SAP BusinessObjects (BO) 4.0 suite is here. It’s been in the ramp-up phase since last fall; according to our sources, SAP plans to announce its general availability sometime in May, possibly at Sapphire. It’s about a year late (SAP first told Forrester that it planned to roll it out in the spring of 2010, so I wanted to include it in the latest edition of the Forrester Wave™ for enterprise BI platforms but couldn’t), and the big question is: Was it worth the wait? In my humble opinion, yes, it was! Here are seven major reasons to upgrade or to consider SAP BI if you haven’t done so before:

  1. BO Universe (semantic layer) can now be sourced from multiple databases, overcoming a major obstacle of previous versions.
  2. Universe can now access MOLAP (cubes from Microsoft Analysis Services, Essbase, Mondrian, etc.) data sources directly via MDX without having to “flatten them out” first. In prior versions, Universe could only access SQL sources.
  3. There’s now a more common look and feel to individual BI products, including Crystal, WebI, Explorer, and Analysis (former BEx). This is another step in the right direction to unify SAP BI products, but it’s still not a complete solution. It will be a while before all SAP BI products are fully and seamlessly integrated, as well as other BI tools/platforms that grew more organically.
  4. All SAP BI tools, including Xcelsius (Dashboards in 4.0), that did not have access to BO Universe now do.
  5. There’s now a tighter integration with BW via direct exposure of BW metadata (BEx queries and InfoProviders) to all BO tools.
  6. Improved BI/BW performance. This is the one I can’t validate until I talk with some customers. But SAP claims that, starting with 4.0, BW will have a unique set of proprietary SAP APIs that are 4+ times faster than APIs that are available to the other BI tools. I am assuming that what this means is that from now on, BW access by BusinessObjects will be faster than by any other BI tool.
  7. Last but not least, 4.0 is the first version highly optimized for the HANA in-memory appliance. Previous versions and other BI tools will also work with HANA; that should not be the primary factor in your decision whether to upgrade to 4.0 or not, but it’s indeed another variable in the mix. What does “optimized” mean in this case? Remember, all of your BI applications (with the exception of in-memory specific BI apps) were written and optimized for accessing disk-based RDBMSes. Chunks of code that were written specifically for that purpose can now be removed, and that code can be optimized for direct memory data access. That’s indeed what SAP claims they did in version 4.0.

SAP says that upgrading to 4.0 from XI R2 and R3 is as simple as “just opening the old Universe/reports in the new environment,” and that they provide an upgrade management tool to guide users through the process. I can’t confirm or deny this yet, but what I do know is that, according to my estimates, there are about 100 customers in the ramp-up program, and I haven’t heard any complaints so far. But if you are on an earlier version, unfortunately, it has to be a two-step process: using existing conversion wizards to convert to R3 first and then using the new upgrade management tool to go to 4.0.

 If you have a positive or a negative experience with your 4.0 upgrade, please let me know and I’ll update this blog accordingly.