I get lots of questions from clients on whether they should consider (or continue to rely on) SAP BW for their data warehousing (DW) and business intelligence (BI) platform, tools, and applications. It’s a multidimensional (forgive the pun) decision. Jim Kobielus and I authored our original point of view on the subject soon after the SAP/BusinessObjects merger, so this is an updated view. In addition to what I’ll describe here, please also refer to all of the DW research by my colleague, Jim Kobielus.

First of all, split the evaluation and the decision into two parts: front end (BI) and back end (DW).

  • Back end – DW
    • Strengths:
      • Best for SAP-centric environments.
      • Agile tool that lets you control multiple layers (typically handled by different tools) such as ETL, DDL, metadata, SQL/MDX from a single administrative interface.
      • Unique BW accelerator appliance (via in-memory indexes).
    • Concerns:
      • Typically tough to incorporate non-SAP data. This is not an ETL issue. SAP will tell you that if you use Business Objects Data Integrator, this will become easier; it will not. It’s not a question of a good, open ETL tool, it’s a question of mapping apples to oranges and fitting non-SAP data into multiple BW layers of ODS, InfoCubes, BEx Queries, etc.
      • The price for agility is typically significant difficulty to tune and optimize (since many components are not under direct DBA control).
      • Based on these strengths and weaknesses:
        • Enterprises where most of the data comes from SAP sources and with relatively small data volumes do use BW as enterprise DW (EDW).
        • Enterprises where a significant percentage of data comes from non-SAP sources or with data volumes in multiple terabytes (where lots of tuning and optimization is required) use BW as an SAP-specific data mart that then feeds another EDW platform/environment.
  • Front end – BI
    • BW’s native BI tools (BEx, Visual Composer, etc.) are mostly in support-only mode in favor of Business Objects (BO) BI suite.
    • SAP’s putting on significant pressure and offering incentives for clients to migrate to BO.
    • We encourage our clients to do the same:
      • If the majority of the data comes from SAP sources.
      • If it’s a mix, we encourage them to broaden their BI vendor evaluations and consider IBM Cognos (if they already use IBM stack products like InfoSphere, WebSphere, etc.) or Microsoft (especially if they already use SharePoint) and others (while still considering BO, which is an open platform).
      • Additionally, when considering BO versus other BI vendors, a major decision point is that while each BO tool (Crystal, WebIntelligence, Explorer, Xcelcius, etc.) has market leading functionality, there’s little product-to-product integration. Basically, these are all separate products running on the same administrative platform and sharing the same data access layer (Universe), but you design, build, and support these products separately. Other BI vendors offer much more integrated platforms. The next release of BO (currently in “ramp up” stage — meaning you have to specifically request it), which should hit the shelves later this winter, will address some, but not all, product-to-product integration issues.

 Did I miss any other major decision points? Please comment and answer a short poll here http://community.forrester.com/polls/1143 or on the right side of this page.