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SAP exec defends the vendor's Business Objects integration strategy

An SAP exec responds to criticism surrounding the company's decision to charge SAP BI customers a premium to upgrade to certain Business Objects technologies.

While acknowledging that the company hasn't done a good enough job communicating to customers the rationale behind its business intelligence product roadmap, a senior SAP Business Objects executive defended the company against criticism over pricing and upgrade decisions.

There were no comparable SAP BI products for a number of Business Objects products at the time of the acquisition, said Franz Aman, vice president of the company's Intelligence Platform Group, making it reasonable for the vendor to charge existing SAP BI customers to upgrade to the Business Objects alternative.

Aman pointed to Business Objects Xcelsius, a Microsoft Excel transformation tool, and Polestar, a BI search tool, as two such products.

"In terms of why do we actually charge for the Business Objects products and why don't we just give rights to all these products to existing SAP BI customers, it's actually reasonably straightforward," Aman said. "There is no one-to-one match of products, with very, very few exceptions."

In fact, Aman disputed the common perception that there was significant overlap between the SAP and Business Objects BI portfolios at the time of the acquisition. SAP was largely focused on the "data back-end," with its Business Warehouse and Business Intelligence Accelerator products, Aman said, while Business Objects' portfolio was geared to BI front-end tools.

"The Business Objects BI tools suite is way, way, way broader [than SAP's], so from that perspective, it isn't a one-to-one match where you can say we simply give rights to customers for all of that, because there's so much more value that also comes with it," he said. "We felt it was fair to ask a customer to pay for that."

Aman would not say whether SAP was giving discounts to current SAP BI customers looking to upgrade to Business Objects technology, saying only that SAP works with every customer "to ensure that we protect their investment."

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 Where there are overlaps, he said, the company chose the superior of the two products to ensure that SAP's BI tools were "best of breed," as it did when it chose to standardize its BI platform on Business Objects XI over NetWeaver BI, or, in some cases, is integrating SAP and Business Objects technology to develop new products. Pioneer, an OLAP tool due out later this year, reportedly combines elements of SAP's BEx Analyzer and Business Objects Voyager, for example.

Most analysts contend, however, that there was indeed a significant product overlap between the two companies, which forced SAP to make a number of difficult decisions, including which technologies to standardize on and which to phase out. In most cases, analysts say, Business Objects products won out.

Some customers, especially those that invested in SAP BI technology shortly before the acquisition, have expressed frustration to analysts that they are being asked to spend more money on Business Objects technology or are being forced to make do with SAP-based tools that the company will no longer enhance and perhaps will eventually phase out entirely.

But Aman also pointed out that SAP developed and quickly unveiled its BI product roadmap just a few months after the acquisition and continues to invest heavily in its Business Objects-based technologies, which will result in a quick ROI for SAP BI customers that invest in them. SAP has added personnel and resources to develop the BOBJ line of BI applications.

Still, Aman acknowledged that the company could have done a more effective job of explaining to customers the rationale behind its decisions. "We may not have done a good enough job explaining the reasoning … properly and consistently to every customer."

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