SAP S/4HANA is an outstanding development for me. However, this only became clear to me in the second step. When I first got to know SAP's ERP software in 2017, I didn't immediately get the impression that it was a revolutionary throwdown, and I wondered what was supposed to be so groundbreaking about this development.
Was it the consolidation of SAP solutions?
At first, I was convinced that this was the essential aspect of this new solution. After all, in addition to SAP ERP, various add-on solutions such as SAP-APO, SAP-EWM or SAP-TM had been developed over the past few years. These products were originally developed as stand-alone solutions and had some data redundancies in their interaction, which could thus be resolved. But this is nothing more than a nice side effect and not a reason to switch to SAP S/4HANA.
Was it the new functionalities in SAP S/4HANA?
This point is sometimes highlighted in the media. It is an important topic. In SAP S/4HANA, for example, accounting was built on new data structures. New planning scenarios and scheduling procedures have also been integrated into the system. These are just a few examples of a wide range of new functionalities. Looking in detail at these developments and the way they were realized, I came closer to the actual added value of the solution.
Why does the new SAP Fiori interface matter?
SAP S/4HANA also comes with a new user interface. This user interface is developed according to modern aspects and is operated via a standard internet browser. Instead of transactions, so-called apps are called up. These offer an appealing appearance and contemporary ease of use. The information in the apps can be presented both graphically and in tabular form.
But what is really special about the interface is that analytical functions can already be integrated on the initial page - and without having to call up an individual app. This means that if I am busy in sales order processing, I can already see on the initial screen, for example, the monthly sales with my customers, the number of delayed orders, the open incoming orders and much more.
For this to be possible in real time, a system is needed that is optimized for analytical access, similar to a 'business warehouse'. And this brings us to the actual core of SAP S/4HANA - the Digital Core.
The database is the extraordinary thing!
So now it's getting a bit technical, but for all those who are not interested in the details, let me say: With this database, you can analyze data and map business processes at the same time! In times of mass data, this is indispensable for making the right decisions for the company.
When we first implemented S/4HANA, I was not yet aware of the added value of this solution. I thought it was a conventional relational database that holds and processes the active part of the data in the main memory, but still stores the bulk of the data on the hard disk - just like others do... But far from it!
What is special and perhaps revolutionary about the HANA database is that, firstly, it runs entirely in main memory and, secondly, it is a symbiosis of row and column processing. This means that transactional (OLTP) and analytical (OLAP) procedures can be handled directly in the same system. The advantages of each system can compensate for the disadvantages of the other, resulting in enormous speed advantages.
Advantage of column processing:
Display a table with individual orders, the associated deadlines and the respective revenues. For example, to determine the total revenue of all orders or the sum of orders processed late, exactly one access is sufficient. In systems I know, including SAP-ERP, all orders would first have to be read individually and the respective column values added up.
Advantage of line processing:
If a new order is to be written to the database or an existing order is to be processed, this can be done in row processing with one access. With a column-oriented database, you would now be at a distinct disadvantage since you would have to add each column individually.
Advantage main memory:
Since the database runs completely in main memory, the database design was chosen in such a way that so-called indexes can be dispensed with.
In the classic relational database, the index is needed for fast access to the data. Otherwise, the system always reads the entire table to find a corresponding record. For a database, this means that for each index, an entire table must be physically held on that database in the desired order. Depending on the number of indexes and the table size, this can mean enormous memory requirements. Not to mention the need to update individual tables when changes are made.
This is not necessary in the HANA database. As a result, the database of an SAP ERP system can quickly shrink by 50 percent after conversion and the total number of database accesses can be significantly reduced.
By coding column values, the memory requirements of the database can be further reduced.
The processing of data in the database can be distributed across several CPUs and the associated cache memories. This also has a positive effect on the processing speed.
Due to the database architecture, only records are inserted. In addition to the speed advantages, all changes are traceable and automatically stored in an audit-proof manner.
The database makes it possible to evaluate so-called Big Data online. This means that various behavioral patterns in mass data can be identified. For example, machine data can be analyzed and processed directly - the prerequisite for an integrated Industry 4.0 solution.
All the fancy interfaces and forward-looking processes that make it possible to analyze corporate data clearly would not even be possible without the way data is stored. And by the way, with a corporate solution that works similarly to the modern communication methods of smartphones, their human resources development can also develop positively - especially the recruitment of junior staff. After all, working in the modern world is fun!