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A Tale of Two Softwares

I was there at NAB when Apple unveiled FCPX.  I was downloading it the second the first tweet broke and I have been dabbling with it now and again since.  But I am not an editor, I am just someone who edits.  In fact I am slap bang in Mr Jobs’ target market if the initial functionality is anything to go by.  I can afford a certain degree of detachment because its not my day job.

LAFCPUG Supermeet NAB 2011

My day job is as a Business Intelligence Consultant.  However, it just so happens that the main software I rely on is also going through a generational change.  In its way it is the same level of paradigm shift that FCP is enduring.  The software in question is called Business Objects, now part of SAP.  In truth, its really a vast suite of interconnected products but, for short, it has become known as BI4.

The outgoing version is called XIR3 and has been around about 3 years.  It was a mature product but one that was carrying a lot of baggage due to acquisitions.  The basic idea in the centre had been around since the early 90s and had been very successful but was showing its age.  Some of the acquired modules were based on a different premise and functionality overlapped between them.  SAP made the difficult call to rewrite that central idea within the product.  Is any of this sounding familiar?  One thing BI4 does not share with FCPX is that it is not consumer oriented - one of the organisations that I work with has 11000 licences.

SAP ASUG Sapphire Conference Orlando 2011

So, like FCPX, BI4 is 64bit.  One of its most popular tools has been canned despite there still being a huge legacy of projects using it.  The central way of working has been completely changed and existing developers will have a lot to learn but all the remaining tools now integrate much better.

So how does SAP deal with its customers and its release compared to Apple?


A software roadmap is an expectation for Enterprise software.  Big businesses are like supertankers - it takes a huge amount of energy to change their course.  If you need to make a course correction you are going to need to know in good time. Most enterprise software consists of multiple platform layers and each of these has its own life cycle.  SAP share their roadmap with customers and major customers may be involved at a very early stage in the development.  SAP like to talk to there customers and you will be bombarded with material once they know your name.

Legacy Support

SAP will normally try and support about 2 versions back for migration at a platform level.  Where things won’t migrate, they provide conversion tools.  However, its not unknown for some functionality to go entirely.  Support for old releases dies off over time, the first stage is that updates and patches will stop followed later by telephone support.  However, this is years after the release of the new version.  If SAP think it may be controversial they will normally extend this period.

Soft Release

This has come in only during SAP ownership of Business Objects.  I have been going to launch events since February but technically BI4 is not for sale.  It is currently in “Ramp Up”.  This is like a limbo between beta and release.  Only selected customers have the software, the rest of us are waiting for SAP to declare general availability.  This date has been creeping backwards.


Despite “Ramp up” the software will be missing some functionality at general availability.  Some functionality is promised for BI4.1 and the roadmap puts that before the end of the year.


So in summary:

  • SAP likes to engage its customers and keep them informed of new developments whereas Apple has a cult of secrecy.  
  • Apple is used to having customers who are not significant in their overall volume where as SAP customers tend to be a more significant proportion of revenue.  SAP has maintenance whereas Apple has upgrades.  If you are paying for upgrades up front you would feel more entitled to know what you were going to get.
  • SAP gives customers plenty of help to migrate where Apple has made hardly any concessions
  • Apple is pretty good at hitting dates once it divulges them, SAP not so much.
  • Both Companies are prepared to make the tough calls when they think architectural changes are required.
  • SAP are prepared to put out software that is functionally incomplete but they limit who it is available to whereas Apple have fully released FCPX.  There are several orders of magnitude difference in price though.
  • Despite mutterings about the lateness of BI4 to general availability, I have not heard the term "debacle" used at all about BI4.


So whilst there are some similarities in the situation surrounding FCPX and BI4, the vendors could hardly be more different in approach to their launch. I don’t want to just Apple-bash because I am a huge fan.  I love their clarity of vision but I think they need to temper their own corporate culture when they are dealing with people livelihoods rather than just their lifestyles. 

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