What exactly is “business intelligence”? One definition was offered by Marian Maravilla from the SAP SMB Business Unit during a webinar on “Business Intelligence for Small and Midsize Businesses”: “BI is a broad category of applications and technologies for gathering, storing, analyzing and providing access to data to help enterprise users make better business decisions.”
Beyond simply bringing data together, BI applications can provide querying and reporting functions, statistical analysis and forecasting. And these functions can be applied flexibly, either as an integral part of a business’s operations or on an as-needed basis, throughout the enterprise or at a local level. Basically, she noted, BI encompasses any functions that provide better insight into an organization to enhance decision-making.
BI is relevant not just to large corporations, Maravilla said, but also to SMBs, which need analytics that go beyond basic enterprise resource planning (ERP) despite their budget constraints. “Things like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act will increase demand for BI” at all levels, she predicted.
She pointed to a recent Gartner Group survey which showed that SMBs ranked BI as their most critical IT spending concern: “…SMBs want more than a unified transactional system to manage their operations; they also want ERP to be intelligent enough to alert them to what they need to know to run their business better,” said Gartner’s Robert Anderson in the report.
mySAP BI to the rescue
To deal with these concerns, Maravilla said, SAP has developed mySAP Business Intelligence (mySAP BI)which provides integrated analytical tools “out of the box.” Using preconfigured templates and predefined KPIs based on best-practice models, they support a wide range of users – analysts, executives, knowledge workers and the information consumer.
Because it is an integrated solution with open standards, she explained, it can pull data from both SAP and non-SAP platforms, combine and store it, then move it through a company’s systems. Optionally, the results can be accessed through a portal. “This is not just an isolated technical solution,” she emphasized, “it includes standard SAP business content as well” and ties into the SAP NetWeaver platform and its portal and Web Application Server elements. This integration ensures that information is delivered at the right time to the right person in the right format to support business decision making.
She added that it is scenario-based and scalable, and thus easily adapted to handle a company’s future reporting requirements. Perhaps most important, she indicated, is mySAP BI’s ability to deliver “actionable insights” – the type of analysis and reporting that enables a company to make better decisions and take real action in business.
mySAP BI key capabilities include data warehousing using SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW), online analytical processing (OLAP), a comprehensive BI tool set, dashboards and analytical applications. The open system architecture supports XML and can incorporate data from heterogeneous systems, as well as integrate structured and unstructured data.
For ease of use, its web-application design facilitates both analyzing information within a web browser on any device (PC or mobile) and integration into the SAP Enterprise Portal. This approach creates a basis for collaboration across the business.
Dealing with two million customers
For a look at mySAP BI in action, Maravilla invited Geoffrey Vines, who handles IT for Integrity Media, Inc., to add a few comments at the webinar. Integrity Media, headquartered in Mobile, Alabama, produces, publishes and distributes Christian music and other media products to retail stores and direct to consumers in the United States and 167 other countries.
Founded as a direct-to-consumer music club in 1987, it has racked up sales to date of over 80 million CDs, cassettes, songbooks, and similar items. It maintains offices in Tennessee, the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and South Africa.
To start off, Vines outlined some of Integrity’s unique problems: “Since we sell direct to consumers and have so many who buy CDs, it’s difficult to match customer service with payments, and it’s our customer service people who do the matching,” he said. At present, Integrity maintains a database of over two million customers.
What Integrity needed was a way to provide a single report that combined a customer’s sales and payment histories to provide better customer service. The company settled on the Sales and Distribution and Financial/Accounts Receivable reporting functions of mySAP BI. Together, they provide analysis of accounting information based on criteria that are not readily accessible in the SAP R/3 solution, which Integrity implemented last July.
“Integration with R/3 that we already have – that made [mySAP BI] an easy choice,” Vines explained. Initially, he worried that the rapid transition to mySAP BI scenarios (which went live this January) might overload the employee learning curve, but “apparently they’re eager to move to SAP BW.” The implementation team consisted of Vines, a consultant and two others from Integrity. Implementation took roughly three months but was not a full-time operation, “only about 25 percent of our focus.”
Now, mySAP BI makes Integrity customers’ sales and payment history transparent using an aging analysis, and Integrity hopes to use BI functions to analyze marketing campaigns in the future. The company’s users, he said, find the reporting interface more friendly. To relieve hardware congestion, the company put SAP BW on a separate server, which has improved the performance of the SAP R/3 solution.
Melody Moates, a solution engineer with IDS Scheer SIGMA who helped with the implementation, said that it takes three days on average to install the first mySAP BI scenario and two days for each additional scenario, plus a day of training for each power user. Vines noted that Integrity was training a power user for each scenario.
Maravilla returned to talk about the “SAP Best Practices for Business Intelligence” CD which is offered free to those implementing mySAP BI. She noted that it was developed through a process of talking to customers to come up with reporting scenarios and step-by-step deployment instructions. It has also passed through several test cycles.
The primary focus is on quick implementation of SAP BW, along with documentation based on standard SAP content. The CD employs a web interface for the implementation of the individual scenarios, which cover everything from SAP R/3 financials to sales/logistics and production/manufacturing, all based on Best Practices for Business Intelligence. Integrity, for example, used Best Practice for BI version 3.1 for installing a variety of scenarios.
The CD is evolving, Maravilla said, with more scenarios being added, including cross-functional ones. A customer can activate only the reporting/analytic content it requires, she said in conclusion. No matter which scenarios are implemented initially, others can be added later, using the Best Practices CD.
To view a replay of the webinar on “Business Intelligence for Small and Midsize Businesses,” visit www.sap.com/solutions/smb/allinone/newsevents/smbconferences.asp.
To obtain “SAP Best Practices for BI” as a download, visit service.sap.com/installations (login required), go to Best Practices, and request Material #50062084.