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Nicolas Henry on Making the Case for an SAP BI Center of Excellence

March 25, 2015

In this interview with SAPinsider from the BI and HANA 2015 event in Las Vegas, Nicolas Henry of Xoomworks shares practical advice on first steps to getting started with BI project, tips for building a Center of Excellence for SAP BI systems, and the impact of CoEs on project costs and timelines. Listen to the podcast or read the edited transcript of our conversation on


Ken Murphy, SAPinsider:  Hi, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider, and I am at the SAPinsider BI and HANA 2015 event with Nicolas Henry, who is the head of BI at Xoomworks.

Nicolas, I’m interested in a few questions we have on BI and COEs: Why do organizations have a hard time developing a clear BI strategy? There’s a widespread recognition that BI is pretty important for transforming interactions with the consumer.  Yet you don’t see a lot of company developing that strategy. Why do you think that is?

Nicolas Henry, Xoomworks: I think there are probably a few reasons. One of the reasons, in my opinion, is that a lot of companies are still afraid of taking the leap. There’s so much talk around MICOEs , there’s so much talk around the big budgets that fly around BI projects, that a lot of people are afraid to start and sometimes, I think, you just have to dip your toe in, start somewhere, and then work on your strategy afterward.

The other thing, I think, is that a lot of the vendors have been struggling to get clear roadmaps. We’ve just seen SAP’s [roadmap] here getting a lot clearer over the last couple of months in terms of tools selection, and that’s quite often been part of the problem for projects.

Ken Murphy: A lot of the talk here about the various tools they’re coming out with. We heard Lumira Edge, of course, Predictive Analysis 2.0…

Nicolas Henry: Absolutely. And the simplification of those tools. And as you’ve seen in some of the roadmaps, things like OLAP Analysis, things like that are being replaced. And I think that has scared a lot of people, since SAP acquired BusinessObjects especially. There’s been a lot of changes. 

Ken Murphy:  What are you hearing from your clients? Are there common a roadblock that your customers are encountering?

Nicolas Henry:  Well, the biggest roadblock that we see is just getting the right resources. A lot of people try and make BI work on a budget, and it very often backfires. I think with BI, especially with something that is agile and changes all the time, you need a few, various resources to start it, set up best practices, set up all the guidelines, and then grow it.

Ken Murphy:  Curious about this term the “Management Information Center of Excellence” – how does a company derive value from a BI COE or competence center?

Nicolas Henry: Very interesting because there have been sessions about this at the event. Timo [Elliott] had a session on it as well. And it’s one of those terms – COE, competence center – everybody knows it.  

The value that I’ve seen with our customers is the agility.

Once you do have a team in place that knows how the company works, knows all the processes and knows all the tools, suddenly all the projects take half the time and half the money, and you can grow it and scale it. Some of our very large customers have very large COEs now, and every time managed to get projects done on time, within the budget, and convince the business.
In the lulls between projects, they can play with all the new tools, so they are always ahead. And that’s been one of the things for us, working with some of our big customers, that’s been amazing as consultants.
Because you rarely get customers who get to play with the new tools. So there’s two things:  you keep the knowledge and you speed up everything else, it’s a lot more agile. And they can play with all the new tools, try the new stuff, and change.

Ken Murphy: What skills are needed in a COE to keep a project on track, and are there best practices to create a run a team?

Nicolas Henry:  There are lots of best practices around, Gartner has some, they’re there. As with all the best practices, you do need to consciously flex them to your organization. From a resource point of view, I would always say, start with as small a COE as you can, but get a data guy, a BI guy, an analyst with experience, put them together, and start. And it grows from there.

We started at our biggest customer with a COE with 10 people, and it’s over 100 now. So it just naturally grows.

Ken Murphy:  Can you address common post-implementation issues and how an organization copes with them?

Nicolas Henry:  That’s been a problem for quite a while, because post-implementation, most BI projects, the consultancies walk away, you hand everything over to a support organization that probably doesn’t have the right skills. The COE helps that to a certain extent, because you still have your people, and they can change things. One of the biggest issues is just maintaining, so a lot of people have looked at offshoring. More and more the trend seems to be shifting to Eastern Europe -- slightly better quality and still cost-effective. And I think it is a good option to have a managed service on a long-term basis. We have it with some of our customers,  where they just have 30 consulting days a year, nearshore. So when they need anything changed, they just call us up and as within a week we get someone on to fix it.

Ken Murphy:  Nicolas, thanks for joining us here at the conference to share your insights.  I have to say you’re pretty articulate for someone so early in the morning in Las Vegas. We got you here early, so thanks for joining us!

Nicolas Henry:  Well, thank you very much for the invite!

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