SAP preps 'huge' BI upgrade

Business Objects 4.0 features a rash of improvements, but some users are upset about a dropped feature

SAP is gearing up to launch Business Objects 4.0, its biggest BI (business intelligence) release in roughly three years, later this month at an event in New York.

"This release is huge," said Dave Weisbeck, senior vice president of BI and EIM solution management. "Every single tool has had some major upgrades. There's not a single place we haven't touched."

But the release is a milestone in another way as well, as it spells the retirement of the suite's well-liked Desktop Intelligence component, also known as DeskI. That decision is not going over well with some customers.

However, those who upgrade to Business Objects 4.0 will get tighter integration of SAP's BI tools with its EIM (enterprise information management) product line. The release's goal is to cut down on the amount of time and effort customers spend on the process of assembling, transforming, modeling and ultimately delivering information to users, Weisbeck said.

SAP is also introducing a module called Information Steward that will enable employees with particularly keen perspectives on certain types of information -- such as a sales manager who keeps tabs on customers' contact records -- to monitor and rate data quality on an ongoing basis.

Another new module, Event Insight, takes advantage of the CEP (complex event processing) technology SAP gained through its acquisition of Sybase last year.

CEP software sifts through the slew of transactional "events" that occur in a company's systems each day in real time, looking for patterns and correlations and possibly triggering actions based on what it finds. It's commonly used for purposes such as fraud detection or fast stock trading, although additional use cases, such as logistics, are emerging. Event Insight will enable customers to build CEP models and deliver the information through dashboards and alerts.

Other new features in the 4.0 release include a "common query design experience across all data sources"; improved scalability, including native 64-bit support; and better access to unstructured information, according to an SAP document.

However, along with those new innovations, comes the DeskI retirement. Users who upgrade to 4.0 will have to migrate their DeskI assets to the Web Intelligence (WebI) tool.

DeskI's fate has drawn much attention on the unofficial Business Objects Board, with many posters lamenting the tool's retirement.

SAP's decision to drop DeskI reportedly even contributed to one company's decision to jettison Business Objects altogether.

"It is with deep regret that we have decided to move off of SAP BO," one poster wrote last week. "I am particularly saddened by this as I was on the selection committee for this tool ... But after dealing with SAP; their 'know it all' sales people; the loss of the greatest OLAP tool available-DESKI; the promoting legacy reporting tool-Crystal; ALL the broken promises; system hang-ups and cumbersome use. We have elected to rewrite our Business Intelligence going in another direction."

Web Intelligence was released more than 10 years ago and was always intended to someday supplant DeskI, of which usage has waned, SAP said in a statement.

WebI "now covers the vast majority of Desktop Intelligence features, and has a wealth of features (such as mobility, interoperability with other clients, and multidimensional semantic layer support) that DeskI does not have," it added.

One Business Objects Board poster echoed those statements: "I've been using WebI now pretty much full-time for the last four years and honestly, I don't like going back to DeskI. I have missed some of the features, but they are now mostly all available in the latest version of WebI."

DeskI users won't be completely abandoned, as the product will retain mainstream support on Business Objects XI 3.1 until 2015 and Priority One support until 2017, according to SAP.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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