Australia's Qenos to upgrade SAP in BI push

Chemical company adds smarts to SAP

Chemical company Qenos will upgrade its SAP platform and deploy a business intelligence portal to complement its existing web-based reporting infrastructure.

Qenos is using SAP R4.7 and the upgrade has been under way for the past two months and is due to go live in March, 2008.

Applications development team leader Ray Thomas told Computerworld the company has a six-month window of opportunity to do the upgrade and is now building test environments.

"We're also deploying a portal and the SAP BI component as part of a business warehouse," Thomas says, adding SAP is a good product, but it is complex.

"We're running R4.7 and have had problems in many areas. It's not so much with SAP but with the business processes around various modules."

Thomas blames in part Qenos' implementation of SAP rather than the technology itself, but believes it is a difficult platform to support given the company's heritage and size.

SAP and Notes are running on separate partitions of an IBM AIX system which, Thomas says, has a good uptime and security record.

Qenos is not new to BI and back in 2001 became an early adopter of Information Builders' web-based reporting application to gain a consolidated view of its diverse infrastructure.

"We had a range of request for reports and didn't have any reporting engine," Thomas says. "Engineers write all sorts of custom code in Excel and over a number of years lots of things started to fall apart so we were looking for a standard platform for reporting and BI."

Qenos' standard requirements were a web-based reporting system that would allow it to extract data from SAP, Lotus Notes, and Oracle, and process plant systems running on SQL Server.

After viewing proposals from Cognos and the now Business Objects-owned Crystal Reports, it was the web-based features of Information Builders that won the deal.

"Most didn't have web-based reporting at the time and that was a key requirement as we have a complex desktop environment with some 200 applications so the last thing we wanted was another client to support," Thomas says. "It worked out nicely as an efficient, effective solution and there is good local support."

Qenos has a small IT team of 16 people with a few contractors for development projects.

A lot of development has been done over the past six years and has resulted in the elimination of older tools written in custom VB code.

"We had never done a quantitative measure of productivity gains, but the other systems were unsupportable and the standardised reporting tool was common infrastructure," Thomas says. "The productivity gain is almost infinite as it was something we couldn't do previously. We have about 1000 users and to deploy that was impossible as we couldn't support it."

The most recent addition to the reporting suite was an executive dashboard.

"They were looking for something and we had a solution in three months," Thomas says. "It pulls data from sales and manufacturing systems daily. We have an application for our sales and marketing team, and also do analysis of SAP maintenance data — both cost and task analysis."

While Thomas says Qenos' BI experience has been good for reasons of support, flexibility, and ease of development, the main issue has been data quality in back-end systems.

"It highlights inconsistencies within different and similar systems," he says.

In light of the recent acquisition of Business Objects by SAP, Thomas is happy with Information Builders and can't see Qenos looking at Business Objects.

"We did look at Business Objects, but that was six years ago," he says. "Some of the bigger BI companies have difficulty working with companies of our size. Their proposals are always out of scale with our resources."

Qenos has also purchased Information Builders' SOA product and is starting to deploy SOA for data integration.

"The pilot project loads data from lab system to the SOA platform," Thomas says. "We are looking at streamlining the process of automating that data. We outsource logistics to a third party so we have to integrate SAP with other systems."

Qenos also has a number of workflow applications in Notes, a safety, health, and environment database, and "dozens" of other applications that manage projects, document management, CRM, and SRM. The next stage is to integrate those with SAP.

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