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mySAP Career Interview Classics

Starting in 2000, Jon created the online content for mySAPcareers.com. This was a time of great transition in the SAP market - the beginnings of the applications that are now called the SAP Business Suite, the emergence of the EAI market that is now heading in the web services/eSOA direction.

For mySAPcareers.com, Jon conducted a series of in-depth, landmark interviews with senior-level consultants across the SAP product line. Now, on JonERP.com, we're pleased to present the best of this content, which is available only on JonERP.com. Jon will be adding updated introductions to all the articles in this section to frame them further in today's market. Enjoy!
Jon Reed Interviews Naeem Hashmi, NetWeaver BI Expert Print E-mail
Article Index
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An Historical View of SAP Business Warehouse:
Jon Reed Looks Back on His Interview with NetWeaver BI Expert Naeem Hashmi

Jon Reed's Introduction, April 2008: I'm pleased to present, in its entirety, this classic interview with Naeem Hashmi of InfoFrameworks on the emergence of the SAP BW product (now called NetWeaver BI). At the time I sat down with Naeem for this detailed look at birth and evolution of BW, we were a long way from the BI of today. But in the years since, many things that Naeem predicted have come true.

Naeem himself remains a very influential voice in the SAP BI community. He has advised more clients on their Business Intelligence infrastructure than I could list here, and he continues to speak and publish on a range of IT architecture and SAP optimization topics.  

Hopefully down the read, we will get an update from Naeem on how he sees the market since this initial interview in 2001. Before you dive into the interview, you may be wondering how Naeem's predictions have turned out. The answer? He was right about many important trends, not the least of which was his belief that SAP should leverage their "in-memory" know-how to provide additional capabilities to BI. Of course, we now have a very important BI enhancement product that leverages this exact technology, known as the BI Accelerator

Of course, one change you will see is that in this interview, there are lots of references to "data warehousing," a term that is no longer trendy that SAP has distanced itself from. This is a sensible thing - the new term, "business intelligence," is a better reflection of the potential of NetWeaver BI to help businesses make better strategic decisions - without having to deal with the underlying complexity implied by the "data warehousing" catch phrase.

It's also easy to forget how important it was for SAP to get endorsements for its product from key BW thought leaders like Bill Inmon. SAP BW was really hurt in the early going by such criticism, but SAP responded to the criticism, and in this interview, you get the first quotes coming out from Bill Inmon on his increasing respect for BW. But now, as you can see from this 2005 PDF, Bill Inmon now sees BI as a solution that is good enough to be used by non-SAP customers as well - something Naeem also pointed to in the following interview.

Perhaps the thing I like most about this interview are the insights we get into Naeem's own background and how his career evolved. On JonERP.com, we like to focus on "SAP career best practices" whenever possible, and if you read this interview, you will get a sense of how Naeem has managed to position himself as an important contributor and consultant in the SAP market space while retaining his own style and independence. To me, that's a great accomplishment and it's one of the reasons I look to Naeem not just for market insight but for a model on how to be successful in the SAP ecosystem while running your own company.

With that said, enjoy the interview, and I'm sure we'll hear more from Naeem down the road.

An In-Depth Interview with Naeem Hashmi, BW Author and Expert
Part One
May 21, 2001

Anyone who has a stake in SAP has a stake in SAP's Business Information Warehouse (BW). What was once a few cubes of business content for enhanced reporting capability has now become the foundation of SAP's entire e-business strategy, not to mention the data infrastructure for the entire SAP product line. But if BW is wide in scope, it is also widely misunderstood. Initially dismissed by many data warehouse experts, BW is now turning the corner and establishing its credibility as the foremost data warehouse solution for SAP customers. Since BW is potentially tied to virtually every aspect of the SAP applications suite, SAP consultants are wise to take the time to get a handle on how BW might fit into their own particular skill sets. To help us in our quest to understand this mysterious but powerful product, we turned to a true BW technologist and asked him to drill down into the BW solution and give us a clear sense of today's BW market.

Naeem Hashmi might be the foremost expert on BW that isn't holed up somewhere in Walldorf, Germany. Hashmi is the author of Business Information Warehouse for SAP, the first (and still the only) book on SAP BW. He has worked with BW since its inception, when he was Technical Director at Digital/Compaq. Hashmi collaborated with SAP during the early releases of BW, and he has continued to work with SAP and a range of other third party vendors on BW product development and integration. He speaks internationally on business intelligence, data warehousing, and ERP information architectures, and his articles on these subjects are hard to miss in the industry press.

Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Naeem Hashmi and conduct an in-depth discussion on the BW product and marketplace. Hashmi sees BW as a visionary product that brings together traditionally autonomous data management initiatives into one comprehensive solution that's ideal for the real-time demands of e-business. He's not afraid to go out on a limb and challenge the data warehousing experts to rethink their approach and take another look at BW. At the same time, Hashmi is equally willing to challenge SAP to continue to develop BW into the full realization of its potential.

In this landmark interview, Naeem Hashmi covers just about every critical issue in the BW marketplace, from BW architecture and implementation issues to the latest version releases and product innovations. Our discussion delves into the technical guts of the BW system, and Hashmi explains how BW resolves some of the classic data warehousing problems and allows BW users to focus on business solutions, rather than data extraction headaches. After we get a handle on the product itself, Hashmi analyzes BW's battle for market acceptance and answers the long-awaited question we all want to know: why haven't we seen that much-anticipated surge in BW sales and project activity?  

As the interview unfolds, get the answer to that question, and in the process we get a clear sense of Hashmi's deep commitment to BW. By the end of our talk, we leave with a true understanding of how the BW solution, in its ultimate incarnation, will be a force to contend with - not just as the foundation of e-business for R/3 customers, but as an innovative business intelligence and data management architecture that even the most skeptical data warehouse experts may one day come to admire.

Hashmi is currently the Chief Research Officer for Information Frameworks, his own consulting company. He is available for short term strategic e-Business Intelligence consulting engagements, industry talks and seminars, and third party product evaluation.

Jon Reed: Naeem, most people we run into in BW come from an SAP background, but you seem to come from a data warehousing background.

Naeem Hashmi: Not only data warehousing. My overall background includes information architecture, enterprise application integration, product development and engineering. So my background covers more than data warehousing - it also includes object-oriented technologies, database technologies, and client-server and distributed systems expertise. It's a broad background, but heavily focused in academia and manufacturing, mostly discrete manufacturing. I can apply the same concepts pretty quickly in process industries and health industries. I'm not really a business or functional expert from an SAP business applications perspective. I understand that but I'm more technical in my focus. When technology, integration, deployment architectures, or performance issues come up, I usually have something to say about it. :)

Reed: Did you get your first exposure to SAP Business Warehouse when you were at Compaq/Digital?

Hashmi: BW came to Digital because of me. I was at Digital in the corporate information architecture group. I was one of the information architects there - this was in the 1991-92 timeframe. Digital was going through the "Applications Renewal" strategy. SAP was one of the major applications that was part of that renewal strategy. The objective was to get rid of legacy applications or redundant applications that were customized fifty different times for fifty different global installations. We used to spend billions of dollars maintaining the exact same application over and over for different plants. So the goal of Applications Renewal strategy was to cut down redundant IT work by streamlining the business processes and adopting a universal technology framework.

I was chartered, from the technology side, to analyze how the SAP reference model and technology framework could fit into the Digital Information and Business architecture - primarily with the goal of integrating and replacing legacy applications. So we worked with the businesspeople to compile reference data used by Digital globally and then we looked at how that data could be mapped and managed within the R/3 system. On top of that, we looked at how we could integrate this reference data with the legacy systems. I was working with two other people to select the database technology for SAP R/3 as well - to decide what type of back-end database engine we should be using. So we started with a very broad look at the business models that we wanted to deploy, then we compared that with the technical architecture of R/3 and proposed deployment models. It was a huge, corporate wide effort. From that perspective, I got engaged into SAP R/3.

Reed: And prior to that?

Hashmi: Prior to that, I was working as a principal engineer in Digital's Center for Integration Technologies. We developed a next-generation, object-oriented CIM product and manufacturing reference architecture that we deployed globally. This CIM product was called DecShop. It was a shop floor data management system for manufacturing environments that tracked manufacturing processes all the way from component manufacturing through order processing and invoicing. It was a closed-loop system, and even today's best manufacturing systems, including SAP, are not as sophisticated as this product that we had developed. We managed transactional information as well - we built a global, enterprise-wide data warehouse which was based on business events. We had an almost-real time "self-describing message" system, where you can define the kind of information you need to exchange on the fly. Now, almost fifteen years later, it's a "hot new technology" called XML.

So getting back to the SAP side, I was doing all the technical design work, looking under the hood of R/3. At the time, SAP did not have a Tax verification system, so I was assigned to integrate a third party Tax system with R/3 in 1994. So I was looking under the hood, not only at R/3 Basis technologies, but at the rest of the business applications models as well. I was also a member of a team that designed all of Digital's business instances within R/3 and developed a global R/3 deployment strategy. We also designed and implemented an enterprise-wide ERP/Legacy application integration architecture. In 1995, we went live with R/3 for one business unit. At that time, we also had a lot of data warehouses at Digital. Just like any older, larger global company, we had a range of information sets to manage - some were legal, some were statutory, some were archival, some were operational, some were mostly integration hubs for that matter. So from a decision support perspective, I was looking at how to exploit R/3 technologies to build an information delivery system.

Reed: And how did that come to be?

Hashmi: In 1995, we came up with several strategies and started exploiting SAP's Basis technology to build a separate instance for reporting. In April 1996, I spoke at a DCI conference in San Jose on "How to Exploit SAP R/3 from an Information Management, Data Warehousing and Reporting Perspective." Then I spoke on the same topic at the ASUG meeting in Boston in late 1996. At this meeting, the SAP product management also shared their vision of a project called the "Reporting Server - A stand alone reporting Instance." From then on, I worked with original SAP BW engineering team, as well as with the senior product management team of the SAP New Dimension products, to determine how BW should be designed in order to resolve enterprise wide information management technical issues. In late 1997/early 1998, we installed the first lab version of BW 1.0E.

Digital was one of the first six customers to install the BW system, and I was the first one to install BW and get it up and running at Digital in January of 1998. At that time, there was no business content in BW, so you did everything yourself - you built everything from scratch. At that same time that I was doing the initial BW work at Digital, I was also working on the enterprise-wide integration work for Compaq and Digital - that work was not limited to internal application integration, it also involved our consulting, sales and marketing teams. I used to help them sell our enterprise-wide integration and business intelligence solution. I used to explain our integration and solution deployment strategy to our customers' decision-makers, and break it down to the technical level for their technical people.

Reed: So how have you seen the BW product evolve?

Hashmi: The way the BW product has evolved is really amazing. I have worked on product development with other vendors, including Oracle , but I've never seen anything like what SAP has done with BW in such a short time. The first version was 1.0P (the "P" meaning "Pilot"), and then came 1.0E ("Early Customer" version), then 1.01, then 1.2A, then 1.2B, followed by 2.0A, 2.0B, 2.1C and now 3.0A. The product has come a long way: when you look at the overall data warehousing products available in the market now and look at where the SAP product is today, BW has no peer. The richness of the SAP BW product is amazing.

The main key is BW's Basis infrastructure - that is main foundation for the success of BW. Other companies may provide tools, but by the time you go to this vendor and that vendor and find all the tools you need for your data warehouse, you have a hodge-podge of tools and technologies with different licenses, technologies, and architectures - you spend too much of your time just setting up the environment and learning several tools and technologies. To add to that, products continue to appear and disappear in the data warehouse industry, so you're always playing catch up and asking vendors, "What's next?"

So a major strength of BW is its robust, "single vendor" infrastructure. Another strength is the way SAP positions BW. Most people think of BW just as a data warehouse, but BW is not really a data warehouse - it is an infrastructure. On top of that infrastructure, you have a sound information delivery system, several analytical applications, and data-interconnect hubs. BW is also part of SAP's APO, SEM, and CRM solutions. BW is now a part of the SAP infrastructure, very much like Basis technology. There is a big difference between a Business Intelligence solution and the BW infrastructure - BW is both of these things, so when you talk about BW you have to specify what BW really means to you. That's why whenever I speak, talk, or write about BW I always specify what BW really means, because it all depends on the context. In the typical data warehousing world, there is really no equivalent to BW.

An In-Depth Interview with Naeem Hashmi, BW Author and Expert
Part Two
June 4, 2001

In part two of our discussion, we take a closer look at what makes the BW architecture unique amidst a crowded market of data warehouse vendors. We also take a closer look at the state of the product in its latest release, and Hashmi relays how BW fits into SAP's data management structure and e-business product line.

Jon Reed: What makes BW special compared to other vendors' products?

Naeem Hashmi: The two critical factors that make BW unique are: 1) BW as an infrastructure and 2) BW as a rich set of business intelligence applications. When BW is used as an information hub for all e-business application components, that makes BW part of the overall infrastructure, based on SAP Basis technologies. So regardless of whether you're using BW in conjunction with SAP-CRM, APO, SEM, R/3, or as a data warehouse for business intelligence initiatives, you don't have to be retrained for individual applications each time, because you're always using the same Basis technology for the data operations, management, delivery and security.

Of course, the business content might be different in each application, and there are slightly different optimization characteristics for each application, but that's not like starting each application from scratch and hand-coding everything. You don't have to train in VB and other development applications; you don't have to train in Oracle designer and Oracle enterprise manager; and you don't have to worry about integrating all those pieces and vendors together. If you don't have a complete data warehousing solution like BW, you have to train several teams to do many different things and pull them all together.

That's one of the great things I see in overall industry trends: the exploitation of the same infrastructure for the business operations as well as the data warehousing or business intelligence operations. And BW is really ahead of the game in terms of those trends. When people talk about data infrastructures, they're usually talking about platforms - databases, networks, and hardware. But to me, infrastructure is much more than that: it's change management, operations support, security, version control, and deployment management. ERP data warehousing includes all of that and more. Remember, simply extracting data out of an ERP application is not ERP data warehousing, because in that case you're not able to leverage the same infrastructure that OLTP and the other business applications use.


 

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