A New Era In Analytics: SAP BusinessObjects and Journey to the Cloud

Lessons from the pandemic reinforce the need for digital transformation and the agility offered by the cloud.

By John Yuva, Editor, SAPinsider

Where will your company stand against its competitors in the future?

It’s a question being contemplated by nearly all businesses as they navigate a marketplace recovering from a devastating pandemic. Many companies with agile business processes and technology platforms prior to the pandemic were able to weather the storm and maintain supply chain continuity. The ability to share critical data with trading partners and leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning was imperative to business stability.

Many enterprises that have since implemented digital transformation into their operations are thriving as the world enters pandemic recovery. For SAPinsiders who have yet to pursue a digital transformation, COVID-19 has made clear the risks of not moving to a cloud environment.

SAPinsider sat down with two SAP executives, Timo Elliott, Vice President Global Innovation Evangelist, and Iver van de Zand, Vice President Solution & Product Management — Planning & Analytics, to discuss how SAP users can transition from SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise and leverage the power of the cloud.

Drive Toward Digital Transformation and Agility

Over the last three decades, SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise has amassed an immense userbase. As a leading solution for enterprise and ad hoc reporting, users continue to rely on the software to compile large amounts of data into universes for analytical modeling and report against it.

However, as changes in the market occurred and the needs for business intelligence evolved, SAP created a new Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product in SAP Analytics Cloud. Complete with data visualizations and interactive dashboards for real-time data analysis and enterprise planning capabilities, SAP Analytics Cloud serves a new, innovative set of business requirements in the age of digital transformation.

What was the differentiator for companies that remained competitive during a volatile and uncertain time? One word — agility. According to Elliott, companies that had already implemented some form of digital transformation and moved to the cloud were able to scale their operations. He says it’s clearer than ever that moving to the cloud provides a major opportunity for agility.

A great example: “It was a scenario where retailers had to massively ramp up their online sales and restaurants suddenly found their establishments empty. In both cases, a cloud infrastructure proved critical by enabling retailers to shift computing power to the e-commerce side of the business, while restaurants simply dialed down their IT needs and avoided the fixed costs of on-premise server rooms,” Elliott says.

“A major benefit of the cloud is the ability to operate anything from anywhere. If you need to be connected from anywhere, then you need to be in the cloud. Whether you’re mobile, in the office, or in another part of the world, you have access to critical data.”

Agility and digital transformation go hand in hand, van de Zand says. He suggests that as companies face greater complexity of data, higher data volumes, and easier data access, holding these three elements against the need for agility means digital transformation is the only route to accomplish it.

“When you talk agility, what you’re really saying is that companies want to become data-driven enterprises,” says van de Zand. “They want the ability to make rapid business decisions without latency but with the trust of data governance,” van de Zand says.

Approaches to Implementing a Cloud Move

The ultimate go-forward solution for SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise users is SAP Analytics Cloud. With SAP Analytics Cloud, companies have capabilities like business intelligence, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and planning all working together in a single solution for making fast, confident decisions.

A number of SAP BusinessObjects customers have yet to move to SAP Analytics Cloud. Some advanced reporting capabilities are heavily relied upon by companies, with tens of thousands of legacy reports residing in their systems. Now, these companies have options to leverage some benefits of the cloud.

SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise users can make that first step in their journey to the cloud with SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Private Cloud Edition. Companies maintain their business-critical reporting capabilities while moving their operations to the cloud.

“The beauty of the SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Private Cloud Edition is that it gives companies the capabilities of taking that which they could only do on-premise before, and bring it up and run it in the cloud,” van de Zand says.

According to SAP, moving from on-premise to the cloud provides several key benefits:

  • Pre-configured, dedicated SAP BusinessObjects system landscape hosted on hyperscaler of choice (including Azure, AWS, Google, etc.) or SAP cloud infrastructure, including everything required to run the application as part of a standard service package
  • Eliminates the need for ongoing maintenance by the users
  • Provides a significant cost savings by moving to a subscription model
  • Recategorizes the software from a capital expenditure to an operational expenditure
  • Presents critical data in a modern format for simplified analysis
  • Enables greater agility and flexibility in business processes with real-time visibility

The Best of Both Worlds — Another Step Towards The Future

Historically, there has been a divide between BI/Analytics tools and planning applications requiring customers to stitch together multiple separate products to conduct planning and analysis. SAP Analytics Cloud was designed from the ground up, built as a SaaS application with planning and analytics in one place, with everything needed to make better decisions — which analytics is ultimately about. Over time, companies will operate in a world without different modules and reporting and instead with a simple set of data services that answers questions for the user regardless of where the data originates.

Recognizing the reality that some customers cannot instantly switch, in some cases, thousands of SAP BusinessObjects reports to SAP Analytics Cloud, another approach is to subscribe to and run SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP BusinessObjects side-by-side. Customers can operate the services in parallel and then commence a phased move over time.

This approach helps enhance and build upon mission-critical reporting use cases while leveraging universes, document structures and assets in conjunction with the BI, planning, and predictive innovations provided by SAP Analytics Cloud. Live connectivity offers the chance to deliver up to the minute information for real-time insight and decisions, and share data, whether on-premise or in the cloud.

This allows organizations to use SAP BusinessObjects (either on-premise or in the cloud) to extend analytics capabilities and self-service user analysis across the entire organization with SAP Analytics Cloud while continuing to use enterprise operational reporting and their semantics layer, universes, and SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence models.

“We encourage people to use the newest approaches and consider SAP Analytics Cloud when they’re doing new projects to make it as easy as possible to move from reporting to more modern data analysis,” Elliott says. “SAP Analytics Cloud allows business users to ask more questions without as much reliance on IT control. Moving to the cloud makes for a much easier environment for people to ask their questions online.”

Importantly, the cloud subscription model for SAP Analytics Cloud and SAP BusinessObjects Private Cloud Edition provides a flexible commercial framework and options as usage patterns change over time. Plus, it provides an opportunity for evaluation of the value of existing assets and reports to determine whether they truly need to be moved.

What Lies on the Horizon for Enterprises Moving to the Cloud?

First and foremost, the move to the cloud is inevitable — it just makes too much sense. According to SAPinsider’s State of the Market report, moving to the cloud is a strategic priority for more than half of survey respondents (53%) who rated cloud adoptions as an area of significant investment.

With the exception of companies in highly restricted and regulated industries, moving to the cloud is really a question of when and how to do it, Elliott says. With that said, companies that are satisfied with SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise can now remain on that platform for the foreseeable future. However, the latest technologies such as SAP Analytics Cloud offer big opportunities that SAP can help facilitate.

Since a straightforward technical upgrade is not always possible when moving from on-premise to the cloud, SAP works closely with its partners to transition organizations to SAP Analytics Cloud. In fact, to help companies with their investment decision, SAP introduced three tiers of its SAP Business Technology Platform with upcoming free versions to aid in cloud adoption.

When Elliott speaks to customers that have implemented digital transformation or other innovative initiatives, he hears a familiar answer when asking if they would do things differently a second time — it took us much longer to resolve data issues than we realized. Technology tools like artificial intelligence are valuable for large amounts of high-quality data, where training a machine learning model to assist people with data decision-making is quick and simple.

“However, very few organizations have a large quantity of high-quality data — much to their surprise. Companies that want to make a big step forward often have to take a small step backwards and invest in a data foundation,” Elliott says.

“It always takes more time and effort than people realize. The good news is that the tools exist for data governance, data quality, and so on to comb data, but it does require an effort. The ROI of high-quality data can be a difficult business case to make when companies don’t realize how poor their data is,” Elliott says.

The Information Worker Emerges

As chief information officers retire, their successors are likely to embrace the cloud and self-service usability and shift their focus to high-quality data. In many cases, those who need analytics in organizations have been the most underserved, having to rely on IT and business analysts to create and distribute information. With a modern mindset, a new analytic user persona will emerge — the information worker, van de Zand says. This individual could own a business process or department or drive a line of business.

Where today’s SAP power users may spend hours on data analysis, an information worker will provide value to the company by quickly using analytics to make or confirm business decisions. As an example, a business may evaluate two suppliers and consider replacing them due to underperformance. In a span of two to five minutes, an information worker can quickly use analytics to confirm the performance issues, gain guidance from the data with the assistance of machine learning, and receive suitable supplier replacements.

To this end, SAP is enabling information workers by embedding SAP Analytics Cloud capabilities in all SAP Cloud Line of Business (LoB) applications to help provide contextual analysis. “Information workers are not analytics experts. Rather, they use analytics to confirm or make business decisions,” van de Zand says. “Imagine people in human resources (HR) using SAP SuccessFactors to analyze attrition weights and other HR data. They need to rapidly access analytics without being an expert. So, the technology must be extremely adoptable and guided because there’s no time to connect to a data source. This is what analytics will evolve to.”

Final Thoughts

SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise has its reporting capabilities. However, SAP Analytics Cloud brings modern analytics and machine learning that are designed to make business operations and decision making easier for end users, Elliott says. For people to use business intelligence widely in the organization, ease of use is key.

“With machine learning, simply typing or voicing a question makes it easier to ask new queries or examine a dataset and automatically see the outliers,” Elliott says. “Whether it’s identifying data quality issues or potential opportunities or disruptions, machine learning creates a whole different mindset toward analytics.”

He adds that at the heart of the move to the cloud is finding the business opportunity, which most often is focused on a specific business need. The decision, he says, is not based on the ROI of moving from SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise to SAP Analytics Cloud — that’s the wrong way to frame it.

“Instead, consider the ROI of better analytics for the marketing team, for example. If the marketing team were able to ask questions and have AI and machine learning automatically reveal key patterns, is it possible to improve marketing campaigns by 1%? Is that a reasonable expectation? And what would 1% improvement in your marketing campaigns do to your bottom line?” Elliott says.

“If it’s several million dollars, then a cloud move would be a worthwhile investment. That’s how you build the business case for cloud, with concrete numbers and a new paradigm where people are using data more strategically and with greater agility in the business.”

Ready to learn more? Begin your journey to the cloud and learn more about how SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Private Cloud Edition can help on your digital journey.

 

What Does This Mean for SAPinsiders 

  • To influence end users to adopt new cloud technologiespreferably with SAP Analytics Cloud or – in case-specific reporting needs – SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Private Cloud Edition, provide them with the analytics that help them in their day-to-day business decision making.  
  • When moving to the cloud, begin with building your data foundation, the core of your digital transformation. Invest in that initiative to successfully make the transition to the cloud. Data that is clean, reliable, and accessible is the most critical asset.  
  • If you want to go to the cloud, it is essential to have a closed loop (i.e., planning coupled with BI monitoring) in place from the beginning. This applies regardless of whether the customer is using SAP software. Customers must approach planning from a broader sense, together with BI monitoring. Without that closed loop, moving to the cloud is difficult.   
  • In today’s world, end users don’t accept latency. In analytic terms, it means having analytic capabilities that are live in real time. It is unacceptable to wait for a system update or data refresh. End users must be able to have a real-time view into business operations in order to make critical decisions on the fly.   

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