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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:
I worked with a well-known data warehousing recruiter for many years, and she made me very aware of the intense criticism for the first releases of BW coming from the most famous and respected data warehouse practitioners, Bill Inmon included. It's quite a surprise to hear that he is now making positive comments about BW, although I'm not sure I understand what he means by a "solutions approach" %96 aren't all data warehouse projects solutions-oriented?

Hashmi: That's true. That's what was interesting about Inmon's comments. I would have enjoyed asking him some additional questions for clarification, but I got some of those questions answered recently by him in a published white paper on BW. It is interesting how all this came about. Bill Inmon has a book called the Corporate Information Factory (CIF) that defines basic architectural principles on how companies should manage information. In January 2001, I gave a couple of presentations at the SAP-Microsoft executives conference, and I talked about how business intelligence becomes the hub of e-business, and I also talked about Inmon's Corporate Information Factory - which by the way, is an architecture and not a product, and how it (the CIF) can be mapped in BW. That's the true value of BW. Inmon's Corporate Information Factory is just a vision, just an architecture, whereas BW is an implementation of that architecture and vision. So I have been really curious to see if Inmon would acknowledge how closely BW resembles to his own ideal information architecture.

Then last month (May 2001), Inmon published a new white paper titled "SAP and the Corporate Information Factory," in which he concludes, "No other vendor has the same reach across all the environments in a comprehensive manner. Some vendors have software. Other vendors have hardware. But in terms of forming a complete picture across the entire corporate information factory landscape, no other vendor can compete. (This white paper is now available at http://www.billinmon.com. See pages 11-12.)

This is good news for BW adaptation at large. And then in June at an interview at the SAP annual event, SAPPHIRE 2001 in Orlando, Inmon stated that SAP BW is a true solution to implement his vision of the Corporate Information Factory. (Listen to Bill Inmon's interview at the http://www.sap.com/community web site. Select "Tune in to SAPPHIRE Orlando Replays," and go to "Expert Panel: Business Intelligence and Corporate Value." You may need to register with SAP to view this panel. Registration is free.) I feel that Inmon's positive views toward SAP BW will have an electrifying effect on its popularity as a mainstream %91implement-able CIF' for the New New Economy.

Reed: For Bill Inmon to come around like this is a huge feat for BW - it seems like a major step in positioning BW the right way in the marketplace. Do you think that SAP is at all to blame for the market misconceptions that BW has faced?

Hashmi: SAP has not succeeded in educating the traditional data warehouse community about BW, and so they (the DW community) have been reluctant to embrace the BW product. I would also blame SAP for launching BW without the right team of consultants to implement BW solutions. Most of the early BW consultants were SAP functional consultants - they didn't have overall enterprise-wide reporting/analysis knowledge about how information flows. To them, BW was nothing more than a financial reporting or SIS reporting tool and that's all. They just wanted to see one separate box, where they could offload SIS or LIS reporting tasks - nothing more, nothing less. So BW was simply presented as a new R/3 reporting environment, not an overall enterprise data warehouse.

Along those lines, I remember visiting an early BW customer, and they had 83% of the business running on SAP R/3. They were looking at BW, Informatica, Acta, and other tools, trying to put together a total data warehouse solution, and a so-called BW consultant sat down with them and said "Why do you even need ODS? Why don't you build everything in an InfoCube?" But you can't build everything in a cube. They (the BW Consultants) didn't have any overall vision of how the rest of the company uses information for the rest of their business processes, other than FI (management) reporting.

Once again I come back to two key factors that have made things harder for BW. One was the lack of knowledge or acceptance of SAP's approach to data warehousing from the data warehouse community. To me, this reaction was really based on fear - it's a natural response to something that is different than what you know. These folks just wanted to keep their own approach going, they had their own drumbeat and they were sticking with it. And on the SAP side, many of the R/3 people kept beating their drums for their own approach, which was usually focused on R/3-like reporting. The customers got caught in the middle, and they were not given a clear sense of what BW could really do for them.

Hashmi: The other challenge is that when you talk about a traditional IT environment, you talk about data issues - data ownership issues. If I'm a VP of Finance or VP of Manufacturing, I own all the data in my vertical area. So if I have my own reporting environment, I don't want to give away my data. When we tried to implement R/3 in our company, we had the same issue - if you're going to implement R/3 successfully, you have to have a stewardship approach to the data in your area.

Reed: How can business leaders take a "stewardship approach"?

Hashmi: You have to look at your data not as your own, but as an information entity that you must manage and share with the whole enterprise - like an asset. The same issue comes up within the data-warehousing environment. When you're building an enterprise-wide data warehouse, you have to bring data in at one place and share it, and there is the perception by the heads of finance, manufacturing, and other areas that when they share their data they will lose control of it. Many times, they've built up their own highly customized environment, and when they look at BW functionality, they say, "It doesn't do this report, or this one, or this one," and they're not looking at the bigger picture.

Reed: It sounds as though BW has an uphill battle in terms of market acceptance.

Hashmi: It's not going to be a "Big Bang" experience, that's for sure. There's a lot of education to do and a lot of cultural issues to be resolved. For those readers who are interested in these aspects of BW, I go into these cultural issues in my article called "Mix it Up," published in the Intelligent ERP magazine. That's one of the things that SAP did not really realize - in the data warehousing community, the ownership of data is a very sensitive issue.

This topic reminds me of a large company I ran across recently, where some of the data warehouse people were posting criticism of BW to a data warehousing discussion forum, pointing out functions that BW could not perform. But the CIO and CEO had already committed to a number of SAP's e-business products, such as APO and SEM, which involve the use of BW. So the executives' decision to go with BW has been relayed to the data warehouse people, but they've already built their own custom solution and they're very attached to it, so they're dragging their feet. That's always the case with any new application - that's just human nature. But with data warehousing, each manager has built their own custom solution, so the issues are even more complex.

Reed: In your book, you went so far as to say that in terms of a successful data warehousing implementation, the cultural issues are more critical than the technical issues. That's an interesting viewpoint, because I don't think that's how a lot of people in SAP perceive the challenge. On the staffing side, whenever we talk to BW consultants who are waiting for the market to break out, the emphasis of the discussions has always been "When is BW going to take off?" And you look at it mostly in terms of the new functionality that companies are waiting for, so you decide that BW is just not ready yet. Then SAP announces that a new version of SAP is coming out, and you get a group of BW consultants together again, because this version is finally going to be the one that takes off. Each time, the emphasis is always on the functionality gap. The idea has been: "Once the functionality gap is bridged, then we're going to see an explosion of demand for BW."

That's the perception on the staffing side, so there's been all these mini-market explosions prior to each release, as consultants scrambled to position themselves for a market that never really happened. It's been a real roller coaster ride for BW consultants so far, with more lows than highs for most of them. I expect another one of these mini-explosions right before version 3.0 comes out. But what you're saying is that it might be a mistake to perceive the success of BW simply in terms of technical and business functionality. On the client side, there's all kinds of issues going on, not just technical issues.

Shifting gears a bit, won't the BW market expand as SAP companies are "gently" pushed into BW because they take on another New Dimension initiative, such as CRM or APO, which is heavily dependent on the InfoCube structure?

Hashmi: SAP does not call these products New Dimension anymore as far as I know. What happens now is that you have the option to buy a mySAP license. When you buy the mySAP license, BW is already shipped with it. The other products that used to be called New Dimension can be purchased separately when you choose to buy them. You can use BW just for CRM; you don't have to use it for your data warehousing or reporting, although that's also possible. You can also use BW for APO only. Or you can have a stand-alone BW system for SEM. In terms of SAP's new strategy, whenever you buy mySAP.com, it ships with BW, so the end result is that just about every SAP customer will end up using BW for something.

Reed: Well, they'll use BW for at least one piece of what they want to do, but that doesn't necessarily mean that companies are leveraging BW to the full extent they could for real, enterprise-wide and extraprise data management.

Hashmi: Right, and as I stated earlier, companies still have to work on a lot of cultural and organizational issues in order to take full advantage of BW. Often this means retooling the data warehouse environment. In the traditional data warehouse environment, the data collection side and the data reporting/access side have almost no relationship, except for the exchange of flat data files. Each side considers itself separate and has its own schedule and priorities. But to take advantage of data warehousing in an SAP environment, BW has to be part of the workflow and part of the business configuration on the R/3 side, and the scheduling of reporting must also take place on the BW side. It requires a lot more collaboration and teamwork. The ERP technology platform forces these groups to work together as a team, sometimes for the first time, in order to have a successful data warehouse implementation. And that's where you run into all the cultural issues.

Reed: Is the InfoCube structure going to continue to be a crucial part of BW?

Hashmi: It is one part of BW. InfoCubes have been an important part of the reporting environment since the early releases of BW. But the main thing that it is coming up is the non-cube environment. Eventually, InfoCubes will comprise about fifty percent of BW, and the rest of BW will involve non-cube data structures. InfoCube structures are primarily designed for numerical analysis. But in a traditional data warehouse environment, you have a lot of non-numerical objects, such as multi-media objects. So in BW 2.0B, there are new business document services, and in 3.0, there is even tighter integration of these services with R/3.

An In-Depth Interview with Naeem Hashmi, BW Author and Expert
Part Six
July 30, 2001

In part six of our interview, we cover a range of important topics. Hashmi begins by telling us why any hopes that the BW market will explode in a "Big Bang" are misguided. Then, we move on to learn about a fascinating client that is actually running BW but not SAP R/3. We talk a bit about the BW consulting market and how people can get involved. Hashmi also assesses the competitiveness of SAP's BW analytics. Then he tells us more about how his BW book is structured and how the book project came together. We end this week's discussion with Hashmi telling us more about his own role in the BW market.

Jon Reed: So looking at the BW market in a broader view, you're not waiting for the market to explode when version 3.0 comes out. You look at market acceptance of BW as a gradual thing, requiring an almost evangelical approach on the part of those who know what it can do for an R/3 client.

Naeem Hashmi: Right. There is no Big Bang. If you have a small company, you can take a Big Bang approach to BW in some cases. But large companies have a huge number of existing systems, and it's not just the technology that you have to deal with - you also need to deal with existing DW sponsors, cultural issues and training end users as well. One challenge I've seen with large SAP companies looking at BW is that they compare one aspect of BW with the best-of-breed tool or point application that they are currently using, which might be built using Business Objects, Cognos, Informatica, etc. And when they compare the point application with BW, they say, "We don't see those kinds of sexy things in BW Bex, so we don't want to go in that direction."

Then there's the issue of training. When you deploy BW, you have to commit to some retraining in order to gain end-user acceptance. You really have to carefully think through how you want to deploy your BW first project, where you want to be flexible, and which direction you want to go.

There's a lot of politics involved. Politics is an issue that goes along with implementing any new technology, and BW is no exception. Technology is not really the major issue; the major issue is getting BW accepted by your existing DW organization. The two areas within your organization where you have the most work to do are with the data warehouse community and the OLTP community. They both have to come to some kind of common agreement. And when you do rollout BW, the rollout should not be a Big Bang but in phases. You have very diverse end-users in large companies, and it takes a while to get everybody on the same page. It is interesting to note that there are some companies that have implemented BW that do not have an R/3 system.


 

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