It was the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference this week at the Walt Disney Dolphin hotel in Orlando Florida, with around 1600 people and 140+ sessions of BI goodness.
The conference included customer presentations from Harley-Davidson, Pepsico, AT&T, Intuit, Allstate, T-Mobile, Disney, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Amtrack, and many others; partner presentations from companies including APOS, Mellmo (RoamBI), Antivia, Centigon Solutions, Infosol, and Dunn Solutions; and in-depth product presentations from SAP BusinessObjects staff.
The session was kicked off by American SAP User Group (ASUG) CEO Bridgette Chambers who outlined the steps ASUG has taken over the last three years to help integrate BusinessObjects into the SAP ecosystem without diluting the existing vibrant user community. ASUG has recently offered free membership to ASUG for existing BusinessObjects customers to encourage them to take part in the groups influence over SAP’s directions for the future.
Next up was keynote speaker Peter Sheahan on the subject of “FLIP – How to Find and Exploit Opportunities in an Upside-down world”. Peter did a particularly good job of tailoring his presentation to the specific concerns of the BI audience (unlike some keynote speakers).
The overall theme of the presentation was change, and how IT business leaders should react to it. He gave some examples of how others had dealt with planning for the future:
In 1901, the then-mayor of London brought together the smartest people in the planet to create a strategic plan for the city in 1925: entrepreneurs, members of the royal family, politicians, etc. It was built on three key challenges that they felt they had to prepare for:
- Transportation: 3000 horse-drawn buses were carrying 500 million passengers a year, and based on population estimates, they would need one million new horses.
- Sanitation: that many horses would need a lot of cleaning up (London was already exporting approximately 5,000 tons of manure daily, and The Times had predicted that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep).
- Property prices: the need to keep that much livestock close to the city would drive up prices.
Clearly the plan was misguided, but should the Mayor be forgiven for not knowing the future? No, not really, because there were already 75,000 cars manufactured and on the road. In the US, there were already 78 companies building cars. By 1926, there were more than 1.7 million cars on the road. (interestingly, 1904 may have been the highest-ever average off-peek speed for a motor vehicle in London: 12 mph. In 1996, it was still only 10 miles an hour!)
Other examples Peter gave included:
- In 1986, a McKinsey and AT&T study predicted there would be 900,000 cell phone subscribers by the year 2000. AT&T ignored them and went ahead with more ambitious plans (the study missed by a factor of 120: there were 109 million phones in 2000, and next year there will be around 5bn mobile phones in the world)
- A CEO at conference, less than twelve months ago, presenting the future of subscription TV: “I cannot see a time where broadband technology will be fast enough to threaten the distribution of video content”
We’ll going through change. The issue is never “can you predict the future”, it’s “are you making the right assumptions about what is happening in the present”. Tomorrow’s opportunities are written everywhere, but do we seize them?
- Panic: put your head down and mew in a corner
- Complete denial
- Roll with it, enjoy the process, get in front of it.
Consumers’ expectations are rising. Every two years, Pew Research asks consumers in Western developed countries: “In your life, what is a ‘nice to have’ and what is a ‘necessity’.”
2006: 91% car, 70% home air con, 49% cell phone, 64% TV, 33% cable TV, 29% high speed internet, 5% flat screen, 3% ipod
2009: 88% car, 54 home AC, 49% cell phone, 52% TV, 23% Cable TV, 31% high speed internet, 8% flat screen, 4% iPod.
Peter emphasized that it’s all about making the right assumptions about what’s happening now, about finding and exploiting new opportunities. To do this, you need better business insight, through business intelligence, or better efficiencies through business applications.
“Clearly, this is a sweet spot for the audience. I don’t think there’s EVER been a better time to have the competencies of this group. It won’t be BusinessObjects or SAP applications, but both. This means you’re important!”
He gave the audience three specific things to think about:
(1) Don’t get wooed, conned, convinced that innovation has to be bright, sexy, and new. Google isn’t a great model for innovation – most of their money through doing one thing really well. Apple is a consumer products company, so some of the narrative is misleading. We’ve been led to believe that innovation has to be a new channel, a new category.
- Thirteen years ago, they specialized in ensuring the uninsurable – e.g. young teenage boys. What was their core competency? Assessing risk. They worked out that your credit rating was a better indicator of risk than your driving history, for example. They then expanded this core competency into other markets such as soccer moms.
- They allowed customers to service themselves – get a quote based on a form, and compare that to the quotes from other vendors. It was process-based innovation: they got better data and redid their internal systems to reflect the new data – just as this audience does. This took them to #2 in the market.
- An executive proposed a radical idea: “how about if we just paid everybody’s claims, without question?” Using hard data, he was able to show that the number of lawyer-based claims had shot up 40% over the last three years, and if they had just paid those claims up-front, they would have would have saved a fortune. They built a program called “claims adjustment psychology”, which took out 40% of the cost of the post-claim process. For example, they gave insurance assessors the ability to write checks right on the spot.
And even when the innovation is sexy, it’s still underwritten by intelligence. For example, Prada has a new flagship store in New York that uses all the latest technology to personalize the shopping experience. As you look through the clothes, nearby monitors automatically propose similar garments based on the RFID chip, etc. They whole thing is powered by customer intelligence.
(2) One of our jobs as leaders is to communicate the value of what our expertise brings, and to do this, you have to be great story-tellers. In particular, IT business leaders have to do a great job of selling value. It shouldn’t always have to be about doing the same with less – it should also be about having more to do even more.
Think about the STORY. Behavioral economists have found that only 7% of any decision is made up of tangible, rational things. No decision is made without them, but what actually determines the decision is something else. People need the “stitching to support the narrative”:a real Gucci bag will always be worth a lot more than a fake Gucci bag, even if the fake were near-identical, because of the Gucci experience, and how purchasers feel about having the real product. Or as Harley-Davidson says “we’re not really in the motorcycle business”, they are in the experience business.
You have to understand how people position you in their minds . For example, Samsung was known as a cheap Korean import, compared to a high-value brand like Sony. But now they sell for a price premium, something they achieved by installing a chief design officer: everybody has more or less the same TVs, but they wanted theirs to simply look better. It’s the same with software: everybody can install SAP and BusinessObjects, but the companies that see the value will be the ones that make the experience streamlined and efficient and enjoyable.
(3) Leverage the power of this community. Business is getting more demanding, you have to get responsive. Imagine if “you all knew what you all knew”.
What are the most visited websites in the world? Google, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia. All are based on communities. Who manages the supply chain at eBay? Who creates the content on Facebook? Who creates content on Twitter? Who creates the content on Wikipedia? In every case, it’s people. It’s not about top-down planning, it’s about facilitating interaction between users and user groups. People have to reciprocate, though, or it doesn’t work. So get engaged…
On the second day, Steve Lucas, responsible for BusinessObjects sales in North America, did the morning keynote on “Achieving Remarkable Results”. He quipped that the tagline should be “SAP: a business intelligence company” because a large share of US license revenue in 1Q and 2Q came from business intelligence sales.
He talked about the importance of business intelligence to SAP, and the importance of independent access to all systems: “We intend to continue to be the best BI – period. Not just the best BI for SAP”.
After a quick overview of the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio of products, Steve went on to highlight some of the new directions for the coming year: BI 4.0, the HANA project (High-Performance Analytic Appliance) – while hefting a real-life HP blade, and did a demonstration of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer for iPad against millions of rows of memory-resident data.
Wednesday’s afternoon keynote was carried out by Jason Rose and George Mathew, responsible for the marketing and engineering roll out of BusinessObjects BI 4.0.
Jason kicked things off with an explanation of the overall positioning of the new BI 4.0, due out in November. After a normal SAP “ramp up” period, it will be generally available next year, typically 4-6 months after initial release. Any customers who would like to take a look at the product were urged to contact their sales representatives to become part of the ramp up program.
As Jason is indicating above, there were only three slides in the presentation – the vast majority of the 50-minute presentation was made up of live demonstrations of the latest product functionality, including the new multi-source universes, with improved support for multi-dimensional data sources (screen shot below, different colors for different data sources).
Other notable demos included:
- Standardized look-and-feel across the client applications (including a new standard charting module)
- New drag-and-drop ease of use of Crystal Reports (below)
- The new Analytic Applications
- The new BusinessObjects Analysis OLAP client (the successor to Voyager/BEx, known also as the Pioneer project), for Web and Excel (the Excel version is already generally available for access to BW)
- The new easier integration between Web Intelligence and BusinessObjects Dashboards (formerly Xcelsius Enterprise)
- A demonstration of the BusinessObjects Augmented Explorer for iPad, that allows data to be shown on maps, and overlaid on a camera view.
Overall, feedback from the conference was very positive. I hope to have time to go into some of the track sessions in a further blog post!