Just over a year ago I was excitedly taking a look at a new product called SAP Cloud for Planning. Revisiting this post, I’m left thinking a lot can change in a year! I wanted to touch on where the product is now, what value a business can hope to get from implementing it, and how SAP BusinessObjects Cloud integrates with other products.
Where are we now?
The evolution of the application has been huge over the last year with SAP releasing updates every two weeks. Not quite with such frequency, but nearly, the name has changed too, finally becoming SAP BusinessObjects Cloud (SBOC). As Chris Bradshaw discusses, SBOC provides companies with a simplified platform and the versatility to enable them to use one product for varying levels of planning or analytics.
So is this product up to the job?
Planning, analytics, or both?
A key aspect to SBOC are the modelling options available; do you go for a Planning or Analytical model? Manual or Connected? These options come with their own pros and cons, so the business requirements will drive what’s implemented.
At a high level, a manual (standalone) model replicates data in the cloud and allows for full control over master data and security, whereas a connected (integrated) model is linked directly to a cloud or on-premise SAP HANA datasource (SAP BW and SAP S/4 HANA are on the roadmap) and reads the data directly from this source without any replication. This means any changes in the datasource are reflected in your SBOC model, you can leverage security from the source, and there’s comfort in knowing your data isn’t replicated in the cloud. For planning in SBOC, a manual model must be used due to the fact it can cater for planning functionality and master data maintenance, so if planning you will always need to replicate your data. This means there’s a need for tight governance around updating master data and security. If you have a HANA datasource and no planning requirement, the connected model looks like a really fluid option, with minimal support overhead.
On the analytics side, there are a lot of options and as SBOC is built with a SAPUI5 interface; the user experience is great.
“Stories” are developed to create tables and visualisations on a canvas. This is where things like data input and allocations can be done. Interestingly data can be stored in a story as well as a model, so you can create an ad-hoc story directly from a flat file. There is also a file repository within the product which allows users to upload related files such as commentary documents.
SAP has developed a number of standard connections for common sources seen in the screenshot below. This also includes the HANA Cloud Platform and cloud-based apps like SAP SuccessFactors. It’s not quite as simple clicking a few buttons and away you go, you will need to install one or more of three connector tools depending on your source and the type of model. It’s possible to connect to other source systems even if they’re not SAP but you’ll need an additional data integration tool to do that.
SBOC has made great strides over the last year, but could you use it?
Recent developments to SBOC have been well thought out in my opinion and it’s now in a position to be used really effectively. However, can having a product which does so much in one place ever be comprehensive enough in each function individually? I think there is still some ‘maturing’ to take place if it’s going to rival the well-established specialised products in each functional area. However, looking at the progress so far I do think that this will happen over time. For now, the big benefits are realised when planning processes in particular are relatively simple, and having a lot of features in one place with strong collaboration features adds a lot of value.
Having said that, if you don’t have specific planning/analytics products, or are in a desperate need to upgrade, I’d strongly suggest looking into SBOC. Jumping to the latest technology could really pay off in the long term, especially with the cloud subscription model.
If planning and analytics tools are already included in your architecture, naturally there is more to lose by implementing SBOC to replace them, but who said the product has to replace them? A hybrid scenario could fit some companies really well, with SBOC being designed with the business user in mind. Add in applications like the SAP Digital Boardroom and investing early could offer businesses a lot of worth. This is especially true as other products become aligned to HANA and move a lot of the business as usual maintenance from the business to IT.
There is potential, given a certain level of system knowledge and training, to allow business finance teams to own the product as well as their own business processes. This means any core calculations like intercompany matching are handled by IT in a centrally maintained system. It’s important to stress here that I’m talking about maintenance and usability, implementing the product does require a strong level of skill at the outset.
Overall, each individual situation will determine whether SBOC is a serious consideration but it’s definitely worth including in all conversations that relate to planning and analytics.