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Sapphire 09: Business analytics can be fun!

14th May 2009
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If you can use iTunes, you could be a great data analyst, claims SAP's CEO Leo Apotheker as the firm showcases its latest business analytics software at the Sapphire 09 event in Florida this week. But is it as 'cool' as he is emphasising?

By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor

Business analytics can be cool! Or at least that's the claim being made by SAP, which reckons it's delivering the 'iTunes of business analytics' in a form so intuitive that anyone can use it.

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer combines an in-memory database, a custom-built search engine and a user interface that SAP is pitching as being similar to the interface of Apple's iTunes software. Users can navigate massive amounts of data in seconds by leveraging indexed data from SAP NetWeaver BW Accelerator and using visualisation features to select and generate charts or reports that best represents the information, which can then be shared with colleagues.

"If you know how to use iTunes, you can be a great business analyst looking at your own data in a matter of seconds," says SAP CEO Leo Apotheker. "This will allow any user, not just expert users, to have access to data in a split second. We can start to close the loop between strategy and execution. We can help people to go from 'I think this is a good decision' to 'I know this is a good decision'."

The user verdict

Early adopters include brewing giant Molson Coors. "We have been beta testing SAP BusinessObjects Explorer and are amazed at how intuitive the software is and how quickly it returns results," says Katrina Coyle, global information manager, Molson Coors. "Employees have already learned things about their data and our business that they didn't know previously. With visualisations, like the interactive 'heat' maps, results leap off the page.

"I went to the space shuttle launch at Cape Kennedy this week and the funny thing was how fast it happened. That's what I think about this product. We have 900 million records sitting in one of our spaces that we can process in 2.3 seconds. We have people looking up and saying 'is this for real?'.

"People are now having a new look at how we work with our customers and we can see what different profitability our customers offer."

Vincent Vloemans, director of global information management, Sara Lee.

She claims she has received comments from people who have gone to meetings with sheets and sheets of paper and still left the room unable to make a decision. "Now they can take this tool in and make the decisions in the room," Coyle continues. "In a highly competitive industry like ours, we can't afford to take a day to make a decision that can be made in an hour.

"One of our business users was able to identify a brand not sold in other regions using only one click, which is the blink of an eye compared to the former lengthy process. Everyone who has worked with it has appreciated that it is fast and user-friendly, with results that can be easily shared and put to use immediately. We see great potential for this tool to provide all of our employees with better visibility into our business."

The comments were reiterated by global food and drink giant Sara Lee. "We did a proof of concept where we loaded real, live data into a production environment," says Vincent Vloemans, director of global information management at Sara Lee. "We have given it to executives throughout the business. The first response we got was 'don't take it away'. People are now having a new look at how we work with our customers and we can see what different profitability our customers offer."

Apotheker was at pains to (over)emphasise the 'cool' nature of the new product. "The new digital generation of workers expect enterprise software to be fun," he adds. "They want to consume enterprise software like they consumer other tools on the internet. To use the hip expression, that is cool!"

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