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Case Study

 

Queries & Batch Runs at the Speed of Light

Southern California Edison Improves Reporting, Data Loading, and Computational Analytics with SAP HANA

by Lauren Bonneau, Managing Editor | insiderPROFILES, Volume-4, Issue 4

October 1, 2013

This article explores Southern California Edison’s implementation of SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) on SAP HANA with the goal of faster analytics, reduced labor maintenance, and increased productivity. In its pre-SAP HANA environment, the California-based regulated electric utility’s nightly batch loading into the data warehouse took roughly 15 hours, which has now been reduced by two-thirds.

 

Southern California Edison (SCE), a Rosemead, California-based regulated electric utility serving nearly 14 million people in its service territory, has seen significant improvement in the company’s reporting performance and data loading using SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) powered by SAP HANA — specifically, speeds approximately five times faster. Additionally, using the standalone version of SAP HANA, reporting is completed roughly 50 times faster than before. SCE’s successful implementation of SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA was placed into production in October 2012, with standalone SAP HANA applications following in the second quarter of 2013.

“A report on the SAP ERP Financials system that previously took 53 minutes to generate completed on standalone SAP HANA in one minute and 20 seconds. Likewise, SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM) reports, previously averaging 35 seconds, completed in 0.7 seconds. Standalone SAP HANA loaded data at least 15 times faster,” says Ron Grabyan, Manager of Data Warehousing Services at SCE. “This project was a ramp-up project with SAP. Like many early adoption projects, there were startup challenges with SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA. SAP provided effective support, working diligently with SCE to reach a stabilized platform.”

At a Glance

Goal: Reduce the time it takes to run nightly batch loads into the data warehouse and speed query response time

Strategy: Implemented SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA

Outcome: Faster analytics and reporting, reduced labor maintenance and development, and increased productivity

According to Grabyan, the project team learned from numerous takeaways from a comprehensive pilot and several test migrations. Included in the project was a requirement to upgrade to SAP NetWeaver BW 7.3 and SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence (BI) 4.0 before running the data warehouse on top of SAP HANA. “We knew it wouldn’t be a minor effort,” says Grabyan. “We had to upgrade several types of software and systems to properly move into production.”

Before Moving to In-Memory Systems

SCE began looking into SAP solutions in 2005. In an effort to standardize its landscape and create an environment with one version of the truth, SCE began a migration project in 2008 to bring the majority of its back-end business data into SAP software, including transactional systems such as SAP ERP, SAP CRM, and SAP Supplier Relationship Management (SAP SRM). The business also brought many of its existing data warehousing components into SAP NetWeaver BW, including many non-SAP sources.

The first phase of SCE’s SAP journey was to go live with SAP finance and HR functionality. The next phase included adding work management and additional operation support functionality in other areas of the company. More recently, SCE added SAP CRM in December 2011. With each rollout, the data was brought live in the business warehouse.

 

Ron Grabyan, Southern California Edison (SCE)

With the data migration complete and the SAP software up and running, the information in the data warehouse was available for business processes and queries, and was updated with a delta load each night. In SCE’s pre-SAP HANA environment, the nightly batch loading into the data warehouse took roughly 15 hours, starting at 5PM and sometimes not finishing until after the service-level agreement (SLA) of 8AM the next morning. The business intelligence team would have to identify and resolve data problems that occurred during batch loading, meaning that a problem in the middle of the night could remain unresolved for a period of time, potentially impacting the SLA by causing delays. 

“Additionally, queries were previously taking a long time to run, which made it difficult for people to analyze their data in the most effective manner and deliver the data in the appropriate time frame,” says Grabyan.

Employees shouldn’t have to wait for data they rely on — whether it be purchase order, invoice, or expense information — to complete their business processes or for queries to run time-sensitive analysis. The speed that SAP HANA can bring to the business through its in-memory computing capabilities solves this problem and brings a variety of other benefits.

“It was favorable to use SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA over the way we were operating with our previous SAP data warehouse,” Grabyan says. “Once the data warehousing staff was up to speed on SAP HANA, within a year, there would be a reduction in maintenance and development costs. For example, if developers no longer needed to spend time writing cubes, this would remove a layer of complexity.”

Also, standalone SAP HANA offers very fast analytical computing capabilities. SCE has applications in production that combine the best of both worlds by using the standalone SAP HANA modeling functions on SAP HANA objects from both SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA and standalone SAP HANA. This is known as a “mixed-mode approach.”

Data Loading and Reporting Improvements

SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA production has shown specific improvements in data loading. SCE has reduced the 15-hour nightly delta load of all integrated database objects to five hours, which is three times faster than in the previous environment. According to Grabyan, the results are even faster for full loads of specific objects — for example, loading financial data of a certain type and for a certain time period has proven to be five times faster than the delta loads.

“Now, our data loads finish every night, without encroaching past eight in the morning,” Grabyan says. “When we have data load problems, we find them much earlier, leaving more time to resolve those issues.”

“Now, our data loads finish every night, without encroaching past eight in the morning. When we have data load problems, we find them much earlier, leaving more time to resolve those issues.” — Ron Grabyan, Manager of Data Warehousing Services, Southern California Edison

According to Grabyan, “Reporting on the data that resides in the data warehouse has also seen dramatic improvements since moving from the legacy environment. Introducing the SAP HANA appliance into the mix made the reporting more than five times faster.” He adds, “In our performance testing prior to going live, we took 170 users running 300 queries in a one-hour period, which represents a typical daytime load for us. We ran a test with this configuration resulting in an average ratio of improvement that was 6.1 times faster, and individual queries could vary from 1.6 to 20 times faster.”

While some individual queries initially showed no extreme improvements, upon review, the team found they were designed for the previous system. “With the new architecture of SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA, we can change the way those queries are written and optimize the performance even further,” Grabyan says.

The architectural advances included with the latest version of the SAP BusinessObjects BI toolset have improved the self-service capabilities for users as well. “Users will be able to get in and look at their data a lot faster with more viewing options,” he says. “User self-service is a goal for SCE, and SAP HANA helps us to optimize user experience and alleviate setup time.” SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, a user-oriented analytical tool, was enabled through the speed of SAP HANA.

Getting Up to Speed

Preparing the company’s 3,000 BI users for the upgrades to SAP NetWeaver BW and SAP BusinessObjects BI to support the SAP HANA implementation proved to be a relatively straightforward task. The user base is split roughly down the middle, with half of the users working with the SAP BusinessObjects BI toolset and the other  half using SAP Business Explorer (SAP BEx).

The SAP BEx users, including many folks in the finance department, were accustomed to using an older BEx tool and wanted to continue using it for its integration with Microsoft Excel. “For these users, little training was required. The BEx tool is there, and it’s virtually the same. It just runs faster,” Grabyan says. “We have recently implemented the latest versions of additional tools, such as SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, SAP Lumira, and SAP Predictive Analysis, giving the users more flexibility in analyzing data.”

For those who were already using version 3.1 of the SAP BusinessObjects BI toolset, the move to version 4.0 was easy. The upgraded version included some added bells and whistles — such as security enhancements and a few new features like improvements in exploration and view creation — but nothing that required heavy user training. “We put a user guide together to show employees who were programming and creating their own queries what the changes were. But there wasn’t much they needed to know,” he says. “For a typical report runner, there were just a couple of very minor things for them to learn.”

Exploring New Opportunities: Mobility and Improved Analytics

While today the typical report runner is calling up reports on an office computer, this will change over time as users expect to be able to conduct their work on mobile devices. SCE recently put a mobility pilot project into production that ties into the SAP HANA environment, enabling the use of iPads, iPhones, Androids, and BlackBerry devices to access the SAP BusinessObjects solutions and SAP HANA data accordingly, using Wi-Fi, 3G, and 4G.

“Vice presidents, directors, and managers can quickly get the business data they need on their mobile devices to make decisions,” Grabyan says. “In finance, you want to know your closing numbers the minute they are done. In work management, if you have $2 billion of maintenance, you want to know if you’re behind or ahead of schedule each week. If you’re in a specific area of spend, you want to know how much was spent in your area in the last couple of months. You want to know what the trends are and how you are performing as soon as the information becomes available.”

Company Snapshot

Southern California Edison

Headquarters: Rosemead, California

Industry: Electric power utility

Employees: 15,500+

Company details:

  • Generates, buys, transmits, and distributes power throughout 50,000 square miles across central, coastal, and southern California
  • Service territory includes more than 180 cities (excluding the city of Los Angeles and certain other cities)
  • Serves approximately 14 million people
  • Has been serving the region for more than 125 years

SAP solutions:

  • SAP ERP
  • SAP CRM
  • SAP SRM
  • SAP HANA
  • SAP NetWeaver BW 7.3
  • SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0
  • SAP Landscape Transformation replication server

Users will be able to see key performance indicators in each business area on their mobile devices with graphs they can move around, even on a window as small as an iPhone or Android screen. “It’s almost like having a PC with you,” he says. “That’s the kind of capability that enables not only the mobile technology, but the SAP HANA technology. Both technologies actually synergize each other.” SCE will use mobility, SAP BusinessObjects tools, SAP BEx, and SAP HANA to build a business case for wider adoption.

In addition to exploring strategies for taking SAP HANA data mobile, SCE is exploring potential opportunities to improve the company’s business analytics by integrating other applications with the SAP HANA platform to take advantage of its computational capabilities. Storm Tracker, related to outage management, was recently put in production on standalone SAP HANA to manage aspects of outage events related to storms.

Early next year, the business is considering rolling out applications in two general areas:

  • Customer Analytics — to improve customer energy efficiency and campaign effectiveness, and better understand consumption behavior
  • Predictive Analysis — to forecast outages, usage patterns, and costs, model customer segmentation, and rapidly analyze advanced statistical models

Five Final Illuminations Grabyan calls SAP HANA a game-changer in that it brings significant business value through much faster analytics and reporting, real-time solutions for business problems, potential for new business opportunities, and increased productivity. He shares five pieces of advice for anyone who is considering an SAP NetWeaver BW on SAP HANA project:

  1. Understand your business data. “You need to know how much data you have and how it’s structured on your current system, which will determine the size of the SAP HANA system you will need,” he says. “You’ll begin to understand what the capabilities are so you can determine what you need to move forward.”
  2. Be your own general contractor. “We brought in a few critical resources that had done this before and understood the software, but we didn’t turn the project over to a systems integrator. We decided to be our own general contractor,” he says. “Not only did SCE learn how to put this system into place, we developed a very nice partnership between our own SCE staff and the various consultants that we used.”
  3. Take advantage of connections. “Anytime you’re dealing with new software, you want to get the provider’s — in this case, SAP’s — technical experts involved on site. If needed, they can call their own support team and make the connection to the product’s developers more easily than we can as the client,” he says.
  4. Do your analysis fairly early. “With this being a new technology, and different from anything you’ve dealt with in the past, I recommend getting your company’s computing services staff involved early on,” he says. “It’s important the architects realize what the next steps are — running SAP HANA on the data warehouse is just the beginning. There is SAP ERP, SAP CRM, additional standalone SAP HANA, and lots of other opportunities.”
  5. Align your business objectives with SAP’s strategy. “As you start to line up your corporate goals with SAP’s strategic direction for SAP HANA, you will realize you can move beyond where you are today,” he says. “As part of this analysis, you need to take into account if you can better integrate your business goals with SAP’s strategies. This will allow you to take advantage of other capabilities and to bring further business value.”

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