BI Powers Plugging Into NetWeaver

Product may compete with company's long-time partners, but those partners aren't worried

With NetWeaver ’04, SAP AG has introduced application server and enterprise application integration (EAI) components that place it into direct competition with partners such as BEA Systems Inc., IBM Corp., and Tibco Software Inc.

According to SAP, NetWeaver ’04 also has a strong BI story, as well—one which may place SAP into competition with established BI players, some of which are also its long-time partners. “As we go forward, there will be opportunities where we will partner with many of these vendors to enable them and give them better resources or functions. But there also are places where we will compete with them,” confirms asserts Roman Bukary, director of market strategy for SAP.

So why have several prominent BI vendors lined up to support NetWeaver?

Last week, for example, Ascential Software Corp., Business Objects SA, and Cognos Inc. all announced support for NetWeaver ’04.

Ascential, of course, is an SAP preferred partner, and the ERP giant has OEM-ed its data integration technologies for use with its SAP Business Information Warehouse (BW) for several years now. That relationship, says Ted Turcotte, executive director of global strategic alliances at Ascential, forms part of the basis for Ascential’s NetWeaver endorsement.

“SAP resells our technology as their preferred way of getting non-SAP data into their business intelligence and Business Warehouse environment, and because Business Warehouse is part of NetWeaver, then, by definition, we are very supportive of SAP and the NetWeaver initiative,” he confirms.

At the same time, Turcotte acknowledges, there’s overlap between some of the capabilities that SAP claims to have built into NetWeaver ’04 and technologies that Ascential already markets, such as metadata management. “That’s their own technology, but what we do is different [from]—and very complementary to—what NetWeaver accomplishes. So our positioning and our collaboration with SAP is in support of those more complex deployments, in very large customer environments,” he explains.

Similarly, SAP has for some time sold a version of Business Objects’ Crystal Enterprise (Crystal Enterprise SAP Edition) for use with both BW and its R/3 ERP suite. Gord Breese, vice-president of the SAP alliance with Business Objects, says that his company’s NetWeaver endorsement is in large part a continuation of its preexisting relationship with SAP. “That was a reiteration of the relationship that we’ve had all along, but it also refers to the opportunities to work together around NetWeaver as well,” he comments. “We think that there are some very exciting things that we can do together there.”

What does Business Objects have in mind? “It’s our intent to broaden the full range of Business Objects products for NetWeaver,” Breese explains, noting that Business Objects’ Data Integrator ETL has also been certified for NetWeaver. “We think that NetWeaver [certification] is an important criteria for SAP customers to evaluate third party products,” he adds.

Last week, Business Objects and SAP announced an agreement whereby Crystal Enterprise is integrated with SAP BI, a component based on SAP BW that supports capabilities such as business planning and simulation. Bukary says that the new SAP BI component is designed to address most of the BI needs of enterprise users. Doesn’t that alarm Business Objects, which markets BI tools designed to support planning and simulation, among other activities?

“SAP is certainly interested in providing some of the basic capabilities across what you would expect to see in a platform stack, including to some degree limited business intelligence functionality and capability,” he argues. “While we do see that, we’re obviously evaluating the solutions we build together with, and work on with, SAP today. We see there still being a very significant market for third-party business intelligence tools.”

More to the point, argues Scott Lawrence, director of product marketing with Cognos, NetWeaver’s shared services architecture presents a can’t-miss opportunity for third-party BI vendors to build solutions capable of exploiting SAP’s ubiquitous Enterprise Portal and BW technologies. Just how ubiquitous? Consultancy Forrester Research estimates that SAP supports as many as 2,500 EP and 7,500 BW installations. That’s a difficult-to-ignore market opportunity.

“There’s definitely a place where we bring a whole lot of value to this story because of the way the SAP architecture has been evolving” away from the closed, proprietary SAP of old, Lawrence says.

Last week, Cognos announced that ReportNet 1.1 had been certified as “Powered by SAP NetWeaver.” Lawrence says that NetWeaver integration lets ReportNet users interact with SAP BW data in a way that wasn’t easily possible in the past. “It gives us unprecedented access to all of the SAP investment that has been made [in an organization], in terms of business content and business rules, that comes across in not just the data that’s [in BW], but also the business rules that have been applied,” he notes. “We also take advantage of the business rules that are employed in the SAP BW queries, where they pull in calculations, conditions, [and] restrictions on the key figures and variables.”

Thanks to NetWeaver’s shared services architecture, Lawrence says, organizations can access and report against both SAP BW and non-SAP data. Because ReportNet has been certified for NetWeaver, he claims, it has an advantage over uncertified tools, which flatten hierarchies or import data from BW to report against it. “We leverage the BW server fairly significantly,” he concludes, noting that ReportNet has also been certified for use with NetWeaver’s revamped SAP Web Application Server.

What of the threat that SAP poses to the ensconced BI powers that be? Bukary, for his part, says that co-opetition is a fact of life in today’s marketplace, and predicts that SAP’s partners-cum-competitors will take its expansion in stride. “Today we OEM and resell Crystal Enterprise, but there are other products in the Business Objects portfolio which we do not OEM and do not resell,” he points out. “This is the reality of the world today, and there are many, many vendors with whom we partner and compete.”

Another reason that BI vendors aren’t sweating SAP’s BI aspirations is that so much of the NetWeaver stack is still coming into focus. One upshot of this, analysts say, is that SAP is cobbling it together from many of its discrete application offerings. SAP announced Master Data Management (MDM), for example, in September 2003, as well as version 6 of EP in November.

As far as Rob Lerner, a senior analyst in application infrastructure with consultancy Current Analysis, can determine, there’s nothing new in either offering, outside of the integration of both products into the NetWeaver stack. “It would be my guess that the portal is wholly integrated into the platform,” he says. Adds Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with Current Analysis: “They’re attempting to bundle all of this together into the NetWeaver platform, it’s a packaging and bundling scheme that will get stronger over time, but I’m not sure what’s fully integrated today."

Because of these and other reasons, vendor representatives such as Ascential’s Turcotte say they aren’t losing sleep over the prospect of SAP’s BI ascendancy. “As their ambitions grow, there could be overlaps in the technology, but the overlaps would be marginal, so we’re quite confident that we would continue to have a real value-added position supporting everything they’re trying to do with MDM and NetWeaver and BW,” he concludes.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.