Another day, another SAP release – so what is new this time, and why should we be excited?
SAP Data Warehouse Cloud (SDWC) is positioned to give the business user or let’s say a citizen data scientist more freedom and power – to blend SAP and non-SAP data from on-premise or cloud, to extract insights without having to wait for IT.
Wait! Who is a citizen data scientist?
Gartner defines a citizen data scientist as “a person who creates or generates models that leverage predictive or prescriptive analytics, but whose primary job function is outside of the field of statistics and analytics”. The value of citizen data science resides in creating a lasting impact for both businesses and their customers.
Ok, now that we have got that out of the way, let’s get back to SDWC! Why do we need it? How is it different from all the data warehousing products that we already have on the market? Is this the end of BW4HANA? When do we hit the panic button?
Maybe not just yet. First for some context, so we can understand the hullabaloo around cloud and why we need to pay notice. A cloud-first strategy has been successful in transforming modern enterprise businesses with benefits such as access to nearly unlimited low-cost storage, improved scalability and vectorized processing, resulting in better performance & lower TCO. It also allows businesses to remain competitive and leverage cloud-based innovations from their cloud providers.
Firstly, what is SAP Data Warehouse Cloud?
Data warehousing isn’t a new concept. However, even with established solutions including those from SAP, we continue to face challenges such as:
- No easy way to bring together data from multiple sources for easy consumption into one place
- Performance is elusive where huge amounts of historical data need to be processed in order to achieve strategic analytics
- Challenges of batch data loading in the competitive age remain even today - so customers do not have quick access to near real-time data to act on insights
- Today, most data warehousing solutions are still complex and require specialist IT skills to maintain and develop – this adds to both time and cost
An intelligent enterprise doesn’t necessarily need a data warehouse in the cloud to improve its business performance, but it does need to be data-driven, with data and intelligence at the centre of its business strategy. It must empower its business users to access the data collected from diverse sources to create their own models and generate their own insights so they can truly act upon this information.
So, how can SAP Data Warehouse Cloud help with this vision?
Simply put, SDWC claims to bridge the gap between enterprise and the business, by allowing businesses to start small, see the value and then decide to scale up or down based on the company’s strategy. It is specifically targeted at the business user who knows his/her data well and allows them to access, design, model and visualise the insights they seek from this data. This is SAP’s first move to empower citizen data scientists and enable true self-service.
Let’s break it down:
1. SDWC is a web-based Software as a Service (SaaS) offering that allows customers to access, consume and bring in data from different sources/formats into one integrated data warehouse. It allows for users to also visualise and build their user stories for easy collaboration.
2. Once the technical connections are set up (SAP HANA, SAP ABAP and OData are being offered today as standard; users can also import .csv files additionally), a simple graphical data builder interface allows users to model and create their visual data flow. This forms the basic Data Layer.
3. The Semantic Layer allows users to use business-friendly terms while defining characteristics, measures or KPIs, making the data and reporting easier to interpret.
4. The Business Catalog ensures that objects created within these models are consistent and reusable, and that they can be versioned and documented.
5. SDWC has also been designed with SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) in mind. Therefore, it is embedded, and allows users to use other popular third party visualisation tools, completing the loop on story building. The simple interface is again a key differentiator, as it massively reduces the learning curve that users would typically face with conventional SAP visualisation tools in the past.
6. From a performance perspective, users can leverage the power of SAP HANA and in-memory technology upon which SDWC has been built, for the fastest analytical and database experience without front-loaded costs. In-memory technology has the ability to reduce processing time from hours to seconds.
A few considerations:
- IT will continue to have a role, but these will remain primarily in the system governance, set up and security space rather than complete monopoly over data.
- BW4HANA will continue to exist in organisations where business scenarios, processes and rules tend to be too complex. However, SDWC will have an even powerful role to play in this space by being a middleman for visualisation tools and other SAP and non-SAP data sources – especially cloud-based data sources. I believe its primary use case or even USP should be its positioning as an Agile Innovation Platform – allowing business users to start small, see the value and then scale up.
- From a value perspective, resource isolation, elasticity, transparent monitoring and pricing innovations like pay-per-use for storage & computation make it an attractive and viable option for the business user & stakeholders.
SDWC is clearly built with the business user in mind, offering ease of use and simplicity.
Users can easily connect all required data in a distributed enterprise environment as well as across enterprises of their vendors and suppliers. The ease of use is especially important as data doesn't generate value if stakeholders can't access it easily and on time.
Finally, the key to the success of SAP Data Warehouse Cloud will lie in enabling self-service analytics and providing faster time to value without big upfront costs or investment. While operational analytics can remain in S/4HANA or even BW4HANA, SAP Data Warehouse Cloud provides strategic and innovative analytical opportunities to the humble citizen data scientist, by lowering the barrier for entry. SDWC still has a way to go in terms of further integration with other technologies or truly driving strategic analytics, but it is a step in the right direction.