I am at the SAP BI and Portals conference this week.  I attended a session yesterday morning entitled "Guidelines for analyzing your BI data using Microsoft Excel pivot tables" that was given by Josh Djupstrom.  I admit that I am biased because it was the MDX 2005 query language technology from Simba that made this connectivity possible.  However, aside from my bias, this was actually a very good session.  Unfortunately, it was at 8:30 in the morning so attendance was probably lighter than it would have been if the session were at a more amenable time.

The presentation from Josh was well done.  I spoke to Josh after the presentation and found out he is part of the NetWeaver RIG (regional implementation group).  The RIG is supposed to help customers with their more challenging NetWeaver issues.  Josh tells me that they are quite busy these days which I assume is a good thing.  When I asked Josh about his experience with Excel pivot tables and NetWeaver BW, he told me that he had not used this until he was told a few days ago that he would be presenting on the topic.  He told me that he went to try out Excel pivot tables and it was easy to get things up and running.  He was quite impressed at how easy it was to use and how functional it was.  And he did not even need to know how to write MDX language queries!

The people in the audience seemed to like the Excel pivot tables with NetWeaver BW functionality.  What also amazed a number of these people was that they do not have to pay extra for this functionality.  This functionality comes with NetWeaver BW 7 and since pretty much everyone has Excel on their desktop, this is really plug and play.

The free part of the Excel pivot tables connectivity is important because it seems there is some concern by SAP customers that SAP wants to charge SAP customers for the Business Objects applications as a premium offering.  This actually makes a lot of sense considering how much SAP spent to acquire Business Objects.  Aside from the cost to acquire Business Objects, SAP is actually spending a lot of time and resources on making sure the Business Objects applications work very well against the SAP suite.  This is something that I don't think a lot of people realize is a very difficult task.  Sure, prior to the acquisition, Business Objects as well as other BI vendors claimed their products worked well against SAP.  However, having been in the data connectivity space for 12 years now, I know this is no trivial task.  The fact that the SAP and Business Objects people are working so closely now tells me that the next generation of Business Objects applications will truly be optimized for SAP connectivity and customers will benefit greatly.  The challenging part for SAP will be that if they do a good job (and there is not reason to believe they won't), then the customers will never realize how good they have it.

Back to Excel pivot tables and NetWeaver BW, besides there being no cost for existing BW and Excel users, as Josh said, this is easy to get up and running.  Also, one of the people at the session that I spoke to told me her CIO was going to love this.  She told me her CIO is a Microsoft guy and the fact that he gets to use a Microsoft BI client against the SAP BW system would be a huge win.  And the sad part is that they never knew about this before.  Go figure.

I can understand from an SAP Business Objects point of view, this is not something from which they can generate extra revenue.  However, it does add value for their customers and in a recession, it is all about adding value.  Also, think about what kind of upgrade path to something like XCelsius that SAP could give its customers…