BW/4HANA - Setting the Stage (Part 1 of 4)
Why do businesses need analytics? When you ask people about analytics today, you can likely expect varying responses that include the obligatory buzzwords such as ‘Trends’, ‘Decision Making Tools’ or ‘Management Reporting’. For us, it’s quite simply “to deliver data to management across a broad range of subject areas to help make better, more informed business decisions.” The concept is simple however successful execution of this
mission can be challenging to say the least. The difficulty lies in creating an analytical system that provides answers in an efficient way yet is agile enough to keep up with the ever evolving needs of your business. This is a challenging proposition because, at an enterprise level, the data you’re consolidating into your analytical system generally comes from multiple data sources each with their own unique and independent structures. Let’s take a high level look at business system evolution over the years to better understand where we were, where we are and the direction we’re trending in an effort to overcome these challenges.
Back to the Future - Business System Evolution
Looking back at how computing has evolved throughout the years, one can see an obvious pattern emerge. Sure, technology has improved dramatically and with it, speed, latency and affordability, but what do we see at a high level? As I’ve outlined below, we’ve gone from mainframes, to disparate client server systems, to ERP systems, and now back to disparate best of breed systems. In today’s enterprise environment it’s common to have an ERP system such as SAP for your core business areas (Finance, Controlling, Materials Management) and cloud based systems (SalesForce, Manhattan, SuccessFactors) for specialized needs.
The desired end result is the same. Gather information from transactional systems into logical units of data so business users can analyze and report. A critical element to all of this is the data warehouse you choose. With the industry trending towards a mix of core and best of breed systems, your data warehouse needs to be fast, flexible and highly adaptable to changes in your landscape. If you’re an SAP customer, then BW on HANA is clearly the best fit. SAP provides pre-configured standard content which seamlessly interfaces with the core modules in your transactional system making integration a breeze, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. To better understand the benefits of BW today, we should first take a walk down memory lane and understand where it was and the driving forces behind its evolution.
Evolution of BW
BW has certainly gone through much iteration over the years. Early versions of BW started off as simple systems with a small amount of object types and basic reporting capabilities. As data increased and demands for internet and mobile analytics emerged, BW and reporting tools became much more complex. In the graph below you can see how the BW object count has increased over the years (up until BW/4HANA). The drawback to the rising object count is increased complexity, depreciating query times and elongated development cycles all of which ultimately led to a slower and less nimble data warehouse.
To mitigate the query performance issue we saw a proliferation of aggregation, however, aggregating millions of records at a time cannot be done without an accelerated system. SAP recognized the performance gap and introduced in-memory systems. The first was BWA (Business Warehouse Accelerator) which was an external system that held large amounts of data in memory. Next was SAP HANA, introduced to the market in 2011, an in-memory columnar store database with the ability to serve up millions of records in seconds. HANA brought much needed speed to the equation however, to keep pace, BW needed to evolve as well. This is where BW/4HANA comes into the picture.
SAP recognized the need for speed and delivered with HANA. Now it’s time for BW to shine. BW/4HANA has been updated with simplicity, agility and connectivity in mind. For example; whenever SAP delivers new functionality into their transactional system, BW/4HANA will have an update to standard content that incorporates this new functionality with nominal input required on the IT side. Think of BW/4HANA as a rapid development system. You can get content up and running in a very short time. If you have the need to integrate non-SAP data into your data warehouse, then BW/4HANA is also a great choice as you can connect to any source giving you the ability to view all of your data in one place. In summary, BW/4HANA combines a simplified model with enhanced flexibility, high performance and rapid development capabilities. Sound too good to be true? It’s not and we’ll tell you why in this multi-part blog series on BW/4HANA.
As part of this series we’ll discuss what it means to your business, highlight the benefits and share what it takes to implement. The main blog will focus on the benefits of BW/4HANA focused towards IT and business management. We will also have other aptly titled technical blogs for those looking for a much more tactical ‘in the weeds’ perspective. We invite you to join us as we continue to explore BW/4HANA’s capabilities and provide insights that we hope will help you make the right choice in today’s digital world.
Next Up: 'BW/4HANA – What it means for Your Business'