Making SAP data relevant in the world of big data

Part one of series about an old “SAP”dog who learns a new trick

Reflecting back on the key messages from Teradata Universe 2015 in April it was impossible to escape the theme of deriving differentiated business value leveraging the latest data sources and analytic techniques. I heard from several customers how they improved their business by combining their traditional warehouse data (or ‘SAP data’ for us old dogs) with other data from across the enterprise and applying advanced analytic techniques. A special interest group dedicated a whole morning exploring the value of integrating ‘SAP data’ with ‘other data’. As I sat thru these sessions, I found it funny that companies that run SAP ERP always speak about their data in terms of SAP data and other data. It made me wonder what is ‘other data’ and what makes it so special?

In most cases, ‘other data’ is referred to as ‘Big Data’. The term is quite ubiquitous and was used to describe just about every data source. But it’s important to note, that throughout the sessions I attended, none of the companies referred to their SAP data as Big Data. Big Data was a term reserved for the (relatively) new sources of data like machine generated data from the Internet of Things, call center details, POS related data, and social media/web logs.

Although not “big”, customers told me they considered their SAP ERP applications to be complex fortresses of data. In comparison to traditional data warehouses or big data stores, SAP is very difficult to extract and integrate with their ‘other data’. Even SAP acknowledges this shortcoming as evidenced by their recent programs to ‘Simplify’ their complex applications. But I’d argue that while SAP ERPs maybe complex to run, the data that is processed in these applications is quite simple. SAP experts would agree that if you know where to look, the data is both simple and reliable.

Unfortunately these experts live in a world of their own which is focused entirely on data that flows thru SAP. But as evidenced by the customers at Teradata Universe the lion’s share of new IT projects/ business initiatives are focused on leveraging ‘big data’. Which means the folks who know SAP are rarely involved in the IT projects involving ‘big data’, and vice versa, which explains the chasm between SAP and ‘other data’. The ‘Big Data’ folks don’t understand the valuable context that SAP brings. And the ‘SAP data’ folks don’t understand the new insights that analytics on the ‘other data’ can deliver.

However, the tides are turning and the general consensus has evolved to agree that there is value in brining SAP data together with big data. SAP ERP is used primarily for managing the transactional processes in the financial, logistics, manufacturing, and administration functions. This means it houses high quality master data, attribute data, and detailed facts about the business. Combining this structured and reliable data up to multi-structured big data can add valuable confidence and context to the analytics that matter most to businesses today!

Here’s a recent example where a customer integrated the results of advanced text analytics with their SAP ERP data within their Teradata warehouse. The data science team was experimenting with a number of Aster machine learning and natural language processing techniques to find meaning and insight in field technician reports. Using one of Aster’s text analytic methods, Latent Dirichlet Allocation, they were able to identify common related word groups within their reports to identify quality events such as “broken again” or “running as expected”. However they discovered unexpected insight regarding equipment suppliers and 3rd party service providers also hidden in the field reports, such as “Supplier XYZ is causing problems” or “ABC is easy to work with”. They were then able to integrate all of these relatable word groups with context from the SAP ERP purchasing history data stored in the warehouse to provide additional insight and enrichment to their supplier scores.

 

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