Getting data into SAP PCM: FIM vs Data Bridge

31 March 2014

Steve Mainprize

Steve Mainprize

Consultant

There are a several ways to get data into a SAP Profitability and Cost Management (PCM) model, but the two most often used are Data Bridge and SAP Financial Information Management (FIM).

Data Bridge has been part of SAP PCM since the beginning, and as such is just about as tightly integrated with PCM as it possibly could be. FIM, on the other hand, is a more recent addition to the SAP Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) toolbox, and has more general functionality: it can talk to – amongst other things – other EPM applications such as SAP BPC and SAP BFC.

Both have their advantages, and I thought it would be useful to offer a five reasons for using FIM, and five reasons for using Data Bridge.

Five good reasons to load your SAP PCM data using FIM

1) Integration with rest of SAP EPM

Since the various SAP EPM tools that comprise the EPM Suite were acquired from various sources, it was never going to be easy to get them to talk to each other.  SAP FIM was added to the EPM Suite with the admirable aim of allowing SAP PCM, SAP BPC, SAP BFC and the rest to be able to transfer data between themselves.  If you have BPC and PCM, and you want one to be able to transfer data to the other, then FIM is probably the way to go.

2) Field-level filtering

SAP FIM lets you skip over records in which a nominated field matches, or partly matches, a string.  For instance, you can tell FIM to ignore any records in which the third field ends with “XX”. It’s true that Data Bridge can sometimes be cajoled into doing this, but not as elegantly, and there’s often a risk of filtering out data that you should have been loading into the model.  Using Data Bridge to filter out August sales data whilst not ignoring all sales from Augusta, Ga., can be a headache.

3) Computational transformation

One of SAP FIM’s most powerful features is its ability to perform computations on its source data, in order to calculate new fields and values that can be fed to the destination system.  This is the “transform” part of the classic “Export, Transfer, Load” (ETL).  The closest that Data Bridge gets to this is its ability to transform one input field value to another using its lookup facility, but this can only transform fields on a one-to-one basis, and also relies on a predefined set of known possible values in the original source field. 

4) Auditability

Although you can look back at the output of previous jobs in both Data Bridge and FIM, SAP FIM has the advantage in that it also records individual changes to the jobs.  If you want to look back and see who changed a mapping and when they did it, FIM will keep that information for you and let you see it whenever you want. In some environments, this functionality is considered highly desirable for reasons of governance and compliance.

5) Drill to origin

Added in SAP FIM 10.0, the drill-to-origin functionality allows a user to analyse SAP PCM data that was loaded via FIM, and to see exactly where it came from – which database, flat file or other SAP EPM application, for example – with a couple of mouse-clicks.  If Data Bridge is used, there is no way to trace the provenance of the PCM data in this way.

Five good reasons to load your SAP PCM data using Data Bridge

1) Non-standard layout of flat file

SAP FIM is great at reading data from a flat file, as long as it’s a standard format – CSV, TSV, and so on.  It’s not so great when the layout is more complex.  Data Bridge has always been designed to cope with a wider range of file layouts, and can handle data that is, say, grouped under sub-headings, or in a fixed format rather than a comma- or tab-separated format. My experience is that these more complex file layouts are few and far between, but if you do need to deal with one or more of these, it’s easier to use Data Bridge.

2) New items detected need to be added to the model

When SAP FIM is loading data into a SAP PCM model and it encounters PCM dimension members that aren’t in the model, it rejects them. Data Bridge, on the other hand, can be set up either to reject these dimension members or to add them to the model automatically. Obviously it depends how you want to treat these new items – in many cases, you’d certainly not want them to be added to the model without checking them first. Under other circumstances, the incoming data is trusted and it’s convenient to incorporate new dimension members into the model as they appear.

3) Less complex to set up - don’t need web server, data services

SAP FIM has a number of prerequisites and relies heavily on additional software.  A web server is needed to set up the ETL jobs (the PCM Web Server will do, but often isn’t always part of the landscape), and SAP Data Services, which is basically the software that does the hard work under FIM’s hood, is required as well. With Data Bridge, on the other hand, all the software you need is (almost always) installed on the desktop alongside the SAP PCM Model Builder client. Fewer moving parts almost always makes for a more reliable solution.

4) Importing PCM security

Over successive releases, the SAP PCM functionality that was present in Data Bridge but missing from SAP FIM has gradually diminished, but at present FIM still doesn’t have the ability to import PCM security. In a number of PCM customers, a standard security schema has been (usually painstakingly) been assembled, and Data Bridge offers the ability to overlay this schema onto any model. There are workarounds, but it remains an oddity that FIM, which in other ways outdoes Data Bridge for auditability, can’t yet do this. 

5) Reuse of input specification for multiple input sources

It’s not uncommon for a single input job to process multiple data sources of the same layout. For example, each cost centre might provide a similar Excel sheet containing operational data for loading into the SAP PCM model (Not very sophisticated, perhaps, but this is the kind of thing that happens in the real world!).  Data Bridge handles this well by separating out the job itself (the control file), the file layout (represented by a specification file) and the file itself. In this way, the same specification file can be used on more than one input file. In FIM, a job links a file with its structure. If you want to load in multiple files, you have to set up multiple identical specifications (never an ideal situation from a system management perspective), or change the file associated with a job between runs (which introduces manual intervention into the process). 

So, to sum up

One last consideration is, of course, the skill set that you have on tap, too; if you have a Data Bridge expert who never used SAP FIM before, then, on balance it’s going to be easier for her to load the data using Data Bridge, rather than learning SAP FIM.

There’s no simple answer to the question “which is better – Data Bridge or SAP FIM?”  The answer really depends on your specific requirements, constraints and capabilities. Data acquisition is a crucial part of any PCM project, but selection of the right tool for the job will make your project run much more smoothly. 

 

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