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What is worth more… beautiful graphs or beautiful graphs with correct information?

Posted on: 06-11-2017 13:22:191186

Managers need information to control their departments. That is beyond a doubt. They not only need information, they need it fast, because they must keep up with the pace of an ever-changing environment. And they are also quite picky when it comes to the reporting format. Old-fashioned lists or graphs don’t match their expectations anymore. They need state of the art reporting tools, like the ones with geographical representation possibilities. And they want to ‘slice and dice’. Good ol’ Excel is still widely used and in the SAP ecosystem we already had Business Warehouse (BW) and Business Objects (BObj) . Runners up these days are Qlik, Tableau and Power BI Tiles.

The graphical effects do look stunning and results can be expected quite fast if the data is available. But I also hear quite often that it takes a long time and a pack of resources to build a successful graph when the data must be retrieved from the SAP system or (in more general terms) from a full-blown ERP system. That is due to the complexity of the data model (the set of tables and the relations between these tables) of an ERP system. Just look to find out that SAP has many thousands of tables, and tables can have dozens of fields. When a report builder is only fairly familiar with the SAP data structure, then it will take him much longer to retrieve the proper data from the SAP data source than it will take him to build a dazzling report on the retrieved data. I have seen cases where that ratio was 30 up to 50 to 1. It’s the curse of data model complexity.

The companies selling state-of-the-art reporting tools are in heavy competition with each other. They will emphasize the graphical power and other eye-catching functionalities of their product. They will also show some cases where they can show SAP data, but the moment you ask for more expectations can be tempered. Do try to ask a question that needs combined information from production orders, inventory and finance data. They will probably not be able to deliver without investing a considerable amount of time.

Sap Reporting & analysis tools

It may look as if these modern reporting & analysis tools can only swiftly be used on simple to retrieve datasets. And thus not for on demand needed complex datasets coming from SAP. Unless of course somebody was so obstinate to do an enormous pile of work to simplify the access to the SAP information, by hiding the SAP data model complexity. Every Angle has done just that in a research effort that took us more than a hundred man-years. That work resulted in an in-memory object model, combining more than a thousand SAP tables. Thousands of SAP fields are set available and these fields are used to generate process status information and predictive analytics information for Supply Chain Management. We have made the choice to invest heavily in understanding SAP logic and SAP data structures, and in providing a revolutionary user interface that allows real business user self-service. Meaning that a business user can answer more than 90 % of his operational questions based on SAP data, within three minutes and without the help of IT. We invested in heavily reducing the time to get information out of SAP, and less in stunning reporting, but that isn’t a problem because there is a way to have the best of two worlds.

Open Data Protocol (OData)

Queries or data-sets combining objects and fields from various processes can be built in minutes in Every Angle. With the Open Data Protocol (OData) these data-sets (we call them Angles) can easily be retrieved by third party reporting systems. Imagine what that can do to your reporting development lead-times. It doesn’t take days or weeks to have the information available. It will take you minutes. And as I said in the beginning, when you have the info available, generating the stunning graphical reports will also be quite fast. Lead-times to generate beautiful graphs with correct information based on SAP data drop to one or two days, instead of weeks.

As to me the combination of state-of-the art reporting and analysis systems and Every Angle is at least worth investigating.

Jacques Adriaansen
Business Improvement Thought Leader | LinkedIn


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