The head of the BBC’s finance intelligence team, Simon Griffiths, has challenged SAP on its roadmap for BusinessObjects, stating that it is unclear what tools the BI application will incorporate in the future and said that he doesn’t want to be constantly investing in upgrades.

Griffith said that the BBC is now an organisation that is ‘just managing cost’ after the license fee was fixed by the government for the coming decade, and that SAP’s recent acquisitions are confusing for end-users who don’t know what they mean for their existing investments.

He is currently heading up a year-long project, where the BBC is upgrading from BW 3.5 to BusinessObjects in order to reduce staff numbers and hit the required 20 percent cost saving that has been mandated across the Beeb.

Under the use of BW, cost centre managers, of which there are 1,300, had been using analysts or accountants to interpret financial data being delivered to them. It is this ‘middle-man’ that the BBC is looking to replace with BusinessObjects, by delivering intuitive dashboards to finance managers directly.

However, having now taken the plunge with BusinessObjects, Griffiths is unhappy with SAP’s communication of plans for its future.

“Where the product is going isn’t clear. Version BI 4.0 is out there now, but we are on a slightly older version of BusinessObjects. It is continually evolving and you always need to keep up with the game, but organisations that are looking to save cash don’t necessarily want to be forking out money all the time,” said Griffiths.

“Some clarity in the roadmap and the tool set that they are going to have would be nice. They keep acquiring all these add-ons, which just causes confusion about where the existing tool set is going.”

He added: “Will I have to buy something new? If so, that’s difficult. We have a strategy in place around BusinessObjects, but what at point should we upgrade to 4.0? That will no doubt require more investment, changes, costs.

“If you are a commercial organisation that’s fine, you could try bring in more revenue to afford it. But for an organisation that is just managing cost, it’s even more difficult to justify spending money.”

His comments echo those of Alan Bowling, the current chairman of the SAP User Group, who was speaking to customers at the Group’s annual conference in Manchester this week. Bowling used his keynote to highlight to SAP discontent surrounding BusinessObjects.

Bowling said: “Many of us that have already invested in SAP BI and BW want to know if we’ll be treated like completely new SAP customers, if we move to using SAP BusinessObjects. Or will we be given discounts to account for the fact we have already invested in similar technology from SAP?

“[Without] clarity and understanding from SAP about the investments its existing customers have already made, we could find many organisations are unable to move forward.”

He added: “These sentiments were mirrored in our recent membership poll with the vast majority of respondents stating they did not understand the benefits to them of the Ariba, SucessFactors and Sybase acquisitions. Our message to SAP is: Don’t forget those customers that paid for these acquisitions through their licence and maintenance fees. Get better at communicating to these customers. “

Griffiths said that he knew he would end up with an SAP product because the BBC has a longstanding relationship with the software giant (over ten years), and so choosing a different vendor would have been a ‘difficult commercial decision to make’.

The finance intelligence team allocated two people to work on the project, as Griffiths was determined to implement the product using in-house skills, instead of following the ‘old-fashioned BBC style of getting a load of consultants in who go away at the end leave you sitting there wondering what on earth happened’.

Aside from the 20 percent cost saving that is required from the license fee freeze, the BBC also wanted to free up some productivity time for managers.

He said: “The license fee announcement was the facilitator to take effort and activity out of the business. We wanted to release more time for managers and support people to actually look at decision making, rather analysing the past.”

However, Griffiths did say that there were challenges in extracting the data from the BW warehouse and he has also faced queries from cost centre managers who are now faced with a more complete view of their finance data.

“Were there any issues with getting the data out into BusinessObjects? Yes, it’s an art, but it’s not a science. We are on quite an old version of BW (3.5) and we have got a big project coming up to upgrade to ECC 6.0, so we have got quite an old estate. As a result, we had to find out how to extract the data, rather than read the book,” he said.

“To an extent it’s trial and error. You need people around that can think and that are reasonably intelligent. Put them in an environment where they are allowed to experiment, because it is sort of an R&D activity.”

He added: “Also, when you are exposing new data to a cost centre manager, as we are, they begin to see stuff about payroll, expenses that they never got to see before. They start finding holes in the data. In which case you have to say well it’s up to you to try and now fix it.

“If you expose new data, you expose new problems.”

In other news, SAP’s managing director for the UK, Tim Noble, took to the stage at the annual User Group conference in Manchester this week and bravely told customers that despite constrained budgets and difficult economic conditions, SAP will not allow users to park maintenance costs on unused software licences.

Noble did say, however, that if customers do want to park their unused licences they should talk to their account or commercial teams, because they might be able to come to an arrangement that allows users to defer costs of unused licences to new software licences.