SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence Platform Review

SAP Business Objects vs. Microsoft BI


A quick look at the whole idea on another weblogs gives you a sense that all of them just talked about very brief things like report refresh feature in BO or cube feature in MS Analysis Service. I choose MS BI and I want to share my reasons and opinions on why I choose it and give you another quick but a little deeper compare on these two BI platforms.

As we all know both Business Objects and Microsoft are big companies who are working on BI solutions and both have their own advantages. It’s not true to compare them in term of which one is better, we have to check what is our requirements and then depend on requirements take the decision whether MS or BO. A vision like this could help us relief from religious decisions against a software or technology.

In a BI architect first of all we have the data store level, I mean the storage of the raw data not the stage or olap cubes or universe data source, I mean the first place of our data. This is important to know that where your raw data is and what is the type of storage used to store them. Whether file system or Access or Fox database or a complex database solution like oracle, sqlserver or a web service can made our place of raw data. We have to check our tools against them; check to see which one gives us a smooth way to transfer them among ETL process to destination. So take a look at what Business Objects gives us.

There is a Data Integration platform in Business objects but the problem is that you have to buy that separately because it is not shipped with the BI system. In Microsoft sqlserver enterprise you have all the services and features needed for this part of the game. SSIS is the service that sqlserver deliver for data extract, integration and load. Both product gives you the ability to enhance the data quality and data cleansing portion of your integration phase, but when we down to details things change a little to the Microsoft side, because of the ability of using your Dot.Net knowledge to write complex parts of ETL process you have more room to think and do whatever you want in your process, and in BO side it is always look simple and it’s really not easy to take complex situation into it. There are advantages and disadvantages on this. First you can do many things with the ability of dot.net code but it could give you complexity in your development so you have to decide on your situation, if things looking normal both could fit your need, but if the situation is not stable and you have to make yourself ready for the changes in future it’s better to get the power of SSIS and spend a little more time development today to create a powerful and easily changeable mechanism that could help you in future. You can also do that with Business Objects Data Integration but you have to spend more bucks for the development and changes of ETL processes because development cost in Business Objects solutions is always a nightmare for a project.

At this point we have a brief understanding of differences in ETL process between two vendors, so it’s good time to take a look back to the source database. Here is a very quick answer, if you use mostly MS products to store your transactional data then take your decision and move to MS for a robust and compatible BI platform. Business Objects don’t have a database system and it always used other database solutions to store data for its universe.

So guess what happen ! from an administrator perspective performance tuning is somehow problematic ! since we should use other database systems we should use different technics for each database systems. And this is one of the areas that MS wins the competition because when you use Microsoft platforms there lots of joint mechanism for performance considerations.

Before the SQL Server 2012 we have SSAS with its famous aggregated cubes, because of the nature of SSAS in previous versions we couldn’t call it a semantic layer, here is a little why. A semantic layer provides translation between underlying data store and business-level language(Business semantic that business users familiar with). There was no actual translation in previous release of SSAS. Perhaps we had some difficulties over SSAS to understand for a business user. So Microsoft change its approach in SSAS 2012 from delivering a complex understandable solution to end users to a true semantic layer like what we has in Business Objects that called Universe. So from now MS BI users can use a powerful toolset like Microsoft Excel and use their existing knowledge to interact with semantic layer. What Microsoft do in backyard is to create aggregations in memory so the performance of this approach is really high ! I don’t want to deep dive into what Microsoft do in backyard in this post but it would be one of my next topics. (sounds like advertisement :D )

I talked about aggregations so know that in BO there are no facility for aggregation tables, so you have to deal with DBAs to create aggregation tables manually and integrate them into the Universe.

One of the important aspects of a BI system is the learning curve of the solution, it was always the slogan of the Business Object that learning curve is very low ! yes for end users it is not hard to interact with Universe. BUT ! the thing that I say here is the problem of every BI platform from Microsoft to BO or Cognos that deliver Semantic layer, it is very easy for a user to get the wrong answer, because everything is behind the Universe or Semantic Model and know that tracking from report back to the base data is a Non-trivial task. So be aware about letting users create whatever they want with their own knowledge. There should always an IT professional observing the whole process. So never think about a fully out of the box solution, because you will shortly find it on Mars ! or your users may have the chance to take decisions based on wrong calculations and find their way to Mars again :D

Another important aspect of a BI systems is the cost of it, about the Business Objects we can definitely say that it is expensive and for sure Microsoft could be expensive ! but how can we decide ' the answer is to compare the detail parts, there are 4 main parts Database, ETL, Semantic Layer and Reporting or user interaction layer. If you choose to go over BO you have to find heads for your data warehouse, database solution and Java skills or tomcat or other J2EE platform professionals for ETL and development phase and BO specific heads for Universe Modeling, Design, Implementation, perhaps you need security administration and if you want to integrate your Active Directory with this platform it is problematic and integrating with other LDAP platforms is a nightmare ! so be aware of these costs. The point of Microsoft solution is that we can use our in house knowledge like Dot.Net and SqlServer, SharePoint, Windows Server and these knowledge are transferable to other skills. But with BO we need headcount dedicated to BO (Universe Design, Implementation, Maintenance, Security) since BO skills are not transferable to other skills, those extra heads blow the project’s budget ! Microsoft BI platform is a more manageable, more secure and less expensive solution, I see the BO as a consultant dream, as an endless font of billable hours :D

Conclusion

I decide to go over Microsoft BI platform but I would not suggest anyone at first place to choose Microsoft. This is really depend on the nature and scale of the project and what you did and what technologies you have used in past but a quick look gives an idea that Microsoft’s platform is looking more robust and coherent in different parts so it can be a very good and convenient choice and perhaps after the release of SQL Server 2012 and its BI Semantic layer the answer is more easier and acceptable than before.

I also would like to hear about your experience on either of these solutions.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
4 visitors found this review helpful
4 Comments
Sales with 51-200 employeesVendor

Not a very good comparison. The writer assumes that everyone has in-house Microsoft skills (.NET and SQL Server, SharePoint, Windows Server etc) when most companies do not. True, BusinessObjects is way too complex and expensive. It comprises of many products, there is a lot of overlap in functionality and implementations are lengthy/costly. Recent upgrades to deal with aspects like mobility are deployed as afterthoughts, not as a main part of the architecture (understandable given how long BO has been around, but unforgivable to expect users save different versions of reports for web and mobile).

Also, it could be argued that BO has greater maturity than Microsoft, but literally, at what cost?

There are other emerging BI tools, developed in THIS century that have a better handle on things like user experience, visualisations, scalability and mobility.

15 October 13
BI Expert at a comms service providerReal User

Not a very good comparison for me too, in addition of what iannicholson has said.
True, whith Microsoft BI you can use SQl Server as database which is the case of BO too. But my experience with SQL Server database, you will have a lot of performance issue and it can`t manage a large quantity of Data.
With SAP HANA, BO has now a fully integrated platform. True the cost of the solution is expensive like all the other solutions I think but ultimately the choice must be done based on every company own business and the maturity of their users.
Personally, I always worked with since 9 years until now, I always found it user friendly and easy to use for the business users. The only thing that I can reproach to BO is his graphical charts which is really poor compared to other vendors.

04 May 14
Erik StensonConsultant

you have to realize that business objects isn't a database - it is strong in semantic and presentation layers. there is bods the ETL tool but you can use any ETL you want I mostly worked with plsql scripts. the strength if bobj is that you can connect instantly to any database even excel or text if you want.

03 October 14
GaryMReal UserTOP 5POPULAR

It was an interesting comparison with some useful insight which I appreciate but it gets muddy when you start mixing in the entire platform.

I suggest comparing just the BI tools themselves and leaving database and ETL out of it since those are completely separate decisions. Personally I love BO's semantic layer and its still (even with MS BI 2012) the fact that MS doesn't have it is a massive hole in MS's approach. Yes they now have the "tabular data model" which has potential but its such apples to automobiles comparison to BO universe which is truly just semantic model. MS's approach is an in-memory engine like Tableau or Qlikview server so not really relevant to just a pure BI/reporting evaluation. The other interesting muddy aspect is that BO has multiple tools, not just Bobj/webi and so does MS like Crystal Reports (which is often used without the semantic layer btw). MS has SSRS, Excel services, PerformancePoint, PowerView, PowerMap, Power this and power that. Everything seems to have power these days. Hope we don't get a big solar flair.

Course like someone indicated, the REAL power is in the database. Without a good database platform AND design, the BI tools are all pretty darn worthless. I would argue with the person who claims SqlServer can't handle volume - its a relative thing. Petabytes no. Gigabytes yes. That has more to do with how you build it than it does the platform. Stupid designs have stupid performance. Its usually more about the incompetence of the designer than it is the database. Unless it's my design of course - then it must be the database platform that's at fault ;-)

All that said, it would be an interesting showdown to compare the myriad of MS reporting tools to BO, Cognos, Microstrategy, Tableau, Qlikview, Excel, etc. and include pricing and learning curve in the analysis.

What I see is that SSRS is a 2 day class with no conference verses Tableau has a week long conference just on a reporting tool that's supposed to be a super easy end-user friendly tool! Am I the only one that thinks thats a bit crazy? Oh and the Qlikview 4 day conference is coming up. Don't miss it so you can find out how easy it is to use. It's so easy you have to attend a week long conference every year! Course it is in Orlando and my golf game is bit rusty...

03 October 14
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