I have some other posts in “draft mode” but decided to publish an overall summary of what I got out of the conference last week. First, there wasn’t a lot of “push” specifically around the BusinessObjects suite. The 4.0 release is now expected to be out of ramp up and generally available by the end of June, but that was a date tossed around during informal discussions. There was no formal announcement.
The big themes of the conference this year seemed to be HANA (their in-memory database engine), mobility (not specifically BI mobility, but mobile apps built on top of the Sybase Unwired API), and to a lesser extend cloud hosted systems. SAP announced HANA in the Cloud, which is not really new but an upgrade of the current BI On Demand web site. SAP also pointed out that they had a major “dot release” in nearly every product this year, with BI 4.0, EIM 10.0, and a number of other major new releases becoming available.
One of the important issues that everybody seemed to want to gloss over but I think is critical to understand the proper placement for this product is that HANA is simply a database. It’s not a BI or reporting solution by itself. You still need something to put the data into HANA, and something to get the data out. All it does is do those processes extremely fast. They showed HANA (in experimental form) running on a Mac Mini, running on a hefty blade server, and then on a 1,000 CPU system running from their data center. This was done to show the scalability of the product.
As everyone starts to look more closely with HANA I think it’s important for folks to understand that HANA isn’t a BI solution. It’s an accelerator or an enabler but it doesn’t do anything by itself. We would still need something to sit on top, be it Web Intelligence, Explorer, or any of the other BI tools. I asked if – since HANA was really “just a database” – folks could plan to use Cognos or MicroStrategy against it. I did not get a direct answer. What I did get was a comment that HANA can be accessed via MDX or SQL, which to me would say that any tool could utilize the acceleration that HANA provides. I don’t know that SAP will spend a lot of effort to make sure other BI tools will work well against the platform, but I can’t initially see any reason why they would not work.
It seems fairly clear to me that as a longer-term vision, SAP would like to run their entire ERP on top of HANA, with Sybase ASE or IQ as fallback alternatives for smaller implementations. The spent the entire 2.5 hour keynote on Wednesday talking about HANA. They included several customer testimonials, and then Hasso Plattner took the stage to talk more about the new database.
I didn’t see much that was specific to BI mobility at the conference this year. Of course they were showing Web Intelligence running as a native application on the iPad, which I had already seen at the BI 4 launch event in New York a few months ago. Most of the mobility talk at the conference this year was instead focused on mobile applications built on the Sybase Unwired platform.
One of the sound bites from a keynote talked about how HANA can enable true embedded BI into a mobile application. I’m not sure if they hit every buzzword in that phrase, but if not it was close. The concept is simple. Instead of thinking of BI as a reporting system, let’s go back and revisit the idea of embedding BI into an actual application. That way a sales rep can close a deal from the same screens used to evaluate a customer. The rep doesn’t have to switch back and forth between an application and a series of reports because they’re all available in one place. An interesting vision, and one that SAP would like to say is only possible with a HANA back-end because you can delivery everything to a mobile device in an accelerated fashion.
There was some discussion about having “write back” capabilities in some future versions of the BI tools. That was all off-line and not in any way committed to by SAP. I believe Cognos has at least a limited write back capability today.
One of the new features of the EIM (Enterprise Information Management, which includes Data Services formerly known as Data Integrator) is a product called Information Steward. This product is used to address concerns about data quality, as it allows an end business user to log in to a system and look at the data anomalies.
One of the new features of EIM that I find interesting but I’m not sure how or where we would use it is Event Insight. This product is designed to monitor a data flow and trigger actions based on events. As a very simple example, if tied in to a point of sale system, it might notify an inventory manager if there is a run on certain products across a regional area. Maybe a local sports team just made the finals, and folks are going out to buy jerseys. If the company can react quickly enough, they can increase stock for this time-sensitive item and capitalize on extra sales.
At the BI 4 launch event, CNR (Canada National Railroad) talked about using this product to manage fuel costs and make train routing more efficient.