MicroStrategy, a leader in the business intelligence (BI) market, recently added an array of new capabilities, performance and scalability to its product suite (See: “MicroStrategy Brings Future Vision and Reality of Business Intelligence to Customers”). I had a chance to review in-depth how these new capabilities apply to BI running on top of SAP BW, formally called SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse. MicroStrategy has expanded the range of BI products that integrate into applications from SAP (See: “Leverage Every Transaction from SAP for BI”). This use of BI has great potential, as the insights from applying analytics and building metrics and key performance indicators are essential to achieve operational and financial performance goals and objectives.
MicroStrategy Version 9 brings to the table a range of methods to integrate with SAP as part of the MicroStrategy Solutions for SAP. They range from supporting robust reporting, analytics, dashboards and applications that access SAP BW to integrating BI into SAP Enterprise Portal. Its MicroStrategy SAP Services also offers support from within SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer to integrate data with SAP BW. MicroStrategy meets the criteria for SAP Certified NetWeaver integration, following the approved integration points defined by SAP. Its MicroStrategy Intelligence Server integrates to SAP BW through a technology standard for data access called MDX. MicroStrategy uses a Java-based connector to pass MDX to the online analytical processing (OLAP) interfaces of SAP BW, which allows it to operate across Microsoft- and Unix-based platforms.
Accessing SAP BW this way, IT staff or analysts using MicroStrategy Data Explorer can browse metadata structures such as cubes, hierarchies or attributes from SAP BW to assemble similar business metadata within MicroStrategy. It is simple to visually browse and map logical data structures between the two technologies. This approach enables the rapid integration and use of existing SAP BW InfoCubes and associated business queries that the user organization might have spent significant time to develop. To make the business metadata available in SAP BW from MicroStrategy requires only checking a box in SAP BW; an administrator can make it available for discovery by ODBO, which is turned off by default. MicroStrategy also can inherit presentation and display formats from SAP BW, along with pre-existing security and authentication in SAP BW to authorize access to existing investments. Of course, in mixed environments blending data from SAP BW and other sources will require a higher level of security than can be managed within MicroStrategy. Currently MicroStrategy does not directly read and map to the “atomic” level of detailed data in SAP BW called the operational data store (ODS), but it can use or create queries based on SAP BW InfoCube to the ODS.
Once mapping from MicroStrategy to SAP BW is complete, you can use all the capabilities of MicroStrategy to design and publish reports, assemble dashboards and build in-memory cubes with MicroStrategy OLAP Services to access with MicroStrategy Office, which establishes access to Microsoft Excel or information from MicroStrategy’s RIM BlackBerry support. It is simple to design reports on top of separate SAP BW InfoCubes and then connect them for a uniform view within one table or chart. A business or data analyst can join the data by using a common identifier. You can use a MicroStrategy query using MDX on SAP BW as a filter to join, for example, data about employees, salary and length of employment with sales data to determine individuals’ contributions to revenue and profit. The dynamic access to the data with SAP BW happens automatically, but MicroStrategy enables administrators and analysts to readily see the actual MDX if they need to determine how it is querying SAP BW. In addition MicroStrategy can link reports so that clicking on a cell value enables you to drill down to another detailed report; this capability is useful to find formatted reports of detailed data within transactions or time periods.
Designing reports and dashboards likewise is straightforward using MicroStrategy’s broader capabilities for any source of data. Designing where derived aggregates and analytics are accomplished is not difficult, but you should build a plan for how to manage the synchronization of changed metadata from SAP BW to MicroStrategy. Doing this basically means that when new categories or changes to existing categories or attributes occur, the new data to be accessed is reflected properly in the resulting queries and reports.
MicroStrategy Version 9 Release 2 has dramatically improved the performance and scalability of the product suite in working with SAP BW. Organizations using SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator, which utilizes a memory-based approach, can improve the performance of dynamic access to SAP BW and have it be transparent to anyone using MicroStrategy. Among the details I appreciated in the design, you can build queries within MicroStrategy and then map them to SAP BW queries to ensure optimal caching and take advantage of the performance-enhancing capabilities of MicroStrategy 9.2. MicroStrategy Health Center helps monitor the server and integration points to SAP BW so you can further adjust performance and scalability as needed. I highly recommend that organizations examine the array of approaches offered here to see which best fits their environment.
That said, it is important to note that I have seen some confusion among those interested in using MicroStrategy on top of SAP BW, who are not sure if they need the MicroStrategy Multi-Source option. It is not needed for integration to an MDX source like SAP BW but is necessary for dynamic integration to data from multiple relational sources. If you want to integrate data from multiple SAP BW cubes, you must map them separately into reports from which you can then join the data. As before, if you want to extract data from SAP BW and SAP R/3, you can use data integration technologies such as Informatica PowerExchange in the Informatica PowerCenter platform to manage diverse operational, data warehousing and BI data. Another option not well known is Composite Software Information Server and Composite Application Data Services, which provide direct access to SAP R/3 and support SAP BW, which appears as just another data source to the MicroStrategy BI platform. In larger enterprises it is not unusual to see a combination of approaches being used to meet the timely needs of business for specific kinds of analytics on applications from SAP.
To benefit fully from MicroStrategy’s integration and support of SAP BW, organizations should use Version 9 Release 2, which has usability, performance, scalability and administration improvements. The advanced multilevel caching in Release 2 is where the magic happens for integration to SAP BW, so you can maximize the performance and scalability of BI against SAP BW. This functionality is essential for organizations combining these technologies. MicroStrategy has provided an extra level of specialized services to help organizations understand the range of approaches. The company has been working over the last couple of years with many customers to leverage their SAP and SAP BW investments. I know personally of many companies busy with deployments; Coca-Cola, Intel and Pepsico are only three of them.
SAP is not sitting around either, working hard to advance BI support on SAP BW with a new generation of technology from SAP BusinessObjects that will surface later in 2010 as indicated in my recent analysis (See: “SAP Brings Business Intelligence and Business Analytics Advancements to Industry”). SAP has spent some $10 billion in the last five years on acquisitions and expanding its technology, and the company is completing a new unified platform, due for release later this year, that will extend the current SAP BI Explorer capabilities that I assessed last year. Though many organizations are deeply committed to SAP, a significant number are examining diversification of BI on top of SAP BW as options appear like those from MicroStrategy. I have been involved with a range of technologies accessing and integrating data since 1996 and am amazed that many organizations still are struggling to improve decision support and performance management on SAP using BI. With a little more market presence and refinement of its capabilities, MicroStrategy could find a significant opportunity to expand its business here. The demand for BI has never been higher and the information never been more valuable as all levels in organizations today seek the right content in ever shorter time cycles.
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Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research