Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Which Way Will the Wind Blow? The Importance of Black Friday

Beyond my duties at PAC to cover the SAP Services market, I also do quite a bit of coverage on the retail sector and I decided today to post some quick thoughts on the economy as well as the importance of Black Friday to the retail sector, and in fact for the outlook of nearly all industries...

When thinking about the current economic situation, it is very clear that the housing bubble, fostered by the financial services industry and low interest rates, propagated the real-estate, construction and banking busts of late... this then led to weaknesses in manufacturing, retailing... and at this point, I believe certainly all facets of the economy due to a lack of financing options, reduced consumer spending and lower business spending. (Dare I point out that unlike the last 2 recessions, IT has not been front and center of this current cycle?).

Given that 70% of the U.S. economy, and for that matter, 20% of the world economy is fueled by the U.S. consumer, a clear indication of the state of the U.S. consumer has never been so important in gauging the state of economic activity to come... and this brings us to the importance of Black Friday.

While many retailers I have spoken to are preparing themselves for the worst, I have also sensed lately a small chance of a "so-so" holiday season, which I think at this point anyone would sign up for! So positives include the U.S. Govt will pumping $800 billion into financial markets to loosen up lending, gas prices are as low as 4 years ago, and while down 5.5% from last year, 128 million U.S. consumers (yours truly included!) plan to brave traffic and parking wars and go shopping this weekend according to some new NRF (National Retail Federation) stats released today.**

In general, retailers have already started with sharp discounts and deals to get consumers to once again buy, and the hope is that once inside the stores, consumers will fall back into some of their usual habits. “Retailers realize that low prices will get consumers into stores this holiday season, and this could be the most heavily promotional Black Friday in history,” said Tracy Mullin, NRF President and CEO. “Shoppers who held off buying a DVD player or winter coat over the last few months will find that prices may literally be too good to pass up.”

This is not to say that high unemployment, the worst stock declines in generations and the gloomy news in general won't set the stage for a pretty disappointing weekend... but the question most are wondering is: how bad will it really be? Perhaps it won't be so terrible? The NRF releases first stats for its Black Friday survey this Sunday at 4pm ET!

Happy Thanksgiving!


** For anyone abroad who isn't as familiar with the term "Black Friday," it refers to the Friday, Saturday and Sunday following Thanksgiving (a day where we eat Turkey and watch football... oh and yes, celebrate the friendship forged in 1621 between the early settlers in Plymouth, MA and the Wampanoag Indians with an autumn harvest feast) where many retailers finally move into the "black" (profit) for the year. Got it??


Monday, November 24, 2008

In SAP's Rifle Scope: A Common UI

Following the release of SAP's fourth enhancement pack for ERP 6.0, which includes enhancement in core ERP functionality as well as industry specific functionality for the automotive, defense, banking, retail and utilities sectors; SAP emphasized that it will offer more UI enhancements to create more familiarity between the various applications. The UI has been one of the weak points for particular SAP applications in the past (such as CRM and HCM), and at one point became the post-retirement focus of Hasso Plattner.

I had the chance to listen to Bill McDermott recently on the subject, and it seems that the enhancement packs will be increasingly targeted during the down economy to offer more rapid efficiency gains... or as Bill put it several times; to "rifleshoot solutions into your organization..." Despite the odd use of words for directing value to ones customers (please don't shoot me!!!), UI enhancements do seem like good fit for these times, especially for organizations with a broad footprint of SAP solutions and a large/diverse amount of SAP users.

This also helps to add to the list of "pro's" for upgrading to ECC 6.0 during a slow economy for those companies who are not necessarily looking for a large strategic upgrade projects in the short-term, but rather incremental efficiency gains.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Taking the Temperature of the SAP Market

It’s not easy to write about the SAP consulting market these days. All the economic rules have changed, and no one knows what lies ahead. Of course, this dilemma is not unique to the SAP world. This weekend, I was reading an in-depth expose on the collapse of Wall Street, and one of the key points was “throw out your model” – all the approaches to assessing the market need to be reworked.

But for now, we proceed. In addition to my own writing on SAP, I’ve been looking for other perspectives to see if what I’m seeing jives with other market participants. In this blog entry, I’ll share a few of the most interesting pieces I have seen on the state of SAP consulting since the economy shifted so dramatically.

Before we hone in on SAP consulting specifically, it’s good to get a view of the ERP marketplace in general. One good piece on the ERP market outlook for 2009 is by ZDNet’s Joshua Greenbaum. On October 30, 2008, Greenbaum posted a piece called “More optimistic views on the future of enterprise software,” where he made a case for ERP in 2009 which I thought was very credible and not head-in-the-clouds.

Along with some harsh criticism of industries that, in Greenbaum’s view, had some hard knocks coming to them, Greenbaum shared his view that the technology sector is sturdier, having already been through a major Darwinian correction in the last dotcom crash:

“One of the great effects of the dotcom bust was a winnowing of a lot of junk and jive and untenable business models and companies from the technology sector. What emerged from that disaster was a core set of big companies – IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and a few others – and a core conviction, held by start-ups and multi-billion behemoths, that we’ll never make those mistakes again. And hence my new optimistic perspective on life in the current recession.”

Greenbaum is confident that the pressure that was placed on ERP vendors during the post-dotcom era has required them to create products that deliver real value. As a result, there should be a floor underneath the fallout in the enterprise software market.

For an SAP-specific perspective on the downturn, another ZDNet blogger, Dennis Howlett posted a piece on October 28, 2008, entitled “SAP scraps year end guidance: why I’m not worried. Yet.” In the piece, Howlett put SAP’s decision to pull its fourth quarter earnings into a “do not panic” context. He pointed out a few signs of SAP’s continued market strength, including its lack of massive layoffs to date:

“During the [analyst briefing] call, SAP said it has taken measures to reduce cost by some €200 million in the current quarter largely made up of the widely publicized hiring freeze and elimination of non-customer facing travel. While this seems like a large number it is only around 10% of expected cost. That suggests SAP is more confident about where it stands on margin. It compares sharply with reductions seen among the Silicon Valley startups where workforce reductions alone are being reported at 20-30%.”

Now, to be fair to Greenbaum and Howlett, they published these pieces before some more bad news arrived in the tech sector, including Intel’s fourth quarter forecast (down ten percent) and Sun’s announcement last Friday that it would be cutting more than 5,000 jobs – something which triggered a pretty dour summary of tech layoffs from the Wall Street Journal Business Technology blog. However, neither Howlett nor Greenbaum have retracted their posts, so we’ll take them at their word for now. At any rate, I take Howlett’s view on SAP’s market position seriously because he is not afraid to hold SAP’s feet to the fire, nor would he be shy about letting readers know the sky is falling if indeed he believed that to be the case.

So if SAP seems better positioned than most companies to get through this period, what of SAP consultants? What should they be focusing on? I have not seen many pieces on this topic that I did not have a direct hand in, but one that I really liked was written by Vijay Vijayasankar in his SAP Community Network blog entry on November 7, 2008, entitled, “Road ahead for SAP consultants.”

In this blog entry, Vijayasankar shared the SAP project areas that he thinks will have the most action during this downturn, based on his own observations and those of fellow consultants he has talked with. He provides ten different project areas that may be fruitful during this recession, along with a short annotation for each. The areas he lists include: the continuing needs of support projects, the requirements of large scale SAP iniatives that are already underway, as well as web-based SAP project extensions. I was struck by his anecdote in this section:

“No one is cutting down big time on web-based projects. One guy gave me an example where his client laid off employees, but continued a web-based CRM project with increased budgets. While I hate to see people losing jobs, I guess I can see the company's logic in moving more and more stuff online and automated.”

In terms of recommended SAP skills in the downturn, some of Vijay’s skills tips include CRM, BI, security, and industry-specific SAP skills. I made a few of my own comments to Vijay’s blog entry. I talked about the importance of ERP 6.0 experience, because the individuals (and firms) that have this experience are in a better position to advise customers on migration paths and also to relay SAP’s latest efforts to improve the user interface and experience. I also made a distinction about Vijay’s recommendation to look out for support project activity:

“Yes, support projects can be a good place to make a living till new projects pick up. But you have to be careful also, because even if you are fortunate enough to be drawing a decent paycheck, some ‘support’ projects get into that dreaded ‘maintenance mode’ where you really aren’t adding to your skills. And in SAP, when you aren't adding to your skills, you're often falling behind. On the other hand, some support projects are more forward-thinking, such as those that are using SAP’s new RunSAP post-go-live methodology. Others are doing strategic extensions into other systems or customer bases, or even merging an acquired company. We should see some of this merger and acquisition need in this economy.”

Another useful perspective on SAP consulting in a downturn comes from Ray Kelly, Vice President of B2B Workforce. I thought his take on this was interesting enough to warrant a full article on “The New Rules of SAP Consulting,” which I wrote for SearchSAP.com. In that piece, Ray explained the source of the rate pressures many SAP consultants are experiencing:

“When you look back 10 or 12 months ago, consultants might have received a false hope, for lack of a better word. Yes, they got engagements extended, but no new engagements were started at the level of 2006 and the first half of 2007, which in turn has created an additional supply of available consultants which is now putting some pressure on rates.” But Ray’s focus was not on the doom-and-gloom. Rather, he had some very specific suggestions for consultants who wanted to remain marketable. I summarized his viewpoint as follows:

“According to Kelly, no matter what the ERP package is, the needs are the same: value-added enhancements to the ERP core. Whether those enhancements involve analytics, SOA-based product extensions, or supply chain optimization, the common skills needs are the same: exposure to the latest versions of the core SAP ERP releases, and, ideally, skills in a hot new tool or add-on product.”

Finally, I did my own blog posting on “How Should SAP Consultants Respond to the Down Market” for JonERP.com. My own recommendations jived with the themes I have touched on already. I also pointed out that with fewer projects being greenlighted, there is a trickle-down effect that makes it very difficult for those trying to break into the SAP field. But for those senior consultants who are up to speed with the latest releases of SAP, and more importantly, who know how to translate that functionality into measurable business results, there is still work to be found. One point I made fit in well with Vijay’s blog. I said that customer acquisition and retention remains crucial, and that should inform your skills approach:

“Interestingly enough, Web 2.0 type skills may be the one area of new skills that remains relevant even in this down period. That’s because having the edge on customer experience and web site user-friendliness and interactivity is more important now than ever. This is about putting yourself in your customers’ (or employers’) shoes, and viewing the market from their vantage point. The more you can contribute to either spending efficiencies or revenue stabilization, the more valuable you are - in any market.”

Of course, by the time I post this blog entry, the market will have probably shifted again. But I hope that the views I have summarized here provide a pretty good framework for how to approach the SAP market in a down economy. We can only hope that the larger economic issues we are facing will find their floor soon, and that we can soon focus more confidently on prosperity and rather than survival.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

SAP Automotive Symposium 2008: Shorter Time to Market with PLM Solutions

On the occasion of the SAP Automotive Symposium on November 4-5th, 2008 in Stuttgart, Germany, SAP, along with its partners, introduced innovative solutions for the automotive industry. I attended the event for insight into SAP’s efforts to support the automotive industry in meeting future IT challenges.

Various client speeches, such as those of Mercedes-Benz, Claas, Knorr-Bremse, Ford, Daimler, Robert Bosch, Mahle, BMW, and Porsche, delivered solid examples of how IT cannot only support the automotive business but also yield added value with the latter becoming more and more a prerequisite for gaining a competitive edge in the long run: long before the outbreak of the financial crisis, the automotive industry has faced massive challenges.

The automotive sector is characterized through its strong globalization of markets with accompanying risks through currency fluctuations, and increasing pressure of innovation and prices. Simultaneously, there are increased quality requirements on the customer side as well as proliferation of variants. All of this set against the background of product development and production that must be environmentally sustainable. "On one hand, IT can meet these requirements by reducing IT costs—through the standardization of systems, processes, and applications, by consolidation and virtualization, as well as through intelligently using near-/offshore sites." “On the other hand, IT can also contribute remarkably to meeting the automotive industry’s core requirements. In this context, an essential factor is the shortening of time to market. One topic continuously gaining in importance is the integration and usage of PLM solutions.”

In my opinion, the main goal of PLM solutions is to shorten the entire product development time, namely through the synchronization of all processes involved, as well as through the integration of product designers and developers, external suppliers and production schedulers via one joint platform.

I think that the data integration between business processes and production processes will play a central role. “SAP is well aware of this central role, which is not only evident by the takeover of Visiprise in the area of MES, but also by SAP’s investment in the further development of its PLM solution SAP PLM.” As a result, there will be an extension to the SAP PLM solution from November on, which, among other things, will include a new authorization concept. This will accommodate the requirements of an increasing number of customers who are willing to cooperate with external development partners and give them role-based access to a joint database.

Apart from the further development of the SAP PLM suite, I also observes the necessity for additional investment on SAP’s part, especially when it comes to covering the product developers’ needs: “Product developers traditionally work with graphic or geometric information and are familiar with a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) environment. SAP addresses the CAD world by integrating the CAD viewer of Right Hemisphere. However, in my opinion, the weaknesses of SAP PLM in the developers’ world have not yet been fully eliminated.”

Furthermore, a path breaking market decision is still outstanding with regard to the Product Data Management (PDM) system, the core of each product development cycle where the parts lists relevant to production are generated. Here, SAP offers an appropriate solution, SAP PDM, but also classic CAD providers, such as Dassault Systèmes, PTC, or Siemens PLM (formerly UGS) claim the PDM responsibility. I am eager to learn if and how SAP is going to further integrate the CAD world, and who is going to dominate the PLM/ PDM market: the PLM providers from the CAD world, or a supplier like SAP from the ERP world?

Since it is the ultimate ambition of PLM solutions to shorten time to market, the integration of additional systems plays an important role: end-of-warranty dates of customers can be reflected to production and accelerate the development process of new products accordingly (integration of CRM systems). Furthermore, global networks of production sites with various production capabilities can be involved in the production scheduling process quite early (integration of SCM systems).

In the automotive industry there are comprehensive possibilities to create real added value by using IT. When it comes to shortening time to market though, the integration of various systems is gaining an ever-high significance. As demonstrated at the Automotive Symposium, SAP is certainly well positioned with its solutions offer around PLM, SCM, CRM, MES, etc.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What is the Place of Mid-sized Players on the French SAP Services Market?

SAP Services is a very competitive market where the leaders are the largest IT providers. We can say that the competitive environment is composed of four sets of players. The first is composed of the largest IT services providers, with more than 1,000 people, generally having an SAP practice; these are often global players. The second includes smaller independent companies with skills on core ERP as well as on the various modules of SAP. These can be considered SAP generalists. The third set includes very small companies with a small SAP team specialized on one SAP module (BI, CRM, SCM, etc.). Finally, the fourth set is composed of providers targeting mid-sized customers.

The race for critical size is strategic on this market, especially since most large SAP customers want to reduce IT costs by narrowing down their IT procurement, reducing the number of providers, referencing them and pushing broader fixed price projects to these larger providers.

The configuration of the top 20 in terms of local vs. global players clearly shows a domination of global companies. The top 10 represent 70.5% of the overall market as the top 20 reach 82.3% of this market, which illustrates the strong concentration of the French market for SAP-related consulting services.

Thus, most of the players of the top 10 largely over-performed the overall market growth (+10.3%) with growth rates going from 9.2% to 26.3%. The three front runners (Accenture, Capgemini and Logica) are global players as the other companies of the top 10 cover the worldwide market (IBM, CSC) or the European area (Sopra Group, Atos Origin, Steria).

The largest players have stabilized their SAP business in France. The small ones remain the victims of drastic procurement policies and are therefore found in the position of subcontractors.

Without this critical size, these companies have no choice but to differentiate their offerings, becoming specialists on niches and bringing their customers a profound expertise. This is the case for Alti and SQLi, for example, which have developed rare skills on fast-growing SAP modules. The main asset of these companies is their ability to innovate and react easily to market signals thanks to their size and swiftness. Their clients also appreciate their proximity and customer care as they feel that large providers don’t pay the same attention to all clients. The main challenge that small players have to address is to leave the time and materials business model, where they often start. To achieve this objective and thereby win market share, they have to implement tough project management methodologies and prove their ability to manage a complete project.

Alti, the youngest company belonging to the top 10, is gradually becoming a serious contender, thanks to its SAP consulting team. The company has skills on core ERP completed by a strong expertise in BI, CRM, and HR offerings. It also focuses on topics such as Netweaver and interoperability between SAP and Microsoft software.

On the same model, SQLi has developed a strong expertise with the acquisition of two companies: Clearvalue in 2006 and Eozen in 2007. The company has skills on BI, CRM and SRM and focuses on SOAs through Netweaver.

Procurement strategies have fostered large IT companies for many years, often leaving out some smaller but very talented companies. The financial crisis has amplified this phenomenon, reducing the opportunities for smaller companies to sell SAP technical assistance on a time and materials basis.


Monday, November 3, 2008

How Is NetWeaver BI/BO Faring During the Downturn?

We’re in a strange period when it comes to analyzing SAP market trends. It’s getting tedious to continue to dwell on the downturn, but impossible to ignore its significance. Anyone who makes trends assessments is in the prediction business to some degree, but now more than ever, we’re in uncharted waters. Even those who take the temperature of the IT spending market are coming back with different answers. Unfortunately, the majority view seems to fall in line with the rather grim view of decreases in tech spending noted by the Wall Street Journal “Business Technology” blog recently.

But we’re not going to talk about the downturn in this blog entry. Instead, we’re going to turn our attention to a happier subject: an area of SAP that continues to get spending action despite the cutbacks. That product area is NetWeaver BI. Not only is BI a definite area of investment for SAP customers, but there is continued interest in making sense of the Business Objects product line and how it might benefit the SAP install base.

When SAP first acquired Business Objects, there was some initial hesitancy from SAP customers around how the BO acquisition would affect the long term roadmap. The hesitancy was perfectly reasonable since it seemed logical to assume that some of BO’s top-of-the-line reporting products would eventually replace some of SAP’s reporting tools, such as the BEx Analyzer, which many SAP customers are heavily invested in despite some limitations in user presentation and customization costs.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the roadmap in this blog entry, but SAP has been kind enough to grant me permission to share a couple of their recent roadmap slides, so if you’d like to take a closer look at them, this PDF (52K) is a view of SAP’s Business Intelligence roadmap prior to the BO acquisition. This next PDF (54K) shows the roadmap of the combined BI/BO portfolio. Both of these are higher-level roadmaps; SAP has more detailed roadmaps it will provide upon request.

We have to be careful about fussing too much over roadmaps, the reason being that emerging needs for new ways of slicing and dicing data, such as harvesting unstructured data from the “Internet Cloud,” has all BI vendors scrambling to keep up. We may find that the most popular reporting tools three years from now aren’t even on the BI roadmap yet. Today’s roadmaps are tomorrow’s recycled paper.

What is more relevant to those that read this blog is: where is the action now? Where are the pain points for customers, and what kinds of skills needs are created in the short term by this combined portfolio? Let’s take EPM as an example. EPM, or “Enterprise Performance Management,” represents a combined portfolio of SAP and Business Objects products.

The official combined EPM portfolio currently contains five products:

  • Strategy - SAP Strategy Management (formally Pilot Software, an SAP acquisition)'
  • Planning - SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (formerly OutlookSoft, an SAP acquisition)
  • Consolidation - SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (formerly OutlookSoft)
  • Financial Consolidation - Business Objects Financial Consolidation (formerly Cartesis)
  • Profitability - Business Objects Profitability and Cost Management (formerly ALG Software)

This EPM summary is a bit of an oversimplification. Some combined functionality may exist side by side in BI and BO for some time, and of course those SAP customers invested in SEM products like BI-IP and BI-BPS may be concerned to see that those products are no longer listed. This is part of the challenge SAP and its “BobJ” division is facing: to provide customers with a compelling way forward without giving them the impression that their current investments are being phased into oblivion. In fact, BI-IP and BPS functionality is also incorporated into the new suite. But for now, the new EPM suite is not really a suite, per se, but a collection of stand-alone products. We can expect them to resemble more of an integrated suite soon, with “Financial Performance Management 2008” being the name I have heard used for the next incarnation of EPM.

So for EPM, we can expect SAP to do what it does best, which is to bundle related products into comprehensive suites. This approach makes sense. At the Business Objects Influencers’ Summit in Boston 2008, Doug Merritt, EVP and GM of Business User Sales, said that most ERP customers have between 5 and 15 different BI products running. There is clearly a need for standardization around BI tools, and that is where SAP excels. But for now, those SAP customers interested in a particular EPM product are not going to wait for the combined product offerings of the future. They are going to invest in the singular products they need now. In the case of EPM, the biggest pain point seems to center around OutlookSoft’s Business Planning and Consolidation functionality, so we’re seeing more action in the BPC product than elsewhere in the EPM suite.

When you consider that EPM is a small part of the combined BI/BO product line, we can expect SAP customers to look for guidance around the complexities of the roadmap, so those firms and consultants who understand the map well enough to provide wise and unbiased counsel can expect to be in demand. Other than that, what I think we will see in the short term is two separate product lines that operate a bit more in conjunction with one another.

One of the real strengths of BO is that its EIM (Enterprise Integration Management) integration hub was already best-in-class in terms of third party integration. Well before the BO acquisition took place, the BO team was already working hard to provide integration protocols for SAP in particular. However, at this point, we’re not talking about the seamless integration of the two products. The BO sales team is reporting that they are having success with SAP customers who want to replace other third party tools with BO. This would make sense: if you’re going to replace your third party reporting system anyway, why not purchase a set of tools that promise to be more closely integrated with SAP from here on out?

For now, however, the best way to describe the SAP customer base is: curious about BO, but seriously involved with NetWeaver BI. Much of the action in the BI market has to do with the upgrades from BW 3.5 to BI 7.0. It goes without saying that those firms and freelancers who are well-versed in 3.5 to 7.0 scenarios are the best positioned to take advantage of the current marketplace. What would make BI 7.0 compelling enough to upgrade even during the downturn? BI is a major new release that boasts tighter integration with NetWeaver, closer ties with NetWeaver Portals, and a better platform for developing real-time dashboards that give users the performance monitoring data they need on a day-in/day-out basis.

People can talk about cool new ad-hoc tools all they want, or even “mining the cloud,” but at Sapphire 2008, the customers I heard from were sold on dashboards and better user presentation of data. Of all the BO products, “Xcelsius 2008” is perhaps the BO product SAP customers mention most frequently in terms of their short-term, bottom-line needs. No surprise then, than BO bills this product as “The first and only dynamic and customizable data visualization software that enables users of different skill levels to create insightful and engaging dashboards from any data source with point-and-click ease.” Tomorrow may be about the cloud, today is about dashboards.

We can also expect to see short-term SAP customer interest in Crystal Reports, but primarily from SAP customers who are not finding their current SAP reporting options sufficient. Otherwise, we can expect to wait until 2010 for a big SAP-Crystal Reports push. At that time, a fully integrated “Crystal Light” for SAP is expected to be in full release mode.

One more big upgrade factor is BIA, the Business Intelligence Accelerator driven by in-memory database technology. Not all SAP customers are sold on BIA yet, but we’ve heard enough testimonials to know that BIA is another big incentive to upgrade. We also know that the BO team is salivating at the prospect of harnessing some of their state of the art ad-hoc reporting tools to BIA. We heard a lot about Polestar at Sapphire 2008, and again at TechEd 2008. Polestar is a true open-query tool that can process millions of lines of data and generate fast query responses. I was a little disappointed when I learned that this much-demoed product, which got attention during several keynotes, does not yet exist on the SAP side. But a “Polestar for BI” product, powered at hyperspeeds by BIA, should come out in the next calendar year, and we can expect to see some customer interest as soon as that is released.

So how can we reconcile these BI upgrade needs with the reality that few companies are in active upgrade mode right now? This can be answered in several ways. First, SAP has its own dashboard capabilities that can be utilized in a 3.5 BW system as well. I expect companies that have pulled back on a major ERP 6.0 upgrade to look into a better use of their 3.5 system, and dashboards will be high on their list. Next, some SAP customers already budgeted for their BI 7.0 upgrades and, as money “already spent,” those BI upgrades may well continue. Finally, a reasonable segment of customers are running on ERP 6.0 and NetWeaver BI 7.0, and those folks will be on the lookout for all kinds of reporting efficiencies. Anything that can aid in performance or reduce the need for costly customization will be on the table.

Speaking of those customers who are already on the other side of an ERP 6.0 upgrade, we are also seeing some action right now on the SAP Master Data Management (MDM) side. For those companies heavily invested in SAP, MDM provides some real potential to sharpen the customer focus by eliminating duplicate records and better identifying the most profitable customer segments. Eventually, some of BO’s MDM capabilities will be integrated into SAP, but for now, SAP MDM is certainly appealing for companies who are tired of reconciling master records across departments.

I’ve run out of space long before I ran out of information to share on BO, but I’ll be glad to return to this topic down the line. I hope I’ve provided a better sense of how the BI/BO future relates to the realities of the present.

(If you’re looking for even more info, the keynotes from the SAP BO Influencers Summit of August 2008 are available online. There is also a comprehensive SAP for Business Objects FAQ posted on the SAP Developer Network. Finally, if BW related skills is more your interest, I did a piece for my SAP BPX Skills blog on whether BI/BO will soon be a relevant skill area for all functional consultants. This piece generated some interesting reader commentary that hones in on some of the skills issues we are facing during the BI/BO product merger.)