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SAP NetWeaver Powers Smart Enterprises

by Roman Bukary | SAPinsider

October 1, 2004

To survive in this tough business climate, enterprises need to work smarter and be more agile. SAP NetWeaver takes a novel approach to smarter reporting and analytics that includes a complete and integrated selection of tools and solutions. IT teams can follow a four-step roadmap to become a smarter enterprise utilizing SAP NetWeaver.
 

To survive in this tough, competitive business climate, enterprises need to work smarter and be more agile1 — capabilities that both rely heavily on the current state and quality of your business information. Working smarter includes providing a wide cross-section of business users, from the executive officer to the line worker, with easy access to the business processes and information they really need and use to make informed business decisions. Greater agility requires getting business information out in a timely manner so that users can react rapidly to evolving business needs and issues — and prepare smarter business strategies well ahead of the competition and in anticipation of changing conditions.2

Getting the right business information to users is not a new challenge. In fact, many organizations have already deployed an arsenal of tactical products over the years to deliver the information and services users need for their everyday tasks. The urgent drive to deploy these technologies, however, has often overshadowed careful consideration of how the technologies will work together to ensure accurate, timely, relevant, and cost-effective information. Problems arise when these otherwise fine tools have been installed by different groups within IT or line-of-business (LOB) organizations, or when they support conflicting business needs or are based on different views of business, or when they cannot extend support to user requirements outside of their tactical applications. Often, these problems arise exactly because these applications were chosen and deployed to meet very specific, short-term, tactical objectives of an individual business project or unit.

This piecemeal approach leads to information that is prone to be inconsistent, inaccurate, or outdated. Some indicators of this broken approach are most painfully evident where users are having trouble:

Viewing data — Business users find it difficult to gain a complete view of relevant data, or to collaborate, share, and access the varied yet interrelated types of business information. Often this information is scattered across heterogeneous systems with differing levels of security features, completeness,3 and interaction capabilities. Imagine a business that sells its widgets via its own retail stores as well as through an online outlet, but also permits other merchants to private-label and resell these products. Without integrating all the data from these distinct sales channels, the business is unable to determine its best, worst, and most profitable customers.

Using data — Users cannot use business information to make timely and near-realtime decisions because the information is often inconsistent, inaccurate, or requires users to spend their precious time finding, integrating, and analyzing the data.

Accessing information — Organizations find it too expensive and complex to provide a broad community of users with timely access to relevant and complete information due to various integration, security, authentication, and distribution inconsistencies.

Using the applications and tools — Users find the applications both difficult to use and time-consuming, not only because of the complexity of the tools, but also because the information produced by these tools is not tied directly to the business processes they need.

Ultimately, users are having trouble just making sense of the business. Clearly, continuing to do the same things the same way is not helping companies become smart enterprises. In the famous words attributed to Albert Einstein, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

A New Approach to Getting the Right Information to Run Your Business

To solve usability and "actionability"4 issues, and to enable organizations to become smart businesses through informed and faster decision making, companies need to take a novel approach that includes a complete and integrated selection of tools and solutions:

  • Strategic and tactical BI performance management applications that integrate heterogeneous data, compare results to business objectives, and alert users when goals are not met by actual results.

  • A business user portal that enables a secure, managed, and integrated environment for all business information. These user desktops are designed to suit the needs and skills of individual business users, and range from portal-based dashboards to sophisticated, automatically broadcast reports and alerts based on changing business conditions.

  • A collaboration and knowledge management environment that permits KPIs, metrics, and business intelligence reports to be displayed in their context along with the necessary tools to permit immediate collaboration.

  • "Right-time," integrated transaction data5 that enables performance management and reporting applications to be delivered in time to drive day-to-day operational decision making.

  • Rules-driven decision-making applications that automate the decision-making process for near-realtime action and that provide guidance and simulation capabilities along with intelligent alerts based on evolving business conditions.

When selecting a solution for an enterprise or a project, a decision should not be based only on the features the solution provides. Consider also the application's ability to meet longer-term business requirements and deliver a low overall total cost of ownership.6 The true test of any new project is whether it helps an organization achieve its business objectives and whether it can do so with a low TCO and rapid, quantifiable ROI today and for a long time to come.

SAP NetWeaver, the Enabler of Smart Enterprises

The SAP NetWeaver integration and application platform can bring clarity — and order — to a company's analytic and reporting processes, thereby supporting the corporate objectives of becoming a smart(er) enterprise. The platform enables companies to build their analytics and reporting infrastructure one step at a time, beginning with the core data warehouse and analytical tools of SAP Business Intelligence (SAP BI), and later to enhance it with SAP NetWeaver capabilities that extend information delivery, collaboration, and real-time data access.

Starting with a single SAP NetWeaver component, the IT team can follow a four-step roadmap, such as the one shown in Figure 1, to build and extend its analytics and reporting infrastructure7 — a method that will serve the BI needs of today's most demanding enterprises. It represents just one of many methods that can be used to implement SAP NetWeaver solutions. This is one path toward becoming a smart(er) enterprise utilizing SAP NetWeaver; other paths may involve different steps, different strategies, and different points of enhancement toward greater value and functionality in analytics and reporting. The path detailed in this article includes four basic steps:

Figure 1
A Roadmap to Analytics and Reporting That Support Smart Enterprises
  1. The IT team develops an overall BI strategy, deploying the data warehouse, building data models, and integrating heterogeneous, business-relevant data.8 After validation by business users, IT deploys analytical tools and models based on an enterprise data warehouse that can extract, cleanse, transform, and integrate data from enterprise application and third-party data sources.

  2. As use of the data warehouse and business intelligence information expands throughout the enterprise, the IT team adds bursting capabilities, as well as a portal to facilitate information delivery across the company intranet, and an extranet portal to send information to suppliers and other partners.

  3. Next, based on LOB needs, the IT team activates SAP Enterprise Portal (SAP EP) collaboration rooms where users can share documents with colleagues and conduct virtual meetings — with full security — to analyze business issues and develop solutions.

  4. As organization processes require, the IT team extends the analytics and reporting capabilities to collect data from transactional operational sources, such as real-time applications or messaging middleware, to ensure that business and operational teams are making decisions based on the most accurate and timely information available.

Smart Enterprise Step 1: Generate Insights Using SAP Business Intelligence (SAP BI)

At the heart of an analytics and reporting infrastructure is the process of extracting, transforming, loading, and, of course, integrating data from operational sources — SAP and non-SAP sources, XML-based sources and mainframe data sources, syndicated third-party data sources (such as D&B), or Web service providers — into a data warehouse.

SAP BI includes SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW) technology, which supports comprehensive data warehouse operations.

SAP BI also includes a comprehensive suite of authoring, reporting, and analytical tools called the Business Explorer (BEx).9 These tools handle everything from designing queries and creating dashboards and Web reporting applications to performing complex OLAP analysis and in-depth data mining.

To make the most efficient use of existing enterprise computing platforms, SAP NetWeaver includes the SAP Web Application Server (SAP Web AS), which abstracts underlying technology from the data warehousing applications. This leaves the IT team free to locate the different data warehousing components — PSA, ODS, InfoCubes, MultiProviders, and, of course, the data warehouse itself — on existing enterprise computing platforms, regardless of underlying operating system or database differences.

Examples of SAP BI At Work for a Smarter Enterprise

SAP BI enables an enterprise to build an operational data store (ODS), a data warehouse, and multiple data marts. Each of these provides progressively more business-appropriate representations of transformed business data and is optimized for different user needs, such as "root cause" analysis, "what if" analysis, and general evaluation and refinement of business processes.

Each of the previously mentioned BI structures draws its data from a persistent staging area (PSA), which has been populated by data extracted from operational and third-party sources. For example, D&B ratings, credit scores, and geospatial information represent third-party syndicated data sources. These may be loaded into a data warehouse to enhance operational data and to provide more complete insights to the business user. Imagine the value of not only knowing that your customer bought $13,000 worth of product, but also that this same customer is part of a much larger enterprise that purchases $14 million of your product annually and has an excellent credit rating. This "actionable insight" can lead to a very different engagement model with this customer.

Smart Enterprise Step 2: Expand Information Delivery with SAP BI

Thanks to the BEx suite of tools in SAP BI, and specifically the new capability of the BEx Broadcaster, report information is distributed and precalculated via Web templates, queries, and workbooks. With BEx Broadcaster, the IT team and the business users themselves can now simultaneously deliver the analytics and reports generated by SAP BI to hundreds or even thousands of information consumers based on rules, schedules, or individual requirements.

And thanks to SAP EP, that information distribution potential becomes a practical, powerful reality. The portal unifies disparate information, applications, and services from multiple systems into a single, personalized Web-based interface. It can also integrate analytics and reporting functions — expressly targeted to each user — into the same interface. As a result, enterprise users get BI insights via a familiar interface that requires little or no additional user training.

Smart Enterprise Step 3: Extend Collaboration and Knowledge Management Capabilities with SAP EP and SAP Web AS

At this stage, users are running analytics applications and receiving reports, so a likely next step is to enable them to collaborate with one another and with appropriate external partners through a secure, context-appropriate environment — and to give them better tools for including contextual information.

SAP EP and SAP Web AS have built-in tools for creating instant messaging and virtual collaboration rooms where KPIs and other business performance metrics can be tracked. They also have general document publishing and tracking capabilities that let users share intelligence insights and their own ideas, simply and securely.

Through its knowledge management capabilities, SAP NetWeaver establishes connections to unstructured data it has already indexed, linked, and made searchable. Users can see emails, documents, or other objects that enhance their analyses and reports with contextually relevant information.

Smart Enterprise Step 4: Add Access to Right-Time Data with SAP XI and SAP MDM

As a final step in this path toward becoming a smart(er) enterprise, a company may want to add to its traditional operational data sources by tapping into the increasing volumes of realtime messages and connections.

SAP Exchange Infrastructure (SAP XI) provides powerful technologies and services that can transform third-party applications, XML and HTTP-based messages, and other realtime data sources into inputs to the analytics and reporting infrastructure.

For instance, SAP XI adapters and prepackaged Web services can link the enterprise analytics and reporting infrastructure to realtime applications running on a strategic partner's manufacturing system. SAP XI thus enables SAP BI to generate analytical models and reports with near-realtime data and lets users spot problems as they occur.

Meanwhile, another SAP NetWeaver component, SAP Master Data Management (SAP MDM), maintains inter-application data reliability by managing a unified central repository that synchronizes replicated data, a necessary step for automated processes that continually extract data from transactional applications.

Conclusion

An incremental approach to smarter reporting and analytics delivers substantial benefits, both in operational efficiency and in the quality and scope of the intelligence it delivers. The real benefit, though, is that companies can deploy lower-cost solutions that seamlessly integrate with one another and enable the organization to focus on running the business, not maintaining hard-coded and manually supported tools.

By taking a methodical, integrated, step-by-step approach to change, the work of the IT team — and, perhaps more importantly, the business user — gains momentum as these changes bring benefits and foster user acceptance. And because the SAP NetWeaver infrastructure fits within existing IT architectures, it leverages the company's investments in computing resources, ensuring that the enterprise operates as a truly smart enterprise in its IT infrastructure and business processes.

Consider whether this roadmap will work for you, and how you might adapt it to your own needs. For more information on taking the first step in the process and implementing SAP BI, see www.sap.com/solutions/netweaver/businessintelligence.


1 While this article refers to "enterprises," these challenges apply equally well to government agencies, not-for-profit organizations, and any other complex organizations that make strategic and tactical decisions based on internal and external changes.

2 For a more detailed discussion of smart enterprises and the technical requirements needed to achieve them, see Colin White's paper entitled "Building the Smart Business: Connecting People, Processes, and Information" available at www.sap.com/solutions/ netweaver/businessintelligence/newsevents.

3 Completeness in this context refers to completeness of information - for example, one application may have payment histories, another credit scores, yet a third may have information about past purchases.

4 In this context, "actionability" — admittedly a made-up word — refers to the need for business insights and business intelligence to be actionable, i.e., useful for taking action. For example, based on just-received information, users can determine a better course of action to achieve improved strategic and executional alignment.

5 The term "right-time" is distinguished from "real-time" to denote information delivered in just the right time to permit process changes and alter the outcome of the specific business process.

6 This means looking beyond just the lowest acquisition cost or the simplest user interface. These and many other factors are important, but it is the TCO, when properly constructed, that allows business and IT executives to accurately decide between applications.

7 The roadmap here is not the only path to achieving this. The goal of this article is to highlight how, starting with a single SAP NetWeaver component, organizations can quickly, easily, and cost-effectively become smarter enterprises.

8 Of course, to be successful, these steps must be undertaken as a joint effort between IT and business users.

9 For more on the Business Explorer, see http://help.sap.com/saphelp_nw04/helpdata/en/5b/ 30d43b0527a17be10000000a114084/content.htm.


Roman Bukary leads xApps and Analytic Applications product marketing and has more than a dozen years of professional experience in high tech. Most recently, Roman served as the Vice President of Product Marketing and Strategy at a Web services company. Earlier, Roman was part of the management team at a business intelligence company, where he built the product marketing and solutions marketing teams, and was part of a strategy consulting team at a major enterprise application vendor. Roman holds a Master of Science degree and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering.

 

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