CN Railway helps SAP

Two Canadian customers, Canadian National Railway Co. and motion picture studio Lions Gate Entertainment, assisted SAP AG’s version 4.0 launch of its Business Objects software suite on Wednesday.The Germany-based software vendor released 4.0 versions of business intelligence and enterprise information management software after three years of development. There are now two new modules called Information Steward for monitoring data quality, and Event Insight for complex event processing (technology from SAP’s Sybase acquisition in 2010). The common thread among the new capabilities is the ability to aggregate data from across a complex enterprise, be it structured and unstructured data and social networks.

Onstage at the launch event keynote in New York city, Alan Capes, director of IT business development and strategic planning with Canadian National Railways, explained how the Montreal-based company has transformed in the last 15 years into a profitable and efficient business.

Part of that transformation for CN Railway has been establishing a business intelligence platform, based on Business Objects, to enable decisions in operational efficiency, service performance, cost control, asset utilization and staff empowerment.

In an interview with ComputerWorld Canada, Capes said it’s also about layering information from various sources such as weather systems that contribute to the successful operations of the railway company. But the risk is that siloed applications will be built around those multiple data streams, said Capes.

“We’ve got telemetry for locomotives. Okay, well that’s one company, one format, one data, one stream. But now we’ve got telemetry from our trucks. That’s a different provider, a different data stream and a different telemetry,” said Capes.

CN Railway has built a “single unified framework” that integrates these myriad data streams upon which data layers can be visualized, for instance, trains can be tracked in real time, said Capes.

As for the Information Steward module, Capes thinks it is “absolutely essential.” CN Railway already has created communities within each line of business with joint accountability for data quality and analytics for a specific domain, whether customer or maintenance information.

“There’s a tremendous synergy between data quality and analytics because the first thing analytics tells you is where your data is screwed up,” said Capes. “Once you fix the data, the analytics start to work.”

CN Railway is in the early stages of deploying the Event Insight module and will upgrade to version 4.0 over the next several months.

Victor Szczerba, general manager of enterprise information management with SAP, told ComputerWorld Canada that the three-year-long development time behind version 4.0 releases was due to the “massive” number of integration points between SAP and classic Business Objects necessary to lower total cost of ownership for customers.

“This was not a hip replacement. This was a full-on re-design down to its fundamental core,” said Szczerba, who explained that the major points of innovation in the new versions are the Event Insight and Information Steward modules along with text analysis of data sources.

SAP is deliberately taking a dual business intelligence and enterprise information management approach to analytics because data cleanup and integration are vital to any BI initiative, said Byron Banks, vice-president for enterprise information management product marketing with SAP, to ComputerWorld Canada.

“The big competitive differentiator is the integration between the two. Every BI project needs the data assembly part of the two,” said Banks.

The chief information officer with Lions Gate Entertainment, the movie studio based in Vancouver and Santa Monica, Calif., that worked on Terminator 2 and Reservoir Dogs, explained onstage the challenge that is the movie industry undergoing profound change with the advent of digital. Leo Collins said the company is using Business Objects 4.0 to convey data and analytics about its digital ventures such as the creation of its own television channel. “In the digital world, everything has changed,” said Collins.

Business Objects 4.0 also introduces support for Amazon’s EC2, a new capability that matters to Collins. For a motion picture studio, the cloud offers a means to quickly and cost effectively provide technology to end users who are already familiar with tools such as Google and Netflix, said Collins.

On Wednesday, SAP also unveiled six new industry-specific analytic applications to the Business Objects suite for media, oil and gas, health care, insurance, life sciences and the public sector.

Following the unveiling in New York, SAP will make several pit stops including Toronto on Wednesday Mar. 2.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau


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