Upon first selecting SAP R/3, Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific Corp. had ambitious goals. The company wanted to reduce costs by consolidating many standalone IT systems, eliminate redundancies, streamline business processes and, perhaps most importantly, empower its users. Several years later, Georgia-Pacific, a Fortune 150 company that produces and distributes a wide variety of paper and building products, has achieved many of those objectives in its paper businesses. R/3 has provided the needed systems consolidation, rich operational functionality, data visibility and business process integration for several corporate entities within the company's important paper business.
However, Georgia-Pacific believed that the company could operate even smarter, with additional boosts in productivity and efficiency. To accomplish this, Georgia Pacific's paper business planned to implement a business intelligence solution to provide business users and analysts with the ability to make faster decisions through better access to information.
In late 1996, when Georgia-Pacific first went live with R/3, SAP did not offer its own enterprise-wide data warehousing solution. However, one was in the pipeline. So, when SAP announced Business Information Warehouse in 1997, Georgia-Pacific decided to become one of the first beta test users.
With SAP Business Information Warehouse, Georgia-Pacific hoped to extend the reach of its R/3 system. With the new data warehouse and decision support tools, the company wanted to give key users--some of whom had not yet been exposed to R/3--access to the tremendous data residing within the system.
Until SAP Business Information Warehouse, Georgia-Pacific was in the position of many companies today. In order to produce a detailed report, an analyst had to write up a request, get it approved and then have a programmer run it. The process was very time-consuming and frequently took weeks.
Because the delay affected the quality and speed of decision making, the situation was intolerable. Furthermore, it did not match the company's overall goal to run as efficiently as possible.
Georgia-Pacific considered implementing other data warehousing and extraction solutions. However, to the largest extent possible, it wanted to maintain a pure R/3 environment and achieve maximum compatibility among system components. The company did not want to build data extractors between systems.
Training also was an issue. Some users already were accustomed to the data and reporting formats of R/3, and Business Information Warehouse would simply extend the familiar R/3 tools. Lastly, due to its success with R/3, Georgia-Pacific believed that SAP Business Information Warehouse would be a highly usable, robust solution--even though it was new to the market.
Therefore, in February 1998, Georgia-Pacific began a two-month evaluation of SAP Business Information Warehouse. The company had four main goals for this evaluation:
- To determine whether SAP Business Information Warehouse would satisfy on-line analytical requirements.
- To learn how SAP Business Information Warehouse operates with transaction systems.
- To understand any set-up complexities.
- To load the data model with external R/3 data.
Georgia-Pacific's evaluation procedure was exhaustive. Facets of the evaluation included:
- Loading three months of non-R/3 profitability data into the system,
- Loading R/3 master data for business dimensions,
- Implementing the most complex profitability calculations, and
- Duplicating several existing reports.
Before proceeding with the pilot, Georgia Pacific wanted to make sure that SAP Business Information Warehouse was the right solution. The company was running the R/3 software on a Hewlett-Packard 580 UNIX client/server platform and an Oracle database, so Georgia Pacific put the software through its paces.
The two-month evaluation yielded some impressive results. Generally, SAP Business Information Warehouse met all of Georgia-Pacific's analytical requirements. The company was most satisfied by the following:
- The on-line reporting capabilities of SAP Business Information Warehouse, which permitted complex data analysis.
- The solution's R/3 data extraction functionality. SAP R/3 and Business Information Warehouse were very responsive to the queries posed by users.
- The ease-of-use of SAP Business Explorer. With this capability, users could access the information they needed when they needed it.
- The ability to extend data analysis to non-technical users. Currently, R/3 is not used by everyone at Georgia-Pacific who will need to leverage the data warehousing solution. For those not familiar with R/3, SAP Business Information Warehouse will provide intuitive access to the database so that they can quickly conduct searches.
- The easy compatibility with the Microsoft suite of products. SAP Business Information Warehouse leverages Microsoft Excel at the front end, which permits easy data manipulation for Georgia-Pacific users who generally are proficient with Excel.
- The ability to free the IT staff from data mining and reporting. With SAP Business Information Warehouse, IT no longer will have to get involved with searches, freeing up personnel for more value-added activities.
Georgia Pacific was especially impressed with the multidimensional reporting capability, which will reduce the demands on the information resources department. In addition, SAP Business Information Warehouse will shorten the learning curve for those business resources that have used R/3 and Microsoft Excel, reducing the overall training, administration and software costs within the data warehousing initiative.
As a result of the evaluation, Georgia-Pacific took several additional steps. For instance, the company completed its work plan and its data design. It now is undertaking a full-scale pilot of SAP Business Information Warehouse.
While Georgia-Pacific is only beginning its experience with SAP Business Information Warehouse, the company already has learned several valuable lessons from its evaluation experience. These lessons include:
Select a technology with easy compatibility to your existing IT environment. With a difficult installation, implementation will be prolonged and more costly.
Develop a comprehensive list of analytical requirements. In other words, know in detail what you need from your system before entering the evaluation phase. Also, survey users to learn what they need from a business intelligence solution.
Make sure that the system is easy to use from the very beginning. Get ordinary users involved from the start so they can evaluate the solution. While testing, don't depend solely on IT personnel who already have a high level of technical knowledge.
Do not rush into an implementation. An extended evaluation and pilot phase is essential to guarantee a successful enterprise deployment.
Ensure the continuing support of both upper management and ordinary users. Involve them in the entire process and explain what time and resource commitment will be necessary to take the project from evaluation to deployment.
Understand the business data model and then build star schemas based on that computer model. Don't try to take on too much of the scope too fast. It's better to have a smaller scope that will allow for quicker business benefits.
The evaluation phase is a vital step for any company considering a data warehousing implementation. Through this stage, companies will learn the strengths and weaknesses of their proposed solution before going through the effort and cost of installation. They also will ensure that it best meets the analytical requirements of the company. In so doing, they will be able to create a flexible solution that will suit the business intelligence needs of the user community.
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