SAP Analytics Cloud + SAP BW/4HANA - a match made in heaven

5 July 2018

Pratik Shah

Pratik Shah

Principal Consultant

With the rising popularity of the SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) platform, Pratik Shah and Connor Nelson discuss how you can combine this with capabilities of SAP BW/4HANA for an unrivalled combination.

Okay, it might not exactly be a match made in heaven, but it’s a match made in the cloud (or on-premise) which was ordained in the labs of SAP.

Now before we start talking about what makes this betrothed couple so special and how they complement each other and bring their own unique characteristics to the table. You can find a gazillion blogs, articles and whitepapers talking about the technical prowess and architectures of SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) and BW/4HANA. So I am not going to add another drop into that ocean, but like every half decent storyteller, I will set the stage by introducing my lead characters to the audience.
 

The SAP BW/4HANA story

If you are one of the 17,000+ SAP customers using SAP BW, you can be assured that BW/4HANA is not an upgraded version of BW on AnyDB or BW on HANA, it’s a brand new second-generation data warehousing solution that SAP launched in 2016. BW/4HANA is an EDW platform with a lean and simple architecture. It only runs on SAP’s in-memory database SAP HANA and can be deployed on-premise or on the cloud (AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform). From now on, all of SAP’s EDW innovation dollars will be spent on the BW/4HANA platform and is in line with SAP’s push towards cloud and running simple.
 

SAP BW/4HANA key benefits

  • SAP BW/4HANA is an enabler for your business, providing you with a flexible and reliable platform to create a connected and data-driven enterprise that puts data as an asset on your balance sheet. BW/4HANA is agnostic across the landscape and refreshingly open to receiving and processing non-SAP and unstructured social media data, finally putting the ‘E’ in the EDW.
  • It will become your single corporate memory and single source of truth for all SAP and non-SAP data. With its simplified modeling structure and reduced layers and objects, it promises to reduce the development cost and overall timeline of implementation, directly benefiting the business users who need good reliable data and reports now.
  • SAP BW/4HANA promises to provide an enhanced user experience and a data warehousing solution that is quick to deploy and easy to maintain, thus making it a true Logical Data Warehouse that is Simplified, Open, Available and Optimized.

The SAP Analytics Cloud story

SAP released Cloud for Planning in 2015 followed by the release of Cloud for Analytics (C4A) that combined capabilities from Cloud for Planning and Lumira Cloud in one tool, with a vision to make C4A an all-in-one analytics solution with BI, Planning, and Predictive all included. C4A could connect to both cloud-based sources and to on-premise sources.

In 2016 SAP added more predictive capabilities and rebranded it as SAP BusinessObjects Cloud (BOC). This caused confusion as it led many to believe that BOC was the cloud version of SAP BusinessObjects (BOBJ) on-premise suite, which was incorrect, hence it was renamed to SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC).

In 2017 SAP added features like Smart Assist, using machine learning to help business users see correlations in their data and discover new insights. SAP also added support for R scripts within stories, which is huge for users who were forced to do R in an outside application previously.

Fig 1. A brief history of  SAP Analytics Cloud. Click on the image to enlarge.

SAP Analytics Cloud’s key benefits

  • With SAC, the business user is in control of the story and the analysis. The user does not need to depend on the BI development team. They can create their own models using flat files or other data sources (if already connected) and create a compelling visualization for the executives, dazzling them with geo enriched visuals and Digital Boardroom.
  • SAC is one of the first SAP tools to be certified by International Business Communications Standards (IBCS) for business intelligence and organizational planning that is enhanced with both the power of predictive analytics and machine learning technology. IBCS has developed a set of rules that can be used to standardize your business communications. Following these rules delivers information that is higher quality, easier to understand while adding greater value to your organization.
  • SAC is a completely web-based SaaS solution, making it attractive to the IT teams as well by reducing the burden on them to conduct time intensive software updates. In SAC updates and upgrades are automatic and rolled out to your instance by SAP seamlessly every two weeks. In the past this would have been carried out by the technical IT team, which historically resulted in significant planning and effort, plus the associated system downtime.

Now let’s take a look at what makes SAP BW/4HANA and SAC so special together

Every time I interview a business user, analyst or an executive, I start with this question, “What are you looking for in a BI and Analytics solution?” And not so surprisingly 8 out of 10 times the answer is, “I want a solution that is simple, open, modern, and fast”, and that’s what BW/4HANA and SAC promise to deliver on.
 
Simple - get up and running sooner and keep running at a lower cost
It’s no secret that SAP BW/4HANA offers a simplified data modeling experience, and this was made possible by making its code lean and simple to run on SAP’s HANA database. Now that it has shed off that extra layer of fat (code to support other databases), BW/4HANA comes in three flavors, and yes you read that right, three flavors: it’s all about options for the users. First is the traditional on-premise deployment. Second is new generation cloud approach that is gaining well deserved popularity.

Last, but not least is a hybrid (cloud and on-premise) option that offers the best of both the worlds: the flexibility and agility to rapidly setup and dismantle short term projects or programs, PoCs or training environments in the cloud without spending much on infrastructure, whilst at the same time providing enterprises that have the majority of their systems internally hosted, to exercise greater control over their sensitive and business critical data. 

SAP BW/4HANA can be deployed via managed cloud offerings such as SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC), Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP) or Microsoft Azure. Users (with a little help from their BI and IT friends) can spin up SAP BW/4HANA in these managed cloud environments quickly and with minimal up-front costs. Next, acquire data from an ODP based SAP system, a Big Data source system, a HANA database (via SDA or SDI) or even the good old flat files. Once you have the desired data, connect BW/4HANA with SAC to get cracking in no time. A typical on-premise setup just can’t match the ease, cost, and flexibility of doing this.
 
Openeasy access to all information
SAP BW/4HANA simplifies data integration, offering comprehensive access to external source systems.
  • Number of source system types reduced to just 4 (SAP Data, non-SAP Data, Big Data and Flat file)
  • Replicate data in real-time (HANA SDI based replication or via ODP)
  • Access data virtually and load data using optimized processing.
On the other hand, SAC allows you to connect most of the cloud-based data sources and SAP continues to add new sources. SAC also connects to on-premise sources making it data source agnostic. Business analysts who love to slice and dice the data and build their own models love the modeling capability that SAC offers. They can start with the pre-delivered standard models and then modify them to meet their analysis requirements.
 
Modern new user interface for all users
If you’re looking for an ultra-modern look and feel, then SAP Analytics Cloud is the ideal companion for your SAP BW/4HANA application. Collectively they offer a modern, cloud based, EDW solution that delivers self-service, planning and predictive capabilities through a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform.

It’s a SaaS(y) solution with no hardware and/or operating system constraints to worry about and easy to deploy. Its user-friendly, intuitive interface appeals to all generations from baby-boomers to millennials.  Any user can collect, analyze, simulate, plan, and predict using a variety of data, at any time, without waiting for IT support, plus, it is easy to consume while on the move using mobile devices. SAC leverages a hybrid data access architecture that will support your organization’s journey to the cloud with versatile end-to-end scenarios from hybrid to full cloud data acquisition.

Fast - process huge amounts of data in real time for competitive advantage

It’s the need for speed that has been the driver behind all the progress and advancements over the decades starting from Henry Ford’s Industrial revolution. Both SAC and BW/4HANA promise to take a solution from ideation to realization in a matter of hours delivering fast Insight to Action.

There is a significant performance gain through push-down of operations/calculations to SAP HANA for complex query calculations, planning functions, and data management. SAC and BW/4HANA equally appeal to the Data Scientist community by providing enhanced data with Advanced Analytics using HANA specific libraries (AFL), R-Script or a custom HANA procedure for Predictive, Text Analysis, Data Mining and Machine.
 

Bring it all together and operationalize it using Design-Led Innovation methodology

BW/4HANA and SAC are well very positioned to leverage the Design-Led Innovation (DLI) methodology. DLI puts the business user in the driver’s seat and utilizes design-thinking methods that span the entire lifecycle of a business solution, whilst cutting the turnaround time from ideation to delivery to an impressive 50%+. For example, a cloud instance of BW/4HANA can be set up in a matter of few clicks on AWS, Azure or GCP, this is lightning fast in comparison to setting up a BW on HANA on-premise instance which could take 4 – 8 weeks, and then can be easily decommissioned in a matter of few clicks again.

Fig 2.The Design Led Innovation process
 
DLI comprises of 4 phases and completely focuses on making it a user-driven journey:
  1.  Explore – This is probably the most important of all phases because this is when a problem statement or a use case is identified after much collaboration between stakeholders.
  2. Discover – Now that we have the use case, it’s time to put some time in doing some research to get a better understanding of pain points and what inputs and data will be required to build this dashboard or report.
  3. Design – This is where the rubber meets the road. You start developing some low or high-fidelity wire-frames that help you visualize the different screens, input parameters, points of interaction and output in SAC. Next, based on the wireframe design, you can build models in SAC using data from flat files or a live BW/4HANA connection to create a story and dashboard.
  4. Deliver – Now comes the easiest part, operationalizing the solution you just prototyped. At this stage, the development team can start building BW/4HANA data models reducing the complexity and development. Next, the models are exposed to SAC reports that are ready for consumption and solve the business problem or use case identified in the Explore phase.

Final Thoughts and Next steps

SAP BW/4HANA combined with SAP Analytics Cloud provide quick business wins, drive innovation through lighthouse projects, and enables organizations to embed advanced analytics in their business processes. BW/4HANA and SAP Analytics Cloud deliver the needs of the organization without dissipating a huge amount of IT resource.

Through its simplified approach to Data Modelling, BW/4HANA turns what was previously a timely and complex process to provide business users vision into their business into a streamlined and turbocharged delivery approach. The timeline to enable insight-into-action has never been quicker!

In their recent SAP HANA Services report, ISG called out Bluefin for strengths in BW migration services, hyperscale collaboration and numerous BW case studies, concluding that we are a “Rising Star” in the world of BW/4HANA. If you want to become a data-driven organization or just to understand more about BW/4HANA and SAP Analytics Cloud, then please get in touch. We are happy to share our knowledge with you.
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About the author

Pratik Shah

Principal Consultant
Pratik has been deeply ensconced in the SAP business intelligence (BI) ecosphere for over 14 years, working with technologies such as BW, HANA, BusinessObjects, Lumira and SAP Analytics Cloud. Having deployed solutions across multiple industries, including many Fortune 500 clients, his breadth of both technical knowledge and experience are wide and far-reaching.

As a certified Analytics Strategy Assessment professional, he puts his design thinking training and experience to use while working closely with the customers to understand their business opportunities and aligns these to the ever-changing technology landscape, facilitating them to achieve their goal of getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

Pratik is an integral part of Bluefin's BI and HANA Centre of Excellence. He is driven by the challenge of bringing together two worlds: the technical build of back-end data models and the understanding of the business challenges that organization are facing.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race