For many years now, there has been a tradition that SAP businesses use ERP for their transactional data and Business Warehouse (BW) for data. BW was used as a warehouse to store SAP ERP data and combine it with non-SAP data. It provided the means to store years of historical data in huge volumes and variety. It allowed for multi-dimensional arrangement of the data, which in turn meant that the data could be accessed quicker, making way for quicker reporting. This sets it apart from ERP.
The SAP toolset has moved on in recent times with BW on HANA (BWoH), BW/4HANA and HANA SQL Data Warehouses and now, SAP’s latest offering - SAP Data Warehouse Cloud (SDWC). Many customers are asking, what does this mean for BW? Is traditional BW coming to the end of its road, what does the future hold?
What is SAP’s strategy?
This is a very difficult question, as no one really knows the products that will take off. However, SAP believes that these new products are the future, allowing ease of use, simplification, better performance and connectivity.
If you look at SAP’s roadmap, BW is by no means ending. The SDWC roadmap neatly aligns with that of BW4/HANA - specifically the integration between the two is only going to grow with innovations such as Data Hub and SAP Cloud integration.
(The SAP roadmaps site includes both the BW/4HANA and SDWC roadmaps together in the same link, which tells how close these two products will be in the future.)
*Images above sourced from SAP
SAP’s vision is that SDWC sits on top of a system with BW, and works to complement its functions (although it can also be a totally independent entity). SAP DWC and BW/4HANA connect and allow you to do whatever you want with your data. You can move data from BW/4HANA to SDWC or leave it where it is and SDWC can consume data directly from BW/4HANA virtually. In other words, it does not have to persist data, but can just point to where the data is. It will also always access the latest version. This means that data does not have to be duplicated, but can stay where it is, or be moved into SDWC, whichever is best at the time. The other option is a hybrid solution comprising leaving some data where it is and taking other data fully into SDWC.
*Image above sourced from SAP
SDWC allows relevant data to be accessible to business users. It lets you build a semantic layer to make all data, wherever it is, however it looks, understandable to the whole organisation. It does this by allowing data to be combined and renamed into more understandable business terminology. Even with a mature SAP and BW background, SAP customers struggle with data from other sources. This product can allow the business to have one central view of the truth.
What are the Use Cases for SDWC?
SDWC is a tool that is ideally suited to business users who want to be able to produce quick and easy cuts of their data that allow to easily see where, for example, sales are doing well, or declining within a certain product range, country, or type of customer. Previously, this would have needed a project with lots of IT people involved. Now, the business can take data from wherever it lives and combine it easily.
So, what are the clear benefits?
1. Empower the business!
Business can use the semantic layer of SDWC to have one view of the data with all measures and dimensions named in business terminology, instead of relying on technical names. It also allows users to easily track the data back to its source to understand the data flow and lineage by showing within the modelling lines of where particular items of data originate. SDWC is tailored for direct business usage, bringing power to teams in all lines of the business. A BI user will not only be able to build models, but also bring in data via data loads, enhance it through simple or complex transformations as well as manage users and data. Business teams will not need to delegate tasks to IT as often, but instead will be able to collaborate with IT.
2. No need to worry about support packages and upgrades!
As this is a cloud product and not on-premise, SAP takes care of the product for you with no cause of worry due to support packages and costly upgrades. These can and have taken large chunks of time away from both IT and the business, sometimes bringing companies to a halt while these processes are complete. They can also be very costly.
3. No more dumping data!
In the past, data has been continually dumped (downloaded), to produce offline solutions. SDWC is a step towards a single source of truth because it adds the capability for the business analysts to maintain models, manage access rights, cleanse & harmonize the data - to then derive insights – all within the system. This is a huge potential benefit.
4. No more limitations!
SDWC comes with a rich API framework and integration with SAP Analytics Cloud. This complete package gives customers the capabilities needed to explore their data and generate actionable insights. With more than 170 advanced connectors in the SAP Cloud Elements API Integration Platform, the ability to pull or just read data from SAP as well as external sources and combine them is greatly enhanced. The simplistic design and interface, pre-built business templates and a consolidated view of data will help all types of users access and utilize SAP Data Warehouse Cloud. It is also browser and persona-based, which works on any device, making it user-friendly for the business.
SAP claims cost control with the SDWC by providing pay per use models based on storage and computing. It also allows the transparent monitoring of resources that are consumed via spaces. Spaces are basically areas that can be created to allow for easier access and cataloguing of streams of work.
Look and feel of the tool itself, how easy is it to use?
For users, the interface of SDWC is very simple to learn and use. Simple menus allow you to go through a systematic process.
The first area – USERS - is within Security. This is where one creates the users and allocates the authorizations that allow the created user to read/write etc.
The next area users need to access is called Spaces.
A Space is nothing but a logical segregation of data. Spaces allow a group of users to have access to their own Space in the same cloud environment. Each Space has an allocated amount of memory and computer power. Each Space, although isolated, is tied to the central repository for security, models etc. Within a Space, users’ data can be acquired, after which, analytic models and reports can be built.
Within the Spaces area, one can also link to connections, whether to external systems, CSV, etc.
There is the Data Builder area where you design all the data flows and transformations.
Within the DATA BUILDER, CSV files can be uploaded and existing data cleaned. It allows you to control what data you bring in, and how it is held. You can assign data types like data or numeric or even geotag fields.
This is where you one can build an entity relationship model. The model could, for example, bring in Sales order header or item information. These can be combined simply by dragging and dropping and linking the common fields (such as sales order number). One could then bring in other information like customer address information, linking it via the address ID. Again, all of this is done very easily by dragging and dropping.
The business semantic layer allows the technical fields brought in to be renamed by a business label as well. For example, a technical field might have a name called Field1, but to the business it is known as Tax Classification Code.
The fun bit comes when creating stories. Stories allow creation of scenarios. For instance, you want to show how your business is doing by comparing product sales by product and location with different slants on that.
Then in the Chart Builder, you select the measures and dimensions you want to display.
The chart is then displayed. Simple!
Using these steps and by playing around with the details of the charts, you can build up the story and format it by dragging and dropping - even adding pictures.
At a glance, you can then see insights such as quantity sold by product, gross profit per product, and by region or country. You can even make these graphs interactive by allowing the selection of a product, which will then filter all the other graphs. It provides a powerful tool.
SAP BW in whatever form is not being phased out any time soon. Far from it, it still allows your company to have a mature and structured data warehouse that can allow complex solutions to be created by IT for analytical purposes. SDWC is an additional complementary or stand-alone product, aimed at the business to allow users to take control of their data from all sources, including new types such as social media, Amazon and Google, and many other places online as well as offline and on premise. SDWC will be the means to pull all of this together quickly, easily allowing your organization to be on the front foot rather than reacting to events. It allows users to easily access their data in whatever format and combine data from multiple sources to easily create models. Furthermore, the ease of use and cost-effectiveness makes SAP Data Warehouse Cloud a solution to be evaluated as a part of an organization’s BI roadmap.