ETL Vendors Get Hooks into ERP Data

Specialized packages that exchange data with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and populate data warehouses are becoming a required component of extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) tools.

Mike Schiff, director of data warehouse strategies for IT consulting agency Current Analysis Inc. (www.currentanalysis.com), underscored the urgency of the trend in a recent report on Ardent Software Inc. (www.ardentsoftware.com), which released packages for ERP systems from SAP AG (www.sap.com) and PeopleSoft Inc. (www.peoplesoft.com).

"It provides additional evidence of the trend among [ETL] vendors not only to be able to extract data from major ERP systems, but also to be able to populate the ERP vendors’ data warehouse offerings from additional data sources," Schiff wrote. "It should provide further incentive for [ETL] vendors that are not currently certified to populate either the SAP or the PeopleSoft data warehouse offering to offer this capability and to receive certification from the ERP vendors or face a competitive disadvantage."

ERP vendors have been working to turn all their OLTP sales from the late 1990s into data warehousing revenue. Companies have collected reams of data through OLTP systems, but they are discovering that ERP systems are not a good staging area for data analysis.

"The ERP investment has now exceeded billions," says Roman Bukary, director of product marketing for ETL vendor Informatica Corp. (www.informatica.com). "But it didn’t solve the problem that people thought it would actually solve. The vast majority of data is not in the ERP system."

SAP came out with its Business Information Warehouse (BW) a year ago and recently released version 2.0 (see sidebar). PeopleSoft offers its customers the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) application suite. ERP customers are finding that they also need historical and other data from elsewhere in the enterprise to effectively analyze ERP data. SAP and PeopleSoft, for example, tend to be very good at getting and analyzing data from their own ERP systems, but neither imports data well from other systems.

Organizations aiming to put ERP data in a data warehouse built on an Oracle Corp., IBM Corp. or Microsoft Corp. database face Byzantine structures, obscure table and file names and proprietary security policies.

Acta Technology Inc. (www.acta.com) helped develop the market for extraction, transformation and loading from ERP systems into data warehouses or into the ERP vendors’ data warehouses from other systems. The company’s base product, ActaWorks, bears a closer resemblance to the packaged offerings for ERP that Ardent and Informatica sell than the base ETL tools those companies offer.

Acta also offers specialized tools for building data marts out of SAP to answer specific business problems. Called RapidMarts, Acta recently released a RapidMart for inventory management. Other RapidMarts for SAP R/3 address sales analysis and cost analysis.

The more generalized ETL vendors profess respect for Acta’s technology but emphasize their own market experience and broader connectivity to the rest of the data warehousing universe.

"Ardent’s approach has been to offer a much broader toolset, which is much more open to any environment and with a much richer transformation engine," says Jeff Boehm, Ardent’s director of product management for data warehousing.

Ardent announced four modules in the past few months. The Ardent BI Blueprint loads PeopleSoft’s EPM. Ardent’s Extract PACK for PeopleSoft exports PeopleSoft ERP data into other data warehouses. Ardent PACK for SAP R/3 extracts ERP data and Ardent PACK for SAP BW imports external data.

Ardent’s new ERP capabilities follow its acquisition of Prism Solutions Inc. earlier this year. Prism’s Warehouse Executive was able to access SAP R/3 and populate SAP’s and PeopleSoft’s data warehouse offerings.

Informatica has been populating both SAP’s and PeopleSoft’s data warehouse offerings with external data for about a year, Bukary says. Last month, Informatica introduced new extraction tools for the systems: PowerConnect for SAP R/3 and PowerConnect for PeopleSoft.

Bukary says the ERP systems are another link in a chain of data sources that emerge as important for data warehouses and get pulled in by the ETL tools. "In 16 to 18 months, customers are going to be saying, ‘How do I pull my data from my Customer Relationship Management systems?’" he predicts.

SAP to Release Version 2.0 of BW

SAP AG (www.sap.com) is planning a November release of an upgrade to its data warehouse product for analyzing data from its ERP system.

Version 2.0 of SAP Business Information Warehouse (BW) will add a personalized deployment approach and usability improvements, the Germany-based company says.

About 750 customers use the original SAP BW, released a year ago. The data warehouse has been an opportunity for SAP to leverage its huge installed base of SAP R/3 ERP systems. As the company has struggled to maintain the sales growth it enjoyed in the mid-to-late 1990s with straight ERP systems, BW will help SAP capitalize on the need of companies to get at the business data locked among R/3’s 8,000 tables, each with field names in German.

Some of the improvements SAP highlights in BW reinforce initiatives the company has undertaken recently to enhance the usability of its products -- mySAP.com and EnjoySAP.

SAP BW uses mySAP.com, SAP’s portal, to help users publish queries to the intranet or a company’s Internet site. The queries can be included in existing HTML pages to create a companywide repository of reusable reports. Users can also present the information in a personalized manner, the company says. SAP BW 2.0 will include about 480 canned queries. Improvements through the EnjoySAP initiative are more vague usability enhancements to the user interface and overall product design.

The company is also introducing a feature it calls role-based analysis to SAP BW. The product comes with 75 predefined roles that assist in the personalization and presentation of information.

Other new features in SAP BW 2.0 include an SAP BW reporting agent that runs queries in the background and a geographic information system that brings data mapping and visualization capabilities to SAP BW.