Aug
24

The value of the SAP BusinessObjects Ecosystem

Ryan Goodman’s last post, Understanding BI4 Dashboards and XWIS, drew a couple of comments (here and there) expressing frustration that capabilities of third party extensions ought to be delivered as a native part of the SAP Business Objects product.

To my mind this is a glass-half-empty view of things. Although the BI4/XI3 platforms come with numerous connectivity options for Xcelsius, no software is ever 100% feature complete (that is what upgrades are all about), so inevitably there is room for people to dream up ways in which features could be better. The great thing about SAP BusinessObjects is that (through both their Crystal and BusinessObjects histories) they have had the foresight to make sure their products are open to third-party developers to extend and enhance their BI platform through an ecosystem of innovation. So the glass-is-half-full view is that rather than having to wait for SAP BusinessObjects to provide a particular feature in a future release there is a product which fills them today.

(As a side note, the nature of third-party extension means that this also follows Vishal Sikka’s vision of “innovation without disruption”, with extension products integrating seamlessly with existing versions of the platform.) As I mentioned in a recent post on BI standardization, this partner ecosystem is one of the key advantages of choosing a large BI platform vendor.

In one of the comments the concern was that customers have to spend more money on such partner extensions. Again this is a glass-half-empty view because, whilst extensions will usually come at a cost (third-parties have to make a living too) they will also usually be designed to provide a return on investment. Anything else is just too hard to sell, so using the right extensions should be a financial saving rather than a financial drain.

The other comment seemed a bit confusing, it started by asking “why are we looking for different products to try and integrate with one another” and ended up suggesting a jump to a completely different dashboarding environment, which would require much more integration effort with the core BI platform, than any well designed platform extension would need. This comment is doubly ironic as many platform extension products are specifically designed to add features which avoid the need to jump to new non-integrated environments.

Overall I would recommend you resist the urge to be indignant and reject third party tools because they “should have come in the box”, this is a classic instance of being “right rather than effective”, make full use of the power of the ecosystem around your BI platform, assess extensions on the ROI they generate for your current situation and only when you run out of options inside your ecosystem consider non-integrated tools outside it.

Donald MacCormick is the Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Antivia, an SAP® software solution partner, and creator of XWIS the Xcelsius-to-SAP BusinessObjects connectivity solution. In past years, he was a long term member of BusinessObjects and Crystal, and part of the team that brought Xcelsius into the BusinessObjects portfolio.

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7 Responses to “The value of the SAP BusinessObjects Ecosystem”

  1. Or Shoham says:

    David,
    I find myself in partial agreement with what you wrote, but I must be a glass-half-empty type, because there’s parts I disagree with. Simply put, I do not feel I should have to buy a third-party *extension* to handle the *core* requirements from a software product.

    What this means, in essence, is that I am quite understanding of having to use a third-party extension to add functionality to software outside its core – for example, XWIS’s dynamic cross-tables and drill functions. These functions are not a core requirement for dashboards (advocates of Stephen Few will argue that they aren’t even a dashboard feature, but I digress) and thus are not necessarily SAP’s responsibility. However, some of XWIS’s capabilities – most notably the query designer / object binding features – are at the very core of creating an Xcelsius dashboard, and for my money should have been one of SAP’s top priorities as new product features rather than being relegated to “There’s a third-party tool for this” status.

    Of course, “should” will get us nowhere, so I suppose we should embrace the fact that we have some way of getting this functionality – even if it isn’t the one we expected. I do not personally have access to a copy of XWIS (I got to play with the demo, but my attempt to get an evaluation demo so I could tie in my own data and get a feel for how much work this will save failed miserably), so my input on its ability to provide RoI is, of course, limited.

  2. SWagener says:

    I agree, third party tools fill the gaps which have been left by vendors. Bear in mind atleast with SAP, they have the foresight for catering descent SDK’s that created a eco system for integrated third part solutions. And from experience I can’t say that for all the BI players in the market where customers have to wait until their prayers get answered by vendors. Retrospectively 3rd party features also act as confirmation for SAP in identifying new wanted functionality that is missing from the out of the box solution (not very favourable for small companies making a living out of it).

    “When people buy IPhones, nobody complains about buying apps. Right?”

  3. David Monks says:

    Donald,

    I would endorse your comments whole-heartedly as any sane user of complex software tools would recognise the illogicality of ‘if it doesn’t come in the box then throw the whole thing out!’. Like you, as a long time devotee of the core technologies supporting SAP BusinessObjects products, I find that it is sometimes educational to look back and see how far this particular part of the SAP BusinessObjects product range has been extended by the vendor as opposed to relying upon third-party vendors to deliver extensions – many in this LinkedIn group may well recall that Xcelsius commenced life as a ‘neat’ way to display Excel content within Powerpoint slides and clearly it has progressed substantially from those early beginnings particularly in the data connectivity area.

    However, even here the vendor doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas and as both Ryan and yourself can attest there is a constant demand from the development community to ‘stretch the envelope’ which can often only be met by third party providers.

    Rather than complaining that SAP haven’t provided it already, the Xcelsius community should be pleased that they are not solely dependent upon the development timetable and decision tree of the vendor and that, due to the openness of the Xcelsius approach, they can ‘stretch’ the application to fit their needs by using such innovations as XWIS and GMaps to name but a couple!

    As for the suggestion that because SAP doesn’t supply everything an Xcelsius modeler could possibly ever want that they should switch to QlikView or Spotfire this is on a par with suggesting that following their recent performance the Indian Test Match team should switch from cricket to baseball – i.e. a non sequitur.

    Dumping all of that hard won experience about what works and what doesn’t around Xcelsius (including the impact to development of the ecosystem as you call it) in favour of starting all over again to learn something else which also doesn’t supply everything from the vendor – haven’t found dynamic visibility options in QlikView yet nor QAAWS in Spotfire etc. – is equally missing the point.

    We all know that there are areas within which we’d like to see Xcelsius improve and the only real question should be ‘how best to provide these?’ – do you wait until the vendor gets around to your pet desire or hope that some entrepreneurial third party might share your vision and respond more rapidly with a ‘not-in-the-box solution’?

  4. Ryan Goodman says:

    Xcelsius has one of the best communities and partner ecosystems keeping the product alive and thriving. The 4.0 release is a great step forward but a good indication of the speed and volume for which SAP can execute on new features. We know that some of the SAP product stakeholders truly understand our needs but for some reason execution is not very good.

    I am 100% biased because I work for a third party solution provider, and have been around this technology for a long time. However, given that I have complete control over what products and vendors that my organization works with, we have remained loyal to SAP and the Xcelsius platform thanks to innovations like XWIS. For third party software providers to thrive, we have to deliver a strong ROI proposition and technology that actually works as promised. This attention to detail is something that you will rarely get from SAP because it is not economical for them to do so.

  5. SWagener’s comments above are on the mark regarding the comparison to iPhone apps. Many complex products in the world can be improved by bringing in something that the original developer/builder didn’t offer. My house contractor just wrapped up a bathroom renovation because we didn’t like the bathroom that came with the house — it wasn’t up the seller to provide me with a bathroom that met my needs, it was up to me. I think it’s the same argument with Xcelsius. As long as dashboard professionals remain educated about what features various products offer, they can make the best decision about which core system to use and also be aware of what added features need to be purchased separately.

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