SAP Analytics Cloud and Business Planning & Consolidation – a perfect match?

27 June 2017

William Lama

William Lama

EPM Consultant

Is SAP’s latest reincarnation of its cloud analytics and planning solution just a sheep with no legs?  William Lama, enterprise performance management (EPM) guru turns the spotlight on the integration between SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) and SAP Business Planning & Consolidation (BPC) to investigate if there really is a solid business case for this latest software as a service (SaaS) offering.


What are we going to cover?

SAC’s new write back capability to BPC, concentrating on the live connection between BPC and SAC and the value (if any) it can provide your end-users.


The Live Connection

SAC has multiple connection options, these range from live connections with SAP standard sources such as Business Warehouse (BW), including the shiny new SAP BW/4HANA, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to cloud based Non-SAP apps like Concur, Salesforce and even Google Drive. Whilst it can read data from a variety of sources, here, I am focussing solely on BPC connectivity.
 
Assuming your BPC environment is already set up, I have found it is possible to create a SAC based model that pulls and pushes data to and from BPC and is ready to report off in literally a couple of minutes. Here’s the process:
  1. Select to connect to a BPC datasource
  2. Connect to your BPC system
  3. Choose your environment and model
  4. Give it a name/description
  5. Select a currency table appropriate to you
  6. Define your mapping (here you map your BPC dimensions to the SAC dimensions you want to create)
That is it. Very simple!
 
The mapping file is where you can filter the data that is brought into SAC. Unlike BW and BPC, where you can filter on a multitude of properties, SAC limits you to directly selecting members or hierarchy nodes. Initially I found this hugely restrictive but I soon learnt this is a great strength of the tool.
 
Everything about SAC has been designed to reduce the time between data acquisition and report/planning. Unnecessary functionality has been stripped back; more functionality means more options to select, leading to longer build times. So, whilst direct member selection can be a little restrictive it enables us to build our models in the aforementioned minutes.
 
SAC’s mapping file member selection
 
Once the mapping is complete the model will be built as an exact replica of the model in BPC, inclusive of all properties.  When the model is saved all the transactional data from BPC will be loaded automatically. Refreshing the connection, to bring in new transactional and master data, can be done at the click of a button, or regularly scheduled. This is another cool feature of SAC; transactional and master data loads are done in one load, meaning there are no dependencies that can cause loads to fail.  Once again this accelerates the build. 


Stories

Stories are SAC’s version of dashboards, where you can display a range of charts, graphs and tables for reporting or data entry. This solution really comes into its own for reporting.  After selecting my previously created model I can generate a full suite of informative reports in no time at all.
 
Let’s be honest, reports can take many painstaking hours to perfect; trying to squeeze all the required information onto a page, whilst maintaining pixel perfect borders. With SAC templates can be saved: create one excellent dashboard, save it as a template and then simply connect your newly created model each time.
 
Sample stories

Versions and Value Driver Trees

Versions and value driver trees enable users to carry out scenario planning without interfering with live data. Versions enable the user to take a snapshot of any given category and then manipulate the required data accordingly, this can then be coupled with the value driver trees.
 
Value driver trees can be incorporated to create projections based on a combination of set variables and formulae.  The users with the correct access have absolute control of all involved calculations.
 
Here the use case for SAC becomes crystal clear. This tool has been designed for high level strategic planning, supporting teams to hypothesise e.g. if tin prices are on the up but oil prices are falling, this information can be fed into a driver tree to calculate on the fly how much it will cost to manufacture and ship a can of baked beans to a convenience store in downtown ‘somewhere’. This scenario can then be reflected in all the previously shown reports at the click of a button.


The above value driver tree uses: FTE, Basic Pay, Sales and Expected Employee Cost Growth data to drive an estimate Net Revenue figure. This case is simple but these driver trees can be far more complex utilising practically limitless drivers.
 
Once these scenarios have been explored they can be freely deleted or kept. Once approved, the new data set can be copied over to the original live version, which in turn will send the data back to BPC where all the permitted users will be able to see the updated figures.


Collaboration

I can’t finish this article without showering SAC’s internal communication system with deserved glory.  SAC’s IM service enables users to talk, share tasks and even pin point particular stories that they want to draw attention to.
 

An example of the internal messenger
 
 
An example of adding in story commentary
 
Around 2 years ago Bluefin adopted Slack, and it changed our organisation.  Suddenly teams in different time zones could chat and share ideas instantly and effortlessly. In order to stimulate great collaboration, you first need great communication and this is exactly what this IM service offers. Sharing views on data points, providing explanations on graphs and prompting colleagues to get involved in the planning process, it is all very easy.


Is there a business case and what is it?

Firstly, let us be clear, you cannot replace your complete planning cycle (BPC based or other) with SAC. The rules are too restrictive to build in complex inter-company recharges logic or many other more complex planning processes.
 
Everything about this tool is focussed on simplicity from the building of models and stories to the updating of data. It is quick and painless. Naturally this simplicity is restrictive, you shouldn’t dream of carrying out exceptionally granular budget activities, like inter-company recharges.  However, why would you want to, you have BPC for that?
 
What SAC does, is help answer broad (and critical) strategic questions like how do I increase revenue? What if we saw a drop in European Sales? What are the key influencers that drive my sales? Once you’re satisfied with the answers you can send it back down to adjust your detailed budgets in BPC. To me this is a clear and powerful business case.

As promised I have focussed on BPC here, but SAC can take in data from a multitude of sources, users can make the most of all the functionality, improve their high level strategic plans, export their data to CSV and simply re-import it on their chosen planning solution.  This allows the benefits of SAC to be felt by anyone no matter how or where they plan.

What’s next?

There is a great deal of functionality that I haven’t documented here and a piece that I am particularly excited about is the Smart Discovery mode, where SAC analyses your data in a highly automated process resulting in detailed statistical analysis with an automatically generated narrative. The next step is to explore this functionality and see just how automated strategy can be!

Any questions or if you have a separate situation you want Bluefin to explore, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

 


 
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About the author

William Lama

EPM Consultant

Will has a wide range of enterprise performance management (EPM) experience spanning across industries from Oil and Gas to the Public Sector. Having joined Bluefin straight from Exeter University, with a short sojourn to start up a tech company focused on the hospitality sector, he found he couldn't resist the pull of Bluefin and SAP. Discovering each organisation’s idiosyncrasies to find out what makes them tick, is what drives Will. This forensic-like application, makes him a fantastic asset to project teams, ensuring the delivery for the client is spot on.

When not working you can find him making a fairly average attempt at playing most sports.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race