Power to the User

April 30, 2008 by Jeff Reich, freelance journalist, Berlin, Germany

Doug Merritt Corporate Officer, Software for the Business User

Innovation at Business Objects, an SAP company, is giving business users – the front-line knowledge workers who manage processes and collaborative networks on a daily basis – access to the very information once reserved for executives. In the coming months, they will have deeper insight into the make-or-break decisions that they make every day for their companies. Deeply embedded applications will deliver knowledge simply and quickly, freeing up business users to make good decisions for their company on a minute-by-minute, transaction-by-transaction basis.

“The face of the traditional business intelligence user is quickly evolving – there’s a change afoot,” explains Donald MacCormick, chief transformation officer at Business Objects. “The process is going to get increasingly sophisticated but also easier to use across large teams of people.”

Tools for improved performance

SAP’s recent acquisition of Business Objects puts a new range of tools into the hands of the people who need real-time business information the most – front-line business users who bear the daily responsibility of understanding and designing critical processes. Companies who have already deployed SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence have had a taste of what is to come: the ability to build up an amazing set of data about their organizations, with a wealth of accumulated, detailed knowledge for improved performance.

Yet until now, access to much of this valuable information has remained within the confines of the executive suite – a smart move for senior management to be sure, but one which leaves out other key players. Business Objects applications, on the other hand, not only give business users throughout the organization access to cascading objectives that clearly show everyone in an organization their role in the execution of strategy but also the information they need to achieve their objectives.

“It’s a huge step forward to tell someone ‘Here are your performance objectives and how they align with our strategy.’ But by giving them the information they need to execute, you’re empowering people to actually meet those objectives,” says MacCormick. “With Business Objects, everyone can see the objectives and key performance indicators against which they, and their part of the business, are being judged. Through our business intelligence tools we can also provide them with the operational information they need to meet their objectives. As a result, they are better able to align themselves with their organization’s strategy and drive performance.”

Drilling for gold

Business Objects is transforming business search techniques – much in the same way that search engines have rewritten the paradigm for finding information on the Internet. Search engines have made it possible to retrieve information and documents scattered across thousands of machines throughout the world in a matter of seconds. Similarly, enterprise search applications such as SAP NetWeaver Enterprise Search have enabled information workers to navigate critical business information.

Business Objects takes that capability one step further by giving business users a powerful self-service tool to explore data stored on their own corporate systems. It has made search techniques dramatically simpler with a number of innovations, including last year’s introduction of the Polestar solution. With it, business users can now perform keyword searches to uncover meaningful information buried in data sources across their organizations.

And it’s designed to be used by people who are casual users of the system – allowing them to work within a point-and-click environment without any training. “This is an enormous advantage for the 85 percent of business users who currently still do not use business intelligence, and for those who use it casually, whether that is once a week or once every six months,” says MacCormick.

The arduous task of reordering out-of-stock items is a case in point. When business intelligence is embedded into a stock replenishment process, Business Objects business users can be presented in advance with supplier performance history to help them make the best possible buying decision for the company.

“We focused on creating a BI platform with a much more flexible, next-generation set of applications. Now we can address the needs of the average business user as he or she works on very complex, value-added, crucial processes within an organization,” says Doug Merritt, SAP executive vice president and general manager.

Business network transformation

Business users won’t be limited to searching for information within their organizations. Business Objects was the original pioneer of “extranet BI”, allowing organizations to share information with their suppliers, partners, and customers; the continued evolution of this capability is helping transform business networks into interconnected value chains.

This is vital in a global economy, where more and more companies are building agile networks to outsource and offload non-core tasks to other individuals and organizations. This powerful new trend is impacting software architecture, applications and customers – and is a key factor behind the drive toward extending business intelligence to the business user.

“Today, scorecards and dashboards are typically an integrated view of a single organization. But moving forward, they will include information from outside as well,” says MacCormick. “When I talk to our larger customers, it is clear that they see a future where it is not just internal information which is critical to success but information from right across the business network.”

A blueprint for the future

As business intelligence innovation moves forward, the trend toward integration will continue to intensify, both within IT landscapes and within organizations themselves. One of the great opportunities is to deeply embed BI into the operational layer – the level at which high-quality, decision-making data is found. By putting this information into the hands of business users at the very moment they must make a decision, huge efficiencies can be realized throughout the organization.

“Existing and future SAP customers are being challenged to rethink how they look at business intelligence,” says Merritt. “For a growing number of companies, it’s no longer optional. It’s a competitive requirement.”

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