SAP vs. Microsoft, Information Assets vs. End User Experience positioning

If your company runs SAP, chances are the picture below represents your environment pretty well

The black colors represent the existing investments/business processes and the size of the bubbles represents the effort/investment $$$. Your company has made a very large investment in the SAP back-end (ERP, BW, etc.) which is represented by a large black circle on the lower left. The information worker end-user experience in SAP is represented by a relatively smaller bubble (BobJ, BEx) and we can also see a solid line that connects these two Information Assets (one could argue that this solid line is not quite as solid in reality but that’s not the point I am trying to make here). The important point that I am trying to make however is characterized by a significantly larger bubble that represents the End User experience that the information workers in your company enjoy using Microsoft tools such as Excel, PowerPoint and SharePoint.

Many IT folks seem surprised by the size of that Information Asset but if you think about the herculean work that is done every month across various groups in your organization to dump data out of SAP (BEx, etc.), link and cleanse and scrub that data and then build countless reports in Excel using HLOOKUPs, VLOOKUPs, SUMIFs and whatever other Excel black magic necessary to get the job done, it should become clear that the size of that circle is very well justified.

Unfortunately, many companies tend to completely downplay the significance of the End User experience while pouring millions of dollars in the infrastructure and back-end.

I think that there are at least two reasons why the end-user experience gets no respect from IT:

  1. Disconnect between IT and the business audience – this is a topic that has gotten a lot of attention and coverage and is pretty universally accepted at this point and, therefore, I am not going to dwell on it too much
  2. Philosophical encampment of the SAP ideology within IT which leads to denial and rejection of anything non-SAP

The second argument is unfortunately very commonplace.

Is there a way to reframe this situation such that we can stop bickering and arguing about what vendor/technology is better and instead focus on what is the right thing to do for the company? I think there is…

I think that it is very clear that both vendors, SAP and Microsoft, are very strategic for an organization and therefore we should not think about who is better or worse but rather we should think about how do we leverage and maximize the existing investments with both vendors. It, therefore, seems pretty natural that some Microsoft Office infrastructure must be deployed to create a solid line (i.e. set up the plumbing) between the SAP back-end and front end-user tools (represented by red color on the diagram). Typically, a large organization that has an enterprise agreement with Microsoft will have most of these components already licensed and, frankly speaking, most organizations will have these components already deployed (I am talking about SQL Server, SharePoint, etc.) although not necessarily configured to enable the flow data from SAP into the hands of end users.

Having this Microsoft infrastructure does not facilitate any more replication of data than what is already taking place as the outputs (manually built Excel reports and PowerPoint decks) remain the same, so the information is already replicated from SAP and sourced into these visualizations, albeit manually. So the volume of data movement will remain the same, but all of the non-value adding work will be reduced to the bare minimum. The following is a list of some of the benefits of this approach:

  • Automation of manual data extracts
  • Governance and controllership of the information flow
  • Security and oversight
  • Build Excel reports once and refresh them from the reporting model, no manual updates necessary
  • Same for PowerPoint (build one deck that will refresh from the model with up to date information rendered for the individual user credentials)
  • Empowering end users to own content creation therefore significantly reducing the IT reporting backlog
  • Ultimately – giving the End Users what they want, like and expect

3 thoughts on “SAP vs. Microsoft, Information Assets vs. End User Experience positioning

    1. I have been known to be wrong before on a few occasions so I will definitely go through the post to make sure, but my gut is telling me that I actually meant to say PowerPoint.

      PowerView can be exposed in PowerPoint which allows us to build the deck once and then have it automatically refresh from the reporting model using user’s security credentials.

      The way to do it is to create a PowerView dashboard in SharePoint, then click on File->Export to PowerPoint. The resulting deck will have a slide for each View in your PowerView visualization. Each slide, when in in Present Mode, will have an “Interact” button in the lower right hand corner. If a user presses that button, the slide will connect to the reporting model and refresh itself with the latest data and then will have all of the interactivity of PowerView, which means that the user will be able to filter, drill down and play animations right from PowerPoint against the latest data available in the model.

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