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Widening the BI Sphere of Influence

by Nimish Mehta | SAPinsider

July 1, 2007

All SAP customers need to reevaluate their current BI efforts, says SAP Senior Vice President of Enterprise Information Management Nimish Mehta in this executive Q&A. Read on to uncover Garner Mehta’s critical advice on rolling out BI tools -- such as the BI Accelerator and new BI functionality in SAP NetWeaver 7.0 -- to help expand the reach of vital BI investments.
 

Nimish Mehta
Senior Vice President,
Enterprise Information Management
SAP

For SAP customers, now is a critical time for business intelligence. No longer can BI initiatives focus solely on the extraction, cleansing, and provisioning of business data. Rather, BI efforts must now widen their scope, making businesses more nimble by expanding the reach and the utility of enterprise information.

Recent developments in BI technology are making this transition possible. Last year SAP released a new version of BI within SAP NetWeaver 7.0 with a more powerful data warehousing engine and a rewritten user interface for SAP Business Explorer (SAP BEx). Many of the administration features, such as load control, were streamlined as well.

Also released was a companion product, SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence Accelerator, which promises lightning-fast performance for BI queries while significantly reducing BI administration efforts. The year also saw the introduction of SAP Analytics — analytical mash-up applications including KPIs, graphs, and transactional steps that can be easily deployed through the portal capabilities of SAP NetWeaver. Most recently, SAP introduced several analytic solutions for the CFO in 2007, resulting from the acquisitions of Pilot Software and OutlookSoft.

With such a profusion of new BI technology, SAP customers must now evaluate how well their current BI efforts are living up to their potential. In this interview, SAP's Nimish Mehta, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Information Management, advises SAP Insider readers on how to effectively and securely roll out these new BI tools and appliances on a broader scale, and looks ahead to what the future holds for BI.

Q. The last 12 months have brought a lot of new advancements for SAP in the business intelligence space. How are SAP customers reacting to the newest release of BI?

A: It's been a very eventful time for business intelligence. And the response from customers so far has been very gratifying, not only in their satisfaction with the new products, but also in the sheer number of customers using them. SAP's enterprise BI system is the most deployed usage type within the SAP NetWeaver platform.

From our perspective, the Business Intelligence Accelerator represents truly groundbreaking technology that makes BI run faster — plain and simple. It relies on essentially the same technology that Google uses for Web search and, as a result, provides Google-like response times to extremely complicated queries or questions. What customers really like is that it requires no changes to the dashboard or to BEx queries. When you put in BI Accelerator, it's as if you got a faster machine at a fraction of the cost.

When you combine this with SAP's solutions for performance management — such as SAP Strategy Management, SAP Analytics, and Corporate Performance Management — it's been a terrific year, and 2007 and 2008 promise to be even better.

To increase business agility, tools need to make BI available to everyone, not just to business analysts.

Q. With the speed and capabilities this new technology brings, how should the executive or manager in charge of BI be rethinking his or her strategy?

A: There may not be a lot of rethinking required, because the driving force behind these changes has been our customers. The changes to SAP NetWeaver's BI capabilities, including the introduction of the BI Accelerator and SAP Analytics, have been based on customer requests and feedback.

From a strategic standpoint, what our customers have been telling us is that everyone within a company needs insight into the business. To increase business agility, tools need to make BI available to everyone, not just to business analysts.

These new innovations present the opportunity for broader deployment — not just to users tied directly to an SAP process, but to every so-called information worker, meaning anyone who works with or touches business information on a daily basis. As this happens, we expect to see the growth of BI continue.

Q. For those customers who have yet to jump aboard, what should be their initial steps toward taking advantage of this new BI technology?

A: The first step would be to consider an upgrade to SAP NetWeaver 7.0 because many of the innovations are only available there. Then investigate BI Accelerator, which makes the BI capabilities of SAP NetWeaver 7.0 ready for enterprise-wide deployment. With BI Accelerator, you can speed up the performance of your BI system so that you can deploy it to a wider base of users — without spending tremendous sums on hardware. Lesser known is that BI Accelerator customers also typically see a significant reduction in administration efforts while agility greatly increases. Consider customers' ability to load more data more often, or to change data models more frequently. These benefits result because the need to build and maintain aggregates for performance tuning simply disappears.

Once you have the power to distribute business intelligence to everyone's desktop, you need to develop a content creation model so that you can delegate or open up the ability to create reports and dashboards to a much wider base of users. You also want to make sure that IT doesn't become a bottleneck as you open the floodgates (see sidebar).

9 Tips and Tricks for Distributing BI Across the Company

For an enterprise to truly be nimble, everyone needs insight into the business, not just a select few. To get to this level of wide BI deployment and provide the accompanying business agility, you need a strategic approach, one that encompasses these issues:

  1. Develop a comprehensive training program. Even when introducing new BI tools that are very simple to use, the value of proper training cannot be underestimated.

  2. Nurture your power users. Holding regular meetings to enable power users to train each other, peer to peer across the company, has proven to be an effective technique.

  3. Formalize your BICC. A BI competency center (BICC) typically is tasked with establishing clear ground rules and governance, and prioritizing BI efforts. You may already have some form of a BICC in your company — take the next step to be sure it is formalized and has the right executive sponsorship.

  4. Focus on business processes. When deploying new analytic applications, do so with the overall business processes you want to optimize in mind. Process councils should meet with BICC teams expressly for this purpose.

  5. Maintain data quality. This has proven especially critical because when data quality is not upheld, the value and acceptance of BI tends to degrade sharply.

  6. Don't fight data silos with even more silos. Resist deploying local and isolated data marts, as those lead to a proliferation of unmanaged (and often ultimately unusable) data.

  7. Bring together what belongs together. Business intelligence, MDM, enterprise search, and even workflow and collaboration technologies share many important commonalities and natural synergies. Take a programmatic approach when deploying those technologies. For example, identify and leverage prebuilt integration capabilities, since those greatly streamline deployment and reduce maintenance efforts.

  8. Try something new (and collaborative). Web 2.0 technologies provide innovative means to deliver BI to end users. We increasingly see companies deploying Yahoo! Widgets, fueled by SAP NetWeaver BI, to deliver key metrics right to user desktops.

  9. Let the ecosystem work for you. There is a tremendous and supportive ecosystem of fellow users out there, providing tools, best practices, and peer networks around SAP NetWeaver. If you haven't already, start collaborating with your peers on SAP Developer Network (SDN; http://sdn.sap.com) today — you will find great value in it!

Q. Distributing BI to a wider range of users through intelligent dashboards and other reports has obvious benefits, but what are the risks?

A: The biggest perceived risk is security. Companies that expand access to BI worry about unauthorized users getting their hands on data they shouldn't see. At SAP, security of the data model has traditionally been of paramount importance, and nothing changes with these new tools. Users still have to be properly authorized to access data inside of the BI system.

The other issue is purely behavioral. With these BI tools, companies are finding there is less of a dependence on IT. When the tools are implemented properly, information workers find them liberating — users perceive that they are no longer constrained by IT. If these tools are not positioned correctly, however, information workers might extrapolate that IT is delegating work to them and therefore offloading responsibility.

SAP's commitment to BI has increased because we see that the business platform has to be an intelligent one. The more intelligence your processes have, the better off you will be.

Q. So last year was the year of innovation, both into the core BI system and with related solutions, specifically SAP Analytics and SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator. What can our readers expect going forward?

A: One area of emphasis has been the development and integration of a unified approach to metadata. Metaobjects — the descriptions of the objects themselves — are being harmonized across the landscape and unified within SAP NetWeaver, including across its BI and master data management (MDM) capabilities. All of these products increasingly share common semantics and common approaches to metadata. Why does this matter? Because it facilitates the integration of these different components for specific customer scenarios.

Take, for example, the integration of SAP NetWeaver's MDM and BI capabilities, which is already a reality today. Increasingly customers are starting to deploy MDM to cleanse and enrich BI data.1 This not only provides immediate business value, but important lessons learned, which customers can then apply to a larger company-wide MDM rollout.

Another area of emphasis is cross-enterprise search. We're launching a new Enterprise Search product, available this year, in which users will be able to search not only for textual data and ERP system records, but also for dashboards or reports. Imagine that you now can search for a report of sales by region with results ranked by relevance or frequency of use. Information workers will get to their information much more quickly since they won't have to build their own tailored reports anymore.2

SAP's commitment to BI has increased because we see that the business platform has to be an intelligent one. The more intelligence your processes have, the better off you will be. The "information" in "information worker" is typically BI data, so efficient and effective access to enterprise information becomes paramount. Here's just one example: Say you're looking at a dashboard that computes customer loyalty. You might also want to look up an individual customer record. You should be able to link to the master data system to get an accurate view of the customer, and then combine that with loyalty scores and other indexes to get a full view of that customer.

The number-one takeaway is that SAP is focused on making its existing customers successful with the new version of BI. We're rolling out knowledge transfer sessions and training workshops to make that happen, enabling our customers to get every bit of value that they can. And if we don't get our jobs done here, nothing else will really matter.

Additional Resources

The Reporting and Analytics 2007 conference in Orlando, October 15-17, 2007, for in-depth coverage of SAP analytic tools and applications (www.reporting2007.com)

"Whirlpool: Actionable Analytics" by Evan J. Albright (SAP NetWeaver Magazine, Summer 2006, www.NetWeaverMagazine.com)

"Put Rapid Development and Deployment of Analytics Within Users' Reach" by Claus Gruenewald and April Wu (SAP Insider, July-September 2006, www.SAPinsideronline.com)



1 To learn more about SAP NetWeaver MDM, see the SAP NetWeaver Unleashed column "Misaligned Master Data Is a Compromised
Corporate Asset" by Markus Ganser in this issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsideronline.com).

2 To learn more about Enterprise Search, see the SAP NetWeaver Unleashed column "A Unified Search Across All Your Enterprise Information and Business Processes" by Karsten Hohage in the January-March 2007 issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsideronline.com).


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