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The Molson Coors Brewing Company had a business intelligence (BI) problem that grew to unwieldy proportions over the years -- a challenge that pushed the brewing behemoth to run its instance of SAP BW on HANA.
Like many companies, it had a near-insatiable appetite for answers and insights that created new problems just as it was trying to solve existing ones.
Pawel Mierskiglobal BI specialist, Molson Coors
"We keep growing [and] we keep developing new things," said Pawel Mierski, Molson Coors's global BI specialist and SAP Business Information Warehouse (BW) expert.
As a result, every morning, members of the finance department would show up at headquarters in Montreal looking for updated BI reports on the company's financial operations and find, well, nothing.
"They needed data to be up to date when they show up at work at 8 a.m. The data would be there at 10, 10:30 a.m. It was causing them a lot of frustration," Mierski said. "They couldn't do their job as they should, because the data was just not there. For them, BI was the bible, the accounting bible."
BWA vs. SAP HANA
Other issues prompted Molson Coors to consider other options. For one, its SAP Business Warehouse Accelerator (BWA) appliance was aging out. That meant buying new BWA machines or moving to the HANA database platform. But BWA is a more dated technology slowly being replaced by HANA. Most importantly, continuing with BWA wasn't going to solve all the BI problems anyway, Mierski said.
"We had the BW accelerator. Once the data is there, the report runs very quickly. But the data doesn't get loaded faster because you have [BWA]. [BWA] just speeds up the reporting," he said.
Running SAP BW on SAP HANA became the obvious choice. In that scenario, SAP BW would continue as the application layer that allows users to define queries, cubes and hierarchies, but on top of the SAP HANA in-memory database instead of a traditional database.
Once the decision was made to move the company's main instance of SAP BW to HANA, migrating was a simple and straightforward affair, he said.
"It's a technical upgrade," Mierski said. "You export your database and then you import it into HANA." The application layer is undisturbed during the process, he said.
Testing -- the biggest challenge
The hardest part of the project -- and where Molson Coors found the biggest obstacles -- was in testing, according to Mierski.
"You try to replicate all the functionality you had before. You just make sure it all still works. It's the tests that take time, not the upgrade itself. The upgrade itself [takes] like two days," Mierski said.
"I think it's hard to test the whole volume of reports that can be generated by the business on a Monday morning. How do you simulate that in a test environment? It's extremely hard," he said. "Honestly, I think it's impossible to do."
To make matters even trickier, the HANA revision the company was on during the testing process was not the latest one released by SAP and was prone to crash. Only after Molson Coors was live on HANA for a period was the decision made to upgrade to the latest revision.
"When we started to do the sandbox [development, and testing], we were on revision 60. We knew revision 69 was coming but was not available yet. When it was time to do production, revision 69 was almost there. I think we missed it by two days," Mierski said. "So we went live on revision 60. It was not the most stable one, so we had to upgrade quickly to have a more stable version of HANA."
BW and beer
Besides keeping finance happy with early morning reports, being able to process data in a fraction of the time has had other advantages, Mierski said.
For one, Molson Coors feeds inspection-lot data from the various stages of the brewing process to determine how much alcohol is lost at each step of the way, Mierski said.
"For every process order, we calculate in BI the loss of alcohol in the process of making beer," he said. "With BW, we can identify exactly where the loss is happening, and the business can readjust."
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