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Newcastle University is looking to simplify business processes using SAP’s Hana database platform.
Chris Burns, business systems technology manager at the university, says its IT function wants to “follow the tripod of SAP Hana, Fiori and cloud”. He and his colleague Alan Cecchini, SAP development manager, are presenting on their proof of concept Hana project at the SAP UK & Ireland User Group conference in Birmingham today (23 November 2015).
“The sheer amount of processing we have to do means we were running out of hours at night,” says Burns, explaining the desire to experiment with Hana.
But with SAP performance degrading and the infrastructure supporting it due for replacement, Burns, Cecchini and their SAP-centric colleagues at Newcastle University decided to take the plunge with the supplier’s in-memory columnar database platform. With consultancy support from the university’s SAP partner itelligence, the team built an enterprise resource planning (ERP) and Business Warehouse (BW) instance on Hana, on two physical servers, with copies of production data.
They first started thinking about using Hana after attending an SAP international higher education user group in the spring of 2014. “We started to see that other universities were starting to have success with Hana,” says Cecchini. “Amsterdam had BW on Hana and was due to go with Business Suite on Hana. Leuven was looking at it and Mississippi had bought licences. So we were aware of three comparator institutions at a global level using Hana.”
The team started its proof of concept project at the beginning of 2015, and the Hana boxes were up and running in May.
Using Hana to speed up business processes
The team has been briefing the university’s executive board about how Hana can speed up business processes. One example would be providing students with smartcards to access university services faster. Another would be getting real-time feeds of information on student numbers on a particular module.
Read more case studies presented at the SAP UK & Ireland User Group annual conference
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Clearing and confirmation of student places is a fraught time at any university. “With the current technology we use on SAP, the main report run by 200 users during that two-week period of clearing and confirmation takes 20 to 40 seconds to get a refresh of the data,” says Cecchini. “So, a student could have a conditional offer, but that won’t be confirmed till the university has processed that record. And so, the users [admissions staff] are always running and waiting and slightly out of date. That will be sorted by a more real-time system.”
While moving to the cloud significantly is a longer term vista – at present it uses SAP cloud services for development – the university is doing a great deal with Fiori, say Burns and Cecchini.
“Fiori will help us get beyond the perception of our users that SAP is a collection of grey screens. Some of our employees are very technically competent, but some are just sparing users of technology. Fiori and UI5 will not only be a better user experience, but it will be easier to maintain and develop,” says Cecchini.
Ultimately, says Burns, “we will be looking to move to S/4 Hana” – the supplier’s full ERP system running on the Hana platform, released in February 2015. He could not put a precise timescale on it, but anticipated over the next three years.
The hardware on which the university’s SAP estate runs was due to be refreshed in any case, so the team decided to bite the bullet. “So far, the journey has been relatively straightforward. I can’t think of any other product we’ve used version one of that has done what it says on the tin,” says Burns.
“They [the servers] don’t look much, though. I was hoping for an 18-wheel truck bringing in a black box with glowing lights, like something out of Close Encounters, but it’s not like that.”
Cecchini adds: “It is worth saying we have only done the proof of concept with the ERP and BW systems. We are planning to include some other others in the next few months, and will learn more as we go.”