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SAP expands business-intelligence strategy

SAP AG unveiled software for business intelligence and analytics, areas that are becoming integral to the strategy of the German enterprise software company.

SAP plans to unveil the products at its SAPPHIRE show, which kicks off in Orlando, said Leo Apotheker, co-CEO of SAP, who discussed the products at a meeting with members of the press in New York.

One product is a business analytics search tool called SAP BusinessObjects Explorer that Apotheker likened to an “iTunes” for business analytics that allows any business user to search and find business analytics information very quickly, he said.

The other application, called Constellation, combines social networking and business intelligence and “helps people work together in a very seamless way,” Apotheker said. He did not give many specifics about the product but said it is a “social application” that “links back into the business suite.”

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer is a product of the company's purchase of Business Objects SA in late 2007. The product combines a memory database, a custom-built search engine and a user interface that is similar to the interface of Apple's iTunes software and is designed to make it easy to search for business analytics information, he said.

“Even SAP can be cool,” Apotheker said, joking about the iTunes comparison, before describing the product. “It enables you to do one very important thing: You can look at any quantity of data — we're talking about terabytes, hundreds of terabytes — and get an answer in less than a second in normal language,” he said.

Business intelligence and analytics are becoming an increasingly important part of SAP's overall business, particularly since the purchase of Business Objects, Apotheker said. He said that while many people still think of SAP as mainly an ERP company, ERP “is not our biggest moneymaker” and accounts for only a small percentage of SAP's revenue.

“I believe business intelligence is a true game-changer, provided you make it accessible to the common human being,” he said.

Apotheker's appearance comes as he is about to take over as sole CEO of SAP. His colleague and co-CEO, Henning Kagermann, who Apotheker congratulated for his service, is stepping down next week.

In addition to giving a SAPPHIRE preview, Apotheker addressed a range of other topics. Among other things, he defended SAP's enterprise support policy and commented on the current economic recession.

Regarding the former subject, he took a shot at SAP competitor Salesforce.com Inc.'s enterprise support policy. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has warned of vendor lock-in with enterprise support and said customers should not pay for it.

“Someone thinks enterprise support shouldn't be paid because it's a lock-in — that's a bloody joke,” Apotheker said. He said that SAP's 86,000 global customers have a choice about whether they want to pay for enterprise support.

Apotheker acknowledged that SAP derives a significant amount of recurring revenue from its support offerings, but he said the company has committed to making it a good value for customers.

“There is no other vendor on the planet that has sat down with its users and customers” to discuss support in the way SAP has done, he said. “We will deliver a 30% value generation over a period of four years.”

Discussing the challenging economy, Apotheker stressed the importance of business responsibility going forward, and said SAP's business analytics and applications strategies are aimed at making businesses take more responsibility and fostering sustainability.

“I believe we are talking about a period — and I'm sure it will last for quite a number of years — where people want businesses to demonstrate accountability,” he said. “At SAP, we think that is a good thing, and we want to embrace that.”

And on the subject of sustainability, the company announced that it plans to acquire a company called Clear Standards Inc., which offers software to help companies measure greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

In a statement, SAP said the acquisition would enable it to help organizations meet the carbon-management requirements of increasingly stringent government regulations and be more transparent about responsible ecological strategies.

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