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 100,000 people worldwide and had revenues of $27.3 billion in 2020. 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, it 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) and leverages additional tools based on HANA technology (e.g., for data integration).
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. The following document refers to SAP BW/4HANA.
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.
For analytics in on-premises environments, the HANA database is often viewed natively as well as SAP BW/4HANA. Currently, SAP is ploughing much of its data and analytics investment into the cloud, offering a combination of SAP Analytics Cloud as the user tool layer, SAP Cloud Data Warehouse as the analytical data store and SAP Data Intelligence for data pipelining tasks. This means that SAP is once again creating a competitive product offering within its own portfolio.
User & Use Cases
It is not surprising that 97 percent of users leverage the SAP BW/4HANA as a data warehouse and a large proportion also use it for data integration. These use cases are what SAP BW typically supports. Surprisingly, 60 percent of survey participants claim to perform data preparation using SAP BW/4HANA. In our view, data preparation as an iterative process in which business users prepare almost code-free data sets for exploration is not what is meant here. It is more likely they are referring to data preparation (data integration) for data warehousing. It is worth mentioning that the level of use of SAP BW/4HANA for data storage and as a query engine is relatively low. Both categories indicate the implementation of non-BI use cases from our perspective (e.g., as data storage for advanced analytics or a query engine that support data virtualization concepts to access and combine SAP data with non-SAP data sources).
SAP BW/4HANA is widely used within companies, as shown by the high median number of users (135) and the mean of 1271 users. This is not surprising considering that SAP technology is used primarily by large companies with more than 2,500 employees (57 percent). In contrast, the number of administrators who take care of SAP BW/4HANA and implement use cases seems relatively high. An average (mean) of 18 administrators work with BW/4HANA, while the median is 10. This probably includes a number of SAP/BW4HANA developers too. This number corresponds with our experience of the SAP BW/4HANA core expert teams in larger companies.
Total number of users per company
Total number of administrators per company
Company size (number of employees)
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