The SAP Business Intelligence Roadmap

The SAP Business Intelligence Roadmap: Evolution and Convergence

By Jonathan Haun, Senior Director, BI and Technology

Many of our clients want to know how best to navigate SAP’s business intelligence roadmap but the SAP reporting and analytics ecosystem has a complex history that continues to evolve. Enowa’s Senior Director, Jonathan Haun, an accomplished author and thought leader in this space, offers some insights.

How We Got Here

Since SAP’s acquisition of BusinessObjects in 2007, the SAP roadmap for Business Intelligence (BI) has evolved dramatically and quickly from its legacy solution, SAP Business Warehouse. When SAP introduced SAP HANA, a revolutionary data platform, in 2010, it represented the next fork in the company’s BI roadmap. Many organizations chose to leverage SAP HANA by moving their instances of SAP BW to SAP BW on HANA. Others used SAP HANA directly using batch ETL or real-time replication with HANA modeling. Because SAP BusinessObjects is capable of interfacing with both SAP BW on HANA and Native SAP HANA, organizations could choose between either BI platform solution. SAP HANA continues to be the data storage backbone of most SAP BI solutions, both on-premise and in the cloud. SAP BW on HANA has further evolved into SAP BW/4HANA and its most recent version has significantly simplified data management, lifecycle management, transformations, and data lineage.  

Early Self-Service Visualization Tools

As SAP continued down the road to self-service and visualization, many more forks appeared in the roadmap. SAP BusinessObjects included a powerful ad-hoc reporting tool named Web Intelligence (WebI). While WebI is an excellent tool, end-users often require training to use it. In 2012, SAP introduced the self-service BI tool SAP Visual Intelligence (later renaming it SAP BusinessObjects Lumira 1.0). In 2013, SAP also introduced a developer focused dashboard tool, SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio. Design Studio could produce niche data visualizations and web-based BI applications but required a skilled programmer. To address the demand for easier self-service tools, SAP introduced SAP Lumira 2.0 in 2017, which combined SAP Lumira 1.0 for self-service and SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio for professional developers. SAP Lumira 2.0 made it possible for end users to create visualizations and then pass their work on to a professional developer for niche customizations.

SAP SAC: Cloud Analytics

In 2018, SAP introduced SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC), another significant fork in the BI roadmap. This platform and its capabilities represent the current roadmap for SAP Business Intelligence visualizations, dashboards, planning, predictive analytics, and advanced analytics capabilities. However, the solution does not always address some important BI needs—particularly around data security, enterprise reporting, and report distribution. To that end, SAP will introduce SAP BusinessObjects 4.3 this year, bringing together SAC’s capabilities combined with SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise. A stated goal of SAP BusinessObjects 4.3 is to increase the integration capabilities between SAC and SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise. With that said, SAP issues updates to SAC often and these updates continue to address my concerns more often then not.

SAP Data Warehouse Cloud

Another significant fork in the road for SAP BI was the introduction of SAP Data Warehouse Cloud in late 2019. SAP Data Warehouse Cloud (DWC) is another SAP HANA-based SaaS offering that provides data storage, data transformation, ELT, ETL, data semantics, data cataloging, and data modeling all within a scalable cloud platform. It doesn’t necessarily replace SAP BW nor HANA, but there is a significant overlap of functionality between SAP DWC and on-prem solutions like SAP BW and Native SAP HANA. With that said, their is no easy migration path from SAP BW to DWC and getting to this platform will take some manual redevelopment. Their are options to migrate HANA XSA (container based) content to DWC but it too requires some manual intervention and be ready for a complex setup. The SAP DWC BW Bridge is also available which would allow an organization to migrate about 80% of their SAP BW4/HANA content to DWC. The remaining 20% would then need to be modeled using DWC modeling techniques.

Core Data Services for Operational Reporting

S/4HANA has also disrupted the BI strategy, creating yet another fork in the road for many organizations, with the introduction of Core Data Services (CDS). CDS allows organization to create metadata-rich data models for operational reporting, using a SQL-like language that makes it easier to model data. CDS also works with the Embedded SAP BW, a solution native to SAP NetWeaver starting with version 7.0 and beyond, to provide enhanced metadata and reporting capabilities. Most organizations will find this combination a viable option to support operational BI reporting within the S/4HANA landscape. This same architecture also supports embedded analytics common to many SAP-provided Fiori GUI interfaces. SAP also provide a large library of prebuilt SAC content that can be connected to S/4HANA CDS prebuilt and custom models.

What’s the Best SAP BI Roadmap for You?

SAP has rapidly evolved their BI platforms, capabilities, and BI tools over the last 20 years and at a pace that most customers cannot match. As a result, many customers find themselves leveraging one of SAP’s many BI solutions, which automatically sends them down one of the many forks in the SAP BI roadmap. To further complicate matters, not every solution stack provides the same functionality and organizations may risk failed adoptions if they try to move business users to a solution that does not quickly solve their problems.

While every organization is different, some best practices still apply. Organizations should catalog their current landscape, tools, and data lineages with the goal of assessing their current state and identifying their data pipelines. IT should also conduct workshops with business users and data owners to better understand their data pipelines, KPIs, metrics, needs, and identify any gaps or issues. That will give IT a better understanding of how best to align business needs with SAP’s current roadmap. It’s also important to remember that your data management strategy is likely the most important component for successful self-service BI enablement. In my experience, most organizations place too much emphasis on the end user reporting tools and fail to properly govern the data pipelines that feed their KPIs and metrics.

Final Thoughts

SAP, like many other providers, is moving its tools and solutions to the cloud. But bear in mind that this doesn’t mean that legacy tools like SAP BW, native SAP HANA or SAP BusinessObjects should be abandoned, especially if your organization has invested in content that will not easily be migrated to SAP’s SaaS offerings without significant redevelopment. Therefore, I suspect that most organizations will embrace a strategy where their on-premise architectures are modernized, consolidated, and streamlined before content is moved into SAP’s SaaS platforms.

About the Author

Jonathan has been an IT leader for over 20 years, helping clients implement successful business intelligence and data management solutions. He has authored, or co-authored, several books about SAP HANA and routinely speaks at SAP conferences on BI, HANA and other security topics. Jonathan is a Senior Director at Protiviti, responsible for managing and delivering Protiviti’s SAP and non-SAP BI initiatives. He also helps clients with their SAP HANA implementations, SAP IaaS cloud deployments, and SAP HANA Security models.