SAP has sought to humanize (or perhaps even business-ize) its data warehouse solution by deliberately not calling it a data warehouse.

Rather than naming it SAP DW∕4HANA, the company used SAP BW∕4HANA, with the BW standing for business warehouse. Presumably this is meant to imply that it has relevance for discussion around the boardroom table by the entire C-suite, which should now more actively take an interest in the data backbone of its company.

But what is a data warehouse in the first place? And how does SAP’s take on a business warehouse differ from a data warehouse? And most importantly, why should it matter to ASUG Members?

Data Warehouse 101

At its most basic, a data warehouse is one step beyond a data lake. If a data lake is a massive repository of what is often very raw and unstructured data, a data warehouse applies more structure to the data it holds, including some ordering and deduplication work.

A data warehouse has extract, transform, and load (ETL) functions. It can apply data integration functions and other extended layers that allow it to feed business intelligence (BI) engines. A data warehouse still has connections to various disparate data sources, data stores, and other occasionally chaotic operational systems.

A data warehouse has a “staging” area where data is cleansed, deduplicated, and ordered. It also has a “presentation” area where data is warehoused. Data warehouses can be aligned to feed data marts, which are smaller and more specialized systems of data that sit as decentralized units to serve specific business groups in an organization.

Business Warehouse 101

If a data warehouse feeds on data sources, then one of those data sources could (and probably should) be the company’s ERP system. Therein lies the connection and the justification for SAP labeling its data warehouse as it has. For the record, the other data sources that a data warehouse might feed upon include CRM systems (again SAP), financial applications (very much in SAP territory), and the plethora of data likely held in disparate Microsoft Excel files around the organization.

Running at the Speed of HANA

SAP explains SAP BW∕4HANA as a data warehouse solution that’s highly optimized for the SAP HANA platform. SAP has constructed prefabricated templates for building a data warehouse in a standardized way.

It’s important to note that you need to be on SAP HANA in order to take advantage of SAP BW/4HANA. The SAP HANA platform gives you access to the benefits we all hear about, including an in-memory database, which means faster data extraction, easier paths to automation like robotic process automation (RPA), and the ability to build reports and dashboards with much more speed and agility.

In much the same way as SAP has worked to showcase template-based prefabricated building blocks in SAP Leonardo, SAP has carried forward some of that DNA into the data warehouse world by engineering a quicker fit to proven use cases.

The Evolution of SAP BW/4HANA

When it was first introduced in 2016, SAP BW/4HANA was touted as the next-generation data warehouse, built on the innovations of SAP Business Warehouse (BW) and powered by SAP HANA. Over the next two years, SAP introduced enhancements including data tiering optimization, analytical engine improvements, and a unified user interface (UI).

In its newest iteration, SAP BW/4HANA 2.0 is touted as SAP’s vision for a modern packaged data warehousing solution that offers smart integration of all business applications and modern data sources.

The most important upgrades include cloud connectivity, SAP Data Hub integration, the SAP BW/4HANA Cockpit which offers enhanced administration in the web, and the SAP Data Protection Workbench.

The Simplification Factor

So why would ASUG Members care? To start, a highly simplified data warehouse offers reduced data layers and a consolidation of modeling objects, which ultimately powers much higher agility when it comes to business process changes and new business requirements.

SAP HANA’s simplified database also offers speed. An attendee of one of our BI+Analytics Executive Circle roundtables noted, “We did an evolution, not a revolution. We pointed the new reports to SQL to the data that they were used to, that they had trusted for years. Then as we did that, we shifted the stored procedures off SQL into SAP HANA, and at that point they noticed the difference. What used to take us a day to refresh reports at month-end close was now taking less than an hour. I’m talking millions of rows of data.”

SAP BW/4HANA is open to SAP and non-SAP systems via the SAP HANA EIM integration. This offers predefined adapters and flexible access methods like virtualization, real-time replication, or an automated switch between these methods.

SAP plans to continue the evolution of simplicity, starting with Project Blueberry, a software as a service database that integrates with SAP Analytics Cloud and provides a seamless user experience with the interface. The SaaS provides an out-of-the-box integration with both SAP and non-SAP systems. SAP also plans on automating data tiering optimization based on rules and statistics, as well as machine learning capabilities.

Your Options

We know that SAP BW/4HANA helps you simplify your business warehouse strategy. We also know that it can help you reduce modeling costs, automate your processes, and provide you with structured and unstructured data, in real time. But how do you get there?

There are two ways to migrate to SAP BW/4HANA: A greenfield approach is an option for both new BW customers and those using older versions of SAP BW on xDB with numerous 3.x objects. Or, you can consider a brownfield approach if you’re already running on a recent version of SAP BW on HANA or a non-HANA database. You can also move to SAP BW/4HANA on-prem, in the cloud, or using a hybrid approach.

SAP has a white paper on building a business case to move to SAP BW/4HANA and the top 10 considerations you need to think about. Most importantly, you should think about how you want to store your data, whether you want it on-prem or in the cloud, and what technologies you want to use to make these processes easier. Ultimately, what matters is what a solution like this can do for your business.

ASUG Members can listen to the on-demand webcast, “What’s New in Transitioning from SAP BW to SAP BW/4HANA” to better understand the latest updates and learn how to perform a readiness check. And anyone can join us at our ASUG Experience for Enterprise Information Management (EIM) event in October in Minneapolis to hear more about how to empower your organization with data.