This write up contains a high level investigation of the Business Intelligence solution offering from Microsoft (SQL Server Reporting Services or SSRS) and the offering from SAP, the Business Objects base reporting package (BOBJ). While BOBJ does have more options for reporting and presentation, from a basic report feature standpoint both of the tools offer similar functionality and offer the user a great deal of flexibility in the presentation of their data. The other difference between the two solutions that needs to be considered is the expense associated with the Total Cost of Ownership. While you will have similar costs in the requirements gathering, design, development, testing, and ongoing administration, there is a significant difference in the licensing cost of these products. While BOBJ charges by either named user or CPU, SSRS comes with SQL Server so there are no additional costs with adding a BI tool set.

SQL Server and Sharepoint offer a quality BI solution, which meets basic architectural principles and business requirements. Because of Microsoft's desire to establish itself in the BI space, it offers the BI components with a license to SQL Server. The lack of flashy, AJAX style reporting features (which are often shown in demos of BOBJ) may limit the business's interest in SQL Server. Additionally, BOBJ's reporting, ad hoc queries, dashboard, data visualization capabilities are key strengths of the SAP BOBJ product suite and are among top rated BI tools.

When considering the total cost of ownership, a company must consider the individual components that make up this expense. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) comes from the High Level Business Requirements, Software Selection Process, Software Installation, Detailed Requirements, Design, Development, System and User Acceptance Testing, Production Software Licenses, the ongoing Maintenance of the solution. While many of these costs would be similar across the two platforms, a company needs to assess the differences in development time, and ongoing maintenance and understand which tool their personnel and IT infrastructure can support. Specific costs and return on investments are highly dependent on company's specific situations and deployment choices. From our specific client exposure, mid-market companies do not opt for BOBJ, and we find that SQL Server is more prevalent. An SSRS solution will often be lower cost from a licensing perspective as all components are included with a SQL Server license. However, SSRS requires a developer to build their reports, where BOBJ supports an end business user self-service model. So long term technical support and development costs could actually be lower with BOBJ.

Because many companies already own SQL Server licenses within their infrastructure, the ease and low cost benefits of implementation may be too good to pass up. However, companies either without SQL Server in house or requiring heavily visual reports accessible to business users or self-service access to information with minimal IT support may want to implement BOBJ as their BI stack.

Abstract

Business Intelligence (BI) encompasses a wide range of enterprise applications and technologies for gathering, storing, analyzing, and accessing information to make better business decisions. BI applications include but are not limited to decision support systems, query and reporting, online analytical processing (OLAP), statistical analysis, forecasting, data mining, dashboarding and key performance indicators (KPIs) and more recently analysis via mobile technologies.

In surveying the Business Intelligence (BI) landscape, mega-vendors and niche players dominate the market. Within the past few years, two of the leading product vendors, Cognos and Business Objects, were purchased by technology powerhouses, IBM and SAP respectively, and a third BI tool, Hyperion, was bought by Oracle. Microsoft continues to make strides in affordable and easy to integrate products. SAS is a major player, specializing in predictive analysis, statistics, and forecasting. Microstrategy continues to be a leader in Relational Online Analytical Processing (ROLAP) and has some innovative mobile technology, while QlikTech and LogiXML focus on dashboards and interactive reporting. Open source vendors such as Actuate, Jaspersoft, and Pentaho offer unique low cost options but suffer limits in features and breadth of services.

In the past, companies have coupled best of breed modules from multiple vendors. Now, organizations are able to adopt a single vendor offering, but the distinction between vendors has become less clear as all pursue similar strategies with fewer apparent product differences. Currently, organizations average 3.2 different BI vendors and 13 overall BI deployments. The current trend from BI vendors is to bundle modules together into a single platform that provides extensive features. The BI tool selection decision should be based more on strategic considerations than general product capabilities.

In selecting a BI platform, companies must understand the role of BI within the enterprise and how it will deliver measurable business value. Companies must not overlook the role of IT in BI deployments and daily maintenance. BI systems are complex entities that require technical resources to manage reports, data movements, warehouse models and information delivery. Likewise, business stakeholders must be involved in the actual product selection to ensure an understanding of usability and technical complexity. The installation and management of BI Suites requires maturity in data analytics and reporting knowledge for both real time transactional systems and data warehousing.

While information delivery is the primary short-term return on investment of most BI deployments, the other two areas provide more long-term strategic value. Interest in process and strategy-driven BI has increased in recent years, and with it, interest in forecasting outcome of business events. When applied correctly, such forecasting can promote improved planning and help optimize business processes.

With the maturation and leveling of the BI market in terms of capabilities, many products now show commonality in report access, security, production, distribution, and support for multiple formats (XML, PDF and HTML). However, tools can be differentiated on critical features such as ease of use for end users and report developers, scalability of user population and data volume, complexity of report interaction, support for sophisticated SQL, and enterprise system integration.

TDWI BI for All! Executive Summary: http://www.tdwi.org/display.aspx?ID=7613

The Analysis

CapTech has created a process in order to consistently evaluate and rank different Business Intelligence tools by defining the aspects and features by which we will compare the products. A scoring system was established in order to ensure the products are being compared fairly using a common scale. For this analysis, six aspects were included as bases of comparison between products. With each of the aspects is a list of features upon which the aspect was evaluated.

In order to make a fair comparison of the aspects across the products, we created a system of five possible scores with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best. The five scores are defined as follows:

1. The feature is not supported at all.
2. The feature is supported, but integration and/or building is required.
3. Some light customization is required to use the feature.
4. The feature is supported out of the box.
5. The product is best of class and provides additional, unexpected functionality for the feature.

Included Aspects

Reporting
  • Usage environment (scheduled delivery, real time desktop, and real-time web)
  • Data layout options (tabular, matrixed, financial)
  • Parameterization, filtering, drill through (interactivity)
  • Support for complex functions and calculations
Visualization
  • Inclusion of color coded score carding, dashboards, and key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Workflow and collaboration
  • Report format exportability (HTML, PDF, Excel, etc)
Data Analysis
  • Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) capability (also known as "slice and dice")
  • "What If?" scenario generation
  • Predictive modeling and data mining
Functional Capabilities
  • Ad-Hoc Query
  • Meta data management
  • Mobile platform support
Usability (technical perspective)
  • Vendor support
  • Developer community
  • Development environment
  • Deployment and lifecycle management
  • Supports complex SQL
Infrastructure, Architecture & Integration
  • Scalability of the BI stack
  • Security administration
  • Product Software Development Kits (SDKs) offered for integration
  • Portal Integration
  • Microsoft Office Integration
  • Extract Transform Load (ETL) toolset

Scoring

Below we can see the overall scores for both the BOBJ and SSRS (SQL Server) BI solutions. Business Objects (BOBJ) is clearly the industry leading BI tool set with the most options and functional capabilities. They have a single installation package, where SSRS requires installation of the components and then a technician would be required to tie them together where possible. SSRS was rated the highest in the Usability from the technical perspective. The SSRS package allows the end user to completely customize the SQL and create reports relatively fast. Also the support offered by Microsoft through both their support channels and on-line user groups can not be matched.

Overlapping Scoring Radar Graph