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Top 10 business warehouse best practices

Janet Hutchinson, an SAP administrator at Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, shares her top business warehouse best practices.

BOSTON -- While business warehouse (BW) can be beneficial to an enterprise, it has its limitations, according to Janet Hutchinson, an SAP data warehousing expert with Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

Conducting thorough research before launching into a major BW project and providing overall ongoing support for current systems make a sound foundation for a successful outcome, Hutchinson recently told a group of SAP developers and other experts at the SAP TechEd '05 conference.

Hutchinson explained her top BW best practices and why BW may not always the best system to process certain applications.

1. Consider: Is BW the "right" platform for this application?

When Wyeth's HR department requested a BW workbook to manage personnel information, the IT department created a book to meet its needs -- but it took a full eight minutes to run the workbook every time it was used. The problem: The last tab of the workbook included 50,000 employee names.

BW is not good at lists, Hutchinson said. The list was taking nearly all of the time it took to run the workbook.

With a workbook of this type, Hutchinson recommends running it once in the morning, and then posting the list to the Web so all users could access it without running the report over again.

"You need to consider what the end-user experience will really be like [with these applications]," she said.

2. Get a business commitment to "one truth."

This problem, a common business pain point, according to Hutchinson, struck a chord with Raj Salgam, an IT director at LeadingC Inc., a telecom company based in King of Prussia, Pa. The company has been using SAP BW 3.5 since 2003.

"It's a challenge getting the business to buy in to one truth," Salgam said. "Often the two sides are not in sync."

3. Manage master data as a common resource critical to the success of your "one truth" approach.

Master data in BW is a challenge, Hutchinson said. Wyeth was using a BW workflow system in master data management (MDM), which caused a tug-of-war between the business and the IT side of the company.

Like many companies, Wyeth had difficulty determining who should make changes to the MDM system. While MDM is considered a business application, IT professionals made some decisions that affect MDM, which frustrated business users. Wyeth eventually managed to find success when the two sides were willing to meet halfway.

"Our savvy IT folks know the business side, and that has added business value and helped widespread adoption," Hutchinson said.

When those IT professionals who understand business needs bring BW ideas to the table, the ideas have real value for the entire company, she said.

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4. Prioritize your BW applications. Determine which applications should get first access to limited resources.

While BW users see their applications as a top priority, it is imperative to develop a system when to load data and when to run queries, Hutchinson said.

Hurricane Katrina has recently raised awareness for preparing systems for disaster preparation and repair. It is also important to have a security strategy, she said. Readying your system ahead of time can save your company's data.

But prioritizing applications is not easy, she said.

"The hard part is, IT had to deal with it, but [prioritizing] is a business decision," she said. "[But] somebody has to say do it in this sequence, to relieve the stress on everyone."

5. Leverage "packaged" applications in the form of BW content. Activate and deploy for rapid implementation of industry best practices.

"SAP's packaged applications are really one of [the company's] strengths," Hutchinson said. "If you need a data warehouse, I'd recommend BW content to anyone. It has robust features and functionality, and you can use it without any other [SAP] applications."

6. Minimize the features and third-party tools. Decide on one way to accomplish a specific goal and use it whenever possible.

As part of the initial application design, Hutchinson recommends implementing data archiving. This has value for the business and will avoid costly problems with the BW system in the long run, she said.

Reducing clutter will allow the applications in use to perform better, Hutchinson said. Overall, the system will see benefits from being "tidier" and more compact.

7. Provide formal and informal training, mentoring and support for all roles, both in the business and technical departments.

Hutchinson said BW user groups within a company can help organize formal and informal training. Smaller companies should seek help and training through outside user groups, she said. The SAP Developer Network (SDN) is yet another avenue for BW support and information.

8. Develop "super users." Leverage their skills and experiences to proliferate the excitement for BW.

Super users can serve as the go-to person for BW best practices or for help with troubleshooting, Hutchinson said.

"It's important to have someone in your company who is staying one step ahead," she said.

9. Manage expectations particularly around performance, ease of look and feel.

End-user interfaces, delivered by SAP, can be unattractive and confusing to some end users, making BW a challenge, Hutchinson said. To make the process as straightforward as possible, it is necessary to open the lines of communication with end users.

"Convince end users that while it's not pretty, it has what they need," she said.

Web applications can be used to deploy BW applications, since these applications are typically more aesthetically pleasing and simplistically formatted, she said.

10. Be prepared for the results of your success -- BW will grow.

Wyeth's BW success has been above and beyond the company's wildest dreams, Hutchinson said. While this has proven benefits for the business, it also brings new challenges. For example, the production system at the company has doubled every year since 2001, and the system had to be prepared to handle that capacity.

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