Belgium’s migration to in-memory reporting
August 14, 2020

Having reporting and data available on time is crucial in the grocery business. Retail is detail, and making the right decisions at the right time becomes a true competitive advantage in our days. Data is not only “the new oil”, but also a way to simplify our ways of working, becoming faster, more transparent and less bureaucratic. Here we go with a few examples drawn from day-to-day needs within Carrefour Belgium:

  • Monitoring the e-commerce site’s performance – It is well-known that KPIs such as the Time To First Byte (TTFB) have an important effort on how the customer perceives the site (as “fast” or as “slow”).
  • Detecting frauds in payment – This is one of the top-5 cybersecurity risks within Carrefour and a quick response often makes the difference for our customers.
  • Enhancing the quality of service – For instance, detecting check-out issues fast enough helps to be one step ahead of our customers and propose a smoother experience. We want to know as soon as possible if a customer cannot place an order to find a solution.

In this context, Carrefour Belgium’s tech strategy includes the modernization of its SAP suite as one of its main pillars. This logic of renewal includes SAP’s reporting module, called BW (for “Business Warehouse”). The idea behind this move is to host BW in the new “HANA” database of SAP, which has the particularity of being real-time, hence much better fit to address the aforementioned  reporting and data availability challenges.

What is SAP BW4HANA?

SAP BW4HANA allows modelling data coming from SAP using a streamlined methodology. It also enables the combination of SAP data with third-party insights in either the BW layer or natively in HANA. It is finally worth mentioning that it brings strong data exposure capabilities, using a wide variety of methods.

In comparison with the classic BW, BW4HANA has simplified its data structures, drastically reducing the quantity of data objects, requiring less maintenance and storage. Thanks to its high compression rate and its new way of storing data in-memory, the new HANA database will help Carrefour Belgium reduce its storage needs by at least 20%.

HANA’s biggest advantage is its speed and agility. As anin-memory and column-oriented database, it provides really fast access to data. It enables more efficient querying and processing, also when it comes to supporting advanced analytics.

Carrefour Belgium move to HANA is crucial, as all innovations of SAP will be supported but a real-time infrastructure.


A first step with BWonHANA

What is the difference between “SAP BWonHANA” and “SAP BW4HANA”? In fact, they are two different application suites running on the same database. BWonHANA uses SAP’s legacy BW software while already taking advantage of the HANA database. BW4HANA uses a re-engineered software suite designed to fully exploit the power of the HANA database. Because BW4HANA is totally optimized for HANA, it brings an even faster response than BWonHANA, as well as a new bunch of functionalities. 

BWonHANA allows Carrefour Belgium to migrate legacy databases from Oracle to HANA’s new architecture, leveraging the raw processing power and speed of the in-memory analytic platform without disrupting the existing content or requiring costly reengineering efforts. 

BWonHANA is also a first good step to initiate users into using some of HANA’s functionality. For instance, an interesting capability of BWonHANA is the possibility to create agile data models. These can be thought of as  “virtual models” where business logic is calculated in real time versus the old models based on persistence staging layers, whichtend to be aversive to changes and often come with long load time.

The new agile data models have the following advantages:

  • Reduce the data footprint, hence reducing the number of database requests and load time.
  • Enable agile ways of working, , since it can be easily modified with instant results.
  • Simplified usage. For example, parallel models can be created in a few clicks without impacting the existing models.

These models are crucial in a world where business needs to adapt to constantly changing circumstances (we saw this during Covid-19!). Changes must be reflected in a quick and responsive way, resulting in an endless interaction between what the customer needs and the services that the company offers.

A pragmatic delivery project

We selected Expertum as the system integration partner for BWonHANA. Expertum proposed a skilled team and was able to demonstrate good references. Their commitment towards delivery “no matter what” was exactly what we were looking for. 

The strategy of the project was to combine an upgrade to SAP BW 7.5 SP10 with the SAP HANA database migration. Moreover, we moved from an “on premise” hosting infra to a cloud environment.

The migration to SAP BWonHANA was transparent for our end users. By “end users” we are referring to Carrefour employees that use the SAP BW environment for reporting purposes, skilled in multiple tools:

  • SAP Bex Query Designer.
  • SAP Bex Analyzer.
  • Tibco Spotfire dashboarding.
  • SAP Analysis for Office.
  • Sap BI 4.2 (including Crystal Reports).

The delivery of BWonHANA occured in May 2020. A lean team was on lead with a Carrefour project manager, a Carrefour infra coordinator and two experts from Expertum.

The transition to BW4HANA will be executed in parallel to the decommissioning of SAP ECC in the coming years.

Observed benefits

The go-live of BWonHANA has led to numerous positive outcomes in a short period of time.

  • Drastically decrease the time to deliver new reports. Since the data modeling step has been simplified, there is for instance no need to create complex “cubes” anymore.
  • Accelerate the loading time. We already noticed that some reports are brought up 15x times faster than before.
  • Improve the refreshing time of reports that were not optimized.

And the most important outcome… Our business counterparts are delighted with the new performances and encourage us to go further in the data analytics journey!

You can also check our other articles related to next-gen infra.

About the Author

IT Manager / Program Manager New Digital Core at Carrefour Belgium Over 20 years of leading various scale projects in the area of IT Supply Chain Management.

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