Cloud for Analytics for planning: Thoughts from the ‘Coalface’

3 February 2016

Matthew Ainsworth

Matthew Ainsworth

Consultant

Recently I’ve been working on one of the first SAP Cloud for Analytics for planning implementations in the EMEA.  For those in the know this is one of several tools within SAP Cloud for Analytics: a new generation of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which provides all analytics capabilities for all users in one product. 

Customers can opt to use just one or any combination of the tools available. In addition, SAP Digital Boardroom can be used on top of all four to provide a truly engaging user experience.

http://www.bluefinsolutions.com/Bluefin/media/Bluefin/Images/Blogs/Content/SAP-Cloud-for-Analytics-high-level-architecture-SAP-Cloud-for-Analytics-FAQ.jpg

SAP Cloud for Analytics high level architecture, source: SAP Cloud for Analytics roadmap (version at 16.10.2015)

Cloud for Analytics for Planning FAQs

Before we dive into current and upcoming features of the tool, it’s important to be clear on a few of the most commonly asked questions.

First and foremost – C4A for Planning is still a very new cloud based tool. It does not yet have all of the planning capabilities and flexibility that you might expect in an on-premise solution. However, with an ambitious development roadmap and updates to the system every two weeks, we should see that gap shrinking fairly rapidly.

SAP C4A for Planning does not in any way replace SAP BPC. SAP Cloud for Analytics is SaaS only (not available on premise) and can complement existing deployments of SAP BPC. For stand-alone implementations, SAP are focusing on BPC as the go-to on-premise EPM (Enterprise Performance Management) tool, and C4A for Planning as the go-to SaaS EPM offering.

Unlike SAP BPC, there is currently no Excel add-in, or (as far as I am aware) one planned for the near future. SAP want C4A to be completely stand alone and require only the installation of an internet browser (currently Google Chrome) and an internet connection to work, making the tool extremely easy to roll out to end users. This does mean however, that whilst the user experience looks like excel, it does not necessarily have all the flexibilities of an Excel based solution.

Current SAP Cloud for Analytics for planning highlights

Disaggregation functionality allows you to plan at any level of granularity. Want to centrally plan a 5% increase in cost for a group of GL’s across a range of cost centres and time periods? There’s minimal configuration required, just enter +5% on the existing total and all of the detail underneath will be increased proportionately. This is a big step up from existing planning tools which can dramatically reduce the time it takes to put a plan together based on actuals and inflation assumptions.

The Allocations functionality allows you to quickly setup the system to take costs from shared services departments (like IT/Finance) and allocate these to other cost centres based on a driver (number of heads/laptops for example). This is nothing new in the planning world, but for me personally, being able to configure the system to do this without any programming is an impressive step forward; and will definitely help reduce overall implementation costs. SAP have released a YouTube video of this feature here.

 

End user running a driver based allocation, source: SAP Cloud for Analytics (YouTube)

The Collaboration and Events/Calendar functionality within C4A is something new and innovative to the EPM space. This allows users to communicate through instant messaging over events, reports, and even starting conversations over specific data directly within the system. Users can set up their own calendar events, and tag others to these, along with setting deadlines which send reminders directly to their email.

I think this is a great innovation if user adoption is high, and I’m interested to see how FP&A teams use these features in practice.

The entire C4A system is built natively on SAP HANA which means that reports and calculations are executed relatively quickly. There are still performance improvements which can be made on the data entry side, but I expect this will come over time.

As this is an SAP product, there is built in integration with SAP BPC (transactional data import and export), in addition to SAP BW (transactional data import only currently). This is something that I have not personally configured yet, but I am happy to see it included as a feature.

Suggested Improvements for C4A for planning

Here are some of the key features and improvements which I would like to see in 2016.

True central driver-based planning and other formula enhancements. Currently if you want to multiply two numbers together, they need to be at the same level of granularity, so you cannot truly have central assumptions like salaries assumptions stored against pay grades or cost centres rather than at employee level. The good news is SAP have referenced lookup functionality on their roadmap, which should allow truly centralised drivers in the future.

Unfortunately, balance sheet style carry forward functionality is not yet possible in C4A for planning, which I know is a real sticking point for many companies who want to use C4A on its own without BPC. It would be great to see balance sheet functionality in C4A over the long term.

Significant improvements to reporting – Reporting in C4A for planning is undergoing an overhaul in 2016. I think one of the end goals of this should be to enable dynamic report formatting, which would definitely be a step in the right direction. Whilst reporting in C4A for Planning is fairly basic right now, I expect that some significant improvements in the reporting functionality are on the way, and I am looking forward to trying out the new features.  In addition to this, if you invest in C4A for BI you will have access to a growing list of Business Intelligence capabilities within the same tool.

Support for comments has been one of the most requested features in C4A, and I have personally had a number of conversations with SAP on this. In-cell comments already exists as one of the high priority areas in the C4A roadmap, which is fantastic news. Recording commentary on areas such as variance analysis is an extremely important and valuable part of performance management. SAP BPC already handles commentary very well, and I hope we will see similar capabilities in C4A in the future.

Final Thoughts

Cloud for Analytics for planning shows the potential to become the go-to Cloud based enterprise performance management tool in the long term. In my opinion, it is a compelling proposition if developed alongside SAP BPC, but it’s not quite there yet in a stand-alone environment. I am really looking forward to seeing how the tool evolves and improves over the next few months.

For more information about C4A for Planning beyond what I have discussed here, take a look at some other blogs on the topic, such as:

About the author

Matthew Ainsworth

Consultant

Matthew is an experienced enterprise performance management consultant, specialising in technologies such as SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC). He has a degree in Economics from the University of Warwick.

He has helped a wide variety of organisations to realise their EPM strategy, through delivering outstanding driver-based planning, financial consolidation and reporting solutions. In 2015-16, Matthew worked as the lead consultant for the first SAP Cloud for Analytics for Planning implementation in the EAME region, working with SAP to recommend new product features and enhancements.

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