We at Just-BI have been exploring the SAP Analytics Cloud tool as part of our knowledge and learning. I took up the task of exploring the Planning features in SAC. At first glance, I must say that I am impressed with the look and feel of the tool – very user friendly, good UI and easy to use. Also, the possibility to do planning together with live actuals data and predictive analytics all at the same time and in one tool sounds promising.
As can be seen from the above diagram, SAC has an array of functionality and features to offer to the end user, planning being just one part of it. We have been working on BPC standard and BPC embedded solutions with EPM/Analysis as the front-end client for quite some years now and my goal for this POC was to check what we can achieve in SAC when compared to these on-premise solutions. Let us look at some of the notable features in SAC as well as its limitations, related to Planning.
A model is a representation of business data to define relationships, calculations, and data of an organization or business segment. A model can be easily set up in SAC, with an excel like interface.
The data import mechanisms that are available as of now are:
- Upload of external data sources via flat file upload
- Connection to on-premise SAP systems like BW, ECC and BPC (only BPC standard currently available)
There are two types of models that you can create:
- Analytic – this type of model is purely for reporting and analytics in SAC. It can be account based or keyfigure based
- Planning – this type of model is input enabled, so the user can write back data. It can only be account based. Data from the planning model can be exported/written back to a BPC standard model (only). The Account, Category and Time dimensions are mandatory in the planning model. Data in the planning model is required to be persisted.
Data input for planning is available via stories. Stories are an organized representation of data, comprising multidimensional data views for the purpose of analysis, reporting, and planning.
It is also possible to input at node level for example, Q2 (2017) in the screenshot below and the system will automatically distribute it to the child level proportionately.
When you exit from the story, the system prompts you to save the data:
What-If Analysis: It is possible to change the amounts on a parent node by using the % formula, and the result then trickles down to the child nodes.
Excel Formulas: Just like the Analysis excel add-in, it is also possible to write excel formulas to calculate amounts.
Stories & visualizations provide the ability to bring together different sources of data for reporting and analysis. In SAC, one can build good data visualisations/stories, something that is lacking in excel based Analytics/EPM.
To optimize collaborative decision-making processes and ensure future accountability, SAP Cloud for Analytics for planning comes with context-based social collaboration capabilities. You can collaborate directly on your plans instead of having to use yet another application and send offline data. It is possible to share report versions, discuss on cells, assign tasks, and attach any file you uploaded. Collaboration on cloud platform centralizes comments, feedback. Sharing data and making comments via emails, company shared drives or portals – difficult to track comments and changes. Also clutters email inbox.
It is also possible to calculate, extend and manipulate data using standard planning functions available in SAC like spreading, distribution, assign, allocations, predictive forecasting and value driver trees.
You can create a copy of the public version and store it as a private version, work locally and once satisfied with the results, the data can then be saved back to the public version.
Auditing at row level is possible, just like BPC.
Workflow management is handled via Events in SAC. It gives you a calendar-like look and feel. It is possible to import a BPF via the SAP BPC connection, but then again only BPC standard BPFs.
It is possible to add content such as documents, plans, or versions and set reminders for upcoming events and tasks. You can also define assignee(s), reviewer(s), and approver to a specific task.
Although SAC has quite a number of notable features, it still has some limitations as listed below.
Custom planning functions
Business specific rules using planning functions cannot be built in SAC. This I see as a major drawback in the current version of the tool.
Currently, it is only possible to define one hierarchy in a dimension. Only parent-child hierarchies are supported in SAC.
SAP BPC Connection
SAC can only connect, import & write back to a BPC standard model.
In a planning model, only an account based model is supported; that is it can have only one measure just like the BPC standard model.
Using BW live connection, you can only search for BW queries to import data into your model. You cannot import data directly from a BW InfoProvider.
Looking at the above list of features and limitations, I would like to place SAC along with other front end tools like Analysis, EPM Designer in the left upper quadrant as shown below. Advanced UI is measured in terms of ease of use for Financial analysts (a.k.a. excel based input & reporting)
Planning in SAP Analytics Cloud does look promising but is not yet mature enough. I would expect that it should have capabilities to connect, import, write back to a BPC embedded model too – the future of SAP BPC. What is also lacking right now is the limitation on creating custom planning functions. Businesses often come up with complex business rules and having a platform to write a script or custom code is something that I would look forward to having in SAC.
SAP has also been projecting this tool as an add-on to the on-premise BPC solutions and they state that Planning in SAC is not meant to replace them. One good use-case would then be a hybrid scenario, wherein an on-premise BPC solution could be extended to the cloud with a planning scenario for a smaller department/Business Unit. Once the planning data is imported into the cloud, it could also be used to build better stories and visualizations, something that is lacking in the EPM/Analysis add-in for BPC. After the planning cycle, the data can then be written back to the on-premise InfoProviders, thereby limiting the amount of data that is stored in the cloud.
Ultimately, what is impressive is the ease of use of SAC. An end-user can easily import data, create a model, build stories and create impressive visualizations. That’s certainly a plus point in SAC.