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Chapter 10: 'SAP Gives Business Intelligence'

Starting to transform your business with SAP NetWeaver is that daunting. NetWeaver is both an application platform and an integration platform. It integrates your current IT systems to enable portals, collaboration, data management, and development environments. To grasp the complexities and possibilities of SAP ASAP, dig in with SAP NetWeaver For Dummies and explore.

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This chapter is excerpted from the book titled, 'SAP NetWeaver For Dummies', authored by Dan Woods and Jeffrey Word, published May, 2004 by Wiley Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7645-6883-1, Copyright 2004 Wiley Publishing. For more information, please visit:


Chapter Excerpt:

At the center of SAP BI is a data warehouse, which is an unfortunate term because it gives the impression of trucks arriving with pallets of data that are then stowed away on a shelf. Before that metaphor starts to stick, here's a better one.

SAP BI as a whole is like the cockpit of a super airplane. The enterprise is the plane and SAP BI is the onboard computer, collecting data like speed, gas airflow, fuel level, and weather conditions. That data is promptly sorted, analyzed, and displayed so that both the pilot and navigator have the information they need in the form they need — whether a diagnostic readout or a speedometer — to make the right decision in real time. Knowing your speed is useful. Realizing you're about to hit a major storm pattern is critical.

Collecting and sorting the raw data for decisions is the job of the data warehouse. Resting on top of it in SAP BI are analytical and reporting engines that transform that data into useful information.

So, if the enterprise is an airliner zooming around the corporate sky, what does the instrument panel show? Where is the information coming from? How can it be simplified so that you can use it to fly the plane?

Of course we could leave you to the mercy of several-thousand pages of documentation that explain the millions of lines of code in all of the different programs that make up SAP BI. This seems a bit lazy on our part, though, so instead we read that material for you, whittled it down to the big picture of SAP BI, and go through each part.

The role that SAP BI plays in SAP NetWeaver is that of a central, integrated repository for information from distributed and heterogeneous sources. Hmmm . . . that's accurate, but a bit dry. We can do better.

In your enterprise, just as in your home, data is stored all over the place, from the box of tax papers in the basement to the recipe file in the kitchen. In your enterprise, the good old Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system has its data, the friendly Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system has its data, and a grandfatherly legacy system that has been running for 20 years on a mainframe has even more data. Add to that your Web site data, your co-workers' spreadsheets of data, and even that department down the hall that nobody's quite sure what it does might have some data. To find out about the big picture, say customer or sales activity, the data from all these applications must be brought together.

But wait. What if the data is quarterly sales in ERP but monthly sales in CRM? What if different customer ID numbers or overlapping sales regions are used in different databases? What if one system keeps its data in dollars and other uses euros? How can all this be brought together and analyzed? SAP BI.

SAP BI is the database hub, the universal translator, the statistician, and report writer for SAP NetWeaver. When people think of systems that use data warehouses, they frequently think of reams of reports cranked out in batch mode. That sort of thing is still useful and SAP BI can do a great job of it, but at its best SAP BI is more like an airliner computer, transforming raw data into more useful information by integrating it into the context of the enterprise and historical insights. That's how SAP BI prevents the CEO in the pilot's seat from hitting a major air pocket.

Figure 10-1 shows how SAP BI sits squarely in the information integration area of SAP NetWeaver capabilities.

So, SAP BI helps people in your business who need data. Now who could that be . . . everyone in the company?

From handling a customer inquiry about an order to running a huge pharmaceutical research division with a thousand different research projects, pretty much every industry and every job in every company can make use of SAP Business Intelligence.

You can basically break down into three groups who benefits from SAP BI:

Of course, then there are your customers, partners, and suppliers — everyone who uses quantitative information to make or enhance their decisions. SAP BI is about aligning strategy with execution — about getting the right information to the right user at the right time in the right format to make the right decision. Right?

You and your co-workers drew straws to decide who would sign off on next year's promotions and marketing budget. You lost. Now you need to figure out what changes you have to make to be more responsive to customer demands. And to do that, you first need to pull together as much information as you can to create the most complete picture possible of this year's sales and what difference (if any) your marketing efforts made.

Some of your company's key customer and supplier information resides within the SAP system. Some of it lives on in the legacy mainframe that was already in place when you started with the company. And still more data is arriving through the company Web site every day in the form of a steadily growing stream of orders. However, you aren't sure who's ordering what.

You can't favor the data from one source over the other — the person in Singapore making purchases via your Web site at 3 a.m. may not be your average customer, believe it or not — so what you need to do is combine the streams of data arriving from each portion of your enterprise to get the bigger picture. By integrating information from the Web site — Who buys online? How often and how much? What time of day? — with seasonal and historical data from legacy systems, SAP BI can both provide an historical picture of your sales and provide trending information and upsell guidance with just the right level of detail.

What if you're the CEO and you need the biggest picture available? What if you want to know who your best customers are, who your best suppliers are, and how they intersect? Within SAP BI, you can integrate the data coming from your suppliers' systems, your retail channels, and even your own HR system. After matching and integrating all three, trends and patterns emerge. Do the best suppliers line up with the best customers? Are the suppliers delivering the best mix of products for your needs?

By combining data from multiple systems in different parts of your business, a holistic view of your company and its process gradually swims into view. For example, take a look at Figure 10-2, which shows what a user interface might look like that provides an integrated environment for sales analytics. With delivery of information like this, SAP BI grants you the power to spot where and how you can adjust your process to make the entire enterprise run more efficiently.

Chapter 10: 'SAP Gives Business Intelligence'

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