In a colorful #AllAccessAnalytics webinar and Twitter event, Steven Lucas, President of SAP Platform Solutions, and his newly announced BI, Analytics an Big Data team openly briefed attendees on new organization players, philosophy changes and the upcoming SAP BI and Analytics Roadmap Updates. Here are some highlights from the session and what you will be seeing soon from SAP.

SAP opened by stating a bold new approach, boasting they have 60,000 SAP Business Objects customers and shared that the SAP Lumira Personal free offering was evidence of a new change in thinking. They joked a little about Tableau but also confessed to understanding that they have a lot of work to do for their customers.  As the session  progressed a variation of the classic Gartner BI Lifecycle concept was shown using overlapping circles: Enterprise BI, Agile Visualization, and Advanced Analytics (Data Science for Everyone). SAP talked to a new mindset of easily adopted LAVA (Lightweight Applied Visual Analytics) solutions, business focus, and story telling.  Ironically earlier this summer at the European Tableau Customer Conference, story telling was also shared as an investment theme. I imagine other BI vendors will also jump on this “trend train” and be singing the same tune in 2014.

Anyone who has implemented SAP Business Objects, SAP BW Business Warehouse or other SAP products knows that SAP BI solutions are a far cry away from being lightweight. Crystal Reports and Excelsius are exceptions. Of all the BI vendors, SAP probably has the most time consuming, complex and clunky BI platform roll outs with very slooooow initial solution times to value. Although SAP Business Objects pros are passionate and treat it like a BI religion, SAP BI consistently ranks the lowest of all BI vendors in annual Gartner BI customer satisfaction surveys. The latest 2013 Gartner BI customer satisfaction survey is available in the Alteryx newsletter. SAP has a lot of room for improvement and it appears that they know it.  Could this be the beginning of a serious SAP BI change?  Time will tell…

The SAP BI pros in the session are used to the old way of doing things and expressed typical BI pro control fears of overlapping BI tools, product sunsets and self-service BI tool chaos.  These concerns are not at all unique to SAP – I have heard and addressed the same exact concerns expressed with Microsoft Power Pivot, Tableau, Spotfire and other BI player tools. The entire BI industry is evolving right now.  In reality these new Data Discovery/Agile BI tools ***if properly implemented, governed and managed*** are strategic game changers with exceptionally rapid solution time to value businesses love.  BI pros need to embrace these tools, learn how to best manage them and focus on developing consumable business usable semantic data layers.

SAP did confess to having the most tools and SKUs of any other BI vendor. I agree their offerings are overwhelming and they do overlap. Microsoft suffers from the same issues, offers white papers on when to use each BI tool, and now uses Excel as a single wrapper around many stand-alone add-in tools.  Other traditional vendors have the same bazillion tools in the BI bag of tricks issues and yet all of them now have added a Data Discovery/Agile BI tool into the mix. Typical product sunset fears were addressed – SAP Lumira is not replacing other tools. Each tool has a place and like the other traditional BI vendors, SAP will probably have to provide guidance to customers on when to use each tool, which tool is best for certain use cases and so on. Of course SAP would love it if only SAP tools were used in BI strategies but realistically there will be a mix of BI tools for many reasons. Having a variety of BI tools in a BYORT (Bring Your Own Reporting Tool) world does not have to be a bad thing but it does need to be carefully thought through and properly managed.

SAPVisualizationVision

The session progressed to a slide on SAP’s vision for Agile Visualization. (see image above) The theme was BI on any device, anywhere…SAP Lumira Desktop ties into on-premise SAP Hana and/or SAP Lumira Cloud.  SAP stated SAP Lumira Cloud is NOT just for Lumira content but that other BI content can also be hosted on it. SAP Lumira Cloud is available for anyone to test and try out.

From there the self-service ETL features of SAP Lumira where shown along with upcoming improvements that will be available soon. Among the new features included an HTML5 user interface with more than one view – the prior one view at a time was a show stopper for me so I am  awaiting this update to my SAP Lumira Pro version to see if it is a viable player yet or not.  They also showed a very nice storyboarding and mobile device layout publishing feature that I am looking forward to testing.  Lastly they showed geospatial views that sure looked a lot like Alteryx and Microsoft Power Map (Geoflow) solutions.

From there SAP Predictive Intelligence was mentioned. Right now SAP Predictive Intelligence is an add-in to SAP Lumira with different licensing and purchase requirements.  I did not catch if it was now included or not.  Personally I really, really like this add-in. There are several base predictive algorithms out-of-the-box with ties into SAP HANA and a plug-in to R that opens up a world of predictive possibility.

The traditional SAP BI tools were almost totally neglected on this call with the exception of Webi. SAP had one slide on upcoming improvements of working with Webi and SAP Hana. Now that does not mean nothing is happening with those tools, they simply were not the focus of the call claims SAP. At SAP TechEd the traditional SAP BI tool roadmaps will be shared with the usual anything can change disclaimers that all major software vendors toss in.

SAPBIAcademy

My favorite announcement was the new FREE SAP BI Academy and BI Resource site that will be launched on September 9, 2013.  I think that is fantastic and long overdue.  I already took the SAP Hana Academy courses and thought they were fabulous for technical professionals to jump start learning new technology. The SAP Academy courses also had related AWS and hosted VM images to play hands-on with the technologies being taught.

At the end of the session, SAP was literally grilled for a bit. No question was off limits and some rude ones were asked questioning their commitment to the new direction, another new team and speed to market.  Steven Lucas directly expressed his personal commitment to this direction and SAP’s desire to be a serious player in the wider Analytics ecosystem.  He also shared that more SAP BI and Analytics announcements will made at SAP TechEd this fall.  In the meantime, several new SAP BI  product general availability releases are expected later this month.