Exciting, Risky Business Intelligence in South Africa

I was in South Africa last week for the inaugural meetings of the BI special interest group of the Africa SAP User’s Group (AFSUG). There were two events, one in Cape Town and another in Johannesburg, with Durban dialed in through an Adobe Connect session. There was lots of interest, with so many people wanting to attend that the event over capacity in Cape Town and had to have a second overflow room in Johannesburg.

The agenda consisted of:

  • An introduction by Simon Carpenter, Director of Strategic Initiatives for SAP Africa
  • AFSUG Overview by Chairmen Cuan Kloppers (Cape Town) and Alistair Knock (Johannesburg)
  • Transforming Business Intelligence presentation by me, Timo Elliott
  • Using BI to Comply – Business Objects in Rand Merchant Bank by BI Manager Michelle Breytenbach
  • BI for the Casual User by Michael Jones, Solution Manager BI – SAP Africa
  • Request for Committee Nominations


Simon Carpenter gave a great overview of why these are exciting times for Africa, and how SAP hopes to help its customers navigate their way to holistic performance management. He emphasized that the agenda for this initial meeting was created by SAP, but the primary goal of the event was to introduce people to the SIG and gather nominations for participants to drive future agendas.

Cuan Kloppers and Alistair Knock explained the organization and goals of the independent AFSUG organization (“Educate. Influence. Network”), talked about the seventeen special interest groups, and outlined plans for the next large local SAP event, SAPHILA, in Sun City next year, November 7 to 10.

My presentation covered why organizations should be interested in BI in today’s exciting times, an overview of the SAP BusinessObjects product portfolio, the top two current trends in business intelligence, the product roadmap for BI and EIM products, and a glimpse of future directions, using prototypes from the SAP BusinessObjects Innovation Center.

You can find a copy of my presentation below. Note that SAP prefers to talk directly to customers about the roadmap, to ensure that there are no misinterpretations and to be able to immediately answer any questions customers may have, so I have omitted those slides from the deck.

If you would have any questions about the product roadmap for the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio of products in an existing SAP / NetWeaver BI environment, please contact your SAP representative.

rand merchant bankThe main customer presentation of the event was by  Michelle Breytenbach, BI Manager for Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), who gave a great overview of how RMB is using business intelligence to assist with the bank’s risk and compliance.

Breytenbach has over 18 years of experience in business intelligence, and heads up the bank’s BI center of excellence devoted to centralizing knowledge and sharing best practices across the bank’s very decentralized organization.

SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence and Crystal Reports are used to provide information from multiple different data sources (including Oracle, Sybase, and Microsoft SQL Server) across the bank to over 850 accountants and actuaries throughout the organization.


The reports provide staff with insights into all aspect of risks that may affect the bank:

  • Market risk – exposure to the uncertain market value of the bank’s portfolio. For example, exception reports are sent automatically when Value at Risk (VaR) numbers vary significantly from one period to another.
  • Credit risk – risk due to uncertainty in the bank’s counterparties’ ability to meet its obligations. For example, credit analysts automatically receive reports if there has been a change in a counterpart risk rating.
  • Operational risk – risk of loss resulting from inadequate or failed internal processes, people and systems, or from external events. For example, reports monitor the submission of regulatory returns and financial statements.
  • Regulatory compliance – obligatory reports such as Basel II reporting to the central bank, and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act watch list.

In addition, the IT organization uses business intelligence extensively to monitor its own project progress and compliance with service level agreements to the rest of the business, such as help desk monitoring and system audits.

The BI systems typically replaced existing Excel-based systems. The result has been faster preparation times, reduced manual intervention, and large improvements in accuracy. In one example, ten widely-used accounting reports each used to take over four hours to produce. This has now been reduced to just five seconds per report.

The system currently runs on just two server machines (one for the application, one for the database). In the future this will be extended to a more extensive production / development / maintenance architecture. Breytenbach emphasized that the ability of the SAP BusinessObjects tools to access information from all their different systems – including directly from the applications themselves – was a key part of the value of the system.


Michael Jones gave an excellent overview of why organizations should be more focused BI for the Casual User, explaining the importance of interactive reporting and data discovery in addition to more traditional types of business intelligence, including delivery through search interfaces, mobile devices, Microsoft Office applications, web services, and desktop widgets.

Feedback and Next Steps

The events got very good feedback. Attendees seemed to be impressed with the relatively large number of users at RMB bank compared to some existing user deployments – one person said to me “I see I should be paying more attention to the SAP BusinessObjects product line.”

If you’re interested in attending future sessions of the BI special interest group, please take a look at the AFSUG web site for event details, submit your nominations for people to help run the group, and start planning to attend SAPHILA, the African version of SAPPHIRE, in November 2010.


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