As of 2021 there are hundreds of business intelligence tools out there. And choice is good — if you know what you’re looking for. To provide some clarity, we’ve decided to compare two BI giants: Microsoft Power BI vs SAP Business Objects.
Let’s start with some biography.
BusinessObjects started out as an independent company in 1990, before becoming a division of SAP in 2009. The BI product is currently known as SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence.
In contrast, Microsoft Power BI is the new kid on the block. This BI platform has been around since 2011, making it 21 years younger than BusinessObjects.
A glance at Google Trends shows that Power BI gets many more Google searches than BusinessObjects. Microsoft reported around 5 million Power BI users in 2016, while we can safely say that BusinessObjects has fewer.
But just because a tool is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you. So let’s dive into the real differences of Power BI vs SAP Business Objects.
Side note: declaration of (dis)interest
Enterprise BI vs self-service analytics
Before looking at particular features, it’s important to note the key difference between Power BI and SAP Business Objects. To simplify matters, let’s say:
- SAP BusinessObjects is an enterprise BI tool
- Power BI is a self-service data analytics tool
So what do these two categories mean exactly? Let’s break down the typical features.
Enterprise BI platforms (e.g. SAP BusinessObjects)
- managed by a central IT department
- supports scaling to thousands of users and high-volume delivery of reports
- uses rigid, well-structured data models on top of data warehouses
- users access the data in a governed way through browser-based tools
- enterprise-grade data sources, requiring IT engagement to adjust
Self-service BI tools (e.g. Microsoft Power BI)
can be procured and managed within a department
business users can acquire and blend data themselves
accessed through individuals’ desktops, without IT involvement
data sources include desktop-based files, cloud, and semi-structured data
useful for business groups beyond sales and finance, such as HR
To summarise the difference:
- Power BI often appeals to departments, smaller businesses, or businesses that are trying out BI for the first time.
- SAP BusinessObjects is most used by enterprise-scale businesses that have an established IT department.
This doesn’t mean there are no large enterprises using Power BI and no small companies using SAP BusinessObjects. The choice depends on your technical and business requirements (which are likely to change over time).
So without further ado, let’s jump into the five key differences.
1. Pricing Power BI vs SAP BO
There can be a hefty price difference between Power BI and SAP Business Objects. That’s to be expected, because we’re comparing self-service BI with enterprise-grade.
The lowest Power BI price point is £7.50 per user per month (Power BI Pro). This version is also included in a Microsoft 365 E5 subscription (£48.10 per user per month). Power BI Pro users are licensed individually to create and share reports.
Power BI Premium costs £15.10 per user per month or from £3,766.70 per capacity per month. The per-capacity version includes on-premises reporting, multi-geo deployment management, and Bring your own key (BYOK). Power BI Pro only licenses report creators, while you can have unlimited numbers of viewers. So Power BI Premium is ideal for sharing reports outside your organisation.
Meanwhile, SAP BusinessObjects has a starting price of $14,000.00 (£10,075.17) per year. The actual total cost of ownership depends on the number and type of licences. Broadly, these fall into “user” licences and “concurrent session” licences.
Concurrent session licences limit the number of users at any time. If all your concurrent session licences are being used, you will have to wait for a user to log out before you can log in. User licences, on the other hand, are available to a single, named person at all times. To learn more, please see our guide Understanding the SAP Business Objects Licensing Model.
Examples of Power BI and SAP BusinessObjects visualisations
2. Data visualisation
SAP BO features a storyboarding-type visualisation platform. This allows you to add infographics, images, text, charts, and animations. You can add filters and ad-hoc reporting to fine-tune the data used in your visualisations. There is also geospatial integration for mapping purposes.
Microsoft prioritises ease of use in Power BI, ensuring that you don’t need a data science degree to build reports. Many of the interfaces are drag-and-drop and resemble familiar tools like Excel. On top of the many built-in styles, a Power BI developer can help you build highly customised visualisations.
3. Data integration
The range of SAP integration formats allow you to connect virtually any data to SAP BusinessObjects. These formats include:
- Intermediate Documents (IDocs)
- Business Application Programming Interface (BAPI)
- Open Data Protocol (OData)
- Remote Function Call (RFC)
- SAP Java Connector (JCo)
- Advanced Business Application Programming (ABAP)
To use these formats effectively, you’ll need to find someone with SAP integration expertise.
As of May 2021, Microsoft listed 166 connectors for Power BI. These include popular applications such as Salesforce, Oracle, Google Analytics, QuickBooks, SAP, and Microsoft applications. It’s also possible for an experienced Power BI integration team to build custom data connectors.
4. Document management
You can distribute SAP reports by email, online platforms, and mobile. File types for reports include PDF, TXT, XLS, XLSX, and CSV. There is version control functionality via the Lifecycle Management Tool.
As a Microsoft tool, it goes without saying that Power BI reports are easily saved in Word and Excel formats. Power BI allows for version control through deployment pipelines (available in Power BI Premium).
5. Extra features
If you’re looking for user-friendliness, Power BI’s natural language query tool is a winner. With this tool you can ask questions about your data with Google-like search terms. For example, you can type “What is our highest-cost department?” and the tool will supply the answer.
For those trying out different BI options, Power BI also appeals with its perpetually free desktop version.
SAP offers real-time analytics through connecting BusinessObjects to SAP Business Warehouse and SAP HANA. Another valuable feature is SAP’s predictive analytics, which let you visualise business what-if scenarios.
Summing up SAP BusinessObjects vs Power BI
Ultimately, there is no abstract answer to the question, “Which is better: Power BI vs SAP Business Objects?” The answer can only come in relation to your business, your people, and your goals.
If your business sounds like this, you’ll probably benefit from Power BI:
- you don’t need BI to be managed by IT
- you want to start off with BI at an affordable price
- you want to open up BI to unskilled users
Or if the points below describe your business, you might prefer SAP BusinessObjects:
- you want strict data governance from IT
- you already have a sizeable budget for BI
- you want to scale BI to thousands of users
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