I recently went to SAP SAPPHIRE and had a great time seeing my BI friends from Microsoft, Simplement, Accenture, Deloitte, Hitachi, Ernst & Young and numerous customer accounts. SAPPHIRE seems to be a much heavier attended conference than SAP TechEd that I attended last fall. To prepare for this event, I had to ramp up on combined Tableau with SAP solutions. In the past, I have worked with combined Microsoft with SAP solutions – to read up on those check out Power Pivot with SAP HANA and Microsoft BI with SAP. Now having seen both combined vendor solutions with SAP, I do see common patterns and I also see some areas where it sure does help to have a great SAP relationship for the combined solution connectivity!

Tableau directly connects to SAP HANA, SAP BW and SAP Sybase IQ. Tableau also can be called or embedded to/from an SAP Business Objects – the Ablaze Group has an excellent video of combining Tableau with SAP Business Objects. Historically SAP customers have been using Tableau with SAP BW for a while now. This year I am seeing a little more SAP HANA than I did last year as the database market share competition heats up.  Thus I started my exploration of the SAP + Tableau experience with SAP HANA and it found that it was super easy.  The first thing I did was install the SAP HANA ODBC driver                on my laptop and connected to an SAP HANA instance hosted on AWS. From there the Tableau experience was exactly the same as it is with any other relational database – simple drag and drop visual analysis with the lightning fast speeds that SAP HANA in memory delivers. See the image above of my Mortgage Analytics testing (using fake data of course).

Although it was not required for Tableau, I also installed SAP HANA Studio so  I could play with SAP Hana in general, load data, create stored procedures and test the Predictive Analytics Library for a later post. For learning SAP HANA, I watched a few of the wonderful videos on SAP Academy. Working with SAP HANA feels like most other relational databases that I have worked with in the past: DBA/Developer management studio, role based permissions, tables, stored procedures, import/export, SQL, explain plans, sequences and so forth. Some of the differences were the optional Analytics Function Library, Predictive Analysis Library, R integration (it relies on RServe so that seems more like a wrapper to me than true integration), and a nice data previewer with charting capabilities.  More to come on SAP HANA  but for now back to Tableau + SAP.

Next on the list was SAP BW with Tableau. There are quite a few of the largest companies in the world already doing this and they are sure to stop by the booth and ping me so I had to be on my A-game!  To get connected to SAP BW using the Tableau SAP BW connector, I found the Knowledgebase article was quite helpful. This connector uses the OLE DB for OLAP provider and issues live MDX queries to SAP BW. The connection experience is similar to using Tableau with other OLAP data sources, such as Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services and Oracle Essbase. I needed to install the SAP GUI for Windows and the OLE DB for OLAP provider from the SAP Service Marketplace. Tableau enables you to connect to a BEx Query or to an InfoCube in SAP BW – other SAP objects like MultiProviders and ODS must be done through a Query that has the “Allow External Access to this Query” option selected in the Properties tab in the BEx Query Designer application.  In Tableau, choose the SAP Netweaver Business Warehouse connection type, enter your credentials and the select an InfoProvider to connect to a BEx Query or InfoCube. Note that BEx queries often perform better than connecting to an InfoCube since they can be designed to get specific information from SAP BW rather than everything. BEx queries can be defined using BEx Query Designer. Once a BEx Query or Infocube is selected, Tableau detects the properties of the available objects, dimensions, hierarchies, and key figures as shown side by side in the image below.


Now you can get to the real fun and start creating amazing Tableau visualizations of this SAP data, blend it with other data and publish it to Tableau Server for sharing or even embedding the analysis into a web site, web application, SharePoint or SAP Reporting portal.

While on this topic quite a few people asked about SAP Visual Intelligence now called SAP Lumira vs. Tableau this week. I would advise you to check them both out side-by-side, test, play and experience the sea of vast differences of product maturity. Tableau has a good 10+ years of development head start on SAP in this space. Tableau is #1 in this class, the depth, breadth and design is far superior. It is notable that SAP Lumira’s embedded predictive analytics with SAP HANA, R, and writeback features are much easier than doing predictive with Tableau today.  SAP Lumira also has much nicer data cleansing options than Tableau right now. However, data connectivity and just about everything else visual analytics is much better in Tableau than SAP Lumira. In time SAP Lumira may have something more compelling but I have not seen much for enhancements since the debut last year at SAP TechEd in October. Bottom line = test them both and choose what is the best strategic analytics tool for you.

Hopefully this was a good primer on how to get started with Tableau and SAP. This happens to be a pretty popular combined solution at some of the largest companies in the world. If you have any questions or need further guidance about this topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.