May 24 2010

Delivery Versus Discovery

Categories: General, Products Dave Rathbun @ 7:16 am

Not too long ago I got (yet another) flowchart from SAP that attempts to help me decide when to use a particular tool. SAP has the rather unenviable position of having to complete the integration process started a few years back when BusinessObjects purchased Crystal, and then to also figure out how to integrate / update all of the legacy SAP tools as well. For customers the situation can be even worse, as they may or may not have access to all of these options based on what they’ve purchased over the years. Fellow SAP Mentor Ingo Hilgefort delivered a presentation to ASUG members last month that covered this same subject. Ingo’s presentation – like many I have seen – started by covering each of the primary products, discussing their major features, and talked about how they were suited for various business cases. It’s a good presentation, and if you’re an ASUG member I’ve included a link so you can download it. (He’s also doing it at the 2010 Annual Conference coming up in a few weeks.)

What I liked about slide I got was that it was based more on use rather than function. In other words, it didn’t focus on the features of the products but instead asked what was going to be done with the products. The first decision point in the flowchart was simple: is the user request for delivery or discovery?

What does that mean, and what products ended up on either side?

Information Delivery

Some products are all about the delivery process. Take Crystal, for example. For over a decade it has been one of the premier tools available for taking information and delivering it to the masses. Someone once told me that my utility bill, phone bill, bank statement (does anybody still get those anymore? or are they all online?) were most likely prepared and sent via Crystal. There are some interactive options with Crystal, but I think most folks would agree that this product is solidly on the delivery side of the equation. Here’s the flowchart path for Crystal:

Objective: Information Delivery
Type of View: Operational Report
Presentation: Formatted
Result: Crystal Reports

I found it interesting that the SAP slide included Xcelsius on the delivery side. Xcelsius is often presented as an interactive “what if” tool, which might lead to the conclusion that it’s a discovery tool. It’s really not, at least not in my opinion. I laugh a little bit inside when I see some of the demonstrations of the tool. Really, how smart to you have to be to know that if you reduce costs your profit is going to go up? :lol: Unfortunately, reducing costs is never as simple as moving a little slider control to the left. Users cannot discover anything beyond what is delivered on the dashboard. Here’s the flowchart path for Xcelsius:

Objective: Information Delivery
Type of View: Business Analytics / KPIs
Result: Xcelsius

Web Intelligence also shows up on the delivery side of the chart. I’ve certainly worked on more than one project where this tool was used to create and then distribute enterprise reports. I think most folks would agree that Web Intelligence scores far higher than Crystal Reports on the interactivity scale. Web Intelligence does suffer when compared to Crystal as far as analytical functions, and certainly falls short of the “pixel perfect” formatting that Crystal offers. But over the years Web Intelligence has certainly become an excellent product. Here’s the flowchart for Web Intelligence:

Objective: Information Delivery
Type of View: Operational Report
Presentation: Interactive
Result: Web Intelligence.

For those of you on the Desktop Intelligence “death watch” now is probably a good time to mention that it doesn’t show up anywhere on this chart. It doesn’t show up on any of the road maps for XI 4.0 either… make of that what you will.

Information Discovery

Now I move to the other side of the process: discovery. What tools are presented here?

I’ve been posting a bit about exploring Explorer via the OnDemand site. I would have to say that Explorer is the epitome of discovery; that’s exactly what it was built for. Explorer allows me to set up a data set that includes as much information as I can stand (which can be quite a lot, with the accelerated version) and poke my way through it. Here’s the flowchart path for Explorer:

Objective: Information Discovery
Type of Discovery: Unbound
Result: Explorer

But what if I don’t want to (or can’t afford to) let my business users access everything that I have? There are more tools that allow me to “discover” my data without being completely unbound. For example, BEx Analyzer / Voyager. These are true OLAP tools. (I say “true” because Web Intelligence has been presented as “desktop OLAP” in the past, and BusinessObjects will talk about their report cubes, but it’s not really true OLAP in my opinion.) BEx Analyzer is a legacy SAP product, and Voyager is from BusinessObjects. SAP has frequently talked about taking the best of both products and releasing a new OLAP tool named Pioneer with XI 4.0. How do I get here on the flowchart?

Objective: Information Discovery
Type of Discovery: Defined scope of analysis
Type of Analysis: Advanced
Source: SAP BW Result BEx Analyzer
Source: Non BW Result Voyager
Future: Pioneer

These products suffer some when compared to other tools because they can only take me as far as the cube goes. If I need more data, I either need to rebuild (extend) by cube, or get data somewhere else. SAP is making excellent strides in the “get data somewhere else” category with XI 4. Of course I have not seen anything yet, so plans (feature sets, release dates, and so on) are still subject to change. But the intent is to allow me to start out in Pioneer and seamlessly transition to Web Intelligence once I get to the boundaries of my cube. And speaking of Web Intelligence…

Web Intelligence also appears on the Discovery side of the chart. Here’s the flowchart path:

Objective: Information Discovery
Type of Discovery: Defined scope of analysis
Type of Analysis: Casual
Result: Web Intelligence

How about that? Web Intelligence is being presented as both a Delivery and a Discovery tool, and I will say that I do agree with that. It can be used as a delivery path (along with Crystal and Xcelsius) but can also be used as a discovery option, given the interactive drilling features and easy adhoc abilities of the tool.

Conclusion

SAP inherited a lot of different tools when they acquired BusinessObjects. They have made tremendous progress in the past two years in consolidating and targeting those tools to specific uses. The flowchart attached to this post does a nice job of summarizing those purposes. With XI 4 coming very soon, we should start to see easier and better integration between products (being able to jump from Explorer to Web Intelligence, for example). I’m started to get more excited to see what we’re going to get and how it all pulls together.

Related Links

2 Responses to “Delivery Versus Discovery”

  1. Comment by Andreas

    I do not see the value of formally distinguishing between Information Delivery and Information Discovery. It only makes sense with such a diversified tool set including Crystal Reports, Web Intelligence, “Pioneer”, Xcelsius, and Explorer. Why can one tool not deliver both, meaning consolidating Crystal Reports & Web Intelligence for example.
    Let’s see what else will be happening because of the intended acquisition of Sybase… I see even more tools (analytics anyone?)…

  2. Comment by Dave Rathbun

    Crystal and Web Intelligence are completely different tools, with different target audiences. In my opinion trying to combine those would be difficult if not impossible.

    The reason I liked the distinction is because it’s easy to explain. :) Are you (the target audience) just going to consume the data, or are you going to play with it?

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