Dear Reader,

The need to extract data from ERP systems is critical to effective decision making. It is a given that a data mart or data warehouse must be created with source data from the ERP system, other supported legacy systems and from external data sources. Although most ERP vendors such as SAP are creating their own business intelligence suites, they are focusing on taking data from only their systems. This creates a significant void that needs to be filled by other software providers. ActaWorks, from Acta Technology, Inc., is uniquely designed to solve the problem of building a decision support database using SAP R/3 data as a primary data source. ActaWorks helps to reduce the costs and eliminates the need to hire expensive and hard-to-find ABAP consultants. ActaWorks has been instrumental for Church & Dwight, Monsanto and Maxtor Corp. If you are using ERP software from SAP, ActaWorks is definitely worth a look.

Ron Powell
Publisher, DM Review

Leveraging ERP Data for Decision Support
By Robert S. Craig

The world of information systems has been dramatically changed by the emergence of enterprise resource planning (ERP) packaged applications. These systems automate a wide range of corporate functions and become a crucial factor in an organization's daily operations. Their enterprise-wide nature makes them critical to the operational effectiveness of companies that deploy them.

However, in the same way that companies have been struggling to extract data from legacy applications, they have also been challenged to leverage operational data in the ERP database for decision support. Companies often discover that the ERP solution itself can't help executives, business analysts and product managers make intelligent, informed business decisions.

There are two major approaches to integrating ERP data with decision support software. One is to access the ERP database directly using a decision support tool. This can be difficult to accomplish for several reasons. First, the ERP system must meet rigorous performance and availability requirements. IT managers are often reluctant to allow queries that may significantly slow down performance. Second, business users typically want to analyze the data in more detail using OLAP technology. However, ERP data structures don't facilitate this type of analysis. Third, the organization often needs to consolidate data from multiple sources, such as an internally developed legacy application, another packaged application or an external information broker.

Many companies adopt the second approach, which is to move data from the ERP database into a separate decision support database (DSD). Extracting data from an ERP packaged is complicated due to the complex internal architecture implemented by the ERP vendors. A typical SAP R/3 implementation, for example, may have as many as 10,000 system and data tables. To access that data SAP provides ABAP, a proprietary programming language, and a set of business APIs (BAPI). Developing and maintaining customized ABAP code is complicated and expensive, and BAPIs are not designed for high-volume data extraction.

What is needed is a tool able to extract, cleanse and consolidate data from both SAP R/3 and other systems, and move the data to a decision support database. The tool must be able to work seamlessly in the R/3 environment. It should have a rich library of transformation functions that can be manipulated with a graphical user interface. It should be able to handle change data capture and must support the major relational databases, along with best-of-breed query and analysis tools.

ActaWorks, from Acta Technology, Inc., is uniquely designed to solve the problem of building a decision support database using SAP R/3 data as a primary data source. ActaWorks automatically generates optimized ABAP code to extract data from SAP R/3. An intuitive graphical user interface is available for designing the source-to-target and data transformation process. This lets developers implement the transformation and data movement process without any coding and enables the data warehouse designer to focus on the contents of the warehouse, leaving the details of how to efficiently execute the extraction, transformation and loading process up to the software. ActaWorks can also extract and consolidate data from other sources, including Oracle, Informix, Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase, ODBC- compliant databases and flat files. The ActaWorks Server utilizes in-memory transformations, parallel pipelining and other data flow optimization techniques to reduce the time required to move data into a decision support database.

Companies often prefer to deploy a pre-configured solution, rather than a tool such as ActaWorks. Acta meets this market need with a suite of Acta RapidMarts which are pre-configured decision support solutions. A RapidMart extracts data from specific R/3 modules based on a predefined target data model. The goal is to reduce the deployment time, project risk and expense of building a DSD. Acta business partners such as Brio, Business Objects, MicroStrategy and Hyperion, provide query and analysis support for Acta RapidMarts.

The Acta Sales Analysis RapidMart, for example, allows managers to track revenue and order status using data from SAP's Sales and Distribution (SD) application. Key metrics, such as variances from forecast and delivery lag time, can all be analyzed. Similarly, the Acta Cost Analysis RapidMart allows managers to examine actual, committed and budgeted expenses using data from SAP's Financial (FI) and Controlling (CO) applications.

Acta customers report they have been able to use the combination of ActaWorks and RapidMarts to quickly implement decision support solutions with their R/3 data. Church & Dwight, the manufacturer of Arm & Hammer products, originally attempted the direct access method of analyzing R/3 data. Mike Panesis, Church & Dwight's director of MIS, discovered that, "... the summary tables and other key data elements just aren't there [in SAP R/3]," to support the complex sales reports his users needed.

Panesis decided to build a data warehouse and considered hiring ABAP programmers to create customized extraction logic, but knew ABAP consultants were expensive and hard to find. Also he determined that, "We didn't want to have to write a lot of programs that we were then going to have to maintain." Church & Dwight selected ActaWorks to implement the solution and, according to Panesis, "We consider ActaWorks to be a key component of our data warehousing strategy moving forward, helping the company meet its immediate needs as well as fitting into our long-term strategy."

Monsanto, the $7.5 billion life sciences company, replaced several legacy systems with SAP R/3 but wanted to protect its existing decision support investment, which included products from Business Objects, Cognos, Pilot Software and Hyperion. Monsanto used ActaWorks to move R/3 data to an enterprise data warehouse which Monsanto's IT divisions use to meet the needs of individual business units. The SAP R/3 data is being passed to IT groups who are now able to fashion data warehouses and marts for their customers from common enterprise data models for topics such as products or customers.

Maxtor Corp., a hard-drive manufacturer with operations in Asia, North America and Europe, replaced a legacy system with R/3 and needed to deploy a reporting solution quickly. Maxtor deployed SAP R/3 and the Acta Sales Analysis RapidMart simultaneously. According to Paul Mathern, Maxtor's data warehouse project manager, "The Acta Sales Analysis RapidMart supplied us with a better than 70 percent solution out of the gate, which provided us a tremendous jump-start. In addition, we were able to customize the RapidMart to fit our business model in a matter of days ­ with no training ­ so we have been thrilled with Acta, ActaWorks and the Sales Analysis RapidMart."

SAP customers that need a decision support solution that works cleanly in the R/3 environment would do well to seriously evaluate the solutions from Acta Technology. ActaWorks simplifies the process of capturing data from R/3, and other sources, and defining the transformation and consolidation process. The Acta Server run-time environment is optimized to minimize the impact of the data movement process on the source system. The Acta RapidMart product suite leverages the features of ActaWorks and delivers a pre-configured solution for sales and cost analysis that uses data from major SAP functional modules. A RapidMart can be extended to deliver additional customized functionality, while still enabling companies to deploy value-added decision support solutions much more quickly than would be the case if they were to use traditional hand-coding or less capable tools.

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