SAP bets on in-memory, mobility in new BI suite

SAP is hoping to gain ground in the increasingly heated market for business intelligence software, announcing a suite on Wednesday that focuses on areas like mobility and real-time data analysis.

Business Objects 4.0, which encompasses both BI and enterprise information management EIM) tools, is now in "ramp-up" mode with a small group of customers and is expected to be broadly available in May, a company executive said during an event in New York.

SAP is experiencing huge interest in the release from existing customers, said Dave Weisbeck senior vice president of BI and EIM solution management.

Part of that may be due to pent-up anticipation, as the launch was originally expected to occur last year.

No critical problems with the software led to the delay, according to Weisbeck. Instead, the timing shifted due to the release's ultimate scope, which changed further as SAP sought to tie it to technologies for in-memory data processing and CEP (complex event processing), he said.

In a demonstration, SAP showcased how its recently launched HANA (High Performance Analytic Appliance) database technology could dramatically speed up performance of a BI tool for analyzing automobile recalls, compared to a traditional data warehouse.

SAP is betting big on HANA, rolling out a series of specialized applications that will sit on top of the software, which puts data into RAM for faster performance compared to reading off disks. For now, SAP is not positioning HANA as something that could replace databases such as Oracle's, which underpins many SAP installations, but that could change as the product matures.

Later Wednesday, the presentation turned to mobile device support in the Business Objects 4.0 release, including for tablets like Apple's iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Research in Motion's PlayBook. Some observers believe tablets will spark a major uptick in mobile BI adoption, since the larger form factor makes for a better user experience.

"In-memory plus mobility is the killer app from [SAP]," said Steve Lucas , global senior executive, business analytics.

Other components and capabilities in 4.0 include Data Services, for data integration and consolidation; Information Steward, which enables users to assist with data-quality efforts; and the CEP application Event Insight.

SAP also discussed the release's operational improvements, which include better scalability through native 64-bit support and support for virtualization.

In addition, Business Objects 4.0 delivers a more common look and feel across the modules, as well as better integration between them, said Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson , via e-mail.

The upcoming release earned enthusiastic praise from one customer in attendance at Wednesday's event.

Film distributor Lionsgate is dealing with "profound change" in the movie industry thanks to the advent of digital video and newer companies such as Netflix, said Leo Collins , executive vice president and CIO, during a panel discussion. "We're working to understand what that means. [Business Objects 4.0] is a big part of that picture."

Business Objects 4.0 follows major BI upgrades delivered by IBM and Oracle within the past year.

Vendors are keen to strengthen their BI portfolios, since the software has continued to sell despite the global economic downturn, as enterprises seek competitive advantage and deeper insights into their business.

Larger BI vendors like SAP, Oracle and IBM are competing on every aspect of the BI stack, which can be decomposed into scores of components, from ETL (extract, transform and load) tools for collecting data, all the way to reporting and analytics, Forrester's Evelson said in an interview this week.

"The point is, not everyone can do everything," he said.

However, companies that are heavily standardized on application and database products from vendors such as SAP or Oracle "have very little reason" to look beyond those companies for BI tools, Evelson said.

But for companies with highly heterogenous environments or the desire for advanced capabilities like predictive modeling, "the choices are very, very wide," he said.

As for existing Business Objects customers, the move to 4.0 should not entail any changes to licensing, Weisbeck said during a question-and-answer session.

SAP customers will also get a taste of the release's capabilities in the next "enhancement pack" for the Business Suite ERP (enterprise resource planning) platform, which will include embedded dashboards and reports built on 4.0, Weisbeck said.

Also Wednesday, SAP announced six new industry-specific BI applications, which are based on the current 3.1 release. The next wave of industry applications will be created on 4.0, an official said.

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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