Updated: Apr 1, 2021
Software changes. Even when an app meets EVERY requirement, we find changes to make until funding runs dry or the software becomes obsolete. With the announcement that SAP will sunset SAP Analytics Hub, I find myself wondering how much 'cycle' is left in the software lifecycle? And my mind drifts to TechEd 2017, a time when SAP took a chance on a little bit of corporate anarchy....
Let me ask ... what happens when an app truly fulfills its purpose?
In the case of a hardware driver, for example, the codebase is left unrevised until it stops doing what its designed to do. A new version of Windows comes out and we find bugs in the code, forcing changes, but otherwise the code lies dormant.
But we don't always do that with applications, do we? There’s usually some unifying vision, something binding together the vendor: executive sponsors, product owners, product managers, developers, and the customer: enthusiasts, and casual users.
Unfortunately, a large software company can only improve software when all the stakeholders believe in the same vision; if the vision isn’t aligned, the product gets worse or fails to meet its purpose.
Though SAP plans to support Analytics Hub until the very last license expires, with the very last customer, the sunset means two things:
Analytics Hub won't get new features
But it'll get fixed if something breaks (due to changes in OS, browser, other apps in the SAP ecosystem)
Yes, I think stakeholders are conflicted with SAP Analytics Hub, but I also think that it is a complete piece of software, it's popular, and I think it meets its purpose. And maybe it's time for a second look.
It's at least an interesting story. SAP Analytics Hub was born of anarchy. Or so I’ve heard.
Rewind to 2017. I’d never been to TechEd before – so ... I was all "Las Vegas, baby". I was invited to go on stage with Ramu Gowda for the unveiling of Lumira 2.0. To be honest, I loved Lumira and was glad to discuss it in front of hundreds of customers. But the beta test was a little rocky (to say the least), and I found my thoughts straying to a new belle called SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC).
In this TechEd 2017 clip, a 50 foot cartoon-version of me kicked off the show, discussing our Lumira success story
That's when Analytics Hub walked right into my roadmap. I fluttered around the booth like a butterfly, sipping on conversations with the SAC product team.
Analytics Hub was born of an internal project at SAP. People were tired of searching for analytics, trolling SharePoint folders and BOBJ servers, copy / pasting web links to be saved in Outlook folders for years, until the links don’t work no more. They wanted something to open up everything to the enterprise. It was a "free the data" campaign on mass, in a way traditional IT has always been a little uncomfortable with.
That was the vision for Analytics Hub from the start – make it easy to open all the analytics, or more specifically, any webpage available from a URL. Any user could create an asset – slap in a photo, a description, add some metadata into the light database. And any user could access absolutely everything.
So, I asked them the question they didn’t want to hear … how do I lock it down?
You see, SAP Analytics Cloud has a Team concept that works well. Sure, some content can be used by everyone. But you can create your own custom analytics and share them with your Team. In a silo, Analytics Hub a great idea. But as part of Analytics Cloud?
I worked at a company with thirty-thousand people, and there were simply some things we didn’t want to share with everyone. Cash management? Competitive intelligence? Heck, I held a government clearance and worked for a defense contractor – restricting information to a “need to know basis” was part of my job.
Analytics Hub was about freedom from boundaries, everything available to everybody. And when it was added to Analytics Cloud, it wasn’t really “inside” SAC. Users were provisioned in the same place, but it was clear that the products aren’t entirely integrated at the codebase.
We talked. I got frustrated. The product team was adamant that adding role control to SAP Analytics Hub was counterintuitive to the product vision. And, architecturally speaking, I don’t know if it was even possible.
So, that was that. As a customer, my vision didn’t align with the product, so it wasn’t on my roadmap. I’m still a nerd, however, so I built a rather flashy Analytics Hub, adding some animated GIFs of my dashboards (since video wasn't supported), packed my bags, and moved on.
...but something new was happening. The business value having all your analytics in one place was something new. And in parallel, it was clear that you didn't need to move data anymore, in fact, with HANA as an "engine" blending all your enterprise data, we were building a real-time Digital Boardroom like nobody had ever seen. So when I was rushed through makeup for an interview about "hybrid analytics" with Mike Flannagan, I was still putting the pieces together in my head....
I heard the term "hybrid analytics" moments before this TechEd Live clip - but I'd already taken the hybrid journey....
Fast-forward to today, and Analytics Catalog is here. And anyone who’s used it will say it’s not the same.
For most users, however, there’s only two big differences:
There’s no workflow for asset approval.
There isn’t much in the form of richer metadata, other than the ability to group or “tag” an asset into different groups.
On the flip side, we get SO MUCH in return. We get the ability to track usage (with the new SAC Usage Tracking pack in the Content Network). We get a timestamp and username of who made changes. And we get role control with SAC Teams.
In the end, Catalog is really the product I wanted, with a few concessions. Gone is Hub’s slick document workflow; we’re need to use a more manual process like with BOBJ, where only certain people can publish, receiving requests through emails (or maybe the internal messaging in SAC?).
In return, Catalog gives us role control and a deeper integration, with a single login to SAP Analytics Cloud. Coming soon is the ability to pass variables to SAC Stories, opening up whole new workflows to do exciting personalized content.
And the roadmap is wide open. At Influence.SAP, customers can add suggestions and influence the direction of Catalog. Do we need more robust workflow? Do we need more robust metadata?
I am a witness to the power of combining agile, cloud development teams with SAP Customer Influence – I’ve personally submitted over 200 enhancement requests for SAP Analytics Cloud, and dozens of them were released in the very next version of the project. Something like that would have been a pipedream in the days of on-prem installations.
I recently spent a few days reviewing the changes SAP has made in the intervening years, and I find myself posing the same question: does the Hub fulfill its purpose? In my beta for the Hub, I added a bunch of enhancement requests. And it looks like my requests made it into the final product … except for role control, which kind of gets its own product altogether.
I think the answer is yes, in terms of data democratization, a little bit of corporate anarchy, the Hub is perfect. It is done. It’s a simple product with a simple purpose, and it accomplishes it. And SAP is committed to supporting it. But it isn’t the future….
Analytics Catalog is just getting started. It meets most of the needs, of most of the customers, and it is ready to grow and change and become what we need next.
If the Hub meets your needs for the next few years, it’s ready, waiting and kicking butt. Sure it won't become something different. But we don't need it to.
Lock in your licenses ASAP. Join the Influence program. Migrate on your own terms, when it makes sense. In the end, it’s the same user provisioning process anyhow, so the implementation will be simple.
But two things are true:
If software meets its purpose, why change it?
And no software ecosystem lasts forever.
And for everyone else? Analytics Catalog is actually pretty exciting.
At the end of the day, we might be witnessing the sunset of SAP Analytics Hub ... but there’s still a lot of room to explore on the horizon.