For the past 6 weeks I have been working on developing a proof of concept (PoC) for a financial planning solution based in SAP BPC 10. It occurred to me that, as a new SAP BPC user and consultant at Bluefin Solutions, there would be some value in identifying which key functions made the biggest impression on me and the simplifications they afford the business user.
In doing so, I hope I can inform those considering implementing SAP BPC what some of the most immediately noticeable benefits are.
My previous experience is of purely excel based planning systems, so these points are particularly relevant to anyone currently struggling with large and complex worksheets.
The three points I want to cover are:
Security & access
SAP BPC has a vast array of reporting options available via a number of different components that make up the tool. As a relatively inexperienced user, it was remarkably easy to begin creating and viewing reports. Once the ground-work is done in terms of creating the master data and importing transactional data, it's a simple step to view this and start spending time on analysis. This is all standard functionality, so it can be performed virtually from the start: it doesn't take a huge time investment on the user's part.
What struck me most was the sheer flexibility of the reporting capabilities. Whatever the user's needs, it's a very straightforward process to provide meaningful information.
As with many reporting systems, there are usually several common reports that are built during development - income statements and balance sheets, for example. These are linked to the database so that changes in the source data or the context of the report are reflected dynamically. Even this, compared to your average excel based reporting tool, is quite a big step from my point of view!
Creating reports for this purpose has formed a part of what I have worked on for the PoC, and as such I feel qualified to say: it really isn't difficult. This is fortunate, because one of the ways that SAP BPC is so flexible is by allowing users to do this themselves.
Using familiar interfaces such as Microsoft Excel and web clients, users can take advantage of drag and drop functionality and simple drop down menus to quickly generate customised reports. In fact, it's so fast that it's quite possible to do this sort of ad-hoc report building whilst in a meeting. The benefits of this are clear: being able to instantly query the database to answer an executive's question is an impressive ability to display. I actually demonstrated this to a client recently and received very positive feedback - it genuinely is feasible to do.
Reports created in this way can be saved to different folders depending on which users need to access them. This brings me on to my next point:
Security & access
A typical requirement for clients is to have security set up around what data users have access to, and which tasks they can perform. This is something which SAP BPC can be configured to do throughout the planning process.
My first impression of the way security and access is set up in SAP BPC was how stringent the measures are - and I mean that positively! Whilst it is possible to build up procedures to provide these settings in other planning tools, it can be surprising how often errors find their way past. This isn't to say that the security in SAP BPC is foolproof - even the most sophisticated security can be bypassed by experts - but it is largely a very robust system.
Having been involved in implementing security & access profiles, I'd emphasise how satisfying it is to see this working correctly. The major benefit lies in the accuracy of the information being used and moved throughout the system. There are far less opportunities for figures to be accidentally skewed by an error in communication, or by users making adjustments where they shouldn't have access.
This does, however, raise the question of where security needs to be applied. Ideally there may be some global assumptions or planning drives that shouldn't be accessible to most users - but what if the ability to adjust these figures is critical for informing how best to optimise the plan?
Additionally, what happens if there is a requirement to present a plan part way through the planning process? Is the plan locked down for all users, preventing changes whilst it is presented? Or do we risk the figures changing between preparation and presentation?
These questions are addressed in my final point...
The questions posed above are common to hear. There are two main requirements: users want the ability to take version snapshots, and to perform what-if analysis.
Taking snapshots is achieved through making copies of the plan which are then locked down. A simple solution, but powerful: a specific copy of a plan can be made when the circumstances require it, and this can be archived for future use. This becomes useful when the figures you have shown in an earlier meeting have changed, and you need to account for this - you will be able to reference the saved copy with the relevant data.
What-if analysis can also be performed by making copies of the plan, along with some further options linking back to the security discussed above. Specific scenario copies can be made where users can adjust assumptions to forecast the effects it may have. Most importantly, we can configure this in such a way that any changes only affect these scenario plans - the assumptions for the main version of the plan remain constant.
The functionality described here was something that I was particularly impressed at from the beginning. It allows the system to support snapshots and what-if analysis without compromising the data integrity we worked so hard to maintain: in short, we can have our cake and eat it!
The points I've raised in this post describe just a small selection of the features that have stood out to me as a newcomer to SAP BPC. There are a whole host of other functions which I haven't touched upon, that offer further immediately noticeable benefits. It is worth checking out the following blogs:
My feeling is that if, as a relatively inexperienced business user, these benefits are so clear to me; then they are probably even more tangible to established companies. It's certainly worth considering next time the planning cycle comes around.