Making Sense of SAP Business One with SAP HANA. Why Two Versions?

HANA, SAP’s in-memory computing engine has factored into SAP conversations for a couple of years now. Often HANA and in-memory computing are associated with “big data”, and hence associated with big companies. So the introduction of a HANA product for SAP Business One, SAP’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution for small to midsize enterprises (SMEs) might not resonate immediately. And yet SAP has  not one, but two Business One products for SAP HANA:

  • SAP Business One Analytics, powered by SAP HANA
  • SAP Business One, version for SAP HANA

Given 79% of its customers are SMEs, SAP must know this segment of the ERP market, particularly the lower end, which is the target market for Business One, does not buy or implement technology for technology’s sake. There must be a perceived business value. Read on to discover when, why and how either or both of these offerings can bring value to the small business running Business One.

What are These Two Versions?

SAP Business One Analytics powered by SAP HANA is currently available while SAP Business One version for SAP HANA is still on the (future) horizon.

SAP Business One Analytics powered by SAP HANA

Back in June, SAP Business One Analytics powered by SAP HANA was in what SAP calls its “ramp up” phase.  This phase sits between the beta version and generally available (GA). During this stage, the software is delivered to a limited number of customers. Once a significant number of those customers have gone live, the product exits ramp up and becomes generally available. Currently there are 24 live customers, with 20 additional implementations underway. SAP originally expected the product to become GA in the fourth quarter of 2012 but ramp up went exceptionally well and GA actually occurred in July.

Analytics for SAP Business One includes predefined content (reports and dashboards) and provides interactive analysis based on an online analytical processing (OLAP) data model (also predefined). You can also create your own ad hoc reports using Crystal Reports. Enterprise search is also provided, allowing structured and unstructured free text search. Think of it as a Google search that crosses the boundary between your enterprise applications and the public domain of the Internet.

Customers running SAP Business One Analytics powered by SAP HANA continue to run the (transactional) ERP solution on their existing Windows servers using the Microsoft SQL database. The Analytics will run on a separate appliance, a Linux-based server where the SAP HANA database will also reside. Pricing will vary based on the actual configuration of the hardware and SAP does have a special pricing model for the SAP SME HANA products, but there will be an investment required. But before you assume that level of investment is out of your reach, talk with the SAP Business One partner that supports you. SAP has gone to great lengths to keep the price tag within reach for the SME.

SAP Business One version for SAP HANA

The second product, which went into ramp up in late September 2012, is SAP Business One, version for SAP HANA. A beta version was demonstrated during SAPPHIRENOW in Orlando on May 16, 2012, also demonstrating that SAP HANA is not just for the big guys. It is expected to be generally available late 2013. Think of this as SAP Business One with “HANA inside.”

This version will allow both the transactional and analytical processing to be run on the same server, both of which will be super-charged for speed.  While normally associated with “big data,” HANA is as much about speed as it is big data. And with speed, it is normal to add more and more data, reaching beyond that which is normally stored in enterprise applications. Think about the enormous potential of useful but unstructured data that is floating out there via the Internet.

While generally a database is optimized either for transaction processing (e.g. ERP) or analytics, can one solution be optimized for both? SAP says, “Yes, with SAP HANA.” However, even though both will run on one box, SAP Business One version for SAP HANA will not run on the box that customers run SAP Business One on today. So again, there will be some investment required; explore those costs with SAP and its partners. If you feel this would be a path you might take, there is no reason to delay your purchase of the Analytics powered by SAP HANA. You can take full advantage of the speed and functionality available today with SAP’s assurance that your investment will be protected.

Those that are satisfied with performance today or cannot justify the expenditure and transition to SAP Business One version for SAP HANA may choose to continue running SAP Business One on MSSQL. They will still have the option of purchasing the Analytics powered by HANA on a separate appliance.

Case in Point: Nashua Communications (Pty) Ltd

Nashua Communications is a good example of an SAP Business One customer that has been and will continue to evaluate different options presented by SAP. As a leading provider of converged enterprise network and communications solutions, the company is based in South Africa. It specializes in the design, implementation and support of converged networking and security solutions that use open, standards-based architecture to unify communications and business applications for a seamless collaboration experience. Nashua Communications is running live on SAP Business One Analytics powered by SAP HANA.

The company has a long history with SAP. Up until a few years ago it was part of Siemens and its global enterprise communication arm (Siemens Enterprise Communications PTY).  As part of the Siemens family, it had been using SAP R/3 for the prior 15 years. This changed when Siemens divested this group and it became part of the Nashua Group (within the Reunert Ltd Company).

According to Darren de Vries, Nashua Communication’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), “During our 15 years on SAP R/3 we had accumulated a lot of IP [intellectual property] around reporting. When we migrated to SAP Business One, this was one of our biggest challenges – 15 years of custom-written reports and queries were no longer there. The challenge had not so much to do with functionality – we had all we needed with some customization to SAP Business One and add-on software, but the standard SAP Business One reporting just couldn’t replace 15 years’ worth of time, effort and knowledge.

“In response to the challenge, we purchased the Business Objects (BOBJ) Business Intelligence (BI) tool and started implementing it. We were working with a South African partner of SAP’s that had BOBJ skills but not in conjunction with SAP Business One, so we found the project not the easiest; and progress was slower than expected.”

At this point SAP approached them directly about SAP HANA. “HANA was all about speed, in memory. But what appealed to us the most was that we could buy it off the shelf to work with SAP Business One right away. It was a no- brainer to our CFO. He said, ‘I want this. Go ahead.’”

When Nashua Communications signed on with SAP HANA it was still in the ramp-up phase and therefore the company was instrumental in identifying some problems, but these were resolved. Most had to do with the customizations and add-on functionality it had added to SAP Business One. This was a thorough test since Nashua Communications puts the solution through more paces than the typical SAP Business One customer. At the 300 user mark, if not the largest, it is at least one of the largest SAP Business One customers.

Because of the “newness” of the solution both to the market and to the company, Nashua Communication chose to roll it out first to a selected group of about 10 power users. Mr. de Vries goes on to say, “We are running now on a live environment and once we resolve the odd little glitch here and there, we are very keen to roll it out to the entire user base. We see enormous potential in terms of enterprise searching, speed and access to real-time data. We will empower each and every user as much as possible, but will keep report and query writing to a more technology literate group of people.”

So what about taking the next step to SAP Business One version for SAP HANA when it becomes available? Mr. de Vries states, “We see value in taking transactions to SAP HANA; performance is like night and day. If there is a cost to upgrade, we would have to come up with a business case to justify, just as we have done for the analytics side.

“For the Analytics powered by SAP HANA, the basis for cost justification was our fairly complex needs in terms of data and reporting. Quite frankly, we had struggled to get Business Objects up and running on Business One. The improved speed we experienced was a major factor. Equally important was access to live data rather than data that was 12 to 24 hours old.

“We also experienced a benefit that is quite unique to the South African market. Unlike the US where good telecommunication service is expected and people talk (rather loudly) about bad service, it is just the opposite in South Africa. Expectations are lower and people sing praises when good service exceeds expectations. We are hoping this access to live information will give us a competitive advantage to provide excellence in products and service.”

Key TakeAways

It is clear that a key value proposition for SAP HANA is speed, and even small to midsize enterprises can be faced with a growing challenge of making sense from and managing more and more data. Whether you consider this “big data” or not, the ability to apply analytics in real time without bogging down the transactional system of record can lead to a competitive advantage.

If you are an SME running SAP Business One now, or considering transitioning to this solution, don’t overlook the added strength of analytics powered by SAP HANA today. The enterprise search capabilities alone may suffice to justify making the transition. As SAP Business One version for SAP HANA becomes available later this year, this version, together with speed and the ability to better handle the growing data challenge should be a no-brainer for those just starting out. Existing customers will need to carefully review the business case for making the transition. For these customers, don’t assume SME means small data and don’t overlook the need for speed.

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