I visited the SAP Reporting and Analytics 2009 conference in Las Vegas to hear what SAP might be discussing about the latest in SAP business intelligence (BI).

At first I was a little confused as the conference this year was combined with SAP Projects conference which provided the first keynote by Jason Fox who leads the national competence center for SAP. Though the history and evolution of applications from SAP to SAP Business Suite 7 was not relevant for me who already knows the company history since early 90’s and I doubt for others too. There were a couple thtoo many apologies for the woes of the past by SAP in issues regarding upgrades, implementation cycles and challenges in timely deployment of applications. All of this discussion led to a sales pitch on SAP Business 7 and how SAP best practices education and value scenario assessments can provide better tools for upgrading and expanding applications deployments across the enterprise. All of this came as I got alerts on the third quarter 2009 results of SAP where application software revenue has been declining continuously over the last year.

But what is growing and of more interest to organizations today? Well the need to get information from our applications like SAP and provide it to business in different forms. The first being reporting where access to routine information is needed by business and the second being analytics where information needs to be further analyzed through different means. Now while the conference was busy bringing education on these topics the opportunity to advance what organizations need to strategically do with information was part of the main keynote by VP Marketing of SAP EPM and GRC, Stephanie Buscemi who is one of the authors of “Drive to Perform: Risk-Aware Performance Management from Strategy Through Execution.”

Stephanie took the stage and provided clarity to the changes in the industry where the pressure to not just perform but address risks as part of management and business processes as well as operate under any level of compliance. Of course these are part of the main theme of the keynote presentation on EPM and GRC where they provide significant value to business and clarity on GRC that is much needed (See: “IT Analyst Firms Continue Confusion on GRC”). There were some interesting facts from recent research into companies using SAP as top priorities in using business critical key performance indicators, improved user experience and need for reporting across business. Some additional research presented by McKinsey indicated priority on risk and performance management as places for short term gains from technology which of course played well with Stephanie keynote. Some pragmatic discussion on the pending transition of companies reporting requirements from GAAP to IFRS as my colleague has eloquently discussed (See: “IFRS and IT Choices: Are You Planning?”) and the need to further examine how to have the right financial reporting systems integrated with the closing process helped many start to understand transition required in coming years.

Most important to many was a relevant discussion with committed customers using SAP from Kevin Walker at BYU who uses SAP BusinessObjects suite of products to help with financial close process that is dynamically available next day. BYU now supports over 3300 users and has reduced 17 FTE from team through automation of their BI technologies. The second organization was Coca-Cola enterprises who have been a long time customer of SAP who also uses the SAP suite of BI products including the SAP NetWeaver BW accelerator. The finance and IT group at Coca-Cola has through a joint project that is building a consistent approach to reporting and analysis across the enterprise along with their financial consolidations. It should be no surprise that these customers were satisfied with their larger adoption and deployment of the SAP BusinessObjects technologies.

The keynote was deepened with a demonstration of the software showing how the strategy management software can easily manage a diversity of business objectives across finance, operations, innovation, sales and sustainability where the intricate set of key indicators for performance all the way to risk can be easily understood. In addition the use of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer which I already have written about (See: “SAP Announces New BI Explorer: Even a CEO Can Use It”) was demonstrated by searching and navigating to relevant information to see where deeper analysis identified issues. Then back to strategy management to create improvement initiatives, objectives and metrics to use as methods to ensure progress is made in underperforming areas but also using the identifying risk points that could impede progress. A well rounded software demonstration in less than 7 minutes that showed the value of SAP approach to EPM and GRC was definitely made clear.

SAP is taking a more business and management centric approach with their EPM and GRC efforts that is more clear from the processes to solutions with their technology than the other large providers like IBM, Infor and Oracle who either have not focused as much on the applications of performance management or have not fully fulfilled on role of GRC for integrating risk as part of performance management processes. But SAP has not brought forward as deep of an information management approach to their BI and EPM methods as IBM and Oracle have done. Though SAP did not demonstrate the long proven approach to unified reporting across SAP R/3, BW and other applications with SAP Business Objects Crystal Reports most know this is the short term solution to the longer term BI strategy with SAP BusinessObjects.

SAP states their advantage is their closed-loop strategy to execution approach for providing you trusted information, managing to risk points, and creating enterprise visibility as most have a ‘foundation of mud’ to manage their business. There is merit to their discussion and it is clear that the SAP EPM and GRC solution is a refreshing approach that organizations should review if they have not. Now if SAP can spend a little less time on promoting each of their legacy application solution area and more time on these solutions they might just find the business need for their own financial performance.

Mark Smith's blog can also be found here.