Companies must achieve "clarity" to navigate out of the global recession, and SAP intends to help them with its BI (business intelligence) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, co-CEO Leo Apotheker said during the opening keynote of SAP's Sapphire conference in Orlando Tuesday.
"The only antidote against uncertainty is clarity," he said.
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Apotheker's 75-minute address focused heavily on a new BI application called BusinessObjects Explorer, which is supposed to help average business users easily navigate and mine company data without the help of IT staff.
"We're not just talking about a reporting tool," Apotheker said. "I am convinced it will fundamentally change the way decisions are made in enterprises around the world. ... We're going to be able to cross the chasm from, 'I think this is a good decision' to 'I know this is a good decision.'"
In a demonstration, SAP showed how users could make natural-language queries to search for information about the rate of head injuries in car accidents during a certain period. Users can "drill down" into the results to view statistics for certain age groups, for example, as well as view it in various formats, such as pie charts.
The Explorer tool combines the Polestar technology SAP acquired by buying Business Objects, with SAP's NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator software. It represents "the first huge salvo" in a strategy to push BI to all users in a company, said John Schwarz, CEO of the Business Objects portfolio, in an interview.
SAP plans to make Web 2.0-style interfaces like the one for Explorer "pervasive" across its applications, said Marge Breya, executive vice president and general manager, Intelligence Platform Group and SAP NetWeaver Solution Management, during a press conference Tuesday. The company plans to make more announcements in coming months, she said, but she did not elaborate.
Also, Business Objects' sizable Oracle customer base -- which Breya said has traditionally represented 70 percent of its business -- cannot yet fully gain the levels of Explorer performance demonstrated at Sapphire. That's because SAP won't be releasing an "open accelerator" compatible with Oracle software until later this year, Breya said. "Of course, Explorer itself as a tool works on Oracle today," she added.
Meanwhile, one SAP customer who has been beta testing Explorer gave it a general thumbs up, albeit with a few caveats.
Global foods manufacturer Sara Lee was one of the beta testers for Explorer, said Vincent Vloemans, director of global information management at the company.
Sara Lee connected the software to a sandbox that contains 300 million rows of data, and despite the scope of the data store, performance has been strong, Vloemans said.
Also, the preliminary response among Sara Lee's business users has been "very positive," he said. I'm getting questions like 'When can we have it.'"
But Sara Lee has not yet decided to purchase the software, and there are substantial underlying tasks to perform as well, he added.
"This is giving us the horsepower [to analyze data] but we need to have harmonized and structured data underneath it."
The company also hasn't done a deep investigation into security measures or protocols, he said.
But the tool does seem to have some clear positives, according to Vloemans. For one, it doesn't require much training. "If you can use a PC then you can learn how to use it in one or two minutes."
Secondly, Sara Lee has a broad BI strategy, and making changes to respond to user demands, such as for a new type of report, is costly, he said.
Vloemans said he has "a gut feeling," but is not yet certain that Explorer could cut expenses overall, even weighed against the cost of preparing the data to be searched by Explorer.
Meanwhile, Apotheker's keynote also briefly touched upon SAP's plans for on-demand software, which include Web-based extensions for its on-premise business applications. Extensions for expense management and human capital management are in the pipeline, he said.
SAP is also continuing to work on its Business ByDesign integrated ERP suite for the midmarket.
The company has slowed the rollout of Business ByDesign while it works to ensure it can make enough of a profit at scale. SAP executive board member Bill McDermott said in a recent interview that the company would likely not ramp up Business ByDesign until the end of this year.
However, a running Business ByDesign system will be on display at Sapphire this week, according to Apotheker.