The bottom line in our business, Consistency of data

Xoomworks has recently partnered with GB&SMITH in order to cover many of the administration issues encountered when using SAP BusinessObjects. Whether for reducing migration time, restoring deleted content or doing BI on BI, the 360Suite solution is the easiest way to deal with these issues.

Our Xoomworks BI 2015 Business Intelligence survey revealed the users of BI had issues with multiple systems in their companies. We had comments such as “There are so many tools released by SAP, it’s difficult to manage these and find out the single point solution for reporting requirements.” In many cases, there is no single tool capable of bridging across departments, disciplines, power users, and portal users.

The trend we are part of is to have a single, proven BI platform catering for multiple disciplines, and use add-on tools where required. Standardising the data is more important than standardising the tools. The need to keep that standardised reporting no matter what the depth of the information.

David Dadoun, the data governance guru, puts it well when he cites “the unrealistic expectation that a BI and data platform can just turn on and be perfect.” David knows the self-service paradigm is already here, organisations are complex and users have varied data needs and preferences.

The consistency of data, ensuring everyone in an organisation receives the same vital and current data in the same format at the same time. Call it working to a higher purpose other than maximising revenue, whether intentional or in the style of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”.

If I have to condense it to a single phrase, consistent data is our product. We are called upon to fight fires, and plant trees, figuratively, both in the short and the long term, to achieve this. Consistency also covers a broad area, from input through to reporting, integrating the trends towards self-service, BI centres of excellence, and data governance.

I am ex-SAP, most of my colleagues cut from the same cloth, we often think we’ve seen it all before (there’s plenty more to come in fact.) Even if we have, it isn’t a reflection of the paucity of any BI system, but the nature of any complex system to demonstrate entropy. Take a company with 90,000 staff over 70 countries and global revenue over $400 billion. That company has to integrate with the then new SAP Business Objects. Add to that SAP had only recently bought in Business Objects and no amount of due diligence could cover every potentiality when migrating from an older system.

This project was the largest ever SAP implementation in the world, Xoomworks BI had to get it done, it started an ongoing partnership, and taught SAP plenty about their BI system. Data produced for the users, could be human or could be another BI system, so long as we keep to the ultimate goal of making that data consistent we have a direction to take.

It boils down to this; we have a load of experience under our belts and we see commonalities across projects. Problems, issues, roadblocks, hurdles, challenges, whichever way you phrase them they exist in a large shared service BI environment. We identified several that began our process of assessing add-ons to SAP. Not all the tasks requiring simplifying and speeding up are extraordinary; many tend towards the routine, even mundane. I’ve rounded it down to five with a mixture of complexity.

Business Intelligence on Business Intelligence

Dare I say, a topic I find particularly interesting. BI covers every other process of a business, but the software that can comprise 20% of IT cost may be managed in a fragmented way. That furthers the separation between IT, finance, and legal departments in an organisation. Better if we can extract the data and produce a report every department can use. A company may have over and underutilised licences. Compiling this data is not an easy task, the overwhelming time and effort to assemble usage data can be a disincentive for a company to manage their investment in an efficient way.

Guesswork should never form part of the present and future use of any high value, and high utility BI platform. We should take a BI approach to the actual use of BI to save time and costs. Take SAP, in a company it needs management, it’s a licenced system, big companies may share a platform but their departmental usage will vary. Separate units need to be cross charged. So use BI itself to extract the data, and do all that BI can do to streamline the reporting and data for the usage of the BI. All the CMC and audit data must be extracted and the high-quality reports generated.

Upgrades and Migrations

We’ve done it, on the grandest scale, we know it is often a painful process. From the technical perspective, an upgrade or migration can be mapped into a straightforward process. In reality, reports have to be tested for content, layout, and security. All within a rigid time frame, and it will never be generous.

There is an opportunity cost to allocating human and computer resources to a migration, as well as a potential downtime of the existing system. Upgrades and migrations are a fact of life, from the improvement of the software to the need for a growing or acquiring company to have increased data capacity.

The philosophy of change management is always apparent in any migration process managing the human users and their expectations, for our purposes we saw the need to compare documents across the environments. That ability to work across the old and new environments can reduce the migration timeline significantly through any testing phase towards the full implementation.

Changing Connections

Each time content moves from Development to an Acceptance and Production environment, all the connections have to be amended. Without a doubt, any company using SAP BW is going to have a large number of connections. For performance reasons, the advice has been to split the reports into smaller sections based on BEx (Business Explorer) queries.

We saw the need for the functionality to amend the connections in bulk when migrating the data.

Assigning An Alias To Users

Having a large number of users is not unusual. Using a Single Sign On (SSO) is similarly not unusual. Where it becomes a problem is when all the users end up having different usernames across the various data warehouses and an alias needs to be assigned.

A large organisation will have SAP BI running on top of various data warehouses, maybe SQL Server, HANA, Oracle BW, or BW on HANA. Attempting to assign an alias to all the users via the CMC to allow an efficient SSO system is going to be a very slow and laborious task.

We saw the need for a streamlined approach. We found that ability, to download all users to a database within Excel, assign an alias, then upload them again.

Backup And Restore Single Documents Or Users

Lose a few critical reports (though all reports are potentially significant to a company) and you suffer the time sanction of rebuilding it. The British Chambers of Commerce found 93% of businesses that lost data for over ten days filed for bankruptcy within a year. Agreed that’s extreme but illustrates the problem and the importance of a good backup system. The costs are not only isolated to the corporate consequences but also, the time to rebuild internal systems and research can be hefty.

We saw the need for a simplified system; a backup needs to be selective so that you can discriminate between the items you need to restore. An incremental backup of content would mean a company could restore a single document or a single user.

I can add to the above five initial common issues we have seen across different companies using BI, the speed at which any add-on can deliver support to us. The ladder of problems reaches down from us to the add-on provider as well. We need to deliver as quickly as possible to our customer; we need results in days, not weeks. If the add-on provider can match that with their support to us, then it fits. Our assessments will be ongoing, having the experience we do puts us in the best position to spot the problems, generate the demand for the solution, and find the right tools to fill it.


 

Our guest blogger, Nicolas Henry, has had over a decade of experience in the Business Intelligence field. He highlights below some important issues he faced over years and details the possible solutions to address such issues.

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