It was a long and circuitous road for SAP in trying to bring its first software-as-a-service offering, Business ByDesign, to market. And SAP is currently facing a slew of business challenges, most of which are summarized in this Barron's piece. Among them: Software with a reputation for costly and complicated implementations, product design problems and channel conflicts with Business ByDesign, customer ire over increases in support fees, and stiff competition from Oracle and various SaaS providers.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it? The good news: The FBR Capital Markets analysts who authored the piece are upgrading SAP from Underperform to Market Perform.
Despite the stream of mostly bad recent news and its early challenges with SaaS, SAP executives sounded positive on a Webcast earlier this week (click on the link for the replay) as they discussed the launch of the company's BusinessObjects BI OnDemand software, which is being pitched to SMBs and "casual BI users currently underserved by products on the market." The new product carries the brand of BusinessObjects, the business intelligence specialist SAP acquired in 2007. It may not have been the smoothest acquisition, as seen by SAP's recent complaints about the positioning of its BI products on Gartner's Magic Quadrant.
The product offers all of the latest technology bells-and-whistles, including one increasingly seen as essential for the "casual" BI user, the ability to create mashups from BI data derived from a variety of sources. A product demonstration, which you can view during the Webcast, shows how easy it is to draw in data, create your own reports and dashboards (it even offers users suggested ways to organize and merge their data), and share it with other users (access controls let you determine who can see data and what they can do with it).
The product will satisfy companies' desire for "a single relationship for on-demand and on-premise offerings," stressed SAP officials during the webcast. The same selling point is used by other vendors now adding on-demand offerings to their well-established traditional software businesses, such as IBM and Microsoft.
From my standpoint, one of the most intriguing features of BusinessObjects BI OnDemand is a feedback tab that lets users offer product suggestions, which will then be voted on by other users, a la Dell's IdeaStorm. Dell recently announced it is offering shorter and more focused feedback sessions targeted to business customers, in an effort to build on the success of its popular consumer-oriented voting site.
According to David Meyer, an SAP senior vice president, the system will be updated monthly, incorporating suggested changes from users. Early users of the product have already submitted 50 suggestions, he said, three of which will be added to the product in the near future. "You'll see [the feedback feature] in a lot of products going forward," he said. Perhaps this is a nod to the criticism that SAP has not been as quick as some of its peers to respond to market trends.
The new product is available now in English, with support for other languages, including French, Japanese, Spanish and German, coming in the second quarter. Like many other SaaS products, it will be available in a free limited Personal Edition. Pricing for a midrange Essential Edition and high-end Advanced Edition will be released soon, according to SAP. Pricing will be based on usage.
The company said it plans to roll its crystalreports.com Web reporting service into new software. Users will be able to buy the product directly from SAP or from its partners.