Democratization of Business Information

Feature Article | October 6, 2009 by Jeff Reich

Sanjay Poonen by SAP BusinessObjects

Sanjay Poonen, EVP and GM of Performance Optimization Applications, SAP BusinessObjects


SAP.info: Mr. Poonen, you’ve described the latest BI innovations as the “democratization of business information.” What do you mean by that, and what will that mean for SAP customers?

Poonen: There’s a significant push towards BI solutions becoming significantly easier to use. There’s a drive to get all types of information to all people in the organization. SAP is at the forefront of making this revolution happen. We’re achieving that with a set of business intelligence tools like SAP BusinessObjects Explorer that offer web-like, natural-language search functionality for casual users or analytic applications. Another powerful example is Spend Performance Management – it’s revolutionizing the procurement experience because its incredibly easy to use.

It used to be that only one or two percent of people in an organization had access to these tools and applications. Now that’s changing. It’s what I like to call the “millennium user experience”: even users who don’t understand advanced analytics can now start using solutions to get information they need to better run their businesses.

SAP.info: What happens to an organization when you turn business users loose on vast amounts of information?

Poonen: You’re going to find people making quicker decisions based on fact rather than on gut feeling. They’ll be significantly more productive, and able to deal with other strategic issues. That’s much better, I might add, than spending time dredging through data or begging IT to give you a report.  New technologies also allow an exponentially larger set of data to be analyzed.

New concepts like risk can be captured into everyday decision making. These are some of the core aspects of SAP’s Business User vision; ensuring that there is a complete “closed loop” from strategy to execution – a loop that is driven by a set of SAP solutions that can help people be significantly more productive.

SAP.info: What forces are driving these kinds of innovations in BI?

Poonen: The ultimate goal is to make BI solutions available to the business user. And there are three main trends driving that:

  • First, there’s a massive push towards BI solutions becoming significantly easier to use.
  • The second key trend is for the solutions to start driving actual lines of business.
  • Third, you’re seeing an increasing proliferation of these business user solutions – not just for different lines of businesses, but also for various different vertical industries.

SAP.info: Where is SAP focusing its vertical solution development?

Poonen: SAP is building out a variety of different vertical solutions and accelerators. Take healthcare. We now have a set of solutions that help healthcare providers achieve better hospital utilization and measure true profitability. In the public sector, we are developing solutions that allow organizations to achieve greater financial accountability with taxpayer money for programs like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

We’re doing the same thing for other verticals like retail, financial services, and utilities. At the same time, we’re also building out addition verticals that have either belonged to one of SAP’s traditional strengths, or verticals which represent areas of business growth in challenging economic times.

SAP.info: Business users are clear winners. Is there anything new in store for managerial users?

Poonen: Managerial users are definitely business users from our perspective. We increasingly believe that CEOs, CFOs, and other c-level managers will want to use these new analytic solutions as a cockpit. For instance, we are now embedding BI technology in our GRC applications. Now chief risk officers can get the simplicity of cockpit-style dashboards to better manage enterprise risk.

You’d be surprised how many companies still don’t have a clear organizational barometer. They need to know what they’re currently doing, but also what their current key performance indicators and key risk indicators are. With SAP business user solutions, senior managers can access real-time information, and they can also begin to forecast and access potentially predictive information.

SAP.info: BI has become a very competitive space. How does SAP rank?

Poonen: SAP BusinessObjects is the undisputed number one in the BI market. We are also now number one in the adjacent spaces like enterprise performance management (EPM) and governance, risk, and compliance (GRC). And in the BI market, BusinessObjects has been number one for the last decade. We grew market share in 2008 even after the acquisition by SAP – twice as fast as the closet competitor.

In the GRC space, we were first to get into that arena, and are the market share leader.  In the EPM space, we were number four only a few years ago,. But with focus and rapid innovation, we have made enormous progress. IDC now ranks us number one in EPM, and Gartner Magic Quadrant ranked as the “most visionary” – the most innovative and best product in the market.

Net-net, this has all been significant progress. And it’s not just being driven by product innovation, but more importantly by many of our customers. They recognize this vision. And they are actually starting to use these solutions to be more productive, and to derive true business value and competitive advantage.

All in all, I think SAP is taking the entire space of business analytics to a much higher level – one where more and more managerial processes are actually being driven by business users with SAP solutions.

SAP.info: BI social media and Web 2.0 mashups are getting a lot of attention right now. Do you see them creating business value for SAP customers?

Poonen: In James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds, he talks about how information is being analytically distributed today in unexpected, powerful new ways. Now, large numbers of people can collectively look at information and quickly achieve a consensus.  That’s the power of democracy.  You see that clearly in Twitter, Facebook, and other social media consumer applications.

But you’re also going to see many of the same principles applied to the enterprise. You’re going to see solutions that help large numbers of people to vocalize their opinion and collaborate across an increasingly “flat world.” And it’s this counsel of experts that helps drive optimal decisions.

This collaborative approach to decision making will continue to become deeply embedded in SAP’s software development design and strategy, but also in all of our analytic solutions for business users. Likewise, Web 2.0 concepts are a key part of the design principles for all of our business user solutions. Take BusinessObjects Explorer, for example. It distinguishes itself in the market with its search-style exploratory navigation of business data. Casual users who don’t even know what the letters “B-I” stand for can use it.

Other solutions like Spend Performance Management and our soon-to-be-released Sustainability Performance Management also distinguish themselves with a powerful Web 2.0 user experience for the enterprise. That is the new face of SAP – and a big step in the democratization of data to business users.

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