SAP releases ‘Google-like’ BI tool

SAP AG is positioning its newly launched business intelligence search tool, BusinessObjects Explorer, as a way for business users to parse millions of company records without asking the IT shop for help.

The Germany-based software giant said the software will bring together the navigation capabilities acquired in its BusinessObjects division with SAP’s NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator platform, giving the product functionality that neither tool could have on its own.

The announcement was made at this week’s SAP’s Sapphire 2009 conference in Orlando, Fla.

In his opening keynote address Tuesday, SAP co-CEO Leo Apotheker stressed the need for more “clarity” across all business units. In doing so, he added, enterprise software has to become easier to operate and fun, similar to the way Web 2.0 and social networking tools are used in the consumer world.

“We need to cross the chasm from, ‘I think this is a good decision’ to ‘I know this is a good decision,’” Apotheker told conference attendees. With BusinessObjects Explorer, the days of sampling data will be over, as users can create an entire data set within the blink of an eye, he added.

John Schwarz, CEO of SAP’s BusinessObjects solution portfolio, agreed, saying that the tool will work without any special training or IT skills. He also called the interface “Google-like” in its simplicity.

The software can even be run via an Apple iPhone, as company executives demoed this functionality for conference goers.

Sebastien Ruest, president of services research at IDC Canada Ltd., attended the product launch and was impressed with the “cool-looking interface.”

“SAP’s really trying to change user expectations with this interface,” he said. The push toward an easy-to-use, social networking-style UI and the continued focus on one centralized BI and analytics tool is a good play during today’s recession.

Still, he added, customers will have to ensure that they have organized and available data, or what SAP referred to as “good data hygiene.”

“If it’s messy to begin with, Explorer’s not going to make it simple for you,” Ruest said.

Paul Edwards, director of SMB and channel research for IDC Canada, was also in attendance and added that the tool might actually drive businesses to become more homogeneous in terms of their data.

One customer that has already launched a pilot version of the software is the Molson Coors Brewing Company. It has integrated roughly 900 million records into the BusinessObjects Explorer beta and is still amazed with the search speed times, according to Katrina Coyle, global information manager at the brewery.

“People can’t believe how quickly the data is coming back,” Coyle said. Searches are often completed within two or three seconds, allowing decisions to be made on the fly, she added.

“You used to go into meetings with sheets of paper, computers, dashboards, cockpits and you leave the meeting without making a decision,” Coyle said. “Now we take a computer in and we’re not spending a day to make a decision, we can make it in an hour.”

As for staff training, Coyle added that all it took was a five-minute WebEx presentation to get everyone up to speed.

In fitting with the “clarity” theme, another notable happening at Sapphire included SAP’s acquisition of Sterling, Va.-based Clear Standards Inc., a carbon footprint management provider which makes software that helps enterprises track greenhouse gas emissions across their operations. SAP executives said the deal would help the software giant service customers facing increasingly stringent government policies.

David Senf, director of infrastructure solutions at IDC Canada, said that of the several major hurdles associated with a green IT initiative, measuring its success is perhaps the most crucial need for most businesses.

“The reality is that the technology is ahead of Canadian firms’ willingness to use it en masse,” he wrote in an e-mail interview. “It is great that this major gap is being filled by the IT industry so that as firms come around — and start to track their carbon footprint — the capability is there.”

“Having a large, pardon the pun, footprint itself in ERP, SAP is in a good position to provide this sort of offering.”

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