SAP Analytics Cloud with Finext

Finext provides the best tools to help financial professionals optimize their work. SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) is part of the toolbox we provide to the CFO's office, enabling BI, predictive forecasting and planning. As part of our SAP Cloud Finance tools, it is an important part of our cloud finance portfolio and one we are proud of. We talked to Jeroen Zeeuw, Team Lead Financial Planning and Analysis and SAP Consultant at Finext, about SAP Analytics Cloud, its role in financial organizations and its place in our portfolio.

What is SAP Analytics Cloud?

SAC is a cloud platform that provides business intelligence, planning and predictive forecasting - complete with machine learning intelligence in the cloud - in an integrated cloud platform. As part of SAP's Intelligent Enterprise strategy, SAC will be integrated into the cloud suite, meaning data will be integrated across all SAP tools.

It is also the successor to SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence (SBOP BI) - the on-premise solution that SAP will maintain until 2027.

"SAP Analytics Cloud officially became a product in 2017," Jeroen says. "Back then it was an immature product; that happens more with SAP solutions. SAP introduces solutions and then invests in development when customers show interest. The same happens with new 'bigger' features added to their solutions. A new feature is launched and doesn't do much, but over time it gets further developed and eventually adds a lot of value. That's where SAC is now; at this point it really is a mature planning solution."

Benefits of SAC

SAC is flexible and allows you to set up different models, calculations, dashboards and other functions for different planning processes coming from different departments within the organization.

"It also allows you to have different departments join forces and deliver an integrated plan. If Sales says, 'we're going to sell X products,' production can communicate 'Y is our production capacity, we can't exceed that,' essentially eliminating your silos while still allowing different departments to plan at their preferred level of detail."

Another big advantage, of course, is integration. With SAC, you can make live connections with SAP ERP and BW systems. This offers great value for Group Reporting functionality, among other things. Because of the live connection, neither master data nor transaction data need to be loaded from the source system. This means that with SAC's smart dashboarding capabilities, users can start their analysis at any time and analyze where specific numbers are coming from. But integration into planning processes is just as important.

"Good integration plays a big role in saving time during planning cycles. Think about the time for loading financials, volumes or FTE from other source systems."

Of course, you can also use SAC as a standalone solution; in fact, it is a SaaS solution, which is a big advantage in itself. You don't need any hardware or servers; you can buy the tool and it's ready to use - after you integrate your data model. It's a pretty simple starting point, even if you get your planning process from Excel.

Integrated Analytics and Machine Learning

"SAC offers quite a bit of analysis functionality. For example, Smart Insights automatically checks figures, marks discrepancies between figures and helps you work out discrepancies. If you have an average 10% difference between planning and reality, but on month X it goes to 20%, Smart Insights will indicate which product was an outlier - so you can more easily investigate the discrepancy.

Also Predictive Forecasting is a machine learning program that improves as you enter data. It checks Actuals and then predicts the schedule at your selected data level, whether that's product, employee, season or something else. Those kinds of insights are very valuable, and SAC generates them with little effort on the part of the user."

Planning, forecasting and business analysis in one

"SAC is the only solution that offers business intelligence planning and forecasting functions in one tool. In my opinion, that's a key selling point."

"Choosing the right license depends on what you want to do with SAC. If you only want to analyze data in Azure or BW, for example, you could just go for the BI license. With that, you can run and develop reports and dashboards with data imported into SAC via or through a live connection. On the other hand, if you want to go into planning, you would want a planning license to enable those processes. If you want to develop in the tool, you need an admin license."

"SAC is the only solution that offers business intelligence planning and forecasting functions in one tool. In my opinion, that's a key selling point."

SAC's road map

SAP updates SAC quarterly with new features and developments.

"There are many new features coming, and quite a few have only recently been introduced. For example, during the last release cycle, SAP introduced a debugger. That's very useful when you're working with scripts to edit data."

"There are many new features coming and quite a few have only recently been introduced.

"I'm also very excited about the new master data loading feature. SAC already has master data imports, of course, but this new functionality means that end users can trigger master data imports. This is useful because end users are often aware of master data updates before the admin. And with this update, that user no longer has to contact the admin to synchronize the systems."

"In addition, SAP is working on a content library that will allow developers to create or customize reporting components to organizational preferences and store them centrally. If all users can reuse those components, it contributes to uniform reporting components and easier report construction."

Finext and SAC

"Finext has been working with business analytics and planning since day one of the organization - more than 20 years. We have been working with SAP since 2007, when SAP bought OutlookSoft. Finext was the first and largest OutlookSoft implementation partner in the Benelux, so we continued to work with SAP on the product - even when they changed it to BPC. So for us it makes sense to switch to working with BPC's successor on S/4HANA."

"We actually started exploring SAC in 2018. That was mostly a process of learning, familiarizing ourselves with it and waiting until it was mature enough to run projects. In 2019, it was mature enough to run planning processes, which was when we did our first implementation."

Finext's role in implementation

SAC is a cloud tool, so the technical requirements are relatively light. Finext starts with a design and then implements the solution by setting up the necessary models, structures, calculations, connection, dashboards etc. in the system. The design can be based on already existing planning models (in Excel or other solutions), but Finext also has strong (industry-specific) planning knowledge and is therefore able to challenge your current processes and create completely new planning processes.

"Often we need to convert Excel models to SAC solutions. While Excel is a great tool, it introduces many risks of errors - such as shifted columns and having some files in an older format. With SAC tools, you get a single point of truth and different silos can work together on a unified strategy."

"Moreover, no one in Excel has the ability to use predictive forecasting or machine learning. That's something new in the planning process. There are steps organizations need to take to build that in - and we're happy to help with that, too."

Regularly, implementation is done by Finext alone. But there are also opportunities for clients to contribute to the build. In most cases, their contribution comes most fully to bear in building the report.

"Anyone can learn to build a report in SAC. The bigger challenge is understanding the underlying data model."

"Anyone can learn to build a report in SAC. The bigger challenge is understanding the underlying data model. For example, do you understand what you're looking at? At Finext, we build planning processes with the intention of simplicity, which can be a challenge. However, when we report on S/4HANA tables, we are often not responsible for the data model. That's why we normally provide training and offer ongoing business consultation after implementation - so your financial consultants can build their own reports."

Want to learn more about SAC or discuss your organization's needs around financial planning and analysis and business intelligence, get in touch or come to the online SAP Close Up on December 14! Register now using this link.