Analytical applications convert raw data into meaningful information, incorporate it in an effective process flow, and offer the user pre-designed options for action. They always relate to processes, and in a standard system have key performance indicators, which can be used to measure the effectiveness of business processes. As a result, they support companies in tactical and strategic decision-making in order to increase competitiveness – and to reduce costs. With the SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW), SAP Strategic Enterprise Management (SAP SEM) and the SAP Enterprise Portal (SAP EP), SAP provides the foundations for designing, developing and implementing analytical applications. With this, data from a number of different operative systems and applications can be used to create a standardized base of data for analysis purposes.
The most important advantage when building analytical applications is the predefined business content in SAP BW, which provides companies with all objects for the rapid creation of their reporting activities – from data extraction right through to the roles which provide a company’s employees with all the information that they need to perform their tasks. The predefined Business Content helps to drastically reduce the implementation time, regardless of whether this content is integrated, as defined by SAP, or is used as the starting point for creating customer-specific models.
Developing analytical applications
SAP BW can be used to process large volumes of data without burdening the operative systems. In addition, it allows historical data to be tracked. As a result, analytical applications can be built up step by step in SAP BW. First, data must be extracted from the source systems, and imported into the SAP Business Information Warehouse. The analysis is then carried out – including planning and data mining – in the Data Warehouse. The analytical applications use various engines, such as the OLAP Engine and Data Mining Engine, and consist of a combination of Web applications, which can ultimately be integrated in a cockpit in the Enterprise Portal. With SAP SEM, planning functionality can be added to the analytical applications.
Extracting, transforming and loading data (ETL)
The first step in the creation of analytical applications involves extracting and transforming data, and loading it into SAP BW. SAP offers many ways of transferring data from SAP and non-SAP sources to SAP BW with the help of extractors. A connection to the SAP R/3 system can be established using an R/3 PlugIn. SAP provides predefined extractors for mySAP Customer Relationship Management (mySAP CRM), mySAP Supply Chain Management (mySAP SCM), mySAP Enterprise Buyer Professional (SAP EBP) and for many industry solutions such as Retail, Banking or Pharma. As the data may exist in different formats in the different source systems, it must be transformed prior to processing. The mappings and transformations of metadata required for this are already preset in SAP BW.
DB Connect can be used to extract data directly from databases. External providers can use SAP Business Application Programming Interfaces (BAPIs) for additional offers. These BAPIs enable data to be extracted from almost any conceivable information sources, such as legacy systems, for example. All data can be loaded into SAP BW via flat files (ASCII/CSV files). A partnership with Ascential has opened up further options for data extraction. Once the data has been transferred to SAP BW, it can be mapped and transformed with the help of the SAP tools. One-to-one assignments are first carried out, followed by complex coding. As a result, users can integrate information across the whole company.
Managing stored data (Data Warehouse)
In a second step, users model the stored data. The Data Warehouse layer of SAP BW provides all the functions of a company-wide Data Warehouse solution. With the Operational Data Store (ODS), users first store the incoming data at the most detailed level. Based on this, special ODS objects or multi-dimensional InfoCubes can be drawn up for reporting and analysis purposes. Master data can also be stored by general concepts in “InfoObjects” such as product, customer, or profit center. These InfoObjects can have language-dependent texts and attributes, which may also be time-dependent. If required, SAP BW creates alternative hierarchies for InfoObjects, for example different kinds of product hierarchies. A powerful metadata repository is used to manage InfoObjects, ODS objects, InfoCubes and many other SAP BW object categories. It displays not only the models provided by SAP (Business Content), but also allows customers and partners to build their own models, or to adapt the SAP-defined models to their individual requirements. With the Open Hub interface, SAP BW offers a wide variety of functions for exporting the relevant data subsets. A sophisticated authorization concept provides all areas of the company with access to a common Data Warehouse, so that all users have access to the data they require.
Analysis including planning and data mining (Analytics)
All the required types of analysis, such as scoring models, data mining procedures, or ABC analysis, can be created on the basis of the data stored in SAP BW. The individual queries form the modules for complete analytical applications. With the SAP BW Query Designer, users create OLAP queries for multi-dimensional analysis (slice-and-dice and drill-down). In addition, business functions such as conditions, exceptions and currency conversion are available. SAP BW also supports formatted reporting. The Reporting Agent enables queries to be pre-calculated during background processing (batch jobs) and alerts to be found. The user can display these alerts either in SAP BW or in the SAP Enterprise Portal in an alert monitor. With SAP SEM, planning functions can be added to this solution, and various types of planning applications, such as cost center planning or campaign planning, can be used and easily adjusted to customer-specific processes.
Merging modules into cockpits (Application)
In a further step, the user can merge the modules into a “cockpit.” This also allows interaction between these components. As the Web Application Designer in SAP BW offers Web publishing for queries, users are in a position to create pure HTML components such as frames, diagrams and charts. The analytical application cockpits also offer closed-loop functions such as a link to transactional systems. These functions do not just enable the analysis of various processes, they also allow the user to act and react immediately in the applications that provide the data. The analysis functions are independent of the operative, transactional systems. However, the analytical application can read the data from the operative systems, and write it to the SAP R/3 System.
Cockpits are available in the Enterprise Portal (Portal)
The cockpits are available to the user as worksets in the SAP Enterprise Portal. Companies are therefore able to define roles and assign them to users. As a result, users see precisely the information, applications, and cockpits that they need for their day-to-day work. Mechanisms such as single sign-on, personalization, and authorization checks are further features of the portal solution. The Portal Builder makes it possible to add further worksets to the user portfolio, for example, those with office functions such as an email inbox and personalized calendar.