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SAP BI Helps Avnet Cope With Double-Digit Growth

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

REVIEWER: Steve Slatzer, director of strategic finance for Avnet, Inc.

BACKGROUND: Avnet, Inc. is one of the world's largest B2B distributors of semiconductors; interconnect, passive and electromechanical components; enterprise network and computer equipment; and embedded subsystems from leading manufacturers. Serving customers in 68 countries, Avnet markets, inventories and adds value to these products and provides supply chain management and engineering services.

PLATFORMS: HP-UX 9000/800.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Between 1997 and 2001, Avnet grew dramatically, both organically and through numerous acquisitions. During that time, the company employed OLAP software to perform financial analyses. As we grew larger, our financial analysts found the OLAP software ran more and more slowly, wasn't very reliable and required a substantial amount of time and effort to maintain. In the event of an organizational change, it would sometimes take days to rebuild the database in order to accommodate the new structure. The system was bursting at the seams and wasn't flexible enough to meet our needs.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Avnet went live with SAP BI in January of 2002. SAP BI lets Avnet get instant reports each morning, even though it's drawing operational data from multiple sources - both SAP and non-SAP - around the world. As a result, company managers can rely on a "single version of the truth" for their business planning and performance analyses. Avnet's financial analysts can save time in closing the books and preparing their monthly reports. SAP BI's OLAP tool gives us faster turnaround time of key financial reports and analysis, as well as the ability to deal with change brought about by organizational growth. We're also using SAP BI's DB [database] connect function to extract data from a growing number of relational databases, applications and legacy systems located in the U.S. and Europe. Because this allows us to integrate data very quickly, we can now perform much deeper analysis of key areas of our business. The warehouse needs to be updated each night during our closing cycle, and the updates must occur in a relatively small window of time. With SAP BI, the update only takes approximately an hour to run. A major reason for the quick update speed is the SAP BI delta feature, which ensures that only "new" data is actually sent from the sources to the repository.

STRENGTHS: The main strengths of SAP BI are its ability to integrate lots of SAP and non-SAP data very fast and very efficiently and to then enable us, via its query and OLAP tools, to produce reports and business intelligence that helps us understand our performance. This gives us insight into our business so we can proactively address key business goals as well as new challenges and opportunities as they arise.

WEAKNESSES: Ease of use for electronically distributing reports created by SAP BI has been a weakness. SAP has responded to this need in the latest version of the product by adding a single, Web-based wizard for easily disseminating personalized SAP BI reports, though we haven't deployed it yet.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We looked at products from Hyperion and Cognos, but ultimately chose SAP BI. We analyzed the BI needs of various groups within the company and found that we really needed four BI systems: a robust analytics environment, a new budgeting system, a strategic planning system and an executive cockpit. A review of BI industry vendors showed that only SAP could deliver all four functions in an integrated bundle.

DELIVERABLES: Our SAP BI system has approximately 350 users located around the world who use the system for budgeting, financial reporting and analysis. The SAP BI system helps us produce numerous types of financial reports - income statements, balance sheets, expense detail, etc. Users run approximately 30,000 queries per month and utilize SAP BI's powerful OLAP functions to drill down to underlying detail in order to analyze results and slice-and-dice data for more detail. We have approximately half a terabyte of data in the system today. We expect it to have 500 users by year-end and be close to 1TB by Q1 of next year as we expand the system's use across our European operations. The user base includes financial analysts across the company, as well as lots of senior managers. Our CEO also uses SAP BI on a weekly basis to run a report on worldwide bookings and billings.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We are relatively pleased with the support that SAP provides. SAP has a particularly strong consulting organization and a lot of resources that we can bring to bear when needed.

DOCUMENTATION: Overall, the documentation for SAP BI is quite good for both the developer and end user community. We could definitely run the product using the documentation.

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