David Dixon of TruQua Enterprises joins SAPinsider for a podcast on where SAP Business Warehouse (SAP BW) stands in respect to SAP Business Suite 4 SAP HANA (SAP S/4HANA). Dixon breaks down various scenarios, including:
- How SAP BW as a technology operates in conjunction with SAP HANA Live
- Whether SAP BW is needed for data warehousing
- SAP S/4HANA as an operational data store
Listen to the podcast, and read an edited transcript of the conversation here:
Ken Murphy, SAPinsider: Hi this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider, and joining me today on this podcast is David Dixon, a long-time SAP practitioner and a partner at TruQua Enterprises. SAP is going to be a featured speaker at the upcoming SAPinsider Simple Finance Bootcamp, which begins in Las Vegas next Monday, Nov. 16-19. David has several sessions at the bootcamp, including one on Central Finance deployment within SAP Simple Finance, as well as a session on SAP Business Warehouse (SAP BW) with SAP Simple Finance.
David, thanks for joining us today in advance of the conference.
David Dixon, TruQua Enterprises: Thanks for having me.
Ken: David I want to start with more of a focus on the SAP BW with SAP Simple Finance angle. Because with embedded real-time operational reporting capabilities in SAP Business Suite 4 SAP HANA (SAP S/4HANA) and of course SAP Simple Finance through SAP HANA Live, I’m curious where does that leave SAP BW? Wouldn’t having analytic and transactional processing in the application itself displace the need for a separate BW instance?
David: This is a question a lot of people are asking right now and for good reason. There’s quite a lot of confusion around it simply because of semantics. I think a lot of the debate that’s going around this is people possibly talking past each other and really you can answer the question yes or no depending on where you’re coming from with respect to the topic. What I’d like to do here is spend a moment making some key distinctions here and discuss what we mean by SAP S/4HANA or HANA Live displacing SAP BW. If you’re just talking about SAP BW as a technology vis-à-vis HANA Live the answer is no, they can interoperate. If you ask if SAP BW as a data warehouse in theory goes away the answer is also no. But if you ask the question, “Hey, can’t SAP BW go away as it’s been implemented in many customer scenarios” well then the answer can be yes. I’d like to go into each of these topics a little bit further: BW as a technology vis-à-vis HANA Live, BW as a data warehouse, and then BW as it’s been implemented.
So if we’re talking about BW as a technology, BW has been embedded in ERP for a decade now, quite a long time. It became part of NetWeaver and because ERP runs on NetWeaver there’s been a BW there all along. It’s a technology that’s deeply embedded inside of the NetWeaver stack and therefore ERP, so it’s not going to go away. In fact, it’s being highly leveraged even as part of HANA Live there are HANA Live BW integration scenarios so when you go and read the documentation they talk about how HANA Live and SAP BW can interoperate. So the two can actually work very complementary with each other; the BW inside of your ERP is now more usable because of the HANA capabilities. So it’s been there all along but it’s now really gaining traction with S/4HANA and becoming more of a practical reality. And so when we talk about HANA Live there are things that HANA Live cannot do that BW can do. And I go into those in a little bit more detail during my session at the conference, but just to touch on it there are advanced OLAP capabilities, online analytical processing capability, that’s in BW that HANA Live as of yet can’t address. Whether that’s around slowly changing dimensions, or time-based hierarchies that don’t exist in ERP, or exception aggregation and whatnot, there are certain extractors that can’t be replaced by HANA Live views, one good example is the product costing extractors; I was in Walldorf talking to (SAP) about whether we could replace it with HANA Live and we went through it and the answer is no. Some of these extractors just have way too much intelligence and so anything that has really complex transformations or a lot of history – like HANA Live works on ERP data so if you archive that data it’s better done in BW especially for trending and historical forms of analysis. So that should give listeners an idea that BW doesn’t quite go away with HANA Live as a technology.
Now, if you ask the question about SAP BW as a data warehouse. Do we need BW anymore to do data warehousing? The answer is no but let me put a caveat here – if you go back to Bill Inmon, the father of data warehousing and his framework of the corporate information factory, he always had next to his data warehouse this notion of an operational data store (ODS). And data warehouse practitioners have always struggled with this ODS concept. Because the idea is to try to make it as real-time as possible, and this is the part – if we talk about data warehousing, then BW is the data warehousing tool currently and there are a lot of HANA capabilities around this but it doesn’t displace the need for a data warehouse. But what it does open up is the question about new ways of doing operational data store, and maybe that’s your S/4HANA. And that use case there is where S/4HANA can take a lot away from BW as it relates to operational reporting.
That leads me to my third point is can S/4HANA displace BW as it’s been implemented at many customers? The answer is yes. In fact I know customers that have already made the decision to unplug BW in favor of the reporting capabilities that HANA under ERP enables. And that’s because how many people have implemented SAP BW – or many companies I should say – have implemented it is that it’s been used for operational reporting and there have been practical challenges especially in the area of finance where the need for real-time has been difficult to achieve because of the changed data capture approach of the extractors there; there’s this notion of a safety delta where the data recommendation is not to load the data more frequently than an hour because of the possibility of basically dropping records if you do so. Many people have implemented BW really just using it as an operational data store and that part of it can definitely be displaced by S/4HANA.
One more thing to add, the other thing too that a lot of practitioners of BW spend a lot of time and effort on, and this is a key point, they spend a lot of time and effort trying to integrate FI and CO together, and Simple Finance just does that for you. It’s linking the line items for you so that you don’t have to spend time and effort to do that and it’s embedded reconciliation. So this whole universal journal concept where the line items of FI and CO get merged into one table takes away a lot of the customizations that customers have done in SAP BW.
Ken: So that said then, there are scenarios still where a standalone SAP BW instance still makes sense; that would be accurate to say?
David: Pragmatically yes but in theory the answer could be no and let me elaborate on that. When I say pragmatically yes what I mean by that is there are legacy investments in standalone SAP BW with significant amount of investment that some companies have put into it and they’re happy. So it makes sense to keep it there pragmatically. There’s also new technical approaches like Smart Data Access that enables this notion of data federation or the federated data warehouse where through virtualization you keep the data in different places and bring it together so there’s not necessarily a need to bring everything into one place. You can actually virtualize and federate it. And then of course there’s the practical challenges of software versioning. So if you want to upgrade your standalone BW but not impact your ERP and the version that it’s on it facilitates that. But theoretically if you’re asking the if read vs. write contention goes away with HANA, and if it could all run in one code base – and S/4HANA is becoming a singular code base – then theoretically it doesn’t make sense. You can do data warehousing and transactional in the same environment on the same system. Now this is very theoretical, there has to be more proof points to actually show and prove to the market that we can actually migrate and merge BW into SAP ERP. This is very forward-thinking along this, but it is toward the evolutionary path where we might see a hybrid of both where everything is merged into an ERP and in BW – they become one and the same; as ERP, BW, and HANA become one and the same, there’s so much (9:12) push logic on the BW side that’s pulling into HANA, and in effect BW’s inside of ERP it opens up all kinds of possibilities because HANA can already support integration of SAP and non-SAP data, it could do texts, it could do predictive, and so if it could all be done in one place then theoretically yes those things could probably merge and then there is no reason to keep those two things in theory separate. But I think we’re going to see hybrid scenarios where we’ll see because of the practical challenges in doing that and the fact that there’s not yet a lot of proof points around having a singular system that can handle read and write contention in the same place, we’ll probably see some blending or hybrid scenarios.
Ken: With all those possibilities and merging that you mentioned, moving forward where does SAP BW fit into the SAP roadmap?
David: As I mentioned before, SAP BW is not going away as a technology and as a product; there’s a lot of use cases and there’s a BW right inside of ERP and BW functionality that is being leveraged for – I mean it’s a core part of Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC) in the BPC embedded model in particular. And that in turn, once that’s embedded inside of Simple Finance that’s been branded and called Integrated Business Planning for Finance. And so there’s a separate development team in Walldorf around SAP BW still and will continue to probably be there and the SAP ERP teams are separate, and so whatever development or innovation that the BW team comes out with it’s really SAP opting to decide whether they’re going to use it or not. So classic example is on the BW roadmap and it’s been released are these new notions of taking advantage of HANA and creating things called composite providers and open ODS views and this kind of technology. But the Integrated Business Planning for Finance has not yet adopted that, so the BW capabilities that are delivered with Simple Finance today haven’t re-platformed everything onto the latest greatest technologies that the BW team is putting out there. So there is a lag effect; the BW team is a little bit further ahead, the ERP teams decide ‘Hey are we going to use this?” And it’s always been like that, there have been for example real-time data acquisition functionality that the BW team put out but there wasn’t a whole lot of business content adoption around it. So we’ll see – I think it’ll continue to persist as a separate product, it’ll have its own roadmap as it does today and they’re not likely to merge because the BW team is addressing all kinds of different scenarios while ERP is probably more focused on just functionality not the technology in terms of delivering capabilities so I would expect to see products or BW functionality in ERP be more about spreading out the content of what it could do than necessarily keeping up-to-date with all the functions and features that the BW team is putting out. So I see BW fitting into the overall SAP roadmap as its own separate roadmap with components of it being adopted by the other development groups as they become available.
Ken: David, you’ve given us a lot to think about and we look forward to hearing more at the SAPinsider Simple Finance Bootcamp conference which begins next week, Nov. 16, in Las Vegas. David, thanks for joining us.
David: Thank you.
Ken: Again, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider and we’ve been chatting with David Dixon, a partner at TruQua Enterprises.