SAP's DI Portfolio Strategy: Platform Neutrality

With the release of a revamped Metadata Management product on tap this fall, SAP's platform-specific pitch looks to get even stronger

When SAP AG acquired the former BusinessObjects SA two years ago, it got something of a bonus: on top of that company's best-of-breed business intelligence (BI) and enterprise reporting technologies, SAP inherited data integration (DI) assets, too, in the form of the BusinessObjects Data Integrator, Data Quality, and Data Federator products.

This bonus presented something of a dilemma for SAP: BusinessObjects had itself acquired Data Integrator from the former Acta, which specialized in SAP data connectivity. BusinessObjects also made significant investments in Data Integrator, such that by the time of its acquisition by SAP, many in the industry regarded that product as a full-fledged enterprise DI offering.

What's more, BusinessObjects hadn't hesitated to acquire complementary assets (such as data quality technology from best-of-breed player Firstlogic or data federation capabilities from the former Medience) to flesh out its DI toolset.

BusinessObjects' approach differed drastically from competitors Cognos Inc. and Hyperion Solutions Corp., which were acquired at about the same time by bigger, more DI-intensive players. Cognos had ETL technology of its own (courtesy of the former DecisionStream technology), which it didn't aggressively develop or promote. Hyperion hadn't pursued a DI strategy of any kind.

SAP's dilemma concerned what to do on the DI front: how would it reconcile BusinessObjects' formidable DI stack with its own NetWeaver-centric DI stack? What's more, how did SAP plan to evolve the BusinessObjects DI stack going forward? Should it double-down on Data Integrator's connectivity into its own application stack or (more ambitiously) should it continue to push Data Integrator -- along with Data Quality and Data Federator -- as part of a platform-neutral, full-fledged enterprise DI stack?

From SAP's perspective, there was no dilemma, says Philip On, director of information management product marketing with SAP BusinessObjects. BusinessObjects had previously made a decision to fold both its DI (Data Integrator, Data Federator) and DQ (Data Quality, Data Insight) assets into a single product family, dubbed Data Services XI.

SAP, for its part, didn't tinker with this arrangement, On explains. Instead, it continued to develop Data Services as both a platform-specific and a platform-neutral offering, while positioning that bundle in the context of its overarching Enterprise Information Management (EIM) strategy, a grouping that includes master data management (MDM) and other complementary technologies.

Two years on, On maintains, SAP BusinessObjects is as serious as ever about being a platform-neutral, best-of-breed DI player. "If you compared that first release [Data Services XI] to other products [in the marketplace], it was one of the first to market to deliver a single unified offering, with a consistent user interface, that addressed data quality management within the data integration environment," he comments. "We delivered that [Data Services XI] offering six months after the acquisition," he says, conceding that SAP was basically executing on BusinessObjects' existing development road map.

Since then, SAP's strategy has been determined, to a degree, by feedback from its own customer base, as well as its base of BusinessObjects users, On says. As a result, he continues, SAP has focused on more tightly integrating the data quality management and data integration experiences for SAP and non-SAP customers alike. On points to the June release of a revamped Data Services XI 3.2 as just one sign of this.

On the one hand, he acknowledges, SAP's marketing made a big deal out of Data Services 3.2's platform-specific enhancements (such as simplified loading in NetWeaver Business Warehouse); on the other hand, On says, Data Services 3.2 delivers on SAP's vision of an improved data quality experience, too -- particularly in the area of integration in the context of the DI process.

"More and more, our customers have been saying, 'Within an ETL process, I can't deliver the results to the business if I don't address the data quality issues.' At the end of the day, users don't trust the data integration systems [because of concerns about data quality], which in practice limits both adoption and their ability to get insights [from their BI software]," On says.

"We've had some great responses [from customers] to the new Data Services [release]," he continues. "The Oslo Stock Exchange [for example] had another ETL tool that they had been using for about 10 years. They told us, 'We don't want silos of IT teams on my project, but that's what we have. How can we get away from that?' When they say silos, they're talking about a team that's tasked to do data quality and knows only that tool. Then they have another team that's tasked to do ETL and knows only that tool. What happens is that they have to figure out how to do the handshake [between the two teams], when what they really wanted was a unified team that could address a simplified solution."

The revamped Data Services goes a long way toward doing just that, On says.

At the same time -- and even though SAP BusinessObjects adamantly positions Data Services as a general-purpose DI and DQ platform -- that product is also coming into its own as an SAP-ready offering. On cites the upcoming release of SAP BusinessObjects Metadata Management, which -- when it ships later this fall -- will facilitate metadata management across both BusinessObjects and SAP environments.

"Right now, it [Metadata Management] brings in the BusinessObjects metadata from our data integration tools, our data quality tools, and our business intelligence tools. Soon, we'll be coming out with a release that will also bring metadata from the SAP environment as well," he points out. "That kind of integration will enable SAP customers to perform impact analysis on their data. It will let us offer an information management capability that now has integration to all of the SAP solutions so that this kind of 'chain of truth' is visible to users."

This "chain of truth" view (up and down the stack) is the particular selling point of SAP's EIM strategy, On contends. To be sure, customers who tap Data Services to support DI in heterogeneous environments will benefit from that offering's best-of-breed ETL and DQ componentry. SAP BusinessObjects customers who buy into SAP's over-arching EIM vision will get best-of-breed DI, DQ and considerably more, he argues.

"It's all about traceability, from [the results of] business intelligence back to the data. Customers want to know where the data is coming from. Our strategy in terms of information management is really to serve the business user, to expose that trust, to bring data management into the limelight, and to really show the value of information management," he says.

"We feel the new release [of Data Services] achieves that, but we're pursuing other ideas to expose metadata in meaningful ways to the business user, beyond what we're delivering [in the upcoming Metadata Management release]," On concludes.

"Some future things that we're thinking about are really about how do we bring that trust metric in terms of a meter, a score, a way that users can actually quantify the value [i.e., the degree of trustworthiness] of an insight. It's all there. It's all in the metadata, it's locked away in these back-end systems. We're going to unlock it in this and other [releases]."

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