The Bright Future of Business Analytics

Recently the United Nations declared with certainty that the world’s population reached 7 billion people. By analyzing enormous amounts of data compiled from virtually every geographic level – continents, counties and local communities – the global agency was able to predict not only what individual nations will look like in 20 years, but what social changes they are likely to undergo.

How did the UN do all of this? With business analytics from SAP.

I often get asked, “What is SAP’s vision for business analytics?” To address that, I have two components. First I will provide a brief overview of where we’ve come from. Then I will directly address where we’re going.

Where We’ve Come From

I’ve been in and around the world of business analytics for the better part of the last 15 years. I was in the space when it was called “decision support” and business intelligence (BI) hadn’t yet been coined as a nifty, succinct term. I’ve seen the introduction and ascension of technologies (and buzzwords) like reporting, self-service BI and dashboards, budgeting, planning, data integration, and the list goes on and on. I’ve also witnessed (and lived through) the consolidation of those same products, companies and technologies into larger enterprise portfolios offered by larger software vendors like SAP.

Speaking of SAP, it’s important to note how we view our current business analytics portfolio and what the key components are. We don’t equate “business analytics” to “business intelligence.” Why? Because the lifecycle of data is a lot richer than just analyzing information. I’d suggest that the life of data includes at least the following elements:

    • Data warehousing (DW) for managing, storing and optimizing data
    • Enterprise information management (EIM) for finding, mapping and cleansing your data
    • Business intelligence (BI) for analyzing and sharing information
    • Enterprise performance management (EPM) for budgeting and planning
    • Governance, risk and compliance (GRC) for controlling data and information processes

With all the breadth and coverage that SAP offers, I am constantly amazed (pleasantly, I might add) that the demand for tools to help organizations access, analyze, govern and share information is seemingly insatiable. I have assumed that this due to the growth in the amount of data we all have to deal with. Furthermore, I doubt that this growth is going to slow down as there’s an ongoing explosion in information from devices, machines and social data (think “Big Data”) that is creating an entirely new set of challenges and reinforcing the fact that data will continue to grow exponentially for the foreseeable future – which is something we at SAP want to solve for our customers!

In addition to Big Data, without a doubt I believe the biggest technology trends and customer needs today and for the next five years that are driving our strategy for business analytics overall are the following: mobile, cloud, social and collaboration, in-memory, agility, predictive analytics and integration.

Where We’re Going

As for the vision itself, I am beyond excited about the future of business analytics from SAP based on our plan, the innovations in our labs and our overall roadmap! Embracing the technology trends and needs I mentioned earlier, we plan to completely transform people’s perception of what business analytics tools can do. Starting in 2012, we will begin delivering deeply integrated points of view on any and all information that concerns you or your company and, of course, delivering that information in real time. What this ultimately means is that there should be no concern for the data source you are accessing (ERP or social), the point of view you need to create (actual or budget, trends or predictive) or where you are (mobile solutions), business analytics solutions from SAP will deliver. It’s safe to say that this vision statement is predicated on delivering better integration across our business analytics portfolio, so I will consider the integration box as checked.

Delivering on this vision demands that we invent new ways to look at data (ease-of-use) as well as a complete remodel of how we think about the people who use our solutions every day. We also need to make sure that we address large organizations’ needs for a comprehensive business analytics portfolio and at the same time innovate for small- and medium-sized companies with easy-to-deploy solutions either in the cloud or on premise. The good news is that we’re working on all of the above, and to cover off on my point on agility – we *will* deliver (and continue to deliver) standalone solutions that solve the needs of our customers to be agile and responsive on any topic, from BI to EPM. We recognize that sometimes IT needs to assemble and connect business analytics solutions to data before end users see it, and other times we need to empower end users to just go fast and do it themselves!

On the mobile front, we are putting mobile clients first on our development priority list. It doesn’t mean we will replicate everything we’ve done on the desktop or in the browser on a mobile client. It does mean that HTML5 has taken a front seat because of its portability. It also means that we will create mobile clients that leverage or convert the content our existing customers have to be more universally accessible across all devices. Lastly, we have every intention of providing our clients ways to customize their mobile analytics experience, not just force them into how we think they should view their universes (no pun intended). The bottom line is we want people to have intel and analytics whenever they need it.

For social data and collaboration, in many respects we are delivering today what the future holds for business analytics. Just visit – a cloud solution from SAP for collaboration. We will release integration between BI and SAP StreamWork in the not-too-distant future, which will give our customers the ability to create collaborative work-groups and discussion forums similar to what you’d find in Facebook – *all* integrated with your BI system. For people who work in customer service or support center roles at our customers’ organizations, this will be life-changing. Instead of having to track down 20 people from 10 different departments to solve a customer issue, for example, you can all work online in a single group with access to all the pertinent information you might need regarding the task at hand! Beyond that, if your need is to simply avoid purchasing a separate sentiment analysis solution to analyze the mood of your customers on Facebook or Twitter, we can do that today in the 4.0 release of our BI solutions, and we plan to make that experience even richer in subsequent versions!

Speaking of SAP StreamWork, the topic of cloud always seems to be hovering overhead (moderate pun intended). The SAP BusinessObjects portfolio has offered BI solutions in the cloud since 2005 when we launched We pioneered an ever broader solution with SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand in 2007. And as previously mentioned, we’ve extended our on-premise BI solutions with cloud collaboration through SAP StreamWork. While all of this is interesting, what’s really compelling is where we are headed. The line between on-premise and on-demand is going to blur as we offer cloud services such as SAP HANA  to integrate with existing BI deployments. (See below for more on SAP HANA.)

SAP’s goal is to bring the benefits of predictive analytics capabilities to all users and parts of the business. This means providing different user personas with the right kind of predictive analysis experience so that people can uncover trends and patterns, anticipate business changes and needs, and form a complete picture of the business – historical, the present in real time and forecasting the future. Predictive analysis technologies are found in numerous parts of the SAP technology stack, such as the SAP BusinessObjects Predictive Workbench which uses database predictive capabilities in SAP HANA and Sybase IQ. Also, SAP business applications and BI reports, dashboards and tools can both include predictive findings and even invoke easily usable predictive features.

Finally, on the topic of in memory we have a lot to talk about. If you aren’t familiar with SAP HANA, I encourage you to check it out here: Assuming you are familiar with SAP HANA, consider the impact of an in-memory database on business analytics:

With SAP BusinessObjects solutions, most customers use the solutions to create reports, queries and dashboards on a variety of data sources ranging from SAP ERP to generic databases including Oracle, SQL Server and DB2. The variety and complexity of these legacy data sources – as well as the fact that existing environments require complex data layers including indexes, aggregates, etc. – make it very challenging to optimize the performance of SAP BusinessObjects solutions. By moving information from multiple disparate sources into SAP HANA, you can enable a real-time analytics scenario in which anyone using SAP BusinessObjects solutions will experience a dramatic improvement in their ability to view and explore information, which will drive faster decisions and a more efficient organization. Think about the impact of giving an additional 10 minutes of productivity back each day to an organization with 100,000 employees. How would we do that? By delivering information in real time with SAP HANA. The impact? 1 million minutes of additional work capacity per day! (More than 16,000 hours.)

The reason I cover this scenario it to simply let you know this: What we can do *today* with SAP HANA is only the tip of the iceberg. Eventually, every part of the SAP business analytics portfolio will leverage and run on top of SAP HANA; business analytics and in memory will be inseparable topics.

Overall, the future of business analytics is a very bright one at SAP. It’s a journey I hope you take with us!

Steve Lucas is general manager of Business Analytics at SAP