Unlock Data’s Value in SAP Integration Programs
Deeper Insights Can Help Drive The Business Agility Sought By Leaders
By Alex Soto, Editor
No matter where in the technology lifecycle an SAP customer finds itself, the time and financial costs of poor data can cause a technology integration project to become sidetracked. The problem could be as simple as not having easy access to the data. But, even when an organization does have access to its data, it may face challenges with data quality.
SAP technology plays a pivotal role in extracting value from data. It often takes center stage in systems integration conversations, as it should, according to Iain Harfield, Senior Solution Engineer at TIBCO.
“Real-time connectivity of application data and business processes is critical for SAP customers looking to optimize the value and potential of their SAP portfolios and investments,” says Harfield.
He explains that by intelligently unifying data for greater access, trust, and control, organizations can confidently predict outcomes in real time and at scale to unlock the full value of their data.
To learn more about how this topic is being addressed by SAP customers, SAPinsider talked with Harfield, who is responsible for the SAP program at TIBCO, and discussed what organizations need to consider as they build out their integration strategies.
Business Agility Driven by Technology and User Insights
A common theme always emerges, says Harfield, when business leaders across all industries discuss their technology integration projects – business agility.
With that objective, SAP customers can lay the strategic groundwork to reach their aims — which ultimately involves new technologies for integrating data, applications, and processes.
According to Harfield, the primary decision-makers for integration strategies are often those individuals responsible for lines of business – for example, a chief revenue officer who owns an organization’s order-to-cash process.
“These people are seriously influential because they need to keep their programs on track and within budget and make sure that solutions are delivered on schedule, all without introducing unnecessary risk,” he says.
Business leaders often face pressure from stakeholders to get it right, but they are not alone in their efforts. Enterprise architects accompany them on the journey.
While defining the integration strategy is primarily led by the business executives, enterprise architects typically drive the implementation of that strategy, explains Harfield.
As the individuals responsible for bringing the different applications and tools together to help serve the business needs of an organization, enterprise architects want to ensure that any solution selected is aligned with the technical vision of the organization, according to Harfield.
“The problem with agility for an architect is that it means that an organization can go in any possible business direction, and at any moment. This is especially true in the rapid evolution taking place in today’s disrupted world,” Harfield says.
In addition to meeting the architectural vision, Harfield says that architects have to be convinced that any solution put forward can meet the skill efficiencies demanded at the organization.
End users also play a pivotal role in building out an integration strategy, according to Harfield.
“Any decision must also involve the actual users because not including them in the process can put an organization at risk of providing solutions that fall short of addressing business challenges,” he says.
On top of leveraging data for deeper insights and driving business agility, many organizations have requirements around governance and security.
“Another requirement is to de-risk what is a far more complex use case, such as the digital transformation from legacy SAP ECC estates to the new investments toward SAP S/4HANA. In some cases, this might even mean the refresh of the IT infrastructure,” says Harfield.
But, for the most part, the primary driver for many of TIBCO’s customers that leverage SAP technology has been business agility, according to Harfield.
“Strategies around business agility have accelerated largely as a result of the pandemic. But beyond that, leaders are also seeing business continuity, customer experience, and the ability to make smarter decisions as high priorities,” he says.
“Ultimately, it’s about improving SAP end-to-end business processes such as lead-to-cash, recruit-to-retire, source-to-pay, design-to-operate. And at the same time, it is enabling businesses to become more agile and improve operational efficiencies,” he says.
Ensuring Data Quality with Machine Learning
Quality data is essential for business transformation, but before investing in a data quality solution, consider the ultimate purpose of data in an organization, which is to leverage the insights in the data and drive business decisions.
However, data quality is often a problem when it comes to the transition from one system to another. In some cases, Harfield explains, an organization may want to leave its data in a data lake.
Then, through machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, an organization can take its data sources — whether from SAP or any other system process or real-time sources — and abstract that data into a standard API set.
Harfield explains that an organization can train ML on business process to understand the errors in a data source efficiently.
“It can then improve data quality and reduce data validation errors automatically as part of a transition initially, and then, as part of a day-to-day business process,” he says.
“Organizations are looking to create a view of data that perhaps they haven’t had before. They’re looking to integrate process information, have greater insight, and have AI and machine learning working with the data that they have,” says Harfield.
To explain, he uses the example of a global beverage organization.
“It’s grown very fast both organically and through more than 20 acquisitions. With SAP at the heart of its organization, they needed to find a way to streamline the onboarding of new companies, bring new products to market, and engage more easily with their growing partner ecosystem,” he says.
Harfield explains that the organization successfully exposed its core business services by integrating SAP business processes with an API-led approach. It enabled the company to achieve operational efficiencies and enable its ecosystem growth path.
According to Harfield, the success of the solution will serve as the foundation for that customer’s next steps toward SAP S/4HANA migration.
Moving the Needle, Measuring Success
How does an organization determine the success of its integration program?
It largely depends on the industry, Harfield explains. “Organizations use different metrics, like time-to-market, agility to change business models, and reducing costs to measure success,” he says.
Consider the pharmaceutical industry. The data-intense and regulation-centric nature of pharmaceutical processes, such as drug approvals, present challenges for seamless data collection in the development and analysis of therapies and medicines.
What type of metrics of KPIs are needed then to help a pharmaceutical organization measure its success and move the needle toward achieving business goals?
In an example, one of TIBCO’s customers, an international pharmaceutical company specializing in neuroscience and rare diseases, wanted to streamline its model development and analysis processes.
“The company reduced its process from four months to 16 hours and at the same time lowered its operational cost,” says Harfield.
In the pharmaceutical industry, technology can play a vital role in helping alleviate the data challenges, creating more efficient workflows to help ensure better business results, and ultimately, improving outcomes for patients.
But KPIs will look very different for organizations in other industries – for example, a hospitality company.
One of TIBCO’s customers, a leader in sustainable tourism, wanted to improve its room occupancy, a metric that involves identifying the total number of empty rooms versus booked rooms.
According to Harfield, success for the customer meant improving its room occupancy rate, which it did –from 30 to 80 percent.
“In the end, SAP customers, irrespective of their deployment choices – whether on-premise, SaaS, multi-cloud, or a hybrid approach – want to radically improve their business processes, unlock their data for improved insight, and achieve the business value and agility they need,” Harfield concludes.
Seamlessly Connecting More Data
Companies like TIBCO understand the difficulties organizations can face with data. For example, as an organization gets more data, it has more of it to synthesize. Another challenge includes integrating the data with applications and processes.
Harfield explains that from an integration standpoint, people are looking to implement a strategy that provides a better IT landscape and allows for better connectivity of applications, application data, and business processes.
“Organizations are looking to seamlessly connect their applications, processes, data, and sources to allow their entire SAP technology portfolio to work as one, helping to avoid data and applications from becoming isolated and disconnected,” he says.
According to Harfield, TIBCO’s Connected Intelligence platform, built with three critical pillars of capability in mind – customer intimacy, operational excellence, and business reinvention – can help SAP customers to connect it all.
He explains that the first pillar, customer intimacy, describes use cases around predictive engagement and demand-driven supply to improve customer and employee experiences and enhance operational agility.
The primary focus areas of the second pillar, operational excellence, are automated asset optimization, predictive intervention, and anomaly detection.
Requirements around business reinvention, the third pillar, includes monetizing through data insights and leveraging data to change a business model or achieve new revenue streams or disruptive growth.
According to Harfield, these three categories touch just about every type of solution that SAP customers need to apply technology in their integration strategy for specific use cases and value propositions.
“By bringing everything into a single platform and intelligently unifying the data through data management tools, an organization can get a single trusted view of the data, and by extension, its entire business,” Harfield says.
What Does This Mean For SAPinsiders?
Remember that SAP system integrations go beyond SAP. Integration is an important topic for SAP customers today. SAPinsider’s research reveals that 90% of organizations are supporting non-SAP to SAP integration, while only 78% are performing SAP to SAP integration. When defining a data integration strategy, organizations need to prepare to work with data not only in their SAP systems but also in non-SAP systems.
Intelligently aggregate data into a single view. Data exists in various formats and lives in different systems. Unlocking the full value of the data does not necessarily mean transitioning it from one system to the next. An intelligent API-led approach can bring everything into view on a single platform.
Machine learning drives deeper insights and business agility. Organizations can train a machine learning application to understand the errors in data and improve quality amid SAP technology transitions, and then it can be used for day-to-day business processes.
Lines of businesses can take the wheel but should never drive the strategy alone. It’s typical for the business to lead an integration strategy. However, driving the implementation of that technology to execute the strategy and improve the business means enterprise architects must go along for the journey. And including actual users in decisions helps ensure that solutions address the business challenges.