I've just returned from the BPC Mega Elite Enablement conference in Philadelphia. This conference encompassed clients and consultants from around the world descending on SAP headquarters to learn what SAP BPC 10 .0 for NetWeaver has to offer. The SAP team running the conference was made up of a mix of technical and functional experts who have all had direct involvement in the development of the application to provide the most up to date insight on the new functionalities and capabilities.
I've worked across many clients and seen a lot of changes in the SAP world over the years so I'm not the easiest person to get excited about new versions of software that are often heavy on re-branding of old functionality and light on step changes that significantly benefit our clients.
In this case I am genuinely quite excited about what has happened in the evolution of SAP BPC. In this short blog I am going to endeavour to summarise they key changes, where I think they are significant in driving business benefit for our clients and where I see impact for the consulting world. And of course I can't do this without a little mention of SAP HANA.
The first and most immediately obvious difference in the new version of SAP BPC is the new look and feel of the EPM Adobe Flex web front-end. Whilst the Excel interface still remains for input and reporting data out of the system, the administration console is almost unrecognisable from previous versions. This is no bad thing!
Previously the central administrator for SAP BPC would have to dive in and out of different screens, some excel based, some web based to perform key processes related to the management of planning process in the system e.g. maintaining master data, importing and exporting data, setting Business Process Flow (BPF) instances, monitoring progress of the process and managing workflow. From my perspective these often disparate interfaces did not provide a coherent and logical central point of management for the user, making it a somewhat clumsy and often confusing application to use. The new user console pulls all BPCs management and configuration functionality (both planning and consolidation) into one central user interface leveraging web based functionality to knit everything together in an intuitive and logical way. The tab based layout allows the user to select the area of functionality they need at a high level, and then drill into the underlying screens to make any required configuration changes or view or maintain data with a much greater emphasis on point and click interactions. Multiple sessions of the Excel interface can be opened, each with their own current view of the data, fixing a legacy issue whereas users could easily become confused as to the which sessions were being affected by changing the current view in the 'Action Pane'. There are also clear improvements in terms of validation and visual indications that the user has made an error when inputting data to the system.
There are also a couple of big wins from a reporting perspective. Firstly user can leverage a much improved 'drag and drop' functionality when building reports, coupled with the option of a more 'Essbase' method of data analysis often favoured by the Finance user. Perhaps more significantly you are able to create a seamless links to other reporting applications such as BEx Analyser allowing the user to drill down into the detail of information held outside BPC applications (now called models) and even outside of the SAP landscape.
Ok, so I'm sold on the front-end improvements. I can see that the overall package delivers a much better experience for the user and brings a new level of robustness and feeling of integration. Of course seeing is believing and usability is most definitely a subjective theme but I personally believe this new version has kept most of the good things whilst addressing the majority of the things we all disliked from a user interface perspective in previous versions.
Now what about the back-end?
So in essence the BW platform on which BPC sits provides a massively flexible modelling tool to feed BPC with the supplementary data it needs to support the user in the planning and/or consolidation process; most typically actuals and master data. The Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) capability of BW means that in principle there is nothing that you can't do in BW in terms of taking data from source all the way through to the planning or consolidation models in BPC. This now includes a standard approach to delta enabled data loading and of course all the rigour and validation that SAP provides to make sure data integrity is maintained and can be monitored with 'Process Chain' functionality knitting the whole process together.
Retraction of data back into source systems can still be a convoluted process, involving multiple layers of development, but I personally challenge the necessity for this requirement from a business perspective. If you have your reporting strategy and execution right there should be no need to load plan data into a transactional system!
So what does any of this mean in terms of business benefit I hear you cry. Well I believe that driving business benefit from implementing a planning solution is dependent on 2 key success criteria. The first criteria is to deliver a solution that provides insight, rigour and control to centralised departments (typically Finance) and enabling better informed and more agile decision making at an Executive level. The second is to deliver a solution that makes life easier for the end users to provide the necessary information and analysis in the first place. As we all know if user adoption is low because the system doesn't adequately support them and make their life easier, then the first success criteria is never met. Historically the challenge has been related to taking an Excel sheet away from the user and replacing it with a slower and less flexible BPC input schedule. The benefits to the end user centre around the 'One version of the truth' argument and bigger picture gains for central management, not improvements in usability of the system used to perform planning. In order to effectively plan users must get rapid responses to calculations and quickly see the impact of different commercial scenarios on their P/L, B/S and Cash Flow in the system. If BPC cannot deliver this users will quickly revert to spreadsheets and use SAP BPC just 'get their numbers in'.
Many of the improvements found in SAP BPC 10.0 will help us to deliver a more user friendly seamless and responsive user experience, driving higher user adoption - this is why I see significant business benefit in implementing it. Perhaps more significantly is the platform it will provide for the future with the advent of SAP HANA. Early next year you will be able to integrate your BPC 10 front-end with an SAP HANA and BW combined back-end. This for me will revolutionise the speed at which we can return the results of analysis or scenario planning to the user regardless of the granularity or complexity of the data sets used in that business. The bottom line is that everyone nowadays expects the answer now and soon we will be able to deliver it.