Building cubes from SAP data

Courtest of Mat Stephen, whose blog I’ve just come across and which contains a lot of interesting MS BI-related content, I’ve just read the following paper on building AS2K cubes from SAP BW. Now I don’t know much about SAP BW or R/3, but I do know that this is the data that people most want to analyse and that SAP’s own BI tools have a history of being a bit rubbish (I’ve heard this from a lot of people, but the best summaries can be found in the OLAP Survey and the OLAP Report – both fine reads if you have the cash). However, I also know that one of the main reasons why SAP’s own attempt to use AS2K to speed up BW’s query performance was never widely used was because AS2K simply couldn’t handle the number of dimensions and levels that are present in a typical BW Infocube: the only time I heard anyone complaining about AS2K only being able to support 128 dimensions and 256 levels in a cube was in precisely this scenario, even if in my opinion anyone expecting a user to understand a cube this complex is nuts…

Anyway, to get onto my main point, it strikes me that the new attribute-based dimension model of AS2005 is going to make it much more suitable for analysing SAP data. If I didn’t suspect that Microsoft were going to beat everyone to it with Maestro I’d say that using AS2005 and RS2005 to do exactly this job could be the basis for a killer third-party product, although I’m sure there’ll still be a lot of expensive consulting needed even for Maestro implementations. There must be plenty of disaffected BW users out there who are looking for a replacement BI solution.

Also on this subject, the paper above stresses several times that extracting data from R/3 and BW directly from the relational tables in which it’s stored is risky and unsupported, because tables are subject to change in future versions etc etc. That said, I understand that doing this is much quicker than going through any of the official interfaces. So I thought I’d mention a tool called Saphir produced by a company I got to know when I worked in Switzerland, which makes exploring and extracting from SAP’s (and other ERP tools’) relational tables much easier. I know of at least one project where it was used to extract data to populate Analysis Services cubes.

Update: no sooner do I write this entry than I read this article – if you follow the link to the SAP site, you’ll see a mention of ‘Business Analytics delivered through Microsoft Excel’ – hmm, I wonder if this has anything to do with Maestro?

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