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Experts laud SAP Analytics Cloud but question market position

The platform may be solid for predictive analytics, financial planning and other tasks of business analysts. But why use it instead of SAP BusinessObjects or a third-party BI tool?

Billed as an end-to-end decision-making platform for businesses, SAP Analytics Cloud includes capabilities like...

real-time analytics, collaboration tools and predictive analytics. Yet, with competition from within SAP's own product line, including SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence suite and SAP Predictive Analytics, along with the analytics baked into the S/4HANA ERP platform, knowing where SAP Analytics Cloud fits into the product line and roadmap can be a bit confusing.

Experts advise using SAP Analytics Cloud for more strategic decision-making than is available in S/4HANA, and SAP itself wants the product to be ideal for all analytics uses.

SAP Analytics Cloud is fairly holistic in how it provides analytics, not just reporting or discovery, according to Brad Shimmin, service director of global IT technology and software at research firm Global Data. The product makes sense in SAP's strategy, in how SAP views the lifecycle of a problem and in the context of a business outcome, not just figuring out how many widgets to buy at the end of the month, he noted.

According to experts, the capabilities within SAP Analytics Cloud are best for dedicated analysts, planners and forecasters, since financial planning and budgeting are part of the SAP Analytics Cloud portfolio. It provides more flexibility and functionality for those uses, according to Dan Vesset, group vice president at research firm IDC. Users are able to assess scenarios, change variables, access more sophisticated predictive analytics and build predictive models, something that can't be done in S/4HANA, he said.

Branding may hold back SAP Analytics Cloud

SAP Analytics Cloud nonetheless has roadblocks to overcome -- namely, that it's not top of mind for many in terms of advanced and predictive analytics, according to Vesset. "SAP has been known for its BusinessObjects portfolio; that's the name and brand that people continue to know," he said, noting that SAP does not have the name recognition or history for advanced analytics that another vendor might have in the space.

Global Data's Shimmin agreed that SAP has stumbled several times in branding and positioning its portfolio. "It's been less than a year since [SAP has] actually come to a firm cloud-first analytics approach," he said. The strategy for analytics has shifted from waiting for BusinessObjects to evolve and blend, and the go-to-market strategy makes more sense. However, SAP's competitors may benefit from its branding missteps.

"In the marketplace, when you've stumbled that many times over that long a period in terms of positioning and branding … it's easy for the competition to say, 'We've had the same product for seven years and haven't felt the need to chuck everything in the bin and start over,'" Shimmin said.

SAP Analytics Cloud may need more differentiation

"We're increasingly in a world where how you use [and] leverage data and how a company makes decisions is what's going to differentiate them," Vesset said. Analytics, from data integration to analysis, needs to remain a core piece of a company's technology.

Right now, SAP is playing in a highly competitive space, as more large and midsize enterprise vendors have acquired analytics and business intelligence (BI) functionality with the same idea in mind. Other vendors also offer options at lower price points than SAP Analytics Cloud, and SAP will need to differentiate itself from them, Vesset said. One of the ways SAP can do so is include more automated functions in SAP Analytics Cloud, which is a steppingstone for a longer-term strategy, he said.

SAP plans further investment in SAP Analytics Cloud

SAP shows no signs of slowing down on SAP Analytics Cloud and seems to be doubling down on the product. According to Gerrit Kazmaier, senior vice president and head of development for SAP Analytics, the company plans to introduce more machine learning and predictive analytics capabilities and include natural language as a way to create queries.

SAP also wants to enable "smart insights," which go against confirmation bias, according to Kazmaier. These insights use machine learning to provide a consistent entry point for detecting outliers, uncovering correlations that may not be clear to users who enlist analytics to confirm a theory, he said.

As for the rest of its analytics portfolio, SAP has no plans to sunset its other BI systems, and they are still a key part of SAP's analytics strategy, Kazmaier said. "This is where customers have invested significant years building," he said.

Where SAP stands to improve is meeting the needs of mobile users across both the Apple iOS and Google Android platforms, according to Shimmin. But this is a challenge for a lot of vendors, and SAP's 2016 purchase of Roambi, a mobile BI platform, may help shore up that weak spot in the future, he said.

Overall, SAP Analytics Cloud seems to still be a work in progress. As machine learning and natural language capabilities are integrated into the product, it may prove to be a powerful tool for business users, as well as data scientists. For now, however, experts agree that it is still geared toward those with "analyst" in their title.

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