SAP and Birst steal Salesforce.com’s cloud analytics thunder on Dreamforce eve

SUMMARY:

Birst and SAP are formalising a partnership to deliver cloud analytics on HANA, just as Salesforce.com prepares to launch its own offering.

Timing is, as they say, everything. And with Salesforce.com gearing up to make a song and dance about its Analytics Cloud on Monday, SAP has chosen today to launch a pre-emptive strike, accompanied by a cloud analytics firm that will be present at next week’s Dreamforce conference.

Birst-CEO-Brad-Peters
Brad Peters

SAP’s teaming up with Birst to expand and formalise what has been a loose partnership to date, focusing of course on providing instant analytics for the SAP HANA platform.

Talking to diginomica ahead of the formal announcement, Birst Chairman Brad Peters told me:

We have been working with SAP for some time. A lot of our customers are also SAP customers. We’ve been looking to partner with them around HANA for some time. Birst was built for agile analytics. We do much of that work in the database and take data from a bunch of different places.

We do very complex stuff, not simple stuff. We’re not like a Tableau where you can do very simple things or like the legacy vendors where it takes 50 clicks to do anything. So we’d been looking for the ideal data platform for a long time. If you look at what HANA represents the most agile data enterprise platform. HANA was really built for something like Birst.

From a joint statement by the two firms, the new deal runs like this:

Birst’s patented analytics engine builds a user-ready data store in SAP HANA that can deliver visual discovery, dashboards and enterprise reports across a single business model, accelerated by SAP HANA. This solution will be designed to provide instant analytics across on premise and cloud data sources like Salesforce.com, Oracle, SAP and Hadoop.

From a go-to-market perspective, the two companies will work together, according to Prakash Darji, Global Vice President of Database & SAP HANA Platform at SAP, who adds that this relationship isn’t seen as conflicting with SAP’s own Business Objects cloud plans:

If you’re an existing HANA cloud customer, then you can buy this from Birst. If you’re an existing Birst customer, you can buy this from SAP.

We are standing behind our own analytics service. But as we look at delivering customer value, we have integrated with third parties. We’re not just going to do things specific to our own BI platform.

When we look at customer scenarios and how and where people consume analytics, there are a lot around cross-analytics in the cloud, related to things like Salesforce.com data.

Multi-clouds

That’s all good and technologically politically correct, but looking at the relationships that Birst has with third parties, the eye is drawn to May’s announcement that NetSuite customers can set up a free “express” version of Birst’s solution embedded within the main NetSuite UI and use that to run search questions and analysis.

With this SAP relationship being high profile, can Birst continue to partner with so many rival firms? Ideally, of course it can; pragmatically, there has to come a point when the toys are thrown out of the pram by someone, surely?

Peters disagrees:

I don’t think you have to make a choice. This is about the HANA cloud platform, but we’re not making a choice between SAP and NetSuite business applications. The target markets they live in are different which is where the co-existence strategy that [NetSuite CEO] Zach Nelson talks about comes from. NetSuite talks about being in organizations departmentally, SAP corporately. What this does is make that more seamless. We’re actually helping enable the NetSuite [two tier] vision.


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Nonetheless, making this announcement on the eve of Dreamforce, which Birst is attending as an exhibitor, the timing does seem a little akin to pulling the tail on a tiger when one of the main announcements at the conference is to be Salesforce.com’s own cloud analytics push.

Given that Marketo tells us that it and its Marketing Cloud were uninvited from this year’s conference despite being a major sponsor in previous years, how long will Salesforce.com feel comfortable having a company with a head start in the cloud analytics game pitching to its faithful on its own doorstep?

Peters isn’t actually convinced that what comes out of Dreamforce will be a comparable competitive offering to Birst.

I’m assuming they’re going to base something off of EdgeSpring, [the analytics start-up acquired by Salesforce.com last year]. EdgeSpring was a tool that let you do something with data at the edge but it never flew. It was less than a cube, it was a cute little data store.

They’ve got a mechanism for loading that up with some basic Salesforce.com CRM data and that’s all fine. The UI might be nice, but fundamentally when you want to do real enterprise analytics, you want to do it across multiple application. There’s no real data store behind [Salesforce.com’s analytics].That’s not the intention. Salesforce.com is all about simple things and doing them at scale. There might be some lower end stuff that folks can get by on, but when dealing with enterprise customer cases, most Salesforce.com customers use three or four applications.

A man with a plan
Marc Benioff – a man with a plan

For his part, Peters reckons he’s seen all this before:

I lived with a CRM company that didn’t understand analytics when I was at Siebel. It was only at Oracle that Siebel Analytics was allowed to grow.

An applications company has a very difficult time of understanding analytics. It’s a free-form world. That’s not in the DNA of Salesforce.com.

No apps company has built successful analytics by itself.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that next week Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff fully intends to make a move onto Birst’s turf despite these claims. Peters is rueful at the prospect, commenting only that:

Analytics is the second biggest software market.

My take

A nicely timed announcement from Birst and SAP’s point of view, although I can’t imagine it’s one that will sit entirely happily with Salesforce.com’s sales and marketing people.

Cloud analytics can safely be added as another frontline in the ongoing enteprise cloud wars with a lot at stake.

Gartner reckons that by 2016, 25% of business analytics deployments will take the form of subscription to the cloud, including business analytics platform as a service and business analytics software as a service.

Cloud, it argues, will become the natural environment for business analytics.

That’s a message we’ll be hearing a lot of  in the days and weeks to come.

Disclosure: at time of writing, Oracle, NetSuite, Salesforce.com and SAP are all premier partners of diginomica.