Integrating External Data Sources into your BI

An organization’s BI needs grow as business strategies adjust to a new business landscape. Acquisitions and mergers, regulatory requirements, and the user community can drive changes in BI requirements. To support the key decision makers with a 360-degree view of the business, data from existing sources needs to be integrated with new data sources, such as from SAP B1, that may arise from such changes.

Data integration strategies require reassessment to ensure continuous alignment of BI requirements with business needs.

Understanding the Flow of Data

As a use case, to support key executives with a complete view of business, data from existing sources needs to be integrated with SAP B1 data sources. However, it is crucial to first get an understanding of existing data flows.

Enterprise data can be roughly divided into two types: (a) data supporting operations (i.e., accounting, H/R, G/L, etc.), and (b) data for BI functions (e.g., analytics, reporting, and executive dashboards).

Data flows may also include activities such as data cleansing, extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL), metadata validation, and data quality checks that ensure data integrity.

A typical physical data flow uses a data warehouse to integrate and store data from various sources, and employs data marts to distribute data. These data marts are created and optimized for specific business needs. BI applications such as dashboards, reports, and analytics use data marts to present the data to business users. The integrated SAP B1 data in the data mart is stored in a manner that optimizes query performance for a specific BI need. It also may capture some historical data from SAP B1 and provide summary information.

Constraints Influencing integration of SAP B1 data

Business requirements, architectural requirements, and various other constraints may drive the type of SAP B1 data of integration. An example of such constraints is the lack of a business sponsor for the BI initiative. Absence of a sponsor who has identified the data flow for the organization and can drive all BI data movement through it is one of the primary reasons BI initiatives fail.

Some of the typical data architecture factors include:

  • Complexity of Transformation:  Complex transformations may impact query performance as these transformation rules are executed in real time during query execution.
  • Data Source Profiles:
    • External: External data sources, like SAP B1 data, may not provide real-time access to the data source and may require staging before they can be integrated or published. In addition, they may not be available in a consistent format and may require some cleansing and translation.
    • Availability: Availability of the SAP B1 data sources plays a big role in the application and design of the data flow. Any downtime of a data source, whether a development, maintenance, or network issue, translates into unavailability of BI information. Service level agreements of data sources are should be properly aligned with the BI application availability requirements.
  • Data Quality: Integration typically involves ETL processes that move the SAP B1 data from sources into a staging area before it can be published for BI use. Staging facilitates data scrubbing and translation, and in some cases manual validation or annotation.
  • Data Periodicity: Sometimes SAP B1 data from different sources for a particular period is not available at the same time. In such cases, the data from these sources needs to be staged until the data from all sources for that period is available.
  • Data Source Transparency: Sometimes architectural flexibility is required such that the BI application can be insulated from data source changes. A solid strategy for fluxes in the SAP B1 data provides an attractive means to support a BI environment for which data-source changes are planned.

A careful assessment is required to determine enterprise fit for a given SAP B1 data integration strategy. It involves analyzing business and user needs relating to data timeliness, freshness, history, and regulatory requirements, an understanding of organizational culture and governance, as well as existing maturity of technologies involved.

NewIntelligence has helped many clients with their SAP B1 data integrations. If you require assistance in integrating any of your SAP B1 data sources for analytics purposes, please contact us at info@newintelligence.ca and one of our data integration experts will be glad to assist you.

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