NetWeaver Embraces BI

Update includes revamped portal and enterprise application integration components; it also signals the company’s biggest effort to date to field a complete BI stack

ERP giant SAP AG’s NetWeaver ’04 release announced at last week’s CeBIT contains lots of new goodies, including revamped portal and enterprise application integration (EAI) components.

It also marks what could be SAP’s most conscious effort to date to field a full-fledged business intelligence (BI) stack. Chief among the new components is SAP BI, a component based on SAP’s Business Information Warehouse that supports capabilities such as business planning and simulation. SAP officials say that the new SAP BI component is designed to address most of the BI needs of enterprise users.

“This product is not just a data warehouse, it’s not just a reporting environment, not just an analysis client, not just an OLAP client. It’s a complete BI stack, from data integration, to metadata management, to master metadata management, to the ad hoc query and reporting environment,” according to Roman Bukary, director of market strategy for SAP.

Another addition in NetWeaver ’04 is Business Explorer (BEx) Broadcaster, a tool that customers can use to automate the distribution of actionable business insights. In this respect, BEx Broadcaster is similar to Oracle Corp.’s Daily Business Intelligence, among other tools. “This allows me to burst reports to members of my organization, to members of my distribution list, to their portal, to their mail clients and mail boxes,” he observes.

Bukary claims that SAP has designed NetWeaver ’04 to address many of the next-generation BI scenarios that enterprise CIOs are just beginning to contemplate. “BI in 5 to ten years must combine structured and unstructured information, because when I am trying to figure out the performance of my retail stores, or my manufacturers, or my churn from customers, I need to have a complete and complex view of my business,” he says. “In 5 to ten years, if I’m a visionary CIO, I want to have collaborative BI, where I can say this [key performance indicator] is out of whack, it’s not where I expect it to be, where I’m performing better. As a visionary CIO in 5 to ten years, I want to have mobile access … I want real-time data loading into my data warehouse.”

Not surprisingly, Bukary claims that NetWeaver ’04 delivers on all of those scenarios today. In addition, he says, the ’04 edition also boasts XML for Analysis (XMLA) support, which provides a standard interface for OLAP. Also on the data-mining front, NetWeaver ’04 features a tool called Analysis Process Designer (APD), which Bukary claims can simplify data mining for non-technical users. “This is a framework for data mining, branching, [and] decision trees, so that the average business user who may not be familiar with the use of data-mining tools is able to have the power of those tools and capabilities at their fingertips,” he explains.

Elsewhere, SAP enhanced its Enterprise Portal (EP) with Unicode support, along with knowledge management (KM) capabilities such as content management and integrated search. SAP EP also boasts new ad hoc workflow and universal work list features that help to boost collaboration among users.

SAP also revamped its Exchange Infrastructure (XI) offering with a new business process engine that can support message flows between heterogeneous systems, effectively enabling SAP XI to serve as a “hub” for a company’s business process management (BPM) infrastructure. In addition, SAP Master Data Management (MDM) supports synchronization, harmonization, and syndication services between applications, which SAP claims can enhance data consistency among disparate systems.

Also revamped is SAP’s Web Application Server, which enables new integration between Java or .NET applications and programs or services written in SAP’s Advanced Business Application Programming (ABAP) language. “This was a key focus for us in 2003—the ability to leverage an organization’s expertise, not only the ABAP development community, but also to be able to leverage their Java and .Net developers [so they can] invoke the same procedures as if they’re writing ABAP code,” comments Bukary.

Finally, SAP outfitted its Composite Application Framework with new guided procedures and dashboards that let developers rapidly build composite applications and business processes.

SAP also announced a 50-city worldwide tour that gives current and prospective customers the opportunity to meet with SAP executives, customers, partners, and industry analysts to discuss the business benefits of NetWeaver.

“We have the global resources in this tour. They’ll present the NetWeaver vision, specific NetWeaver benefits, specific customers who are benefiting—we are showing how this will be of value,” Bukary says.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.