Let me start with an admission. When I first heard that SAP was releasing SAP BPC on HANA in 2012, I was skeptical about a) the benefits clients would get from moving to HANA and b) the ease of shifting existing applications to the SAP HANA platform.
Conversely, I was eager to experience this new incarnation of SAP BPC, as it would provide a compelling case for HANA, with the fabled performance improvements making BPC more usable and attractive for our clients.
Exactly how SAP HANA would make BPC more usable was unclear, and so I decided to do some research to understand what has changed.
What is SAP BPC on HANA?
As you may know, SAP BPC 10.* NW sits on top of SAP BW 7.3. SAP BW 7.3 can run on HANA, SAP’s in-memory database.
In simple terms, rather than running BW on a regular database, clients can use SAP HANA as its database. It’s logical therefore that SAP BPC 10.* moves onto HANA as well, since the underlying BW 7.3 system moves onto HANA.
The important part to note is that there is no need to re-implement BPC; the application and front-end layers stay the same, and therefore the SAP BPC environments, script logic, ABAP code, Business Process Flows, reports etc. stay intact.
Why SAP HANA?
In theory, the transition from a conventional database to an in-memory database should provide a myriad of performance improvements for BPC users.
Performance is a big topic for users and slow response times lead to unproductive users who quickly tire of using SAP BPC and find workarounds to expedite the submission process. The impact of performance becomes even greater with the exponential growth in data volumes, and it becomes necessary to be on a platform built to handle ‘big data’.
Another compelling argument is that SAP HANA is considered the platform of the future. The response times of SAP BPC on HANA would allow users to enable scenarios that are simply not possible on conventional databases. It is evident that BPC functions will be enabled in HANA, leading to further performance improvements.
Marketing to reality
Like many EPM professionals, I was eager to experiment with SAP BPC on HANA and gauge the benefits for myself. Fortunately I found myself as engagement lead on Bluefin’s first SAP BPC on HANA deployment for one of the largest insurance companies in Asia-Pacific.
The client wanted to upgrade the existing solution from SAP BPC 7.5 BW to SAP BPC 10 on HANA. It had reviewed the SAP BPC 10 functionality and was keen to adopt the new platform and take advantage of the numerous benefits, including increased performance, an Adobe Flex interface, agile reporting and the ability to leverage SAP HANA for in-memory processing.
The performance benefits were paramount to the client. The main challenge it faced was the time consumed for month end financial close, which took approximately 15 days with 50% of the time taken up with system processing. Occasionally, a technical hiccup would occur, causing longer delays with support teams required to work weekends and sometime 24/7 during those periods in order to fulfil internal reporting commitments and external submissions to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
With a number of firsts associated with a project of this nature, we advised the client to exercise caution and to eliminate the risk of finding unknown or untested issues during the upgrade process. We advocated the Proof of Concept (POC) approach to understand the impact of the upgrade on the existing application.
Our first task was to analyse the business requirements and complete a comprehensive assessment of the technical and functional requirements of the SAP BPC solution. This included a deep dive review of the functionality in use with the SAP BPC 7.5 NW solution, and understanding which functions would be changed, modified or re-created as a result of the upgrade to SAP BPC 10 on HANA.
The PoC process highlighted the following:
- That the existing SAP BPC 7.5 NW environment could be upgraded to SAP BPC 10 on HANA with minor amendments
- That upgrading to SAP BPC 10 on HANA would provide significant performance benefits, including:
- Data loading
- Interface access
- Data retrieval (Reports)
- Data saving (Templates)
- Whilst the existing EVDRE templates would work under SAP BPC 10 on HANA, better performance could be achieved by migrating to EPM 10 templates
Having realised that there were significant benefits with adopting HANA, including having the information earlier, getting reports to generate quicker, and getting more scalability for future development, the client decided to engage us for the full scale upgrade project.
On the positive side, upgrading to HANA was fairly straight forward and led to performance improvements, albeit in particular areas.
We noticed significant improvements, notably with data transfers from BW, data retrieval and data manager package performance. During the PoC, data loading was found to be at least 10 times faster then on a non-HANA database.
On the reporting side, we noticed a dramatic improvement in performance with the large reports. We found that reports that had taken 1-2 minutes to retrieve data in BPC 7.5 NW were now running from 5x to 8x faster in SAP BPC 10 on HANA.
Managing expectations is the key. It was evident that whilst SAP HANA provided huge improvements to various components of SAP BPC, it is important to accept that there are some parts of SAP BPC that won't be enhanced by upgrading to HANA. I believe that the roadmap for SAP BPC is to bring in more core functionality into HANA, thus providing more performance benefits to those looking to adopt this technology.