Before its SAP ERP and SAP Business Warehouse (SAP BW) implementation in 2010, Animal Health International operated with an unstructured business intelligence (BI) environment with roughly 1,200 different reports that lacked consistency, complicating matters for the 500 sales and customer service representatives throughout the enterprise who were foraging for information.
When Animal Health International — a full-line animal health products, services, and technologies company with yearly sales in excess of $1 billion — consolidated multiple legacy ERP instances into a single SAP ERP instance, it was an opportune time to also consolidate its disparate reporting landscape. In fact, when the company went live on SAP BW, it reduced its 1,200 reports to just 12. While this was a strong first step toward enterprise BI that vastly reduced the number of reports, users were hesitant to access them through SAP BW’s out-of-the-box front-end BI tool, SAP Business Explorer (SAP BEx).
“We had a low adoption rate with SAP BEx, despite users being able to access and analyze the data in Microsoft Excel, which is a tool they’re all familiar with,” says Tim Hays, Vice President of IT at Animal Health International. “So we decided that if they weren’t going to be proactive, we would have to start putting that information at their fingertips.”
To deliver the information to users, increase BI adoption, and reach the desired goal of end-to-end enterprise BI, in 2013, Animal Health International went live with the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence (BI) 4.0 platform in conjunction with an upgrade to SAP BW 7.3 to support SAP BW powered by SAP HANA.
Presentation Layer Revisited
With this environment in place, users now had two primary methods of accessing desired information. One was retrieving reports from SAP BEx, the other was having an SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence daily report sent via email, which used about half a dozen SAP BEx queries as the data source. With SAP HANA as the reporting calculation engine, Animal Health International viewed its SAP BusinessObjects suite as more of a presentation layer. However, the web intelligence report was being emailed rather than accessed directly due to end users’ resistance to the SAP BusinessObjects BI launchpad (i.e., user interface). Despite the company making the information more accessible, users were still reluctant to proactively retrieve it. Users had grown accustomed to having reports prepared for them via the traditional pre-SAP BW method of submitting a query through IT for customized reports. Given the choice, users were gravitating toward having the web intelligence report appear in their daily inboxes.
“A lot of users initially resisted the SAP BEx tool because it was too full-featured for them; they were looking to just go through a few filters, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve with SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence to satisfy that group,” says Mike Searle, BI Manager at Animal Health International. “However, when we went live with the SAP BusinessObjects BI platform, not many people were proactively accessing the data through the new launchpad; the platform was essentially a glorified broadcast server for us.”
Upgrade to 4.1
Within this context of widespread ambivalence toward SAP BEx, and the daily web intelligence report lessening user access of the new launchpad, Animal Health International saw an upgrade to SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1 as the natural evolution of its BI platform.
The primary objectives of the upgrade, Searle says, were to drive greater launchpad use as well as to facilitate a phasing out of the SAP BEx tool in favor of greater interoperability with SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office, and SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for OLAP. These tools allow SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence reports to be created from a Microsoft Excel document.
We envisioned a future in which users would proactively log in to the launchpad more frequently, which would drive them toward a more interactive web intelligence experience.
Mike Searle, BI Manager, Animal Health International
Another objective was improved stability. “Stability was a key consideration because we had been rebooting our 4.0 servers a few times a month,” Searle says. “But also, we envisioned a future in which users would proactively log in to the launchpad more frequently, which would drive them toward a more interactive web intelligence experience. For us, the individual improvements in the SAP BusinessObjects tools were icing on the cake.”
According to Hays, the go-live itself was an uneventful, “hit install and go” installation, meaning there was a seamless migration from version 4.0 to 4.1. He attributes part of this upgrade success to the fact that they started with a clean slate because it was a fresh install right from 4.0 instead of from another system.
The transition to SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office, for the controlling and marketing departments was well received. According to Searle, users provided a lot of positive feedback about the new 4.1 tools being much easier and more intuitive to use. “Once there, they understood they could run the web intelligence reports or look at all the dashboards, and they didn’t have to be retrained or go to a new place to get reports,” he says.
A New BI Culture
This was the BI spark that Animal Health International had been missing. Now, rather than waiting for a web intelligence document to be emailed to them — which depending on someone’s role, could be an unwieldy 40,000-line spreadsheet that was often left ignored — users were starting to appreciate and understand that this BI platform was for their benefit.
With a little amount of effort, they could now utilize SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence interactively, making use of front-end tools they were already familiar with to create and access actionable reports that were easy to understand. Hays describes the organization’s BI journey as a step-by-step progression that eventually led to empowering users to proactively and fully engage in the process. “With the upgrade to SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1 and the improvement to the toolset, users are now going to the launchpad on their own because they see the value that it brings,” he says.
From a long BI journey that reduced 1,200 reports to 12, Animal Health International is now well-positioned to refine its BI landscape even further because the more users access reports through the launchpad, the more the business can see which reports its users are requesting, which reports are being requested but perhaps not used, or which filters are being added. “That ability to track our internal customers better and understand how they’re using this information in turn helps us build a better toolset down the road,” Hays says.
An organization’s data should be the lifeblood of its decision making. Our job as an IT organization is to help the business make the most appropriate decisions and make the information actionable.
Tim Hays, Vice President, IT, Animal Health International
Data as the Lifeblood
From standard sales reports such as budget-to-actual or year-to-date comparisons, Animal Health International looks at its current BI platform as the key to unlock deeper analysis into customer or item profitability that could open the door to more predictive analysis and what-if modeling.
The company’s BI progression is ongoing. According to Searle, the business has immediate plans to upgrade to SAP BW 7.4, with the objective of being able to more easily expose SAP BW objects as SAP HANA information models in an analytical view. This upgrade and its accompanying capabilities, he says, will prepare business users for the eventual adoption of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer and SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio.
As Hays says, “An organization’s data should be the lifeblood of its decision making. Our job as an IT organization is to help the business make the most appropriate decisions and make the information actionable. That’s the reporting environment we were after, and SAP HANA is a big part of that. Not only are users now proactive, but they can ask interesting questions of the data that they didn’t know they were going to ask.”