What are SAP xApp Analytics?

Curious about all the talk about xApp Analytics? This in-depth discussion between Business Process expert Helen Sunderland and xApp Analytics implementation expert Greg Root examines what exactly xApp Analytics does and how it can benefit your company.

This conversation between a Business Process Expert and an SAP xApp Analytics Implementation Expert first appeared on the SAP Developer Network. While both experts are SAP employees, we hope it may help bring some clarity to the much-hyped area of xApp Analytics.

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Helen: Hi Greg! Thanks for having this conversation with me. We BPXs often have to be resourceful in finding creative solutions and I'm looking to you as a resource for this new business process improvement trend I'm seeing in my customers.

In my role as a BPX at my customers, I advise on streamlining business process and executing change primarily through designing and implementing new technical solutions. One area that has become a catchy buzzword in the marketplace is 'Analytics'. I get the impression that it might be the next right step for my customers to help them in evaluating and improving process, but I find it difficult to succinctly define what exactly Analytics are. Could you explain Analytics to the uninitiated neophyte?

Greg: Sure. Traditionally, 'Analytics' has most often been compared to a dashboard of KPI's. With the advent of SAP Enterprise Portal, distributing dashboards to a wider audience has become easier. But! A true analytics composite application goes beyond that.

Helen: Oh, and why the 'xApp' in the official SAP naming of xApp Analytics? What does that really mean now in the new world of SAP solutions? How best should I introduce the xApps concept to my client?

Greg: Think of it from the point of view of cooking spaghetti. Your spaghetti was just "regular" until your grandmother came over for dinner and told you to think "outside the box" and cook the noodles with chicken broth instead of just water. She also added some unusual spices to the sauce. Combined together, these two changes made it the best spaghetti ever! In the same way, the xApp moniker means that these aren't your ordinary single-system dashboards. These are composite web-based applications that transparently interact with multiple back end systems. These back end systems could be both SAP and non-SAP. You are not just viewing data, but adding, changing, and deleting data (with all the correct security permissions, of course). For example, over 300 customers have implemented other SAP xApps such as:

  • SAP xApp Cost and Quotation Management (SAP xCQM)
  • SAP xApp Emissions (SAP xEM)
  • SAP xApp Product Definition (SAP xPD)
  • SAP xApp Resource and Portfolio Management (SAP xRPM)
Each of these solves difficult cross-system business problems that have a high impact on an organization's margin and revenue. They connect people in interactive process chains that bridge organizations, systems, and knowledge resources. Not to get too "sales-y", but The Meta Group really said it best: "xApps (...) represents a crystallization of the benefits of Web services: composite applications -- business processes that have been assembled from pieces of legacy and newly developed components and integrated through open standards."

Helen: I've been searching the marketing literature on the SAP analytics offering. When I peruse the listing of cross-industry business areas for which Analytics provides support, I see virtually every key area of the business. How can such a comprehensive solution be provided with this toolset? What parts of the SAP footprint are being leveraged?

Greg: We worked with our internal industry experts to create the most common scenarios in each industry or functional area. So, in some cases, only BI was utilized. In other cases, it was industry solutions like Oil & Gas. On a technical level, sometimes we interacted with BAPI's, other times it was with InfoCubes. So, it depended on the unique requirements for each industry and the business problem that was being solved.

Helen: Let's assume that my customers have defined their greatest areas of pain and/or concern and we've refined the priority list for resolving these areas. How can I advise them on the design of the right analytics solution to further analyze the problem areas? What would be the steps I would take in the initial scope analysis in light of what SAP offers for xApp Analytics?

Greg: I think the first and easiest method is to review all the Analytic models that we've already built. Then, if one is a match, just compile it and go! If you find one that's a close match, it's very easy to modify the model using our SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer tool. I realize that is a little over-generalized. But, because we have done all the work with our industry experts, we've covered the most common scenarios. However, if you need to build something custom, the general outline of questions you have to answer are:

  • What is the end-user's role?
  • What activities is the end-user responsible for?
  • What data/transactions support these activities?
  • What are the primary (required) and secondary (optional) data/transactions?
Helen: What are the tools that the customer will need to create a robust, viable Analytics solution? In other words, what are typically the primary components of SAP technology that support the xApp Analytics solutions?

Greg: Besides the data sources which feed the Analytic model, you'll need SAP Enterprise Portal to deliver the composite application to the users, and you'll need the tool to modify the models.

Helen: I've heard about Visual Composer, but I know very little about it. What is the premise behind it? How does it fit into the xApps Analytics toolset?

Greg: First, Visual Composer was the tool that was used to create all the Analytic models in SAP xApp Analytics. Visual Composer is a tool for model-driven content development that enable business experts to easily create applications which can be used in SAP NetWeaver Enterprise Portal and be based on service calls to back-end systems. The development is all GUI-based; that is, there is no code writing involved. There's a short 15 minute eClass on SDN that introduces and demonstrates the capabilities of SAP Visual Composer for the preliminary version of Analytics that was released back on October, 2005. For more info, you can visit Getting Started with SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer or visit the Visual Composer homepage on SDN.

Helen: Who is the appropriate person in a project setting to be utilizing this tool?

Greg: That's a great question. The answer depends on your style of development and the types of resources you have available. Usually, it's a cooperative effort between a business expert and the data source expert (like BI, R/3, or database). First, the data source expert connects the new model to the appropriate back-end systems. Then, the business expert builds the user interface and designs the process the user will go through.

Helen: Let's talk for a moment about implementation. I want to advise my customer on designing an implementation of xApps Analytics. The customer has a mature ERP and BW environment in place, with excellent access to key data. Yes, I'm a consultant too, so I know there is no hard and fast answer to my next question, but I just have to ask what the customers will definitely be asking me: What would be the expected length of time required to roll out an initial xApps Analytics solution in one subject area?

Greg: With fully trained users (meaning business experts and data source experts) and a landscape that has been configured with Visual Composer, you can create a new model from scratch in about 3-6 weeks. This includes business case analysis, solution design, solution validation, implementation, and testing.

Greg Root started his work with computers when TRS-80's were in style and 16K of RAM was equivalent to infinity. Greg joined SAP in 2001, working in the Enterprise Portals group. Since then, he has assisted in the roll-out of several new products from SAP.

Helen Sunderland is a senior SAP consultant specializing in Business Intelligence. Her role at clients primarily requires Business Process Expert skills and, as such, she is an advisor to the SAP Business Process eXpert Community.

This content is reposted from the SAP Developer Network.
Copyright 2006, SAP Developer Network

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Want to read more from this author? Click here to read Helen Sunderland's weblog.

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