Posted by: Rascasse | December 11, 2010

SAP Business Objects BOE v3.1 vs MS BI 2008 R2

Intro

Quite often I run into the usual MS BI / SAP Business Objects debate and as I have been using both BI stacks for the best of the last 10 years,  I thought I would share with you some insight if you are thinking of starting to compare the two…

Facts

Since 2000 when i started using Crystal Enterprise 8.5 and SQL Server 2000…..the platforms have evolved greatly.

Crystalwas purchased by Business Objects in 2003 then acquired by SAP in 2007.
The first platform integrating both Crystal Enterprise and Business Objects components was called “Business Objects XI R1”, released in 2005 with incomplete integration and a myriad of ‘design features’ (aka ‘bugs’)….followed 10 service packs later with a R2 and then a v3 (can’t be called R3 because it clashes with SAP ERP R3 product version) which are a lot more mature and accomplished now. v4 is planned to be released soon…..
New BI applications designer modules within the platform have been released: a shiny new OLAP client “Voyager” now called “Pioneer” and a great guided analysis tool SAP Business Objects Explorer “Polestar” which both could be on a merging roadmap someday.

On the Microsoft end, the ETL DTS component has been deprecated, rewritten almost from scratch and rebranded ‘SSIS’. The SSAS OLAP engine has benefited from a facelift, new concepts, support for KPIs and advanced OLAP configuration wizards and functionalities. At last, MS BI Powerpivot is a decent exciting SSAS OLAP client hosted in the familiar Excel 2010, SSIS and SSRS have been vastly integrated together as a datasource provider and report writer, third party tools have flourished…

Due diligence is always recommended to keep up to speed with the latest offerings, and more importantly to get a clear roadmap from both of the vendors. Their product stack changes often (SAP Business Objects has deprecated some components following the two successive acquisitions…..such as OLAP Intelligence….and hesitated to merge their new OLAP Client “Voyager” and SAP legacy OLAP clients “Bex”…..while Microsoft has decided that DTS Designer wasn’t the right roadmap for ETL after all) and they introduce new technology (SAP Business Objects Presentation Design ‘Xcelcius’, MS Powerpivots project ‘Gemini’….) very frequently.

Personal opinion.

Success of BI projects is seldom due to technology choices alone. Choosing the right tool for the job is important, but you will be surprised to see some BI projects succeed even with the most cumbersome or simplistic tools. With hard work nothing is impossible….
Without business buy-in however projects will never succeed. Continuous investment into the BI project is paramount.

“BI” is a process, not a project.

Yet, even though comparing each product stack side by side is not the panacea, it will still give you a feel for how easy or troublesome your journey will be to achieve your objectives. Obviously, with the right tool to fit your requirements you will get there faster. With the wrong tool, you will get there…. eventually….

The comparison alone won’t give you the answer you are looking for. There are too many advantages and drawbacks on either side to come up with a rational choice. Rather look at the type of reporting you think you need (more analysis, more ad-hoc querying, more mass production pixel-perfect reporting, a mix of those), your budget, and the technology on offer in comparison to your existing in-house design IT/BI expertise.

If your budget is limited stick to MS BI stack.

Also, if your reporting needs can be served mostly by multidimensional analysis reports and simple flat parameterised reports, then stick to MS BI stack too. Simply because of the fact the SAP BO doesn’t have a true OLAP Engine and that its “managed” Crystal Reports pixel perfect parameterised reporting might be overkill.

However if you need an end-to-end solution from ad-hoc querying, ad-hoc and guided analysis, mass pixel perfect “managed” enterprise reporting, then consider SAP BO as one of the leader in the market.

Here’s where each stacks are best (irrespective of cost):

SAP Business Objects leads for :

End-to-end BI & Metadata Management
SAP BO Data Services formerly Data Integrator is integrated with the SAP BO XI “managed” reporting layer. Together with Metadata Management, it provides you with impact analysis functionality and report-to-source lineage. This is currently not available out-of-the-box with SSIS, MS BI Metadata and SSRS.

“Managed” Enterprise Reporting
SAP BO (Crystal Reports) is great at mass pixel perfect reporting, scheduling reports, distributing and bursting them. SSRS still not there for mass pixel perfect managedEnterprise reporting and its scheduling feature are so far limited. But it might be enough for what you need.

Ad-Hoc Querying & Semantic Layers
Since 1990 BO now SAP BO has a leading patented semantic layer called “Universes” and ad-hoc reporting and querying engine “Webi”. It is very functional and secure for self-service BI for trained key users. Even with the acquisition of Crystal and its semantic Layer “Business Views” it seems the roadmap is clear and is now “Universes” as the unified semantic layer. More work is still required though from SAP to incorporate in Universes all the functionalities that Business view are offering (scheduled LOV, view time security, dynamic data connections, effective cascading prompts).
MS BI Ad-hoc Report Builder is still a long way behind the mature SAP BO Webi web clients, and disregarding the limited UDM and SMDL components in MS BI, a “true” semantic layer is currently absent from the architecture (MS has ‘plans’ for this with BISM).

Enterprise ETL
SAP BO DataServices formerly Data Integrator is a seasoned mature ETL tool whereas SSIS “out of the box” still struggles with typical BI ETL routines and relies on third parties add-ons and .Net coding to achieve similar flow management and ETL configurability.

Enterprise Data Federation
This is not classic ETL but rather the “federation” or “virtual” aggregation of several datasources/datamarts for limiting the physical movement of data, quicker ROI on DataWarehousing project. What of MS BI ? The answer lies with third party software….

Scalable “managed” on-demand reporting
SAP BO has a unique patented “page server” technology. When a user requests a report on demand, the first page is returned, while the second page is being retrieved without the user noticing (a bit likeAJAX…). At the same time those pages are individually cached, and other users can request access to cached pages. SSRS has a report-caching technology (the entire report data is being cached if configured that way).

Packaged DataMarts
“RapidMarts” (pre-packaged ETL modules and DataMarts for leading ERPs such as SAP, PeopleSoft) not fully available for SSIS which simply has ‘connectors’ not packaged customisable DataMarts (as yet…).

Lifecycle Management
This is now a standard SAP BO offering for its managed reporting SAP BO XI. This covers migration of reports from different environments and can easily be scheduled out of hours. What of MS BI ?

A few extras:

–          SAP BO has desktop BI Widgets to consume existing BI content from your desktop, what of MS BI?

–          SAP BO has flash-building stunning data visualisation with SAP Business Objects Presentation Design former ‘Xcelcius’, what of MS BI?

–          SAP BO has IPHONE & IPAD stunning visualisation through third parties (e.g: RoamBI). What of MS BI ?

Aside from the critical cost element, MS BI leads for :

Ad-Hoc analysis, forecasting
MS SSAS and the latest SSAS Powerpivots tool are a serious contender against a mixed stack MS SSAS + SAP BO Voyager due to the fact that Powerpivots is an add-in hosted in the familiar Excel 2010 product.

Embedded Application reporting
Crystal Reports has for decades shipped as OEM with Visual Studio hence its leading position on the market of embedded ‘on board’ application reporting.  The tool has been received with mixed reactions. You will read here and there developers complaining about their Crystal Reports experience often due to lack of training, sometimes due to debugging difficulties.
Visual Studio – SSRS integration nowadays will answer that plea and will probably eventually win the battle of report writers.

Overall, depending on your requirements, you will need more or less ad-hoc querying, more or less ad-hoc analysis, more or less mass enterprise reporting, etc….

And sometimes you can get away with compromising on some requirements, and extending the reach of one module to satisfy broader needs. For example, you might be able to train your users in using an analysis tool to query and drilldown/drillthrough the information (Powerpivots/SSAS), and complement that with a few flat production reports (SSRS) rather than building a complicated semantic layer and ad-hoc querying module (SAP BO Universes & WEBI).

But don’t over extend a module’s native functionality too much and, if you can afford it, and want an end-to-end Enterprise-class solution, invest in SAP BOE Tools who have more mature and more complete product sets.

Thanks for reading and let us know what your views on this subject are and which angle you are coming from.

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