On paper, there’s not much to choose between SAP BPC Standard and BPC Embedded. Sulaymaan Hussein picks up the microscope to explore the differences and explains why Embedded has the cutting edge.
Bluefin are no strangers when it comes to planning, with a strong background implementing SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC) Standard solutions. The flexibility of BPC Standard is well proven; a truly bespoke tool that can deliver real insight to better inform a business’s decision-making process. Not to mention the popularity of BPC Standard’s user interface, with the Excel-based reporting enjoyed by finance users worldwide.
You might be wondering then, as I did before embarking on this project, what has BPC Embedded got to offer by comparison? How and why improve on BPC Standard? It’s since become apparent to me that the answer is simple – HANA. SAP's ecosphere is constantly changing and improving. The offerings and prevalence of HANA-enabled functionality is on the rise as businesses seek to benefit from its lightning-fast in-memory database. It was inevitable then, that when SAP considered how to innovate its flagship planning solution, it would look to leverage HANA and maximise from its many benefits, while still retaining the familiar front-end functionality of BPC Standard.
A brief overview of SAP Business Warehouse Integrated Planning (BW IP)
BW IP has been around for many years. It was a standard out-the-box feature with any BW installation and didn’t require additional licensing to use. This made it a potentially cost-effective planning solution. As the name suggests, IP integrates into your existing BW solution, i.e. it’s a form of Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) planning.
This removes the need for a stand-alone data mart, which is required for a BPC Standard solution where the planning application is contained in a separate and independent part of the data warehouse. With this form of planning application, master data is replicated in stand-alone BPC objects and is maintained independently from the corresponding EDW objects. BW IP rids the need for all of that and simplifies your IT landscape, helping to form a single version of the truth, without the need for constant reconciliation between systems.
Fig 1.The evolution of SAP BPC over time
BPC Embedded is essentially a rebuild of BW IP with additional features from BPC Standard. It was optimised specifically for the HANA platform (HANA PAK) and sits directly on top of your BW HANA box. Therefore, it can maximise all the benefits of IP described above, but still retains the familiar, user-friendly interface and reporting tools provided by BPC. It includes the web-admin front-end that allows users to follow business process flows, manage workspaces and maintain master data.
BPC Embedded versus BPC Standard
1. The ability to create a MultiProvider over several InfoProviders
The very nature of Embedded means you can setup a MultiProvider – a sort of virtual InfoProvider – that sits on top of multiple InfoProviders. By reporting and running calculations on this MultiProvider, instead of the individual cubes (OK, strictly speaking you also need an aggregation level which sits on top of the MultiProvider to save data back to a cube, but you get the idea!), it’s easy to reference data from various cubes at the same time.
For instance, you can maintain a dedicated Actuals cube and a completely separate real-time Planning cube, but still access both at the same time. This is great for reporting and something not available in BPC Standard. A setup like this has the added benefit that you no longer need to load new actuals data into your Planning cube from your Actuals cube. Plus, there’s no need to clear historical forecasts from your Planning cube; it’s all taken care of by the MultiProvider.
Fig 2. A typical planning architecture setup
2. FOX Formulas are much more powerful than Logic Script
To perform calculations and manipulate plan data in BPC Standard, typically you would use a combination of Logic Script and Business Rules. These would then be executed via Data Manager packages within the EPM Add-In in Excel. A similar procedure exists in Embedded, but rather than using Logic Script and a Data Manager package, you use Planning Sequences.
A Planning Sequence is executed on a specific aggregation level and consists of planning functions and filters applied to those Planning Functions. These Functions are written in FOX Formula which is far more flexible and powerful than Logic Script. The coding language allows for better customisation and is fully HANA-optimised, meaning it can calculate large numbers of records much more quickly. Out-of-the-box, you can choose from a variety of function types, ranging from simple copy and delete functions to formulas. Here you can define your own bespoke calculations. If you’re feeling brave, you can even create your own function type to call a custom class which will execute the ABAP code within your class.
By running these Planning Sequences on top of your aggregation level, you automatically have an increased scope of the possible calculations, simply because you can reference data from any of the cubes underlying the MultiProvider. This means you wouldn’t have to use a lookup function to reference data in a separate cube, which, although possible in BPC Standard, is very cumbersome and suffers from performance issues. In Embedded this is simple and easy to manage.
3. Out-of-the-box unit conversion and currency translation
Of course, I can’t leave out the obvious strength of Planning Sequences, which is how FOX Formulas leverage the power of HANA. By pushing calculations down to the HANA level, data is processed far more quickly and you can perform real-time planning and on-the-fly calculations which enable much more powerful scenario planning and what-if analysis. The ability to perform this sort of analysis straight from your Excel-based report with the push of a button is great for Finance users and senior stakeholders who don’t want to concern themselves with the ins-and-outs of Data Manager packages.
This is closely linked to point 2 but deserves its own section because of how useful it is. You’d be hard-pressed to find a planning scenario where at the least currency translation isn’t necessary. Embedded makes this incredibly straight-forward with its out-of-the-box function types called ‘Currency Translation’ and ‘Unit Conversion’. You can easily create a simple Planning Function to convert between local and group currencies and units of measure. Using the transaction RSCUR to create a currency translation type, you can define which exchange rates to use, and how to define the source and target currencies. Additionally, you can run currency conversion based on any dimension with a currency field and easily convert back and forth between document, local and group currencies. Similarly, for unit conversion, the transaction RSUOM exists which provides easy unit conversion, something not available as standard in Standard.
To sum up, BPC Embedded is where the strengths of BW IP and BPC Standard meet. Although Embedded as a planning tool is relatively new, at its core it is a mature planning solution with years of development, along with a tried and tested front-end interface. Whether you’re currently running BPC Standard or Integrated Planning and looking to upgrade, or looking for a completely new planning solution, BPC Embedded has the greatest potential of SAP’s planning solutions with its superior power and advanced flexibility.
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