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A Bigger BI Net! Now Part of SAP NetWeaver, SAP BW Can Accommodate a Broader Range of Business Intelligence Users

by Gunther Rothermel | SAPinsider

July 1, 2003

SAP BW is now part of SAP NetWeaver, SAP’s integration and application platform. By drawing from the other components of SAP NetWeaver, SAP BW reaches both into the areas of people and process integration.
 

For many companies, business intelligence (BI) now goes well beyond strategic, long-term, centralized planning dedicated to analysts’ intensive data crunching. Increasingly, users across the enterprise are looking to BI solutions to support day-to-day decision-making as well, and IT teams are faced with providing the infrastructure to support varying levels of detail and data freshness. Users of a BI solution do require different tools for reporting and analyses: analysts need sophisticated tools for advanced analysis and ad hoc data exploration, while executives require personalized information, an intuitive user interface, and options for in-depth analyses of summary data. General information consumers may have little interest in digging around in the raw data itself but want simple, accessible data “snapshots” to support their work.

To meet these wide-ranging demands, organizations often consider a patchwork of applications, tools, and interfaces. Of course, the greater the number of technologies in any infrastructure, the greater the complexity — resulting in higher implementation expenses up front and decreased adaptability over the long haul. There’s also the need to avoid business intelligence stovepipes, individual, isolated data structures, and technology silos across the system landscape.

SAP offers a single, end-to-end solution to address these challenges: SAP Business Intelligence (SAP BI). At its heart is SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW), which covers the functional areas listed in Figure 1. From the start, SAP BW has followed an end-to-end approach to business intelligence and supports tight integration with the overall system landscape, along with a range of BI tools and technology.

Business Intelligence Suite
SAP BW includes the Business Explorer (BEx), a comprehensive, integrated suite of business intelligence tools for authoring, reporting, and analysis.
Business Intelligence Foundation
SAP BW serves as a technological infrastructure that supports information access and comprehensive analytics, such as Online Analytical Processing (OLAP)
Data Warehousing
BI information consumers have varying needs in terms of the structure, degree of detail, and timeliness of data.  To address all of these factors, SAP BW supports proven conceptual layers of data warehousing through its integrated information model.
Data Acquisition
Data is often framented across dozens, if not hundreds, of database and application. SAP BW's data acquisition functions integrate, standardize, synchronize, and enrich such data.
Figure 1 Overview of SAP BW Key Functional Areas

To take this concept of integrated and embedded business intelligence to the next level, SAP BW is now part of SAP NetWeaver, SAP’s integration and application platform (below). This article presents just a few of the benefits that SAP BW draws from the other components of SAP NetWeaver, reaching both into the areas of people and process integration.

SAP NetWeaver — The Application and Integration Platform of SAP

SAP NetWeaver, which encompasses what was formerly known as mySAP Technology, is an application and integration platform that helps unify and align people, information, and business processes across technologies and organizations.

From the mySAP Business Suite to SAP Industry Solutions to SAP xApps, SAP NetWeaver is the technical foundation for all SAP solutions. It is also the foundation for implementing an Enterprise Service Architecture (ESA) — a framework that expands Web services into a service-based, enterprise-scale business architecture.

The diagram below highlights the functional areas of SAP NetWeaver. For full details, visit www.SAP.com/netweaver. 1

People Integration: Access Role-Specific Information from Wide-Ranging Sources
To deliver information in a personalized, targeted manner to a variety of end-users, SAP BW draws on SAP Enterprise Portal (SAP EP). Here users find convenient access to tools and information through a single point of access, with a single sign-on.

SAP BW and SAP EP are both part of the overall SAP NetWeaver architecture. They are not just linked — they are seamlessly integrated on several levels, and share a number of concepts and technologies. The result? BI users can take full advantage of SAP Enterprise Portal’s efficiencies. For example:

  • Many end-users are already assigned a BI-related role. Now these same roles can be easily copied to Enterprise Portal roles, enabling one consistent role concept across both systems. For the user, this means a single point of access to all relevant information, and for the IT team, more efficient management of user roles throughout the enterprise.

  • SAP BW supports iViews — the very same small programs used in the portal framework for retrieving data from content sources (see Figure 2). iViews allow users to access information from sources inside the company and on the Internet for display in the Enterprise Portal. SAP BW users can also easily create their own iViews for highly customized information gathering.

  • SAP BW is integrated with the unification features of SAP EP. Unification allows disparate applications and information sources to work together in SAP Enterprise Portal and is the basis of Drag&Relate functionality for moving information and easily navigating across application boundaries.2
Figure 2 iViews Providing Customer Analytics Information in the Portal

The tight, multilevel integration of SAP BW and SAP EP offers users an unprecedented opportunity to combine business intelligence information (reports, charts, OLAP analyses, etc.) with unstructured information (Web sites, third-party market research, documents) and information from operational systems (such as the ability to directly enter transactions into an SAP R/3 system). So if data indicates reduced revenue from a key customer, users can now view attached documents or reports from colleagues and third parties to explain why they’re seeing this drop-off.

The collaboration and information-sharing features end-users experience with a combined SAP BW and SAP EP approach also include a comprehensive collection of technologies, including shared email, threaded discussion and document stores, and online chats.

Process Integration: Meet Users’ Need for Up-to-the-Minute Data
For strategic or tactical decision support, the traditional batch-oriented extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) approach to acquiring data serves a particular set of users quite well. But as organizations expand their support to operational users who need up-to-date data another set of technologies has come into play — Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), which typically involves a set of technologies that enable applications to communicate and share information in real time through adapters, middleware, and message brokers. Figure 3 offers a side-by-side comparison of the two approaches.

Extraction, Tranformation and Load (ETL) Enterprise Application Integration
(EAI)
Transforms data for analysis and integrates data for a complete business view Message exchange according to service level agreement (e.g., guaranteed delivery) for business process automation
Analysis-driven Event-driven
Session-oriented (scheduled) Transaction-oriented
Efficient bulk data movement and transformation Efficient transactional message movement
Figure 3 ETL and EAI

SAP BW supports both ETL and EAI via the SAP Exchange Infrastructure (SAP XI), the component for application integration that forms the process integration layer of SAP NetWeaver. SAP XI provides the Integration Broker — which uses adapters to talk to different application components and ensure connectivity to business partners, exchanges, third-party systems, and SAP solutions — and Business Process Management — which provides modeling capabilities for business processes and allows companies to combine applications into adaptive end-to-end processes spanning the entire value chain. When using SAP XI’s process-integration capabilities, the data warehouse or operational data store is simply another subscriber to the real-time data being distributed by the Integration Broker.

With both batch and real-time data acquisition capabilities, companies can make better use of their data. And with the two technologies working together in a single environment using one metadata model, companies can easily combine historical information and real-time data to provide a richer user context with consistent data from a variety of sources.

Conclusion

SAP BW draws from and utilizes the capabilities of the other components in SAP NetWeaver for more efficient and targeted information access for your users, forming a platform that represents the next major step in the evolution of business intelligence.

  For more information on SAP BW and SAP NetWeaver, visit www.SAP.com/bi and www.SAP.com/netweaver.


1 See “World-Class Business Applications Need World-Class Technology” in the January-March 2003 SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com) and the article by Franz-Josef Fritz in this issue of SAP Insider.

2 For more details on Unification and Drag&Relate, see the article by Scott Braker in this issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com).


Gunther Rothermel is a product manager in SAP’s Business Intelligence product line. His role is to handle strategic product positioning and management. Prior to taking this position, he served in SAP’s Global Solution Marketing. He joined SAP in 1995 and holds a degree in business administration.

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