SAP’s Database & Technology Portfolio – Next Steps?
A key thing that stood out for me was a recent tweet by friend and fellow Mentor Clint Vosloo – ‘There is so much opportunity for SAP in the EDW [Enterprise Data Warehouse] space right now’ – and I couldn’t have agreed more. This statement was meant for non-SAP ERP customers, not for classic SAP ERP customers. I want to drill into this statement and why I agree with this blog post.
On the recent DSLayer podcast with John Appleby, Ethan Jewett and Steve Lucas, Steve talked a bit about the traditional gap between SAP BI (Business Warehouse / BW) people and BusinessObjects (BOBJ) people. For a lot of BOBJ people, the universe is the universe – this has sometimes meant that some BOBJ people don’t understand the true value of BW.
Universe developers can build a semantic layer on any datasource, and don’t really care if it is an EDW, a data mart, a 3NF Inmon DW or a transactional OLTP system. And this is definitely true, and one of the pieces of magic in the BOBJ platform. Being able to hide the complexity of an OLTP system and still expose a business-focussed layer that is easy to use is a powerful tool, no wonder it is called the universe.
However, my background is not only BOBJ, but also building data warehouses using the Data Services platform, modelling my own Kimball star schemas, designing the ETL and once that is done, building the BI platform. This experience has given me visibility of how BOBJ is made doubly powerful when combined with a solid EDW and ETL platform. Thus, my interest in how SAP will shape their recent acquisitions and newly released technology – as combined, there is a huge potential to deliver massive business value.
One of the concerns from my perspective that has added fuel to the debate about BW, HANA and BOBJ is the duplication of functionality across different technologies in the SAP portfolio. So what technology pieces currently are available from SAP? Let’s break it down by functionality (and please excuse me if this isn’t 100% correct or exhaustive – as you can see from my background, parts of my understanding are high-level only):
|Functionality||‘Classic’ SAP||BusinessObjects||Sybase||‘New’ SAP|
|Data Integration / ETL||SAP BW||Data Services||Replication Server|
|Semantic Layer||SAP BW||Universe||HANA|
|Data Governance||SAP BW||Information Steward|
|Database Engine||Sybase IQ & Sybase ASE||HANA|
|ERP Standard Content||SAP BW||Rapid Marts||RDS|
|BI & Reporting||SAP BW (Bex)||BusinessObjects|
|Planning||BPC (BW backend)|
|Predictive Analytics||Predictive Analysis||Sybase IQ||HANA (R)|
That is a lot of duplicate functionality, in my humble opinion. You can also see why there is such a huge gulf between BW and BOBJ people. BW and BOBJ, prior to the BOBJ acquisition, did pretty much the exact same thing. There might be technical differences (physical cube vs virtual cube ala universe), and quite significant additional capability from Netweaver BW as a platform, like planning capability, but all in all a lot of the same capability is duplicated. No wonder there is so much discussion and interest from both communities!
So why I do agree with Clint that there is so much opportunity in the non-ERP EDW space? I look at the above table and see huge opportunities, opportunities for customers to leverage best-of-breed technology in ETL, BI, data governance, modelling and database engines (both IQ and HANA). My work sees me working with a lot of greenfield customers, or customers who have existing business systems but very limited BI or DW capability. For these customers, I see big opportunities, being able to leverage not only BOBJ and Data Services, but now having access to database technology like HANA or IQ.
By combining PowerDesigner, Data Services, Sybase IQ, BOBJ, Information Steward and Predictive Analytics, that is a very powerful EDW platform. Throw in HANA for specific in-memory and/or realtime requirements (supplemented with Replication Server), and the value is even higher. And all without touching SAP BW if a customer decides not to.
Switching track to SAP BW now, I completely agree with many of the sentiments already posted online – if customers have BW already, HANA provides a fantastic performance boost – there is no reason why BW customers shouldn’t move to HANA. Significant investments exist in the BW platform, and by leveraging HANA and BOBJ, these customers have a great platform going forward.
But when it comes to non-ERP data, I’m not yet sold that BW is the EDW platform you should use. I’ve heard comments that it shouldn’t be the chosen EDW platform if you don’t run SAP ERP, that it is difficult to get non-ERP data in, and to combine ERP and non-ERP data. I can’t comment on that part, but what I can do is express the ease of use that I have experienced by using Data Services, Rapid Marts (if SAP ERP is part of the picture), and a standard Kimball process. Sure there are always challenges in any EDW project, but with an agile methodology I personally have experienced great results.
Still, there are also huge opportunities to improve the SAP BW platform by integrating the new tech that has been acquired and/or released. Replace the ETL engine with Data Services. Make it easier to load in non-SAP data, or enable more agility in mash-ups.
What’s the point of all my ramblings above? There are big opportunities for SAP. They have purchased some great tech, and HANA is super-exciting. But I would love to see SAP take all of this great tech and build something that is worth more than all the current non-integrated parts. What would this look like? I don’t know, and smarter minds than mine should decide.
And what about all this BW vs BOBJ? I believe there are several things to keep in mind. One, there are benefits and drawbacks to both platforms, and I definitely don’t intend for this post to favour the BOBJ side. I’m super-envious of how good hierarchies are handled in BW, of multi-currency conversions, of the BPC capability – and there is much more. I want that functionality for my customers, ERP and non-ERP alike.
And likewise, I believe there are several things that the non-BW technology does really well. I’ve heard comments from BW developers that they wish they could use Data Services to load ERP data into BW, because of how powerful it is (and yes this is technically possible nowadays – but how many customers are doing it?). Likewise Sybase IQ is such a high-performant database engine, and does meet many requirements that HANA does not. Such as big BIG *BIG* data – like a one petabyte data warehouse!
Secondly, by keeping two separate EDW solutions (by which I mean 1-BW, and 2-most everything else), we are seeing very different workflow develop in the BOBJ platforms. If you use BW, use Analysis Office, Analysis Web, BICS connector for all your reporting tools, but some functions are not supported – try getting flattened hierarchial data in Webi than mashing it with non-BW data.
If you don’t use BW and instead use a universe, hey guess what sorry, you can’t use the Analysis tools, and hierarchy functionality works completely differently. This creates confusion in the developer community, as is evidenced by the huge amount of BW-BOBJ integration questions raised during every BOBJ webcast and presentation. If the gap isn’t pulled together, I worry that it will only reinforce the gap between BW and BOBJ people, and lead to bigger problems long-term.
What I want to draw attention to by this post, is that I’m anxious to see SAP create something truly amazing, to take their great investments and exciting new tech and provide a clear and visible roadmap that uses all these discrete pieces. Some ideas of what this could look like have been floating in my head, and please contribute some more:
- A next-generation semantic layer which pulls together the best functionality from BW, the universe and PowerDesigner. This could allow both logical and physical modelling, true hierarchy creation that is virtual only, and which also allows business data to be captured and stored adhoc (instead of using Excel for all those pesky lookups that aren’t stored anywhere else)
- HANA and IQ for near-line storage, but automated and easily maintainable – advances have already been made in this direction by the capabilities now built into Data Services 4.1, allowing many source tables to be replicated with minimal direction
- Standard content ‘standardised’, available out of SAP, available in the universe, available in ETL, available in HANA – whichever way you want to consume
PS – I really hope this post doesn’t offend anyone, and I’d love to have some great discussion about where I am wrong – just be nice 🙂
[Update 1 – added RDS to ERP Standard Content in table]