SAP lets Business One users access Crystal Reports

BOSTON—SAP and Business Objects this week announced their first integrated solution for SAP’s Business One customers since SAP bought the business intelligence specialist last October.

Business One users, typically small businesses, can connect to their data through a basic version of Crystal Reports. The offering allows users real-time insight into different business areas like supply chain and finance, and create reports and represent data using one fully-integrated system. Crystal Reports was acquired by Business Objects in 2003.

The announcement, made at the Business Objects Influencer Summit on Tuesday, follows the companies’ goal of tightly integrated product lines while letting Business Objects remain independent.

While it’s business as usual for the core business intelligence group, said Dan Vesset, research director with Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC, “obviously now there is much tighter engineering opportunity to be much closer aligned with SAP’s applications.”

Tighter integration is expected from customers who may have been unhappy with SAP’s legacy business intelligence tools, and for whom it’s a natural step to move to Business Objects offerings, said Vesset. The company is, for instance, offering programs to help customers migrate from Hyperion technologies to Business Objects financial analytics.

Despite that, Vesset said it’s “a fine balance” between desired tight integration and maintaining independence of Business Object’s products, but “we have to be realistic, it’s one company so the openness has its limits.”

It’s actually more difficult to approach a competitor’s enterprise application environment and convince its customers to switch to SAP, said Vesset. “It’s easier to sell Business Objects to SAP, than to sell SAP to Business Objects.”

Revenue statistics from the first half year showed that more than 50 per cent of orders for business intelligence products originated from net new customers, or non-SAP shops, said Doug Merritt, executive vice-president and general manager of business user global sales. “The good news is at least for the first half of the year, we are seen as an open and agnostic solution set.”

Former Crystal Reports and currently BI 7 customer, Toronto-based pharmaceutical company Apotex Inc. was SAP-centric on the business side, but had non-SAP point systems on the research and development side. The company needed to facilitate end user access to different pockets of data across the organization, said its director of consulting and testing services John Mayer.

The decision to standardize on a business intelligence offering from a single vendor was based on the need for a common training program that would lessen the amount of end user training and development around data architecture and data warehousing, said Mayer.

While Vesset acknowledged that it may be easier to build out a single-vendor infrastructure, he did note that “there are business reasons why it’s not always wise.” Citing an IDC survey, Vesset said one-third of organizations would like to consolidate to a single enterprise solution, another third would like to consolidate to fewer solutions because they realize they can’t get down to one, and another third are happy with a heterogeneous environment.

A single-vendor approach, said Vesset, can mean less negotiation power and fewer pricing deals, and possibly being locked into an architecture that doesn’t allow the customer to expand to other areas that the vendor doesn’t support. In such cases, the customer would likely seek the specialized offerings of another vendor.

Acknowledging there are other business intelligence tools on the market, Merritt said Business Objects is “always open” to partnering with those vendors. “It’s a great world of co-opetition,” he said. IBM, Oracle and Microsoft also offer business intelligence technologies.

However, Merritt also said SAP hopes to retrieve customers lost to Hyperion (acquired by Oracle) who were turned away by the lack of a strong financial analytics offering. “We feel we may have lost [customers] in the past because we may not have had the right solution… We’ve got the right solution today,” he said, adding that the current offering, having been merged with technologies from Business Objects and OutlookSoft for instance, is more usable.

And, he said customers will be much better off dealing with a single vendor because the total cost of ownership will be lower given the technology is natively integrated through SAP “and will only increase in its integration capability.”

Merritt said the company knows where Hyperion business intelligence technology exists in SAP’s install base and will pursue those customers to return. “Quite frankly, the business intelligence part of the Hyperion portfolio is at best mediocre,” he said.

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