Living life on the edge can be thrilling, exciting and exhilerating. It can also be dangerous. Living life on the edge means you are moving at a pace where one mis-step can mean the difference between winning the race and falling over a cliff. Surviving today’s pace of business requires speed and agility of decision-making. Fast and efficient decision making not only requires lots of data, but also the ability to process and analyze that data at lightning speed, before it simply becomes history. Small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) face the same challenges of intense competition, globalization and acceleration of change, but often lack the tools needed to respond quickly and efficiently not only to data, but to events as they happen.
On June 14, 2011, SAP announced the latest offerings from its business analytics portfolio, tailored to fit the decision-making needs of SMEs. These include SAP® Crystal Server 2011 software and the 4.0 release of SAP® BusinessObjects™ Edge Business Intelligence (BI). Of course, when SAP used the word “edge” in its product name, it meant something a little different than the precipice that was implied in the opening paragraph. SAP’s use of “edge” implies these solutions lie at the perimeter of and complement enterprise applications like its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) products. And yet, most SMEs today do indeed live on the edge and are in danger of not being able to understand all facets of their businesses and make confident, data-driven decisions as events unfold, in real time.
Most SMEs today are looking for increased visibility to their businesses, beyond the traditional reporting, which tends to focus the eyes of the business in the rear view mirror. Today’s accelerated pace of business creates an added requirement to move away from using data only to understand what has already happened. Additionally all companies must also monitor events in real time in order to avoid danger, mitigate risk and respond to new opportunities. Yes, this is a requirement for all companies, but to date, SMEs have been far less well equipped while also being in far greater danger. Unlike the large enterprise with size and influence to provide a buffer, SMEs are more vulnerable to a mis-step.
The highlights of SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI 4.0 include:
- Unified and integrated user experience
- New and more powerful mobile BI
- The ability to glean insight from both business and social data
- New tools to handle complex data in real-time
- More choice through additional deployment and integration options
SAP brings several different components of its business analytics portfolio to bear and several of these capabilities overlap. For example, the same new powerful BI functionality available through the SAP Crystal Dashboard designer not only provides added power, but also is instrumental in transforming the user experience and makes that data easier to consume. A dashboard can be constructed for each decision-maker, at any level in the organization, including the very top. And this dashboard can not only include structured data captured in enterprise applications, but can coexist with other frequently used applications such as email, calendaring, Internet searches. And it can integrate structured business data with unstructured data available from sources such as blogs, emails and other social media. New text analysis functionality brings a new level of analysis to the decision-making process. The combination of all these capabilities means the software can sit and watch and analyze while decision makers are busy running the business.
While BI certainly adds significant value to the enterprise, there have always been a couple of glaring deficiencies of BI tools in the past. First of all, you usually had to be a programmer (or at least IT savvy) to create the intelligence that was sought. A new inquiry, report, data cube or analysis required technical expertise. Sometimes even running those reports and inquiries wasn’t something your typical executive was likely to do. Secondly, you had to know what to ask and how to ask the question.
Not only has “self-service” been a key goal of SAP BusinessObjects Edge BI 4.0 for SMEs, but the search and exploration functionality within the Edge package brings a new level of intuitive search capabilities to exploring enterprise data. Think about how all of us have become proficient in Internet searches. We start with a phrase and as we learn more, we continue to refine our search. Similarly, Explorer uses a familiar keyword search and then allows the business user to drill down and through the enterprise data. Adding text analysis applied to unstructured data adds a new dimension.
SAP has also introduced the concept of event insight to SME. Event insight combines BI with event management. Neither of these technologies is particularly new. BI tools have been around for decades, although they have certainly matured. Event management has also been available for more than a decade, but few business people understand the possibilities and few companies have deployed this technology, at least not to its fullest extent.
In fact, many readers might not even be familiar with the term. Often reference to “event management” draws a blank stare from the non-technical business user. Substituting the phrase “triggers and alerts” might cause the light bulb to go off, but dimly. Those unfamiliar with event management may not see the full potential of being able to automatically troll through data looking for an event or a condition that either occurred or failed to occur as planned. Hence the slow adoption rates over the past decade.
Event insight adds a new dimension to event management, observing events, detecting patterns, correlating relationships and attempting to define cause and effect. As a result, it has a predictive nature whereby it infers a particular expected result. This type of monitoring and automated analysis has been particularly effective for example in preventing credit card fraud, business activity monitoring and security monitoring. SMEs can benefit from event insight just as large enterprises can but two factors are most likely to impact adoption: cost and awareness.
SAP can more easily address the cost factor. It may be harder to address the awareness factor. Even rather simplistic event management has not made great strides over the past decade, partly because technology budget holders have not really grasped the potential. But now as social media starts to invade our business world, it will be all that much more important for business executives to monitor both structured and unstructured data, detect events as they happen, and mitigate risks to their businesses and their brands. The event insight capabilities, together with the future potential of in-memory capabilities that SAP has developed to process massive amounts of data, may just be the tipping point that will prompt companies to bring this technology into the mainstream and help SMEs safely but boldly operate on the edge.