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Welcome to the ERP Lounge Podcast Series - Inside the SAP Consulting Market

The ERP Lounge: Misadventures and Opportunities in SAP Consulting is Jon Reed's "special edition" podcast series featuring in-depth, uncensored discussions on the realities of the SAP skills marketplace. On this page, you can listen to (or download) any of our past episodes.

Join Jon Reed of and industry guests as they assess the SAP skills that are hot (and not) and demystify SAP market trends. You can comment on any of the podcasts (and join in the discussion) on The ERP Lounge LinkedIn group. You can also subscribe to all of The ERP Lounge podcasts as part of the JonERP Master SAP Blog and Podcast Feed. The ERP Lounge podcasts are also included in the JonERP iTunes podcast feed.

SAP BI Burning Questions - SAP TechEd 2010 Preflight Discussion Print E-mail

podcastlogo_jonerp.gif"Three SAP Mentors Discuss Burning SAP BI Questions Heading into SAP TechEd 2010, with Co-Host Vijay Vijayasankar and Special Guest Greg Myers" (ERP Lounge #13)
Podcast Interview Date: September 28, 2010
Podcast: Listen Now!

What are the burning questions about SAP BI as we head into SAP Teched season? Will the keynotes answer questions about in-memory and accelerated data access? And how do you get the most out of the show and justify your attendance when budgets are tight? As we continue our "sporadic SAP BI podcast series," which is part of the ERP Lounge podcast editions, I dig into these questions with two fellow SAP Mentors: Vijay Vijayasankar of IBM and newly-named SAP Mentor Greg Myers, who is a Senior Business Intelligence Engineer at SEI Investments in Oaks, Pennsylvania, and who is also the Chair of the ASUG BusinessObjects Security & Administration SIG. 

During the 50 minute podcast, we look at how to get value out of SAP BI discussions at TechEd, whether or not you are attending personally. Greg gives us an inside view of some of the recent BusinessObjects name changes and why SAP decided to keep the "Webi" name after consulting with ASUG volunteers like himself. Vijay talks about his own BusinessObjects presentation and why he keeps slides to a minimum. The three of us also talk about the SAP Mentors presence at TechEd and why it's important to Mentors that we are accessible to the community and not be perceived as running in packs - so find us or Tweet us

Editor's note: This podcast makes reference to the presentation Greg did at SAP Inside Track Newtown Square. (The event replay link is being fixed by SAP but will hopefully be working by the time you click on this). Other links: SAP TechEd (link to all four TechEds), Vijay's SAP TechEd Las Vegas BusinessObjects presentation, Expert Networking Lounge sessions, SAP BI conference track in Las Vegas, SAP Mentor Initiative, SAP TechEd Twitter ID. Link to more on Jon's TechEd Expert Lounge sessions, including his SAP career and social networking discussion with Vijay. After TechEd, we'll gather again and discuss which SAP BI questions got answered and which ones still need to be addressed.

Also recommended: Vijay's personal blog and his blog on SCN. During the podcast, we also refer to products that are undergoing name changes. Don't treat this podcast as the definitive record of the new names, rather, check out the SAP Business Objects Community for that info. Also check out Greg's blog on SCN.

Note: to comment on this podcast series, or send in a question for us to answer in the next one, be sure to join our ERP Lounge Group on Linkedin. If you want to subscribe to the series, get the The JonERP Master Blog and Podcast Feed. Or find Jon on his @jonerp Twitter feed. The ERP Lounge podcasts are also included in the JonERP iTunes podcast feed.   

Podcast Highlights

:40 Greg about finding out he was an SAP Mentor: It was pretty cool with it hit the news waves Friday night. I've already told my friends and family this was a career high. Vijay: I remember the day when Mark Finnern told me I was a Mentor - I was shell-shocked - it's a big deal. We have a couple more from the BI space this time around, which is awesome.

2:15 Introductions: Why do you have an abiding passion/professional stake in SAP BI? Greg: It's the one area of technology where I really found a place for my talent. BI really bridges the gap between technical data and information and makes it useable by business people. It's not your everyday common IT person that can do that kind of work. This is where I belong - I can talk to the business people and not put them to sleep with Jargon, but then I can also talk tot he technical people and help bridge that gap.

Vijay: It's been that way for me too - I started from the technical side of the ABAP side many years ago, I used to write ABAP reports and then ALV came into the picture, a way to standardize the SAP look and feel and I saw how important that was for SAP users. And then BW came along. I used to be perceived as only an ABAPer, and that drove me up the wall. Now, I think of BI as the skill all SAP people have to have. Doesn't matter who you are, Basis, functional - data is available to all, but making useful interpretations out of it: the potential is high and it's untapped. Jon: I've become more and more committed to covering SAP BI as I'm more and more convinced that BI is the best chance to deliver the value to customers that ERP has always promised but not always achieved.

5:20 Business Intelligence and TechEd: podcast structure. We're doing to sandwich two podcasts around TechEd: what we learned, what we didn't, and we'll hit topics that anyone can follow regardless of TechEd attendance.

6:15 Vijay is doing a BusinessObjects presentation at TechEd, which is Greg's bread and butter. Vijay: I am not the biggest product expert out there on BusinessObjects; I have a very tactical view of the world as a consultant. If I walk into a client, there is always a question, and perhaps four different tool options - these are not easy questions to answer. Just because one tool can do it doesn't mean it's always the right answer.

I have been in heated debate with another BO expert. It's not just reporting requirements that drive the solutions - data integration and EIM also matters. My view is: you have reporting requirements, but you also have other constraints on your data requirements and how they move. That's what I'm looking at in my presentation. I have very few slides in my TechEd sessions - it's really a dialogue with the crowd. I learn as much from the audience as they do from me.

9:15 Vijay to Greg: one of the cases I'm going to discuss is the newfound interest in accelerated financial close. Users need to report real-time, especially at month end, like in any ERP system. He needs to know if everything looks good. It needs to be done real time as soon as they post it - what are their options. They don't have the time to wait to ETL it or BW it like they can the rest of the month. They don't need to drill down, they just need the real-time info. What do you think?

Greg: I see this requirement too, I work for a financial services company and we're in the same boat. We have to do a lot of reporting from our operational databases as we don't have time to wait for the ETL to take place. It's not optimal, because BusinessObjects can report on any kind of data source, but sometimes real-time is what's needed. It all depends on what tools you have at your disposal.

13:00 Jon to Greg: As a BusinessObjects admin, do you have any burning questions for TechEd? Greg: Yes, there's a lot of talk about in-memory analytics, accelerated BusinessObjects Explorer - these are the kinds of tools I'm eager to get my hands on and see how many data records that can be crunched and how these new tools work. Jon: there's also Hana, in-memory analytics.

Vijay: I can't wait to hear about Hana - I could see it was a game-changer in the SAP world, a huge change in how SAP handles information, almost like the transition from R/2 to R/3. We heard about this at Sapphire, but it's not a real technical forum. TechEd is the right technical forum for this, and I'm betting Vishal's keynote will have a lot of information on Hana and Accelerated BWA and how they will merge into new products. That should give us insight on how this market is changing.

16:00 Greg: I'm also looking forward to looking into the Advanced Analysis product, which is their OLAP data reporting tool. I got to play with this in SAP labs in 2007 when it was a beta program, and now it's found its stride and is mainstream. There'sa three dimensional universe you lay on top and then you can browse the data with the Advanced Analysis tool.

Vijay: ever since SAP said that BEx was not the place they were going to invest in, there have been questions. I'm pretty sure, what I've seen from the Advanced Analysis tool, a lot of business users will like it. But BEx was really not all that bad, I have a strong suspicion Advanced Analysis will run into same issues. A lot of it has to do with how underlying data was organized. It's the EIM process - if they don't get that right, the best front end tools won't solve those problems.

19:00 Jon: They aren't changing the name of Webi, which I was glad to learn. And SAP BO "Advanced Analysis" is now simply called "Analysis." Greg: This was an encouraging outcome. Through ASUG, I was part of a small focus group where SAP marketing ran the name changes by us, and we all said: don't change Webi! Originally, they were going to change the name to Interactive Analysis. It was heartening to hear that the Webi's name was going to be retained and that they took user feedback into account.

Vijay: it doesn't make sense for users to have multiple reporting tools. There should be a consistent set of tools. These are all, on some levels, arbitrary distinctions. There isn't really much of an excuse to use multiple tools. All BI vendors should move to a "one tool does everything" model. Greg: With the new analytics packages they are releasing for different industries, I think we're starting to see the beginning of that. It's taken a while, but it's starting to happen, with one of the box solution that includes data federation, mobile enhancements, and everything in one packaged solution.

23:40 SAP TechEd in focus: we're going to Vegas, but a lot of this applies to all TechEds. In terms of getting the most out of TechEd from a BI/BO perspective, what would you recommend? Vijay: What I try to do is I make an agenda and put it on my phone, but I try to do it so that I spend 50 percent in sessions and 50 percent in the Community Clubhouse. In the Clubhouse, you can talk in more detail to those who presented in those sessions. I don't try to take on too many sessions and miss out on networking.

Greg: This will be my first time at TechEd, so I'm a newbie at it, so we'll see. As far as recommendations, I want to see the hands-on sessions, which you don't get in other conferences where you can get your hands on new technology right away. I also want to take advantage of the ASUG sessions that are there, because ASUG tends to be the real world application of these technologies. Jon: In addition to networking in the Community Clubhouse, you can search and add Expert Networking BI sessions to your agenda. Those conversations tend to be more informal and frank, and forge new relationships.

Vijay and I are doing more on a skills session, and there are also a BI track you can look at in the conference. Vijay: I trust my phone to keep me updated on Twitter - follow the hash tags to keep track of where the action is. If you want to make last minute changes, Twitte can be an asset. Jon: I'll be tracking TechEd Berlin via the hash tag.

Even if you can't attend the show for whatever reason, and I've heard of budgets holding people back which can be disappointing, check on the TechEd sites, and click on the "Who's Coming" part of the TechEd site. It's a social networking area where you can scroll through the interest tags. There are upwards of 90 people who have tagged BI as one of their interests, and you can figure out who shares your interests and connect with them virtually if not in real time at the show.

30:20 Vijay: Nothing beats that face to face meeting and shaking hands with someone. Social media can be a great ice breaker but nothing takes the place of personal meetings. Greg: Twitter is a great tool for that, you don't have to be awkward around people, you already know them through your online banter.

31:40 Jon: Don't hesitate to approach the Mentors in our garb. We'll often have our Twitter handles in the back of our shirts, which will be short sleeve shirts this year. Mentors have taken some criticism for being too clubby, and that's not what we're trying to do. So don't hesitate to come up to us and break the ice so we can get everyone introduced. Vijay: Agreed - Mentors are trying to be accessible and not stick together. Come up to us and start talking and you'll see the difference. No Mentor that I know will shy away from a good conversation.

Strike up a conversation with a Mentor from your area and they can help get you up to speed - you can even do this electronically before you go to TechEd. Greg: I've only been a Mentor for two days, but as a two year veteran on the ASUG side, we take the same mentality so don't hesitate to come up to SAP Mentors or ASUG volunteers for help or feedback.

34:15 Jon: So guys, how do you justify attendance to your employers? Vijay: With tight budgets it's not always easy to justify your attendance. Presenting at these shows is one way to cover some of your expenses, making it easier to make your case with management. People don't always look at the giving part - the taking part we do readily. 10 percent or less of SCN members actually contribute, but 100 percent of us read it. The folks who contribute are no different than anyone else, they just got over their fears of speaking or writing in public. It's a learning process, but do it - it increases your chances to get into these kinds of events.

It doesn't always work, employers only have so much money lying around, but you can maximize your efforts and hope for the best. Greg: As far as ASUG conferences, or the BusinessObjects show - this will be the third time I'm presenting, I always let my employer know exactly what I'm learning. I have done live blogs to share what I've learned with others at the company. That always helps. I make a point to point out things that we implement into our production environment that provided direct value to the company. I make sure my leadership knows that I got this benefit by working in the community or going to a conference. They really can't argue with that bottom line.

39:30 Greg and Vijay go into the chair - you may have a chance at TechEd to relay to SAP how to improve their BI strategy and approach - what will you say? Vijay: There's no simple thing to say there, except to say, "listen more." There are plenty of questions that come up on SCN, not just on the forums, and even outside SCN. We also see SAP product managers jump in and help clarify questions, but I'd like to see more product managers involved with this. Not being involved is a missed opportunity in my mind. The traditional channels of focus groups are good, and ASUG has plenty of them, but there is more that can be done. Listening is one thing, but then the follow up to that feedback is important. You have to follow through and continue to engage.

It's good to see these folks writing blogs and sharing their viewpoints, but you have to also follow up in the comments on the blogs, or else it doesn't seem like there was a sincere effort at conversation. Greg: That to me is a single-most powerful benefit of being an ASUG member is the influence program - it's a direct channel to SAP product managers for products in development. I've been a member of the BusinessObjects Enterprise Influence Council for the last year, and that's been an amazing experience. The direction that SAP is going in - to move beyond the older ETL model - that's important. The ETL model isn't sustainable for the future. New products like BusinessObjects Explorer don't need a formal data structure behind it. When we can query millions of records in seconds on an unstructured data source with minimal development time, that's going to clinch it for SAP.

46:10 Closing comments: Vijay: A word to listeners: if you need to reach out to any of us (the three of us on the call or any SAP Mentors), please feel free to give us a message on Twitter or LinkedIn or wherever, and ask us for any kind of input in making the most out of TechEd. Greg: I would second that. We're always open to answering questions and fielding whatever you might need and getting you connected. Jon: Bangalore shout out: promises to be excellent as usual this year.

Note: to comment on this podcast series, or send in a question for us to answer in the next one, be sure to join our ERP Lounge Group on Linkedin. If you want to subscribe to the series, get the The JonERP Master Blog and Podcast Feed. Or find Jon on his @jonerp Twitter feed. The ERP Lounge podcasts are also included in the JonERP iTunes podcast feed.   



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