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SAP Analytics Cloud – Planning Capabilities as of 2018

SAP Analytics Cloud Planning

Funnily, I found some time on the last day of 2018 to put my thoughts about what happened to the SAP Analytics space and mostly on the product SAP is prioritising recently  – SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC). This Article will be about  Planning which is my focus. The BI part of SAC seems to be quite mature and capable to fulfil many different scenarios.

First before I start, I would like make a disclaimer.  I have been with SAP for more than 12 years already. What I always loved in SAP is the extensive functionality it comes with to cover many different business cases. In the last 4+ years, I dived deeply into more technical topics such as ABAP and BW in my work as an EPM, mostly BPC Consultant (I read somewhere EPM acronym is outdated and replaced by Analytics –  convenient, huh 😉 ).   

However, at the same time, I still heavily rely on my accounting background which keeps me on the surface of what functionality is essential in a product to be viable for a Planning Project. In my journey with SAC, I spent a fair amount of 100+ hours since Octorber trying to build different Planning PoCs while submitting a few bugs and 11 Improvement requests to SAP. 

It’s worth noting that my devotion to do the above was dictated by the official position of SAP to prioritise SAP Analytics Cloud over SAP BPC for planning since the end of the Summer (2018). Still, there could be things which I missed or overlooked, so keep that in mind and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section. 

I had primarily two areas which are the backbone of every planning solution – Input Forms and Calculation Logic. Surely dashboards, visualisations, collaboration capabilities, predictive, smart insights and live connections are great. But in planning scenarios I am familar with, they are not critical. 

I will be dead honest with you and will say that I wasn’t able to replicate any scenario I did in BPC. At one point, I said to myself that probably that is to be expected and I should embrace the tool and think about ways and different solutions that can come out of the strengths of it which.

Multiple Dimensions in Axes

No matter what I did, I always came back to a very detrimental scenario where I need to work with three or more dimensions in Column Axis and be able to dynamically and centrally control which months should present Actual and which Forecast and the connected Audit Trail (Data Sources).

Simple Column Axis

As of now, there is a “Forecast” functionality, that does that for Time and Category, but you can’t include another dimension. Without that functionality, it is challenging to create mixed scenarios where you have multiple data sources for Actuals and various data sources for Forecast to distinguish manual input from inflation, trends, allocations, etc. 

It’s worth noting that the above functionality can be achieved using the Restricted Measure capability. However, as of now, you can’t use parameters or variables to make it centrally driven from master data or something else.

Admittedly, there are other areas such as dynamic formatting that can be improved, but I won’t say they are such a road-blockers as the one above. Based on 

Calculation Logic

SAP Analytics Cloud has mostly three areas of having calculated logic. They are Member (Account) Formulas, Advanced Formula Data Actions and Pre-Build Data Actions. As a person who believes that without scripting language, you can’t build sophisticated planning application, I will focus on Advanced Formulas.

Advanced Formulas have been released in the first half of 2018 and as you would expect, they are not yet mature.  As of today (Dec-2018), they lack basic functionalities to create enterprise, centrally-controlled planning solution. E.g. not able to pass filters from prompts for anything else than Category. Therefore you either need to run the logic for all entities or have different scripts per group of entities.

However, based on the research I did, the most important functionalities are expected to be delivered very soon based on the public roadmap. Also, based on what I did, I feel quite positive about the flexibility Advanced Formulas may have in the future.

The foundations seem to be strong and I believe stronger than Logic Script which hopefully will make comparable or even better than FOX formulas in the future.

Application Design Component 

Application Design is definitely an area I want to fallow very close. It is essentially a front-end scripting driven application builder consisting of reports, input forms, buttons, drop-downs, etc. In the roadmaps, there are some references to planning, but they are quite vague. 

As of today, it is in Beta Stage and doesn’t bring a lot of functionality, but that is to be expected. However, My hope is Application Design will give the experienced consultants the flexibility to create dynamically and centrally driven enterprise applications.

Release Cycles

Interestingly, SAP Analytics Cloud has new releases called “waves” every other week. Initially, I was super excited about it and thought that would bring a lot of features quickly and makes enormous leaps over a short period.

After I a bit of thinking I am not completely certain that the release schedule really helps SAP to make big improvements as soon as possible. Admittedly, my concerns may not be valid, but based on my knowledge and experience, making more releases creates a lot of strain on all departments.

That means more interactions of development, unit testing, regression testing and deployment. Surely, that is part of the SCRUM development methodology and I am not that involved in heavy software development, but I can’t imagine doing many sprints bi-weekly creates more functionalities than longer time-frames.

Product Direction

The product map seems to be quite aggressive and there are many features and developments expected for the next few quarters. It is looks very ambitions, but I can’t say whether they will enrich the functionalities in the input forms as I would like to.

In addition, as of the time of writing this article, I saw there are 1070 Improvement requests from which 169 delivered for SAC in the official influential portal. Out of them, there are just 50 for Financial Planning while there are 505 in the category of “Visualizations and Calculations”.

It’s difficult to interpret these numbers without getting into details, but I don’t think I will be too far to assume that planning is not used a lot by the existing client base which can. I know these “Visualizations and Calculations” may have some planning components or applicable to Planning as well rather than BI only.

Final Thoughts

Considering everything above, I am not sure whether SAP wants to create very sophisticated and customizable planning solution with SAC. Sometimes, I feel like they want to create flexible, but still fully owned LoB (Lines of Business) solutions which can be developed by the end-users.

On the other hand, the development of Application Design can prove me wrong and I really hope that will turn to be a tool for the power users and consultants to create sophisticated planning and BI solutions.

Because of that, I plan to stay with BPC Embedded and watch closely the new developments in SAC. I hope it will become a very powerful software with sophisticated planning capabilities. However, until that point, I would recommend doing any Enterprise Planning Solution that is not super-simplified in BPC Embedded or BPC Standard.

About Emiliyan Tanev

Hello, My name is Emiliyan Tanev. I am SAP BPC Certified Application Associate with a good process understanding of FICO. I am also an experienced accountant and financial controller with 5+ years of diversified responsibilities. I am also a member of Management Accounting Body in the UK - CIMA and CGMA in the US. I love IT and Finance which impacted my career orientation towards SAP FICO and BPC. Follow me and get the latest tips, tricks, tutorials and career guides related to SAP BPC. More about me on My Story.

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4 comments

  1. From what I have seen of SAC so far I would compare it to using Excel Online versus the real Excel. There’s so much that you can do with the flexibilty of EPM formulas in the EPM Plug in that it’s difficult to see how that kind of rich functionality will ever be replicated in a web template.

    • Hi Peter,

      Yes, I agree. It’s much more difficult to recreate functionalities in a web environment. Especially in the case when compared to Excel which has been in development for a few decades and then an EPM add-in which is quite old too.

      Regards,
      Emiliyan

  2. Hei, good article and is in line how I see the functionality with SAC. I am not sure if I got your last sentence “However, until that point, I would recommend doing any Enterprise Planning Solution that is super-simplified in BPC Embedded or BPC Standard.” Did you mean that you would only do super-simplified planning scenarios in SAC and all more complex scenarios in BPC?

    • Hi Holger,

      thanks for noticing that. I missed one “not”.

      “I would recommend doing any Enterprise Planning Solution that is not super-simplified in BPC Embedded or BPC Standard.”

      Regards,
      Emiliyan

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