Archive for Business Intelligence

A whole lot of dough just to get BO

// October 10th, 2007 // No Comments » // Business Intelligence, The business of IT, The Future of IT

Well the big news this week is the acquisition of Business Objects (they don”t like it shortened to BO, but it’s just natural to do so) by ERP giant SAP. (SAP buys Business Objects) SAP paid dearly to get BO, $6.8 billion to be precise. The question is where are the synergies and will they make their money back! BO is an SAP business partner and have constructed their products to access the SAP databases directly. SAP has their own line of analytic tools that they hawk to their ERP customers, but I suspect that will slowly be phased out in favour of the superior BO products.

Apparently, SAP is looking to grow it’s install base for it’s main ERP platform, and believes that existing BO customers will be a captive market for it. SAP needs to grow it’s foothold in the SMB market and sees BO as a way to expand it. However, it’s a bit like the tail wagging the dog. Smaller companies who can and do leverage the BO product suite will not necessarily want to be burdened with the expense and overhead of an SAP ERP. In fact, it’s probably a safe bet, that any company that is utilizing the BO tools effectively, already has some sort of ERP or other sophisticated solutions managing their business. After all, the analytics don’t help you if your data is crap, and to have good data requires good systems (and good people to use them).

So, will SAP penetrate the SMB market via BO? Probably a little but, but I doubt it will move many SMBs off their existing systems. They are saying, initially, BO will remain a separate operating unit, but with that much invested, you know that won’t stay that way for long. I hope they are not foolish enough to build in special features and functionality in the BO suite that will only work if you have the SAP ERP in place. That would be suicide. To me this is an act of desperation as the market for the big bang ERPs like SAP wanes, and the market for improved analytics grows.

Unfortunately for SAP, the availability of low cost alternatives to BO will force prices down. BO’s new SaaS offering is a good go forward strategy, but with the relatively low cost of Compute power and Network access that is available, they will soon have competitors in the SaaS space as well. That, combined with the growth in the open source market will spell less and less licensing revenue in the long term.

I wish SAP luck, and I hope they are successful, but I hope they kept a little bit of money in the bank to buy some deodorant if the BO gets too bad.

Like it or not, Spreadsheets are here to stay

// October 3rd, 2007 // No Comments » // Business Intelligence, Collaboration, Office 2.0, The Future of IT

The venerable and well respected site CIO.COM has posted an article called “How to Say Goodbye to Spreadsheets“, which caught my eye. Having lived through the early years of spreadsheets, and having witnessed their evolution into a standard tool of business, I was curious. Having had to deal with the follies and foibles of spreadsheet usage within the companies for whom I have worked, I was hopeful.

But alas, just another case of sensationalized, presumptuous and misleading headlines.

To think that BI tools will eliminate spreadsheets is naive in the extreme. Can BI reduce your dependency on spreadsheets, absolutely, but eliminate them?? No way. I herein cite several major reasons for why spreadsheets are here to stay:

  1. People are basically lazy. Spreadsheets are easy and accessible, BI tools take time to configure and are generally restricted to a select few (due to high licensing costs primarily) within an organization. The poor relations will still be using spreadsheets and thumbing their noses at the BI enabled elite.
  2. BI tools are only as good at the data they have access to (ie: the predefined views that some techie type has deemed acceptable for the users to, well, view) A good portion of spreadsheets in any size organization will no doubt have data that exists no where else but in the spreadsheet. This goes back to number one above, as it’s easier to create a spreadsheet to track new data points than to get IT to build it into existing systems, and then get it into the views accessible to the BI tools.
  3. My experience with two major deployments of BI tools in large organizations, is… that most BI tool users, use the BI tools for 90% of the job and then export to Excel to finish it. It may be stupid, redundant and unnecessary, but that’s reality
  4. Spreadsheets are the tool of the masses. They are available to everyone and are easily shared. It allows anyone with just a little bit of training and a good deal of spare time, to build, maintain, discard and re-build virtually anything and everything. Just as Wikis have allowed anyone to contribute their ideas on any topic on the wiki, spreadsheets have enabled business users to do their own thing. It’s called freedom baby.

Now, I am not condoning the misuse of spreadsheets and I agree wholeheartedly with the reasons why BI tools are better, but from a practical standpoint, it will be a long long time, if ever, before spreadsheets are gone. Just look at all the free open source and free web based spreadsheet tools out there (eg: Open Office, ZOHO, Google Documents, etc…) and you’ll see their usage is growing. Even if corporate IT departments were to deploy MS Office without Excel, people will find a way to get access to the spreadsheets they need.
So, Philosphically, using BI tools in place of spreadsheets would be almost nirvana for large companies, but philosophies are what gets the user’s jobs done.

What’s your take?