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SAP Business IntelligenceShould we invest in SAP Business Intelligence? We hear this question from our customers frequently. Certainly, at this moment of digital transformation, it’s a good question. The answer is seldom “yes” or “no,” however. The better answer is usually, “Are you ready for BI?”

Consider the following parable of false causality that is always good for a chuckle or two in business school statistics courses. It goes like this: When umbrella sales go up, it’s always raining outside. So, obviously, the umbrellas are causing the rain to fall. Yes, it sounds stupid, but the reality is that more than a few BI initiatives find themselves in a similar, if more complex version of this logical quicksand.

The Problem of Strategy-Less BI

Sometimes, an organization decides to “Do BI.” Then, as an excellent blog from SAP highlights, they “jump to BI technology decisions or architecture diagrams without considering what business problems the organization is trying to solve.” They proceed to run BI in an ad hoc way, using impetus from business partners and patching together what looks like a BI architecture from the expertise at hand, instead of fully identifying business needs at the outset. In this scenario, the lack of a BI strategy reveals itself through:

  • A BI Strategy that consists simply of a BI architecture slide
  • IT asking the business what reports they need
  • Building a data warehouse as step one
  • An inability of the BI team members to articulate the company business strategy
  • A lack of metrics defined to measure progress

Without a BI strategy, it’s possible to put together a data set that’s incredibly massive but not necessarily very helpful. For example, take the process of determining influences on the lifetime value of a customer. This is a basic BI task that can quickly get off track without a sound BI strategy in place. If the BI team doesn’t understand the company’s overall business strategy, they won’t be very good at modelling factors that affect future customer behaviour. While they may not come up with a conclusion as ridiculous as “umbrellas cause rainfall,” they will probably miss the most salient data points to include in the customer valuation model.

Devising a BI Strategy

A BI strategy grows directly out of business strategy. While technical expertise is the bedrock for all BI programs, IT organizations should help their business partners create a BI strategy to gain and retain competitive power. Let’s say your business strategy is differentiation through unique intellectual property. If that’s the case, then your BI architecture and workflows should tap into and align with every aspect of your business that touches intellectual property. That might mean setting up a BI solution that pulls data in from Office, CRM, ERP and external data sources like market research. To get it right, SAP and Gartner suggest forming a Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC) that includes IT and business and analytic experts to ask the following questions:

  • Do we have sufficient information to make critical business decisions?
  • What capabilities are required to make information available and useful? What are the dependencies?
  • Are we using information to identify strategic and competitive advantages?
  • What should the high-level BI roadmap of initiatives look like?
  • What is our vision for information accessibility and usage?
  • What business decisions do we not have sufficient information to make?
  • What metrics should we use to manage the BI implementation and fulfilment of BI business goals?
  • What kind of governance model do we need to support BI initiatives?
  • How should we design the processes, applications, and organization to fulfil our BI vision?
  • What toolsets should we use to fulfil our BI vision?

Implementing a BI Strategy with SAP Business Intelligence

As the BICC develops a sound BI strategy, the time comes to select the right tools to make the strategy come to life. For businesses that run SAP, SAP Business Intelligence offers an array of BI Tools suited to this mission, including:

  • SAP Business Objects Business Intelligence Suite – Soon to be available in its new version 4.3 edition, SAP BI provides a self-service, on-premises platform with access to over 200 different data sources and connects it all in a user interface that can be accessed by anyone in finance, supply chain, operations, human resources, marketing and sales.
  • SAP Analytics Cloud – Offers a Massive ecosystem with plentiful extenders and features that include responsive pages that simplify mobile publishing, a storytelling paradigm and centralized view with consolidated analytics.
  • SAP Lumira – Works with SAP Business Objects BI platform to enable users to access and visualize data on their own, providing instant insights for business management.
  • SAP BW/HANA – Enables data modeling and analytical reporting, with compatibility with various databases like Oracle, Microsoft, IBM DB2 and Teradata and more.

SAP Information Steward and SAP Data Services are also relevant tools for data analytics in an SAP environment. SAP Information Steward provides data profiling, data lineage and metadata management. These functions are essential for keeping analytics systems in compliance with new privacy regulations like GDPR and the California Privacy Act. SAP Data Services enable data integration and cleansing. This helps with analytics that touches master data management trusted data initiatives.

The Role of Infrastructure in BI for SAP

Infrastructure is a critical element of BI. When you’re working with large data sets (and who isn’t?), slowdowns in query processing and data management can hamper data-driven decision making. Applying an enterprise cloud to BI, for instance, involves wrangling different systems, each with its own dedicated memory, processing, data storage and networking allocations. Your cloud likely has separate production, development and quality environments, along with support systems like cloud disaster recovery. This is a recipe for slow, sub-optimal BI.

As a specialized and certified SAP cloud hosting partner, we can help you take your cloud and on-premises infrastructure where it needs to go for effective use of SAP Business Intelligence tools and overall BI success. We function as an extension of your internal IT and can handle everything — design, migration, day-to-day, cloud disaster recovery, security and compliance. This was what we did for Karma Automotive, which used Symmetry to migrate to the Cloud to ensure they could take advantage of big data analytics.

We offer Cloud and Data Center Consultation to help you assess business requirements to ensure the cloud solution is meeting all your business needs, including those for BI. We devise a comprehensive cloud infrastructure plan to include hosting for all of your mission-critical and third-party applications before the BICC comes online to guarantee your infrastructure can optimally support their activities.

Steve Lofthouse, Solutions Architect

Steve Lofthouse, Solutions Architect

Steve Lofthouse is a Solutions Architect on Symmetry’s EMEA team bringing 14 years of SAP cloud and managed service experience. He’s dealt with solutions coming from multiple perspectives in his experience including but not limited to: pre-sales, technical consultant, support and end user. With this experience, Steve is able to deliver all required components needed for almost any situation with a sound understanding, resulting in effective managed cloud environments for various enterprise solutions.