By Scott Humphrey, Principal of Humphrey Strategic Communications. based on an interview with Paul Eveld, IS manager, and Lenny Alper, technical architect, at Monsanto.

To say Monsanto Company, the $7.5 billion life sciences enterprise, is a large SAP customer would be an understatement. Monsanto uses ­ or plans to use ­ virtually the entire suite of SAP R/3 applications to help manage its expansive worldwide operations. Just within Monsanto's production environment, the company has five different systems: one for reference data, one for company-wide data and one for each of the company's major business sectors: agricultural products, pharmaceuticals, and nutrition and consumer products. In support of its production systems, which currently run SAP R/3 3.1H, Monsanto maintains SAP R/3 development, quality testing and holding environments ­ all made up of a mixture of Digital Equipment and Hewlett-Packard database and application servers running UNIX.

Recently, Monsanto has been focusing on enhancing its SAP R/3 decision support capabilities. A myriad of sales logistics data warehouses and data marts exist at Monsanto worldwide locations that were previously fed with data from legacy IBM mainframe and Oracle applications which were being replaced by SAP R/3. To preserve the millions of dollars invested in its existing data warehouses, marts and BI/OLAP tools, Monsanto wanted to find a way to feed the data warehouses and marts directly from SAP R/3.

"We wanted to have an open environment because most sites we support have non-SAP data sources as well as SAP R/3 systems," said Paul Eveld, Monsanto's SAP R/3 information systems manager. "In choosing our solution, we needed something that was available and deployable now as we had SAP R/3 implementations underway, and we needed to immediately create our database repository or our users would be shut off downstream," he said. "We also wanted to go with a solution that would provide us the option of integrating with SAP's decision support solutions."

One approach Monsanto considered to get the data out was using the facilities and features provided by SAP; ­ namely, generating ABAP code or reading IDOCs. "We know how hard it is to get ABAP programmers, let alone how expensive they are," Eveld said. "In addition, we didn't have time to bring somebody up to speed in learning ABAP. When we discovered ActaWorks, which allows you to design and extract SAP R/3 and non-SAP data sources at such a high level, we thought that sounded like an approach to consider."

Monsanto went through a successful proof of concept with ActaWorks, Acta Technology's ETL (extraction, transformation and load) tool designed specifically to address the challenges of building data warehouses from SAP R/3 data. Acta worked with Monsanto to define the database for the sales and distribution, financial and controlling SAP R/3 applications. In addition, Monsanto's SAP R/3 decision support staff went through Acta product training, after which time Monsanto made the decision to purchase ActaWorks.

According to Eveld, Monsanto did a thorough evaluation of ActaWorks, including the performance of the product as well as the quality of the ABAP it generates. "We are pleased with the performance of ActaWorks," Eveld said. "Regarding quality, we have an experienced staff of more than 25 ABAP programmers who have looked at the code generated by ActaWorks and have been very impressed with it. ActaWorks insulates us from having to know any ABAP."

"Acta has built a significant number of production-class features into the new release of ActaWorks, including greatly improved facilities to migrate ActaWorks jobs from development to test to production," added Lenny Alper, technical architect in Monsanto's core SAP R/3 decision support group.

Monsanto is using ActaWorks to extract sales and finance data from SAP R/3 to build an Oracle-based enterprise data warehouse ­ the Decision Support Repository ­ from which Monsanto's IT divisions will build data warehouses and data marts to meet the needs of their individual business units. In essence, Monsanto has consolidated the back ends of its dozens of data marts with its Oracle-based R/3 decision support repository containing current and historical transaction data that is populated by ActaWorks. Monsanto expects the system to grow to more than 50 gigabytes in the next year.

"We're passing this data to IT groups who are fashioning data warehouses and marts for their customers, but they are all now working from common enterprise data models for topics such as products or customers," Alper added. Monsanto currently uses front-end tools from Business Objects, Cognos, Pilot Software and Hyperion.

"The system is refreshed nightly to be ready for the start of the next business day," Alper said. "One of the challenges we will face, since we are dealing with worldwide users, is that as we bring on additional sites we may need to extract data twice a day so that each location around the world can receive the most recent data."

Now that Monsanto has gone live with the Decision Support Repository, the company has started expanding the application into other areas; namely, projects, manufacturing and purchasing. In addition, the company is looking into incorporating other non-SAP R/3 data sources as well. "We couldn't have effectively hit our delivery date without ActaWorks," Eveld said. "The product has integrated into our environment very nicely."

Added Alper, "We consider our relationship with Acta to be a very strong and mutually beneficial partnership. We have benefited from their quick responses to our needs, while they have benefited from our extensive SAP expertise."


Monsanto Decision Support Repository Team, left to right: Marty Kinsey, Craig Peters, Nagham Waheed, Lenny Alper, Steve Wojciechowski and Paul Eveld.

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