Touted as the next generation of SAP Data Warehouse Cloud, as well as a shift in the SAP approach to data management, SAP Datasphere made a significant splash when it debuted earlier this spring.
Built on SAP Business Technology Platform, this “comprehensive data service,” unveiled in March, is intended as both the foundation of a “business data fabric” and a major step toward simplifying the ever-growing, ever more complex data landscapes that SAP customers face today. Ensuring organizations can deliver meaningful data to data consumers across cloud, hybrid, and on-premises SAP and non-SAP systems and environments, with that data’s business context and logic intact, Datasphere was developed with self-service access, integration, and data governance in mind.
The solution also appears poised to answer ASUG member challenges that surfaced in 2023 Pulse of the SAP Customer research; nearly half (45%) of research participants cited integration between SAP and non-SAP systems as a top focus area for the year, while 32% of organizations reported master data maintenance and governance, and integration in general, as two top challenges.
“Datasphere is very much the beginning of that unified database and analytic service that our customers have been asking for, for quite some time,” said Tom Chelednik, GVP – Head of Solution Management for Data Management, Planning & Analysis at SAP.
In order to discuss and detail the solution for our members, Chelednik sat for an ASUG interview about Datasphere; how it fits within the SAP product, partner, and customer ecosystems; and the “universal need” it was developed to address.
Question: SAP officially launched Datasphere over a month ago. What conversations have you been engaged in with customers around Datasphere since that point?
Answer: When we launched SAP Datasphere on March 8 as the evolution of Data Warehouse Cloud, we mentioned it as the foundation for a business data fabric. That opened many customers’ eyes, in the sense that we recognized the heterogeneous data environments that are out there, both hybrid and in the cloud, and we recognized that we can actually simplify—and help our customers simplify—these open data landscapes with a business data fabric sitting on top. This allows for business users, data consumers, and even folks who do enterprise planning across lines of businesses to receive value, because they’re able to understand data in simplest terms: in the normal language that they’re used to, in the sense of customer or region, accounts, products, et cetera, rather than nascent tables and terms.
What’s been eye-opening to customers is that [Datasphere] doesn’t have to involve a rip-and-replace. However, it can work better together with currently built SAP and non-SAP landscapes, to provide value on top. It integrates very nicely with current SAP business applications, including SAP Business Technology Platform. But I think what was unknown, and now is quite different, is that we can also integrate with competitive solutions and/or hyper-scalers out there, to still provide that business data fabric.
Q: Can you discuss the concept of a “business data fabric” and its importance to this product?
A: It’s the ability to model, using business terms, a specific line-of-business use case across finance, HR, marketing, operations, and sales. It’s the relationships and the business terms, the logic that you’re going to be able to use, from both SAP and non-SAP, within SAP Datasphere. But, for data consumers, the business data fabric is mostly meant in the modeling sense. In the past, you required an IT ticket and had to wait for someone from IT to create a net-new model based off a business case, which was the opposite of the self-service customers demand, especially given the volatility of our economy and the supply chain. With the semantic modeling capabilities and new analytic model that we provide, SAP Datasphere allows data consumers to be less dependent upon IT to answer a question, model a business scenario, and make quick and agile decisions. Meanwhile, for IT, a business data fabric also provides numerous governance and privacy features, such as a common security model that can be implemented across systems.
Q: Having the ability to curate and access enterprise data is a major priority to customers pursuing business transformation, and to do safely and accurately, while maintaining the business context of their data, is of course important.
A: With SAP Datasphere, it can be “connect, not collect.” It can be a “federate first rather than ingest,” depending on the use case and what you're trying to accomplish. We have the ability to connect virtually to data sources, both SAP and non-SAP, and also see the lineage of where those data sources are actually coming from. That’s a superpower and something our customer base really loves the fact that you can do that rather than always moving data. As you know, when you move data, right from the get-go, you can lose trust potentially in where that data came from. Is it the most up-to-date data, is it authoritative, and is it based off your SAP or non-SAP business applications? That doesn’t mean we don’t have customers actually ingesting data, but we have a more of a “federate first” and “connect, not collect” mentality using SAP Datasphere. Of course, where optimization is required, SAP Datasphere offers a powerful replication facility, to ensure performance doesn’t suffer.
Q: How does Datasphere fit into the larger SAP strategy of building out its partner ecosystem?
A: In a major moment for SAP and our customers, we announced partnerships with powerful, open data ecosystem partners, such as Collibra, as it pertains to governance; Confluent, with the ability to stream real-time data; Databricks, with their Data Lakehouse platform; and DataRobot, for the machine learning capabilities they provide. Our customers have been waiting for this for some time.
We’re not ignorant to the fact many of our customers are using some of these different systems with their SAP and non-SAP business applications, across multiple different hybrid or cloud environments. For us to provide the ability to connect and utilize some of these partners and continue to develop APIs, to allow SAP Datasphere to work cohesively with different solutions, has been something our customers have already applauded us for. And it’s just the beginning. We have others we plan to introduce in the upcoming months, if not quarters. We’re all excited about this opportunity to expand our horizons with these leading partners.
Q: Several current SAP customers are in trials with SAP Datasphere. Featured in press discussions at the time of the launch was David Johnston, CIO at Messer Americas, an industrial gasses supplier that’s already underway with SAP Datasphere. What can you say about the current progress with those trials?
A: What I can say is that the trials have been going quite well. The influx of trial requests, and guided experience, allows a prospect or even an SAP customer to get a feel for what SAP Datasphere is, how it could simplify their overall data landscape and what some of the features and functions are that would allow for that self-service across all lines of businesses. Interest in SAP Datasphere has been incredible since the SAP Data Unleashed moment on March 8.
We’re excited to be able to introduce a product that’s going to bring value. At the end, that's what it comes down to. The feedback has been very positive. We have an early adopter program here at SAP, for which we provide white-glove treatment to customers, to make sure they understand how certain things work and how it can work with their current environments.
Especially for our on premise SAP Business Warehouse (BW) customers, of which we still have thousands, we’re showing them how they potentially could use our BW Bridge service within SAP Datasphere, to move to the cloud with a phased approach, eliminating some of the need to knock on the door of IT when a new model or change to a model for any particular line-of-business use case needs to change. Instead, we’re providing the opportunity for the business users to take ownership and control of what they need to do from a business perspective. Overall, the early adopter program, and folks using the trial tenets and our guided experience, has been awesome.
Q: Reducing technical complexity, rather than adding another layer of it, feels like a guiding strategy for Datasphere, given the importance of simplifying data landscapes to customers today.
A: That’s right. In the past, we’ve also seen customers go down the path of a competitive solution and spend countless hours and millions of consulting dollars to rebuild some of that business context, the relationships and the logic that we inherently already have access to through SAP Datasphere, in a hyperscaler or cloud solution. They don’t get the results they wanted. With SAP Datasphere, having the ability to maintain that business context, just that in of itself provides countless hours and millions of dollars back to the business. But mostly, it provides the agility and flexibility that business users of all LOBs and industries require today.
In addition to providing simplification through SAP Datasphere, we’re also providing that centralized governance that IT requires as well. We do that through lineage, cataloging, and the ability to separate data within spaces across different lines of businesses. We’re serving both the universal needs of the governance side and IT as well as the agility and flexibility on the business side.
Q: What else would you share with the ASUG community about the potential relevance of Datasphere to their digital transformations?
A: With Datasphere, our evolution of Data Warehouse Cloud, we not only introduced new semantic modeling capabilities within its analytic model, but we also brought together what in the past were discrete cloud services as part of SAP Data Intelligence, including replication flow and cataloging, into SAP Datasphere. We’re taking some of the different components that make up our database and analytic cloud services, and we’re bringing these closer together.
In the long term, integration is a topic I’ve heard about forever since I’ve been at SAP: the requirement to have better integration, between the intelligent enterprise and our line-of-business applications, or between SAP solutions and solutions outside of SAP. It’s now all coming together with the introduction of SAP Datasphere. In time, everything you can do today within SAP Data Intelligence Cloud, as it pertains to integration between SAP and non-SAP data sources, will be available within SAP Datasphere, creating even a more unified service for data integration, cataloging, semantic modeling, data warehousing, and virtualization. On top of that, the analytic model brings SAP Datasphere and SAP Analytics Cloud closer together, because it’s immediately consumable to a business user—across finance, HR, sales, or whatever line of business that may be—to solve a business use case.
You see as a trend with our customers moving forward that they require more tightly coupled services that they can turn on and turn off as needed, to solve their business use cases with agility and flexibility.
Q: I had considered asking about the ideal customer for SAP Datasphere, in terms of size or industry or scope or current progress in digital transformation. But, from what you’re saying, it sounds like Datasphere is instead intended to address a fairly universal need for SAP customers.
A: It does. This isn’t necessarily midmarket or large enterprise. You don’t even have to be an on-prem BW customer. Due to the current state of the economy, supply chain, and global disruption, the universal need is being able to react, consume data quickly, and take action. Business leaders don’t have time to wait days, weeks, or months for answers. They need simplification. And so, for me, for customers, for the analysts—and for service partners like Ernest & Young, Deloitte, PwC, Accenture, Capgemini, IBM, McKinsey and Company, and so on—we validated this universal need of a business data fabric to simplify. This is intended for customers of all types, industries, and landscapes, to provide that flexibility and agility needed for today’s business.
Q: Looking to the future, how will Datasphere play a role in preparing SAP customers for emerging business challenges and global industry trends?
A: Beyond the BI use cases that we discussed, it’s also going to serve as that data harmonization layer to allow companies to better align their operational and financial plans across supply chain, finance, HR, marketing, and so on.
When I speak to the offices of CFOs or VPs of finance, it’s clear to them that it’s one thing to analyze data and have that data at your fingertips but, with planning, you must take action. SAP Datasphere is going to act as a foundation for extended planning analysis, giving companies the ability to align their operational financial plans using the most important, harmonized, trusted, and authoritative data from both SAP and non-SAP data systems.
Planning starts and ends with data. If those who are planning, be that finance and or any other line of business, don't trust the data, they’re not going to be able to take action on it, do their variance analysis, and steer the business in the right direction to drive profitability and growth. SAP Datasphere is going to play a major role for those companies looking to do enterprise-wide extended planning analysis.