When The Globe and Mail saw the dramatic marketing benefits after it created a single truth of its vast customer database by implementing SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW),1 Canada’s largest newspaper set its sights on a new goal: increasing its digital presence and online audience, and leveraging its new database to speed up analytics.
In exploring cost-effective, scalable solutions with minimal infrastructure investment, Toronto-based The Globe and Mail settled quickly on SAP HANA ONE, SAP’s cloud offering for customers wanting to run SAP HANA. SAP HANA ONE gave The Globe and Mail nearly instant access to preconfigured, ready-to-use SAP HANA software through the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud offering.
To learn about that decision and its impact on the newspaper, insiderPROFILES spoke with The Globe and Mail SAP NetWeaver BW Functional Analyst Sandy Yang.
Q: Describe your decision to run an instance of SAP HANA ONE on AWS versus an on-premise implementation. What were the major benefits?
We started running web statistical analysis — or paywall analysis — on AWS early in 2012, so we knew that deploying SAP HANA ONE on AWS would give us many of the same advantages, including scalability, which was one of the main draws to implement the technology. When we first used AWS, we had some difficulty getting the business to understand the output of jobs from the Amazon Elastic MapReduce servers. But SAP HANA ONE bridged the gap. It was just the right thing at the right time for us. With its user-friendly client interface and fast processing, people see numbers and charts within seconds, so big data is no longer formidable to them.
Being a new SAP HANA customer, we wanted to explore the technology as a means to open up all our digital subscriber data. Rather than take a big-bang approach, we wanted to kick the tires. And we wanted to increase the amount of data that we could feed into the system, but still only pay for what we used. The affordability of the solution appealed to us with its hourly subscription-based model.
We had done a demo and created a mock-up of a worst-case scenario in terms of costs, and we found that even running SAP HANA ONE on AWS 24/7 for a full month would cost about $2,500. We couldn’t foresee many situations where we would need to run it for nearly that long each month, so the fact that the technology was cost effective was another major draw. Also, it enables real-time analysis and encourages teamwork. We firmly believe that the goal of advanced analysis isn’t to create reports; it’s an iterative, ongoing process where it’s essential to have the ability to quickly prove or disprove a new hypothesis. SAP HANA ONE allows us to “fail fast” and change strategy fast. So overall, the benefits to us are that SAP HANA ONE is agile, affordable, scalable, visual, and fast.
Q: You mentioned exploring SAP HANA as a means to open up all of your digital subscriber data. How is this process working with the SAP HANA ONE platform?
A key business goal related to provisioning SAP HANA ONE was focused on beefing up our online content and growing our digital subscriber base. We devoted more resources toward the creation of digital content, and recently launched a pay-wall similar to The New York Times’ model — several articles are available free to non-subscribers each month, with the online subscription rate being different for online-only subscribers than it is for print customers. To aggressively go after our digital subscriber base, we had to find an effective way to mine that clickstream data. Prior to implementing Amazon Elastic MapReduce and SAP HANA ONE on AWS, we had tried to load that clickstream data into our old Oracle database, but it failed — the dataset was just too large. Running this data by provisioning SAP HANA ONE on AWS would not only give us actionable analytics faster, but it would also provide the capability to do something we hadn’t been able to do before. The volume of the dataset is fairly large — 500 file columns for each click — so we didn’t think it would be possible to perform any kind of predictive analysis without that cloud environment. With SAP HANA ONE, something of this magnitude isn’t even out of the ordinary. It’s routine.
Q: What are your initial impressions? Has SAP HANA ONE performed to your expectations?
SAP HANA ONE really makes it look easy. It’s quick enough that it makes you think there’s nothing to it. Only when you try to use it in a way that is different than how it’s supposed to work do you feel like it’s difficult. Having been an SAP customer for more than 10 years now, beginning in 2002 with an implementation of SAP ERP and then, over time, feeding most of our data sources into SAP NetWeaver BW, we had enough experience with SAP software to know that implementations come with their own sets of challenges. It can be hard work to make sure everything runs smoothly. This isn’t meant as a knock on SAP, but SAP HANA ONE was so simple that we didn’t think it was an SAP product. It was that easy to get started. And the speed of the product — the real-time aspect instead of batch processing — was delivered as advertised. We had tried to load the clickstream data into our old database and weren’t able to do it. This capability lets us make instant adjustments to the way we’re presenting our online content, and lets us aggressively target future digital subscribers based on not just their specific interests, but what they’re interested in that particular day. So now we can show people what their data looks like or perform data analysis tasks right in the meeting room -— instead of saying, “I’ll get back to you as soon as possible,” like we did previously.
Q: With SAP NetWeaver BW, you could complete monthly refreshes of marketing campaigns in one day rather than two weeks, as had been the case when the data was fed to a third-party provider. Are there comparable benefits with SAP HANA ONE?
I think it’s too early to tell. It will take some time before we do a strict return-on-investment calculation. However, the scalability makes the provisioning of SAP HANA ONE so much easier to justify from an ROI perspective. For an on-premise SAP HANA installation, even if we only needed 10 servers three times a year, we would need to house those 10 servers year round.
With SAP HANA ONE through the cloud, we can provision just what we need, and we can pay more for those extra servers during the three times a year when we need more capacity. But in a general sense, looking forward, I can see us being more innovative. It’s such a rapid process that there’s no disincentive to continue to kick the tires. If something doesn’t work, you’ve wasted a fraction of the time and resources you would have otherwise. What will also allow us to become more innovative is the experience with the system. Having more trust in the data and understanding our data better will free us to ask more questions, or ask different questions that we haven’t before. It’s an efficient cycle: the more insight we get from our data, the more we can use it to help build our digital audience, which then gives us more data to learn from and to better serve those online readers.
Q: Were there any change management issues with the deployment of SAP HANA ONE?
During the SAP NetWeaver BW implementation, a big challenge was convincing business units to change certain business processes. Users would circumvent the matching SAP NetWeaver BW data by extracting data from SAP ERP into a local database. With the SAP HANA ONE implementation, this type of change management issue was exhibited to a much lesser extent. Having gone through the SAP NetWeaver BW implementation, business users in almost every department trusted that the changes we were pursuing would help make their jobs easier. They realized that if SAP HANA ONE made good on its promise, it would change things for the better. In fact, the surprise was that any resistance this time came from the IT side instead of the business, which is the reverse of when we started using SAP NetWeaver BW. However, that IT resistance can be explained by the fact that it was going to be an off-premise cloud solution, but again, it was so easy to get started and maintain that IT quickly came around.
1 See “How The Globe and Mail Builds More Accurate Marketing Campaigns Faster” in the October-December 2012 issue of insiderPROFILES. [back]
The Globe and Mail