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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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Reed: That's exactly what you said in your book - you made that point very strongly early on. You wrote that "Simply extracting data from an ERP application package is not data warehousing. An ERP data warehouse supports a collection of integrated applications to report, analyze, and control business events across the enterprise."

Hashmi: All leveraging the same infrastructure.

Reed: And you think BW is going a long way toward achieving that vision.

Hashmi: It's there now. The main thing to keep in mind is the implication of using the same infrastructure for OLTP and Business Intelligence. If you're using RFC on R/3, you can use the same RFC technology with BW. If you're using BAPIs, you can use the same mechanism for the BAPIs. The parameters and the methods will be different, but the overall concepts are the same - you don't have to re-train anyone, you just need to know what content you need to exchange. You have a similar process working on the CRM, SEM, or APO side. In BW 3.0, there will be a capability to integrate Microsoft Analysis Services as one of the objects within BW. Right now, BW uses relational technologies. You build a Cube star schema within that environment.

Reed: An InfoCube structure.

Hashmi: Right, it's called ROLAP (Relational Online Analytical Processing). What happens is that ROLAPs are somewhat slower, but they can handle fairly large data volumes. Then there is true multi-dimensional analysis, what they call MOLAP, like Microsoft Analysis Services, Oracle Express, or Hyperion. MOLAPs use a pure, multi-dimensional structures using a proprietary database technology - they're not relational. Therefore, MOLAPs are much faster, but they run out of speed very quickly when the InfoCube grows too large. So there are pros and cons to each approach. But what happens in BW 3.0 is that if someone is running BW on Microsoft's SQL Server, they can also exploit, within that BW instance, Microsoft's Analysis Services to build the MOLAP cubes, so there's options there in terms of what kinds of cubes you need to build. In some cases, you can go with MOLAP and BW will load faster and perform faster queries. This way, you can have more flexibility in terms of your data structures.

But there's more SAP can do to improve performance. In the February 2001 edition of Intelligent ERP magazine, I wrote an article called "In-Memory Databases." SAP has in-memory database technology that they call "LiveCache." SAP needs to exploit LiveCache for BW, since business-to-business situations happen almost in a real time. Right now, LiveCache is only used within APO. SAP needs to exploit that technology within BW. Once SAP does this, the BW technology framework will be very robust and ideal for e-business. In-Memory Databases such as TimesTen are used by other high performance e-business web sites.

Reed: Can you give us an example?

Hashmi: Anytime you log onto Yahoo or other high-traffic web sites, you will see that they have millions of users. All individuals have their own personalization data, and it is accessed in real time using TimesTen's In-Memory database. So SAP needs to exploit that technology for the Workplace Portal, because that's the area within mySAP.com where people log on and there is a need for profile management and user customizations. Similar functionality is needed on the backend side for application-to-application integration, such as when you need to exchange data with a customer via the SAP-CRM application. An in-memory database component within BW will be a great asset for these kinds of business-to-business and business-to-customer real time data exchange repositories. We're not there yet on that issue, but when you look at the three year history of BW and how the product has evolved, it's amazing. I've been in the product development groups for a long time and I've never seen this kind of advances in functionality.

As I've noted, the three main areas of innovation that set BW apart from other data warehouse solutions are: first, it's a complete infrastructure, not just a data repository; second, it's an e-business hub for the entire enterprise; and, finally, SAP is taking a very different strategy in terms of data warehousing than traditional data warehouse hubs. In the IT industry, there are three architectures that are very well known in the information management space at the enterprise level for large companies. One used to be called the TA1 , which came from Digital in the late seventies.

Then came the TA2 technical architecture. The TA2 concept involved a left side and right side data management environments. On the left side was the data collection piece and the right side was the data reporting piece, the data access. All the services that were designed to share data back and forth operated within that two-sided data structure. Then there was a separation between the data collection piece and the data access piece. It was not a "closed loop" environment. The data access piece became the data warehouse environment. All the traditional data warehouse models developed by data warehouse gurus like Bill Inmon evolved from TA1 and TA2 models, meaning there was a separation between decision support and the transactional system. The reporting and data warehouses were part of the after--the-fact process, and they would do reporting and analysis and that's it. There was no closed-loop feedback to its transaction systems.

SAP has changed that model. It's not the afterthought or after-the-fact approach. When you're doing the business model for e-business, you have to have all the real-time information and business intelligence as part of your business model, so you have to have a very closed, tight loop environment. Business intelligence is the hub that sits in the center of rest of the applications for the business processes. It doesn't mean that it has to be one central database like Bill Inmon states. It can be very much like a Lotus Notes type environment, where the document flows according to a business workflow model - the document flows where it needs to go. So that's what SAP BW is. It's not necessarily designed for a traditional data warehouse environment, where you have to have a huge database and everything sits there and you have to rely on that one database. SAP BW is designed to be distributed business intelligence environment.

Reed: And there's one other aspect to BW that you've noted before: the importance of what you've called an "extraprise data warehouse," where you can have a free flow of information between your company and its customers and business partners.

Hashmi: Right. Even now, people are using an extraprise approach, but only for a small amount of data. For example, when I need to look at my last bank statement, I don't go into my paper file folder, I log onto my bank's web site and review the statement online. Vendors can do the same thing for product inventories, and soon customers will be poking into individual companies' data warehouses for their own past transaction histories. There will also be comparison shopping analytics, so that you can compare your own shopping history between, say, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.

There will be a lot of these kinds of analytics out there, and soon we should see some Business Intelligence (BI) ASPs come along. I wrote about this in the September 2000 Intelligent ERP Magazine, in an article called "BI for Sale." I've been advising some of the largest ASPs to design their BI services. In the "BI for Sale" article, I outlined several issues that must be addressed. There are some legal issues to consider, but most of the issues are cultural.

Getting back to SAP, for distributed e-business applications, you need a robust, proven and distributed infrastructure. Typically, you end up selecting many tools and technologies from several vendors to implement and deploy e-business applications. SAP technology framework provides a single solid foundation to implement and deploy traditional as well as extraprise-wide application. Many data warehousing vendors provide spot applications, you can buy them if you're only doing one thing and you're not looking for that niche vendor to give you a complete architecture or total solution. If you're just trying to solve one or two specific business problems, you can go that multi-vendor route - each vendor has its own strengths and weaknesses. It depends how a user wants to exploit the technology. But if you're looking for a vendor with a complete data warehouse architecture and solution along with rest of the business-critical applications, in my opinion SAP doesn't have any real competition out there right now.

An In-Depth Interview with Naeem Hashmi, BW Author and Expert
Part Three
June 18, 2001

In part three of our discussion, we take a closer look at the current state of the BW product, starting with its advantages as an information architecture. Hashmi explains how BW's "one vendor" architecture helps users focus on business problems instead of technical headaches. Then Hashmi gives us an overview of the upcoming release of BW, version 3.0, and tells us about some of the major enhancements we can expect in this release.

Reed: In this day and age, you're not just looking for internal Business Intelligence solutions. You also want to be able to collaborate and share information with partners and suppliers. Do you believe that BW is a viable solution for this kind of "Extraprise Data Warehouse"?

Hashmi: Actually, the BW infrastructure is already there. When I talk to people, I say, "Look at your overall information flow model." This goes back to the Lotus Notes workflow model I mentioned before. You need to define the business workflow. One of the benefits of ERP solutions is that when you define ERP business processes, you're defining all business checkpoints. At that time, you can project what types of information have to be exchanged that require intelligent actions.

This is similar to Lotus Notes where you're doing the document workflow and appropriate actions. During ERP solution implementation, you define the enterprise-wide workflow: what kind of information do you need to share with your partners and at what point? If you're looking at an order fulfillment process, you might shoot a request through the SAP-APO system for parts availability, and look into the SAP-CRM system for past customer behavior. You might have a different objective - you might want to cross-sell to the customer as well and see what other products might be relevant to their profile.

All this is done using the same technology framework and the same user interface. At this time, one of the best things about BW is that most of the technical data headaches that you used to spend months, sometimes years, trying to resolve are already hammered out, and you think mostly at the business level and resolve your business problems. When you go with BW, you no longer have to worry about or learn SQL, or how SQL works, or how certain database tables are created and managed. Moreover you don't have to worry about all those complex data extraction issues. With BW, usually you don't have to think about any of that, things just flow. Whereas traditionally, about sixty percent of data warehouse operations is getting the data out of data sources.

Reed: But BW is different.

Hashmi: In BW, that sixty percent of the challenge is basically gone, and you spend that time resolving your business problems. Too many times, when people look at implementing BW, they start from scratch, trying to define star schemas and data structures. But you don't need to do that! When I talk to companies who are considering BW, I tell them, "When you call the utility company or the electric company, do you ask them how they store the data inside their database? No. You simply tell them, %91I need this service, I need this performance, I need 24 hours a day service etc.' - and that's it. Who cares how you store information as long as you can get it out when you need it? As long as you have some APIs that allow you to get at the information you need, then who cares? Why re-invent the same wheel that SAP has hammered out many times? There's always some fine tuning involved, it's never 100% solution there out of the box, but 50 to 70 percent of the work is done."

About two years ago, I was speaking at an ASUG conference, and I told the group about some very interesting research on BW and Traditional DW projects. I was looking at all the BW questions over SAP's OSS notes system, and then I looked at the questions raised at the data warehouse list server run by the DW industry overall. And I pointed out that when you're looking at the BW list server, most of the questions are "How should I get this patch?" or "What type of business content is there?" or "How should I customize this InfoCube to get this application?" or "How can I improve performance?"

But when I went to the data warehouse list server, most of the questions were: "How should I select this tool?" or "Does someone know this vendor?" or "How should I define this schema?" or "How should I copy this database?" or "How should I define security?" So the questions were very low-level, indicating that companies are spending as much as seventy to eighty percent of their time just on defining the technical infrastructure, never really addressing the real business issues. BW clients can turn their attention to the business issues at hand without getting bogged down in too many technical data extraction issues.

Reed: Let's talk about the latest release of BW. What's in the works and what's available for customers now?

Hashmi: The latest version of BW is 3.0A. BW 2.1C is the latest customer release available. BW 3.0A is scheduled for first customer shipment later this year.

Reed: Is 2.1C a major new release or more of a bug patch for 2.0B?

Hashmi: It is a bug patch for 2.0B, and it also has additional business content from the e-analytics perspective. Those are the major features. 2.0B also has a few more tools for web development and web enablement, but it's not a major new functionality.


 

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