SAP Delivers a SaaS BI App for the Rest of Us

Power Users and complexity are out. Casual Users and intuitive apps are in. Why SAP's new BI app is smart strategy.

to Applications |
Han Solo: "Keep your distance, though, Chewie, but don't look like you're trying to keep your distance."
Chewbacca: "Ngyargh yargh."
Han Solo: "I don't know. Fly casual."

That famous dialogue is, of course, from Star Wars (Episode VI). In my own world where every business and tech topic is relatable to Star Wars, Han's "Fly casual" remark to Chewie is one of the first things I thought of when SAP announced this week its new SaaS application suite for "casual" and "underserved" BI users. (One can also easily equate Han's "Keep your distance, but don't look like you're trying to keep your distance" sentiment to SAP's tepid embrace of SaaS. But that's another matter.)

At first glance, SAP's new product certainly was in lock-step with many of the larger enterprise software and SaaS and cloud-based BI trends we've reported on. (See our special report on BI today.)

Noted the IDG News Service on SAP's announcement: "Users won't need prior training to start working with the suite, thanks to built-in guides that walk them through the various processes, according to SAP. One key component is the BusinessObjects Explorer data-visualization and exploration tool, which allows inexperienced users to intuitively and easily search through and analyze business data from a variety of sources, according to SAP. Users can also create reports and share them with people inside or outside their company in a secure manner."

So what we've got here is, essentially, BI "for the rest of us." BI "lite." BI "for dummies."

It's about time, SAP.

For too many years, SAP has built its sturdy and rigid software with the hard-core, Power User in mind. (Other enterprise software vendors are guilty, too.) The new SaaS BI tool is an acknowledgement by SAP that Power Users are a rare breed. For many business apps today, a "mass appeal" mantra can (and should) replace the "mass customization" dogma of years past.

Lest you forget: You want users to actually use the software.

In my recent article on BI strategy, Steve Anthony, CIO of Charles River Associates, made the simplicity point crystal clear: BI apps have "to be easy, intuitive and offer the ability for users to drill down and have layers of 'depth,' so that as people get smarter they can drill down even further [into the BI tools' capabilities]," Anthony said, offering Microsoft's Excel as an example. "But you have to make sure those layers are very easy to begin with."

Naturally, there is a fine line to walk: ERP and other business applications need to accomplish serious and critical tasks for both SMBs and large enterprises. Despite what Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff claims, Facebook in all its glory is not what enterprise software should resemble, as Charles Zedlewski smartly writes in a blog post.

That said, the meteoric successes of Salesforce.com and NetSuite and their easier-to-use, intuitive business applications show that, when thinking about how software user interfaces sync with business processes, software vendors need not have only the Power User in mind.

Instead, vendors should think about a broad swath of users, with varying abilities and skillsets. Like, say, all those humans, aliens and creatures hanging out at the Mos Eisley Cantina, in Star Wars.

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