Things have been moving in a fairly predictable way over the last few years. My ERP can be in the cloud, my HR can be in the cloud, my CRM can be in the cloud, my Analytics can be in the cloud. Wait, where did I leave my Data Warehouse?
Data Warehouse Cloud is SAP’s next move into the cloud space, and perhaps their most plainly descriptive product name since ‘Dashboards’. It provides a space for agile data modelling, with the ability to control both data access and the allocation of memory for different user groups, and of course makes full use of the power of an underlying HANA database. It’s a cloud-native Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) built from scratch, using some of the best qualities of SAP’s well-established EDW options, Native HANA and BW/4HANA, but offering something a little different to either. In terms of its modelling capabilities, it’s most easily broken down into three key areas, which will be familiar to those with a history in Data Warehousing:
The Data Layer: where I provision and model my persisted or virtualised data. Here I can load my data from SAP Cloud or On-Premise sources, from the expected variety of 3rd Party sources or from flat files. I can model my data using standard HANA tables, Calculation Views or Data Store Objects (one for the BW fans out there) and create dataflows to describe the movement and transformation of data between these objects. I can still access and model my On-Premise data virtually if I don’t want to load it into the cloud.
The Semantic Layer: where I define my facts, dimensions, KPIs and hierarchies – introducing friendly business terms I know my reporting and analytics users will be familiar with.
The Business Catalogue: this to me is key for a data warehouse (and the reason that BW remains the best of breed in the on-premise EDW space) – it’s where I ensure that all my objects are consistent and reusable, and I can also version or document them as I wish. No-one will be using two different definitions of Product on my watch.
Who is it for?
When you show SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) to a room full of people (particularly its Smart Discovery/Insight and Smart Predict capabilities) you’ll usually see an instant reaction as they realise it will give them the insight and agility they’ve been looking for. I believe that you’ll see a similar reaction to DWC, just for a smaller group of people in that room – Line of business (LOB) users who take a keen interest in data and more specifically how to access, define, transform, model and then schedule its availability.
Traditionally the modelling and transformation of data has been controlled centrally by IT, and while SAP has made moves into this sort of functionality before (for example, with Workspaces in BW/4HANA), this is their first targeted move into the self-service market for an EDW.
IT will still play their part however, as someone still needs to control system governance, the security model and HANA memory allocation across different groups of LOB users. If there is more complicated data integration to do or there are business-wide scenarios required, then IT will still likely need to do the underlying work to give the LOB users a foundation to build upon.
This is definitely an important move in-line with the increasing trend towards self-service in the BI and Analytics market, but only time will tell how much of this work LOB users will have the capacity and interest to take on within individual businesses once DWC is rolled out into offices. I would expect to see different levels of take-up in different businesses, depending on their structure and culture – the overall progress of their BI journey, how centralised their front-end Analytics is, and how data-savvy those LOB users are.
What value can it add?
Well, firstly there’s the obvious selling points of any cloud application – SAP will be constantly patching and adding functionality at a pace that will be familiar to adopters of SAC, while reducing the total cost of ownership for the business. It will also benefit from elasticity even more than operational cloud applications – want to add another huge dollop of data to your warehouse? No problem!
But for me, the single strongest selling point of DWC is bridging a gap in the current SAP Analytics portfolio: for where SAC isn’t powerful enough for loading and transforming data, but where there isn’t a strong enough requirement (or simply a lack of enthusiasm) for BW/4HANA.
DWC has been designed with integration with SAC in mind, and as such will enable an organisation to have a complete end-to-end, easily-adopted Analytics architecture in the cloud. Couple this with the promise of standard content models for S/4HANA and the suite of SAP Cloud Applications and you have a clear and instant driver for value to any business who has already invested in any part of the SAP suite. The standard content also gives it an advantage over the Native HANA capabilities of SAP Cloud Platform (SCP) which offers a blank slate with which to build upon.
Once we get to grips with DWC we’ll be able to see more accurately how it compares to its wider-industry competitors and gauge whether this value can also be extended to non-SAP customers. While it’s still early, SAP’s outline of the capabilities of DWC’s services and integrations certainly points towards it being a competitive prospect in this space.