With classic BW coming to the end of its life, it is time for organisations to consider their options. Data is king in the business world of today and losing competitive advantage and opportunities for sales and growth are compelling many businesses to assess their next move. SAP’s faster and more powerful BW/4HANA seems the obvious choice to supersede the classic BW, however, it is not necessarily the best or most cost-effective solution for everyone.

SAP BW has a significant user base amongst SAP ERP customers, but for many, it is not keeping up with their business requirements.  Often considered too slow to react to everchanging business needs, it is also seen as being too costly to develop and support for the long term.

The new HANA platform enables efficiency for complex and time-driven organisations, as its database, data processing and in-memory capabilities enable much more sophistication in reporting, planning, forecasting and innovation.  By comparison, the traditional BW system simply does not provide the performance of such a modern analytics tool and most importantly, end user expectation. The result?  Customers who stay with classic BW run the risk of losing market share and decreased profitability because their data isn’t providing the insights the business requires.

It is difficult to implement an agile stream with classic BW solutions and support a choice of analytics tools.  Both of these factors are becoming very important as organisations need to be able to react quickly with low investment and only put money into robust, long term solutions once the value is proven.

The following diagram provides some guidance on the options the classic BW User may consider

BW/4HANA

BW/4HANA is the obvious migration path for organisations to take although it is not an inexpensive or simple migration, due to new licencing, required infrastructure and project costs.  Clearly, greater performance improvement and speed are one of the main advantages of moving to HANA, but the real benefit comes from doing things differently.  Just migrating from legacy BW to BW/4HANA might not solve the organisational problems.

Two main approaches can be adopted by an organisation when looking to upgrade the BW landscape, which includes the BW approach and the Native SQL based approach (that can also be used with BW/4HANA). The benefits of both are analysed below.

BW/4HANA combines the advantages of the BW approach with the Native HANA SQL based approach.  The catch with this is that IT resources and architects need to be knowledgeable in both approaches.

The BW methodology forces a particular approach to data modelling.  While this method reduces flexibility,  it also prevents potential errors as evidenced in an SQL based approach.

This means that IT consultants don’t need to have such intrinsic data modelling skills that an SQL based resource needs.  BW has functionality that is achieved by ticking a box that requires significant developments in an SQL based approach.

These include:

  • Non-cumulative key figures (inventory, balance sheet)
  • Exception / time-based aggregation
  • Hierarchies

The items that are easier to manipulate in BW are generally the items that still run on the ABAP stack and only work with specific SAP reporting/analytics tools.

Finally, BW/4HANA is only available on-premise or managed cloud (HEC), which can be costly for some customers.  A pure cloud option (SCP) does not exist due to the requirement that it needs to be run on an ABAP stack.

As a consequence, BW/4HANA is best suited to large organisations that need an Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) due to the abundance of their historical and real-time data.  In this instance, larger organisations tend to have a significant investment in their existing BW system already and also have the internal IT infrastructure such as experienced technical resources to manage and maintain their BW environment.

For organisations who can justify the investment, BW/4HANA provides the speed of HANA with the best part of the BW and SQL based approaches plus new data management tools.  This enables an agile stream within a robust enterprise solution that can quickly react to business requirements.   Furthermore, BW/4HANA works with non SAP analytics tools and data sources including Big data and IOT.

Native HANA EDW (or Data Mart)

Native HANA, sometimes referred to as an SQL based approach (though Native HANA is far more graphical than SQL coding) is a lot more flexible than a BW based approach.  A datamart solution can be created on the SAP Cloud Platform (SCP), replicating data from SAP ECC in record times, evidenced by some customers reporting timeframes of achieving this in under a month.

Native HANA provides a realm of options by which to build an EDW and also makes it possible to have both an agile and a formal aspect to the EDW. However, the gift of this flexibility also means greater responsibility by the business in terms of setting early and viable standards for data modelling based on a recognised data modelling methodology – and enforce them.

A Native HANA solution can be more efficient and use fewer resources and memory that a BW based approach.  A solid understanding of what can be done virtually is the key to success in fully optimising the Native HANA model.

The skill sets of resources required for Native HANA is also different to BW, and another factor to consider is that not all BW consultants will transition easily. Native HANA has synergies with those skill sets we see used in the Microsoft and Oracle EDW world.

IT teams must have a strong understanding of both HANA data modelling and the SAP ECC data to benefit from the Native HANA capabilities fully.

Another advantage of the Native HANA solution is that it can be deployed on the SAP Cloud Platform (with big data options) as well as on-premise and managed cloud.  This makes it easier to start with a small investment.

S4 Embedded Analytics

A transition to S/4HANA can help organisations become more competitive, and offers a variety of benefits such as faster data access and a leaner and more adaptable database structure as well as high data processing speeds and the opportunity for real-time reporting.

The main advantage is that S/4HANA includes embedded analytics from both the embedded real-time BW/BC system as well as FIORI analytics.  In a Finance scenario, the embedded BW/BPC system is a great tool in instances of centralised finance reporting and planning.

When used in conjunction with the analytics cloud it can also provide a huge amount of malleability to individual business units leading to greater visibility of data.  The underlying design of the Finance model in S4 makes all of this possible.  However, using the embedded BW to build an enterprise data warehouse within an ERP system is not a viable option as major performance problems can result!

FIORI analytics within S/4HANA enables greater interaction between analytics and transaction processing, providing insight into action.

Underlying HANA queries need to be created by experts as errors impact the core ERP system, and there is a limit to how flexible they can be.  Outside of finance, we cannot create HANA models with the same level of flexibility we can in a separate EDW or Datamart solution.

Further, a few pitfalls await, and companies need to be aware.  HANA might be a faster and more agile solution, but it can use a lot of the system resources with analytical queries, which is counterproductive to the aim of implementing it.

The real-time KPI dashboard with complex KPI calculation that most users see when they logon could be consuming 50% of the system resource or in the worst-case scenario, bring down the system.  Similarly, S4 FIORI analytics can be used for operational reporting and simple KPI’s, although companies must be aware that there is a point when they need to move to a proper analytical data model / EDW in either a separate Native HANA system or BW/4HANA system.

Where to for BW?

Without any doubt, it is important the businesses using SAP BW start contemplating their options and decide what approach and investment they are willing to take.

One size does not fit every organisation nor every budget.  However, most importantly, the wealth of real-time data and the ability to access, interpret, analyse and present this data is changing the landscape of company performance like never before.

Bluleader has a wealth of experience in Native HANA BW4/HANA and embedded analytics and are happy to provide advice relevant to your organisation.