SAP provide different software solutions to build data warehouses. There are solutions to build data warehouses in the cloud or on-premise, using a build-it-from-scratch approach, or a ready-made, out-of-the-box approach.
SAP BW/4HANA is a software solution to build an on-premise data warehouse solution using the out-of-the-box approach.
Historically, data warehouses were built from scratch, typically using SQL code. This approach is still favored by many organizations who have very specific needs that can't be met using standard software. SAP provides tools to support the custom approach.
But for many organizations, especially those who run SAP applications, an out-of-the-box approach, where no coding is needed, is preferred.
The out-of-the-box approach means customers can immediately extract data from any SAP source application and quickly build analytics on top. SAP BW/4HANA also includes tools to extend the ready-made content and create brand new content.
SAP BW/4HANA can connect to any data source from any application, SAP and non-SAP. SAP BW/4HANA includes ready-to-go connectivity to most SAP applications. There are tools to create new connections to any non-SAP source.
We already learned that a data warehouse includes three basic layers: data acquisition, data storage and data modeling. SAP BW/4HANA includes tools to quickly build all three layers. A data warehouse requires tools for handling operations such as scheduling and monitoring, defining security access, and managing the life-cycle of models and data. SAP BW/4HANA includes all of those.
Learn more about each of the capabilities of SAP BW/4HANA:
- Data Acquisition and Storage
- Acquire data periodically or in real-time data
- Load and store data
- Delta load (load only what has changed)
- Error handling of data loads
- Transform data (clean bad data, fill in missing value etc.)
- Data Modeling
- Develop physical and virtual data models and combine them
- Build data marts and star schemas (facts and dimensions)
- Use or adapt SAP-provided data models for fast start
- Built-in planning functions
- Scheduling & Monitoring
- Automate data loading and routine housekeeping tasks using process chains
- Define error handling within jobs
- Tools provided for monitoring scheduled jobs
- Collect statistics from operations and business users' analytics for performance monitoring
- Security & Traceability
- Define data access rules for developers and business users
- Log accesses to data and models
- Identify data in SAP BW/4HANA that has been deleted from source systems that should also be deleted
- Tools to analyze a specific user's access and also to resolve access issues
- Life-cycle Management
- Multi-temperature data management (hot, warm, cold) to manage data growth
- Propagation of meta-data changes (e.g. when source tables change) across the entire development landscape (DEV → QA → PROD)
- Impact analysis of adjustments to models
- Tools to manage upgrades of SAP BW/4HANA
SAP BW/4HANA has its roots in SAP BW, which was the first generation data warehouse solution from SAP that was launched in the late nineties. Many customers implemented SAP BW and are now on a path to migrate to the more powerful SAP BW/4HANA.
Watch the following video to learn about the evolution of SAP BW/4HANA.
SAP BW/4HANA: Three-Layer Architecture
In line with the basic requirements of a data warehouse, SAP BW/4HANA supports the following three layers that make up a modern data warehouse:
1 - Data Acquisition
SAP BW/4HANA provides tools that support the connectivity of any source system. The crucial object that supports the connectivity is the DataSource. The DataSource defines connection to the source system and also the fields that are required from the source tables that provide the data transfer to SAP BW∕4HANA.
Data can be extracted, transformed, and loaded to SAP BW/4HANA either periodically - sometimes referred to as batch loading - or in real-time. Many source systems support the loading of only the data that has changed, or is new, since the last load. This is known as a delta load.
One of the most popular sources of data to SAP BW/4HANA is from the SAP ERP systems such as SAP Business Suite or SAP S/4HANA. For these types of sources, a large number of ready-made DataSources are provided by SAP so that customers can get started quickly. The ready-made DataSources could be considered as pre-wiring of the SAP application source data to SAP BW/4HANA. That is one of the most appealing aspects of SAP BW/4HANA for customers who already run SAP systems, and why most SAP ERP implementation also include SAP BW/4HANA.
For non-SAP sources, it is possible to develop custom DataSources using the provided SAP BW/4HANA tools.
Many DataSources support a connection to data that is stored remotely. This means a real-time view of fast-moving, operational data is possible. Loading and storing of data to SAP BW/4HANA is not always necessary.
2 - Data Modeling
SAP BW/4HANA provides tools for the development of dedicated objects that support advanced data modeling. A modeler creates a data flow that moves data from the source systems into target storage objects. The target storage objects are collectively known as InfoProviders. InfoProviders include DataStore Objects (advanced) for storing transactional data, and Characteristic InfoObjects for storing master data.
At various points in the data flow we can pass data through Transformations. Transformations clean up data. Example of data cleansing include filling in missing values, or adjusting or correcting data. During the load, data can be checked for quality and bad or suspect data can be flagged and even quarantined. Once raw data is loaded it can be modeled using tools to add additional business semantics. Business semantics might include assigning a currency to a measures, or assigning some useful attributes to a characteristic, such as adding weight to a product.
Beside the DataStore Objects (advanced) and Characteristic InfoObjects, which are physical objects that store the data, the modeling layer can contain the modeling object Open ODS View which supports a connection to remote data without storing data. Another type of object that doesn't store data is the CompositeProvider. A CompositeProvider combines data from a number of sources to make it useable for analysis.
3 - Data Analysis
In order to consume the data model, a developer creates a BW Query on top of an InfoProvider. The BW Query defines the specific layout of the final report and any special requirements such as sub-totals, sorting sequence, additional calculations, and filters.
A BW Query is not a reporting tool. A BW Query sits between the data model and the final report. A reporting tool is not provided with SAP BW/4HANA. Customers usually have their own preferences for which reporting tool they would like to deploy. SAP offers cloud and on-premise reporting tools such as SAP Analytics Cloud, SAP Analysis for Microsoft Office, SAP Crystal Reports, and many more. SAP BW/4HANA also supports non-SAP reporting tools using open standards.
SAP BW/4HANA Tools
The following main tools are used to work with SAP BW/4HANA:
BW Modeling Tools (BWMT)
SAP BW/4HANA Cockpit
The modeling of the SAP BW/4HANA objects described above is performed in BW Modeling Tools (BWMT). Eclipse is a very well known, open-source, integrated development environment. SAP developed the special SAP BW/4HANA plug-ins so that the tool includes a perspective, multiple views, menus, and icons that support the SAP BW/4HANA modeler.
Using InfoAreas it is possible to define a hierarchical structure to organize the SAP BW/4HANA objects so that the developers can easily locate the objects.
Once the data models and data flows have been created we need to create a schedule to load the data. We also need to perform ad-hoc housekeeping tasks. There are many tools provided to support data loading and housekeeping. These tools are collected in one place and presented to the administrator using an easy-to-use, customizable interface called SAP BW/4HANA Cockpit.
SAP BW/4HANA Content
A very important component of SAP BW/4HANA is the SAP BW/4HANA Content.
SAP BW/4HANA Content consists of SAP-provided objects to extract, model data, and to query data to support the rapid implementation of SAP BW/4HANA. SAP BW/4HANA Content provides all objects to support the entire data flows from source tables in SAP source systems to queries for many business areas. Without SAP BW/4HANA Content, customers would have to develop all object themselves and this could take a lot of effort and time. The SAP BW/4HANA Content provides industry-specific content so customers can begin collecting data and building queries that follow industry best-practices.
The SAP BW/4HANA Content objects can be selectively installed so it is possible to implement only the most useful objects and models. SAP BW/4HANA Content can be used without adjustment or adjusted to fit the needs of the customer. SAP BW/4HANA Content can also be used as a template to support the customer in the creation of their own content.
The SAP BW/4HANA Business Content is provided as an optional Add-On that must be installed in the SAP BW/4HANA system. Regular updates are shipped by SAP. SAP BW/4HANA Content is fully documented, so customers can explore before committing to the installation of the content.
Where to get more Information
Enter help.sap.com in a browser and search for BW/4HANA to find this landing page:
The Application Help describes the functionality of SAP BW/4HANA and documents the SAP BW/4HANA Content Add-On.
SAP BW/4HANA and SAP S/4HANA embedded analytics
Many SAP customers use SAP S/4HANA to run their business. SAP S/4HANA already includes powerful tools to generate analytics. These included tools are collectively known as SAP S/4HANA embedded analytics. SAP S/4HANA embedded analytics does not replace SAP BW/4HANA but they complement each other.
Many SAP BW/4HANA customer also use SAP S/4HANA embedded analytics so we should briefly take a look at how they work together.
Embedded analytics is included with SAP S/4HANA and provides a comprehensive data model that is built using database views. These views expose live, operational transaction and master data tables. On top of the data model, embedded analytics provides many ready-to-use reports, dashboards, and KPIs that provide business users with a live view of business performance.
The key idea behind embedded analytics is to support the business user directly within their transaction. For example, by providing useful insights about a customer's past purchasing behavior whilst creating a new sales order.
Embedded analytics provides report building tools for IT but especially for the business user so they can create their own custom analytics at the department level.
SAP S/4HANA focuses on operational reporting using the live tables from SAP S/4HANA.
Whereas SAP BW/4HANA focuses on strategic reporting using data that has been collected from all systems across the entire enterprise.
In theory SAP BW/4HANA could be used to cover operational reporting. But its strength is in orchestrating data from multiple systems, where data integration and tracking of history are key requirements.
Organizations who implement SAP S/4HANA and SAP BW/4HANA have a complete end-to-end solution covering operational and strategic analytics.