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Business Objects customer frustrated with SAP licensing, technical hiccup

Jeff Kelly, News Editor

Since acquiring Business Objects in early 2008, SAP has recieved its share of praise and criticism over its efforts to integrate the smaller business intelligence (BI) vendor.

On the positive side, SAP has been lauded for staying true to its word that the Business Objects portfolio would remain database-agnostic. But the vendor continues to take its lumps over its BI licensing and maintenance fees policies – or lack thereof.

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At Bigelow Teas, a longtime Business Objects customer, applications manager Melanie Dower's concerns about the vendor's ability to operate in a heterogeneous environment have largely been assuaged. SAP has publicly and repeatedly said it will keep its Business Objects-based portfolio database-agnostic, and the vendor appears to have followed through on that promise. But when it comes to licensing and maintenance costs, as well as upgrade compatibility, the reaction at Bigelow has been mixed, according to Dower.

The Fairfield, Conn.-based beverage company has been using Business Objects Desktop Intelligence to create and publish sales and financial reports since 2004. When SAP put Desktop Intelligence into what Dowe said is essentially a "maintenance-only" mode, Bigelow decided to upgrade to Web Intelligence, SAP Business Objects' Web-based self-service reporting application.

"By this time, Web Intelligence was incredibly improved and I was won over by the advantages, so we've since been converting our reports and doing all new development in Web Intelligence," Dower said.

Dower hoped Bigelow could simply trade its 50 Desktop Intelligence licenses on a one-to-one basis for new Web Intelligence licenses. But that hasn't turned out to be the case. Instead, she is now in negotiations with SAP, trying to get the most for her now unneeded (but paid for) Desktop Intelligence licenses.

"They are working with me on converting the licenses, but it's not a one-to-one swap," Dower said. "You're talking a lot of money." In addition, her salesperson hasn't been able to give her a definitive answer on maintenance costs for Web Intelligence. "I'm not sure how they're calculating the maintenance," she said. "How they're handling this is still a little shady to me."

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Dower's situation is far from unique, according to Boris Evelson, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. In fact, SAP doesn't seem to have a clear-cut policy on customers swapping licenses of an older product for a new or enhanced one, he said. Instead, SAP gives its salespeople discretion to negotiate with customers, as is the case with Bigelow Teas.

But Bigelow and customers in similar circumstances shouldn't expect SAP to cede too much ground, Evelson said: "The SAP Business Objects sales team does have a certain level of discretion. But I can definitely tell you it will never be one-for-one [license swap]."

When contacted by SearchDataManagement.com about Bigelow's situation, however, SAP suggested that its sales team does have discretion.

"Historically we've handled conversions of Desktop Intelligence licenses to Web Intelligence as a 1:1 conversion," responded Franz Aman, SAP Business Objects' vice president of BI and enterprise information management product marketing, in a statement. "We're in the process of determining why this may not have been the case with Bigelow Teas. We already reached out to the customer to offer the correct 1:1 conversion of their existing Desktop Intelligence licenses to Web Intelligence."

In a recent report, Bill Hostmann, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, said Business Objects customers should expect such license negotiations with SAP to be a "complex conversion process," and they should not be surprised if they end up paying more than what their existing contracts stipulate.

"If SAP Business Objects customers convert to the [SAP] license model, then they will get credits for all products they have purchased, including existing licenses for test and development environments, as long as they are current on support," Hostmann wrote. "It is an open question at this point in time whether existing SAP Business Objects customers will be better or worse off, from a purely license fee perspective, as a result of this change."

As for the product itself, Dower is happy with Web Intelligence's "Microsoft-like folder structure" for navigating administration functions and its flexible security options, which give her the choice of using Microsoft Active Directory or Business Objects' native security settings.

But there has been one major technical hiccup, Dower said. She has been forced to redevelop some two dozen reports because Web Intelligence would not calculate certain sales and financial percentages, or sections, correctly. "You're basically starting from scratch on how I'm going to format the data in such a way that it's going to work," she said.

Dower plans to tap the services of Bigelow's third-party support firm, Cheshire, Conn.-based Andrews Consulting Services, to help her rework Bigelow's reports, but she couldn't say how long it will take. She also said she has found help from peers on an online forum called the Business Objects Board.

Forrester's Evelson said this, too, is a common problem -- one that customers should be aware of before making the switch. "Upgrading from Desktop Intelligence to Web Intelligence does not require a full rewrite," he said, "but it definitely requires full regression testing."


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