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How Will SAP’s BO Acquisition Impact SAP BI Consulting?

Almost as soon as SAP’s acquisition of Business Objects (BO) was announced, the emails started pouring in. All kinds of SAP consultants, including those who were seriously involved in BW/BI or those who were looking to get involved, were concerned: how would this acquisition affect their career path? To be honest, I never truly understood these concerns.

Let me clarify: I do grasp that the BO acquisition poses some potentially dramatic changes in the SAP BI consulting space. Certainly the "skills profile" of the BI consultant of the future will change as a result of SAP’s BO purchase. But I saw the BO acquisition, which was a major departure from SAP’s "build our own code base" strategy, as a signal of the strategic importance of BI to the product line. And that can only be good news to the SAP BI consultant in the long term.

  This certainly jibes with the sense I got from TechEd 2007. On the lookout for hot skills, what I saw was that the "eSOA skill set" would eventually be very much in demand, but right now, BW/BI skills were considered the most sought after of any skill, certainly any technical skill.

So it’s hard for me to see a serious problem for BI folks here — if anything, the BO purchase indicates the huge value SAP sees in BI going forward. And that means that SAP’s own customers are committed to implementing this technology. SAP would not have gone after BO if they had any doubt about that. For more on the pros and cons of the BO acquisition, I recommend checking out Editor Matt Danielsson’s editorial blog. Here, you will find the incisive comments of Naeem Hashmi, one of the pre-eminent BI trend analysts in the SAP community.

In order to get a better handle on how BO will truly impact SAP BI consultants on the skills level, I asked Naeem Hashmi, who is the Chief Research Officer of Information Frameworks, if he would like to share his take on how the BO purchase will impact SAP professionals. He sent me the following thoughts:

"From an SAP BI professional growth perspective, SAP’s acquisition of Business Objects (BO) brings a great opportunity. Business Objects offers a superior and flexible presentation environment but whether the back end ends up being BO, SAP BI 7, Oracle, MS SQL, DB2, etc you still have to have the data warehousing skills to construct a data access environment regardless if you use the SAP BI or BO front end. For that reason, if I am an SAP BI consultant, I do not worry about the BO acquisition by SAP. If I was only a BO consultant, I would be concerned, however.

I see much more hardship for BO consultants to learn and become fluent in SAP BI. Under NetWeaver, BI training and skills are very important. SAP BI consultants will find it much easier to learn BO and become fluent in BO technology quickly.

Note that the heart of BI usage is not really the technology, but the business side of "business intelligence" and here is where I see the BO acquisition will bring a wide array of good knowledge about building user-friendly business intelligence solutions into SAP (and to SAP BI consultants).

I do not see much of an impact of BO on SAP BI consultants. SAP BI is going to grow. Perhaps there will be a robust RFC (or other high performance data exchange method) to build BO universes automatically, and synchronize them easily from a backend SAP BI broadcaster or other method.

This way, enterprise BI users would still enjoy access to clean SAP and non-SAP data and have the ability to analyze data through a powerful BO user front-end using local universes. At this point, the SAP-BO integration plans are still on the drawing boards, so we’ll have to see how the future BO roadmap will evolve towards disappearing within the SAP Solutions. But at this point, the outlook for SAP BI consultants looks promising.

So what can an SAP BW or BI consultant do to prepare for the SAP BI profession for the future?

1) Take some BO training for your short-term competitive edge. Learn the business intelligence language of non-SAP business users. SAP BI consultants need to become "enterprise bi-linguals." Learn the BO Data Integrator (which is Acta ETL tool), which could eventually become the SAP ETL tool for non-SAP data sources without coding ABAP.

2) Get some training in Enterprise Architecture (EA). This will help you understand the actual business processes that span across SAP and non-SAP solutions, how people use information and when/how/why they make decisions that pertain to the BI side. You will be a better BI consultant with some EA understanding, and this will enable you to diversify your profession as well.

3) I would also suggest to BO consultants to start learning SAP BI and get used to the SAP BI lingo. The BO universes will disappear from the SAP universe sooner than you may have imagined. Prepare yourself with SAP BI."

I think Naeem has summarized this situation well, both in terms of the big picture of SAP BI and the next steps SAP consultants can take. In addition, he’s shared some useful pointers for BO experts in the midst of this big corporate changeover.

However, there is one point to consider, which Naeem brought up in his commentary on BO:

"The bad news is, we’re now seeing a momentary confusion among SAP BI customers and consulting partners. We have many different products with different infrastructures, usage and life cycle management environments. Just a few month back SAP acquired OutlookSoft, a corporate performance suite, and before that we saw the Virsa acquisition."

This is an important point. Naeem is correct that the BO acquisition has definitely created some short term customer confusion, for understandable reasons. It’s possible we could see the immediate demand for SAP BW/BI expertise go down as SAP customers put the breaks on certain BI initiatives until they determine the best way forward, what their BO options are, and how the two frameworks will be integrated.

However, there are so many ongoing BW and BI projects, covering so many different kinds of initiatives, that I don’t expect a big adverse impact on BI consulting demand. For consultants trying to break into SAP BI, this may create yet another avenue, by mastering the tools on the BO side and approaching SAP from that direction.

The confusion we see in the shorter term about BI should be cleared up for the longer term. I expect in the end, we’ll see even more demand for BI consultants as a result of this acquisition. SAP is never smooth sailing for any consultant, and the BO acquisition could create some choppy waves for some, and make it a little harder for junior-level BI folks to push ahead. But I see some promising shorelines ahead for the BI consultants who realize that this development is, more than anything, a recognition of the strategic value of their work.

As SAP shifts from a transactional system to a business process platform that leverages transactional data, BI is in a crucial product position. That strikes me as very good news for the BW/BI consultant.

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