SAP steps up BI efforts for smaller businesses

SAP AG acquired Norwegian software company iLytix Systems AS earlier this month in a move aimed at introducing a new business intelligence (BI) tool to its small business product suite, Business One.

The tool, XL Reporter, enables Business One users to export data to Microsoft Corp.’s Excel program without having to reformat each report. It also allows them to create new financial and business reports or modify existing ones, schedule reports for automatic delivery, and create “what if” scenarios quickly with new point-and-click and drag-and-drop features.

XL Reporter will ship by the end of this quarter and will be added as part of the standard Business One suite for no additional charge.

IDG News Service spoke with Gadi Shamia, vice president of solution management at SAP Business One, about the iLytix acquisition and SAP’s BI strategy for Business One. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

IDGNS: Your acquisition of iLytix and, in particular, its XL Reporter tool raised some eyebrows on the BI front. Does this move signal a greater focus on BI for SAP moving ahead?

Shamia: We’re looking at BI across the board at SAP but let me point out that this isn’t something new for us. As far as Business One is concerned, we’ve had a BI strategy for a long time even if this is a buzzword today. One example: our Business One alerts.

These are part of our BI service, providing people with information in a way so they can react faster. The enterprise portal of mySAP also offers alerts. We’ve been dealing with BI for years; we just didn’t call it that.

IDGNS: Even if you’ve been involved with BI for some time, you appear a bit more interested these days in expanding your expertise in this area: hence the move to snatch up XL Reporter. Would you agree?

Shamia: Managers have different information needs today that are much wider than reports. We conducted our own research of a group of CEOs and managing directors of SMBs (small and medium-size businesses) last year. Instead of simply reviewing the regular reports they receive, we actually put a person in their office for the entire day to observe the way they got their information — whether it was reports or telephone calls or staff entering the office to report something.

Then we asked ourselves what processes we can automate to reduce the number of phone calls or eliminate the need for staff to convert 10 different reports into one and so on. This research prompted the acquisition of iLytix, which added XL Reporter to Business One.

IDGNS: And how specifically does XL Reporter help users better manage their reporting and business intelligence requirements? Shamia: We learned from our research that the most common tool that SMBs use to receive information in an organized way is Excel, and XL Reporter works with Excel. Instead of taking companies through the process of exporting SAP reports to their Microsoft desktops, cleaning them up and merging information time and time again, with XL Reporter we are giving them a tool that will do this automatically with a click. IDGNS: How will you integrate XL Reporter?

Shamia: The tool will not be merged into Business One code but will come instead as a software add-on, together with some 12 other add-ons we currently supply. But users won’t notice that the tool is not part of the system.

IDGNS: Will customers require any special training? Shamia: If they know how to use Excel, they need zero expertise to use XL Reporter.

IDGNS: Is this BI tool any better than the others out there in the market?

Shamia: Many BI tools in the past weren’t successful because of their limitations. For one, they forced users to learn a new environment. The tools came with their own gadgets and buttons and different ways to navigate data. For another, users want some flexibility to be able to move data around or make a quick calculation. This was also missing.

Our BI focus is to make data more consumable for users rather than more sophisticated. We want to avoid complexity. Moving ahead, we aim to make XL Reporter and our other BI tools even more easy to use than they already are today and to integrate these even better into day-to-day activities.

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