffic, or you get stuck behind a school bus in the early afternoon. A roadmap won’t show you these “hidden” obstacles that can derail your journey.

Software vendor roadmaps are similar. They offer customers a route to follow, but that route is often complicated by issues not visible in the documentation. At insiderRESEARCH, we recently completed a survey of more than 300 SAP customers, and spoke with a panel of top experts, to find the hidden obstacles along SAP’s roadmap for business intelligence (BI) applications. Our goal was to assess the areas in which SAP customers most needed help and to offer concrete advice for moving forward. This article outlines the top five lessons our research uncovered.

#1: Gather Your Nuts and Bolts

We found that, while more than three quarters of the SAP customers surveyed were committed to the SAP BI roadmap, more than half were in the evaluation phase and had not yet begun a project. While the sluggish economy may be partly to blame, the technical intricacy of integrating SAP BusinessObjects solutions (the roadmap’s designated BI solutions) into an existing SAP landscape ranked as the number-one challenge cited. Customers also identified budget woes, staffing concerns, and a strong desire for more extensive training on using the SAP BusinessObjects product suite.

At the core of the technical challenge is the multiplicity of connectivity options for delivering data from SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) and other sources to the SAP BusinessObjects BI solutions. There may be eight or nine unique ways to feed SAP data into SAP Crystal Reports, for example, and each will have its own distinct process quirks. Choosing the best option requires sufficient expertise in both SAP data and SAP BusinessObjects solutions, as well as a significant amount of time to configure those connections.

#2: Define Self-Service on Your Own Terms

SAP BusinessObjects BI solutions bring enormous power and flexibility closer to the business user than ever before. With sufficient training, analysts and even executives can build their own reports, dashboards, and web reporting content. However, 63% of SAP customers say their end users do not have the skills necessary to get the most out of SAP BusinessObjects solutions and are concerned about the prospect of offering self-service BI to users who do not understand the applications or the underlying data.

To accomplish real self-service, companies must include comprehensive end-user training as a key part of their original project plan and follow through with that training. Some companies may instead opt to promote an environment of “co-creation” in which the IT team is responsible for building the report, dashboard, or application and populating it with the right data in the right format, while giving business users the flexibility to sort, drill down, and change views to meet their immediate needs.

#3: Go Live, Go Live, Go Live

Business intelligence is a dynamic force within the enterprise. Companies’ BI needs evolve quickly, and the business won’t tolerate long delays in delivering the actionable intelligence it needs. Because of this, companies must tackle BI projects differently from typical implementation or upgrade projects.

Almost half of the SAP customers polled described the effort required to gather requirements for a BI project as “difficult” or “extremely difficult.” This is due to a communication gap between the business and IT: The business doesn’t know what it wants without seeing it first, and IT can’t build it without first knowing what the business wants.

Businesses can combat this issue by using an iterative project methodology, such as agile development or rapid application development, which are well-suited to accommodate changing requirements and can reduce the risk of wasted time and effort due to the resulting rework. Establishing this type of project framework will also help the business continually adapt to changing environments and needs. Or as one expert said, “BI projects aren’t about go-live. They’re about go-live, go-live, go-live.”

#4: Track Your Success

The most surprising result of our research survey was that only 15% of companies tracked the ROI of their BI projects. Some companies struggle to identify metrics to track, while others give up due to constantly changing requirements. And of course there is a certain institutional reluctance to be held accountable for the success of a project without obvious metrics, such as headcount reduction, to track.

However difficult the task may appear, it is important for companies to measure the success of their BI initiatives. One approach is to track a broad set of key metrics, such as user adoption. Another is to apply specific metrics to focused BI efforts, such as tracking revenue increases in a particular segment after rolling out a sales-based BI application.1

#5: Understand Your Own Needs

Several survey questions were aimed at determining how well SAP customers understood the BI roadmap. While almost half (43%) said they did not have the information they needed to follow the roadmap, a large majority was able to correctly identify the primary function of each SAP BusinessObjects solution. In other words, customers understand the roadmap well enough — it’s mapping the available applications to their own needs that they struggle with.

One consultant likened implementing an SAP BusinessObjects solution to buying a new Lamborghini: It has a lot more power than your old car, but you’d better know where you’re going before you step on the gas.

When it comes to SAP’s BI roadmap, the companies with the best chance of reaping success are those with a clear vision of their BI strategy, from the enterprise level down. Arriving at this clear vision requires aligning the business and IT people, who often speak a slightly different language when discussing data and BI. Bridging that particular gap requires executive support as well as at least one project leader who is capable of leading discussions that will drive this alignment.

How the SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 Release Changes the Game

Now that SAP has officially launched the SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 platform — the newest version of the platform and the first major release since SAP acquired Business Objects — it is worth considering the impact of the release on the BI roadmap. While much of the news coverage has (rightly) focused on the game-changing promise of in-memory analytics (including SAP HANA), several other enhancements aim to help companies align their own initiatives to the BI roadmap.

For example, the inclusion of embedded analytics — in which the capabilities of SAP Crystal Reports and SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards are built into standard SAP Business Suite applications — promises to deliver real BI awareness to standard SAP users. An expanded semantic layer, an improved look and feel, and enhanced language support should also encourage more SAP customers to look up from their maps and start moving forward. 

1 For a more thorough discussion of BI ROI, including an ROI calculator developed by a top BI consultant, go to [back]

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