SAP was founded in 1972 as a business applications company but really came into prominence in the 1990s with the ERP boom. Its ERP solution (R/3) was first released in 1992. The vendor employs more than 98,000 people worldwide and has a turnover of € 24.74 bn. Today, SAP is one of the largest business software vendors in the world.
SAP’s original strategy was to view BI as an extension of its all-inclusive ERP offerings. Therefore, SAP launched SAP Business Warehouse (BW) in 1998, a completely packaged and plug-and-play BI solution designed to complement SAP ERP applications. BW is a package consisting of connectors, relational data storage, subject-oriented multidimensional structured data marts and predefined content as well as tools for reporting, analysis and planning. The goal was to provide a plug-and-play BI solution that would make it fast and easy for SAP customers to benefit from BI.
There are different versions of BW available. Traditional BW runs on a standard relational database, but customers can purchase redesigned versions for SAP HANA. From an architectural perspective, there are two variants: standard relational database or SAP HANA. The first version uses well known third-party databases such as Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle for data storage. The “powered by SAP HANA” version uses SAP’s own HANA platform. SAP BW/4HANA will only run on SAP HANA. It uses different modeling objects with modeling taking place in HANA Studio (SAP HANA’s development environment) instead of the SAP GUI (the BW development environment).
With BW/4HANA, SAP released its next generation data warehousing offering in 2016. The overall concept and goal of this package remains similar to the approach with BW: to provide software support for customers to integrate SAP operational data sources with big data sources and create a data warehouse which exposes its data to different front ends. In contrast to BW, the new BW/4HANA solution does not include front-end tools anymore. Now, SAP is also working on a Cloud-based version of the SAP BW, known as Blueberry. The following description refers to SAP BW/4HANA.
SAP BW/4HANA is a completely revamped version of SAP BW that runs on the SAP HANA in-memory database. The new product improves performance and scalability, simplifies operation and development, and supports a variety of in-database analytic functions. It is designed to support multiple analytic use cases, ranging from standard reporting and dashboarding to real-time analytics and machine learning. Although it’s not without challenges, the platform supports an array of functionality:
- Data integration to combine data from dozens of data sources and data types.
- Data quality to ensure clean, consistent data is delivered to business users.
- Stream processing, which, along with HANA’s in-memory architecture, provides the foundation for real-time analytics.
- Spatial functionality, which is essential for the location analytics that are at the heart of so many applications from mobile advertising and e-commerce to the Internet of things (IoT).
- Graph functionality, which captures relationships among data to uncover unique analytic insights.
- Text analytics, which enables semantic and sentiment analysis and can support artificial intelligence applications such as natural language
- Predictive analytics, which is fast becoming the killer app across the enterprise, supports everything from executive decision making to IoT-driven predictive maintenance on manufacturing assembly lines.
SAP has numerous implementation partners with a broad knowledge of its product set. With its ‘Cloud Extension Policy’ program, SAP enables customers to transform maintenance on unused software licenses into cloud subscription licenses. License fees are calculated per named user per month, and SAP distinguishes between BI and planning licenses.
User & Use Cases
80 percent of respondents still use the relatively new product SAP BW/4HANA in Version 1.0 and the remaining 20 percent are running on Version 2. These figures would suggest a worse rating if we assume that Version 1.0 still has some teething problems. But the evaluation is surprising and shows the exact opposite.
82 percent of users use SAP BW/HANA for data integration and modelling, two basic functions provided by SAP BW/4HANA. 76 percent of respondents say they use the technology to implement an enterprise data warehouse. 41 percent are building real-time scenarios with SAP BW/4HANA. This is an astonishingly high value for SAP BW or any analytical database technology.
Especially notable is the increased use in large companies with 71 percent. One of the reasons for this may be that we perceive small and medium-sized enterprises companies as carriers when it comes to infrastructure decisions. The construction or reconstruction of an architecture through the introduction of a new technology is often cost-intensive and requires a lot of resources. With SAP HANA, users get a high-performance platform, but one that also needs to be paid for. In the following evaluations, users repeatedly confirm the high price hurdles.
Percentage of employees using SAP BW4HANA
Number of users using SAP BW on HANA
Company size (number of employees)