Group analysis

The UAE's Al Batha Group brought in data warehousing to make the most of its transactional data. Eliot Beer looks at the business implications.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  March 12, 2006

|~|oommen200.jpg|~|Oommen: With transactional systems now, we have reached a technological plateau - they don't add any more value. |~|The IT department at the Al Batha Group had wanted to implement a data warehouse (DW) solution for some time, but until last year the general manager for group IT, Saji Oommen, did not feel there was a mature enough solution on the market that fitted his company's needs.

"We had had a basic DW package from Oracle for a long time, but we wanted the advanced functionality which came with a newer solution," he says. "Seven years ago we standardised all of our core systems on SAP, so it made sense to us to use their DW product. When we first looked at
it, SAP Business Data Warehouse (BDW) was not a mature product, so we decided not to implement. We looked at it again recently, and decided the time was ready to go ahead and implement."

The Al Batha Group, based in Sharjah in the UAE, consists of a large number of companies and brands, spanning manufacturing, retail, distribution and logistics. The various group elements all generate a great deal of data which is ripe for processing, and Oommen wanted to provide the business with greater analytical tools to make the most of this information.

"BDW lets us build very powerful tools to look at different business models," says Oommen. "In the IT department, we know what tools the group needs, because we're the ones who deal with the requests. But before we implemented DW, it was much more complex to create a new analytical application."

Al Batha's decision to go with SAP was based on two specific factors: first, because the group already had a SAP implementation, there was very little processing required for the existing data; second, the licensing arrangement Al Batha has with SAP made it more cost-effective to use its product. The project went ahead in the second half of 2005, and the system came online at the end of December.

According to Oommen, the DW implementation was relatively smooth. Because the DW system made up an entirely new technology layer, the group needed new servers and storage systems to run the solution effectively, but because of the integration with the existing system there were fewer issues with the data processing than might otherwise be the case.

"One of the advantages we had was that the transformation - the cleansing - of the data had already been largely completed when we migrated to SAP," says Oommen. "But we did have to do some transformation because of the business processes we were using, so there were some issues there. There was also a need to create processes to maintain the data automatically when the BDW database is updated with new transactional data, which happens on a daily basis."

The transfer of transaction data to BDW every evening meant that the data could be transformed to be suitable for analysis, and also meant that the main transactional system was placed under less strain. With new, more complex reports being created, Al Batha's IT infrastructure needed this separate layer for the new DW platform.

The general manager for group IT says one of the biggest challenges was not how to use the new system, but to find out what it is capable of. The group is starting to move some of its existing processes onto the BDW platform, and is working to educate staff at all levels on its capabilities.||**|||~|oommen200a.jpg|~|Oommen: Before DW, it was much more complex to create a new analytical application.|~|"We're slowly moving our operational reporting onto the new system - we're still finding out what it can do, but it is very, very powerful," says the Al Batha group general manager for IT. "We've held a lot of training sessions for our staff, to educate them in how to make the most of BDW. And most importantly we have had to demonstrate the power of this system to the executives and management, because they're not accustomed to this level of sophistication in technology."

The users of the new system are divided into power users and end users, according to Oommen. End users have basic functionality, while power users have the ability to create reports for themselves. Before this, the IT department had to deal with the requests for new reporting tools itself, and Oommen says business users are excited by the capabilities they now have by themselves.

"Now a power user can say to himself, 'I wonder why this is happening in this process?' or, 'I wonder what would happen if we changed this?' and create that tool for themselves," says the Al Batha IT director. "Before we had extremely limited power to do this, so it is a big advantage."

Oommen says it is still too early to talk about any specific impact the BDW system has had on Al Batha's business. But he sees the focus within the business shifting from operational reports to analytical reports, as the full impact of the solution comes into play.

"For example, which customers do not buy our products? This information is normally very hard to get hold of," says Oommen. "But with some analytical reports the sales managers can see who is buying the less profitable products, what category of customer they are in, and so forth."

As Oommen happily admits, Al Batha's staff have only just started to explore what the SAP BDW system is capable of. He is clearly keen to make the most of this new system, and believes analytical solutions such as this are now the best way to bring fresh benefits to a modern business.

"With transactional systems now, we have reached a technological plateau; all systems, whether they are from SAP, Oracle, or whoever, offer more or less the same functionality at the same speed - they don't add any more value, there are no new savings or efficiencies to make," he says.

"But analysing transactional data and looking at business processes is still a very time-consuming process, and I think this is where DW and other similar solutions can really add value to the business at a different level.

"It is not merely improving the business process efficiency; it is changing the processes themselves, and helping you focus on totally different areas."

Oommen is also a director of the SAP Users Group Middle East, and the current president of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
UAE chapter.||**||

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