• SAP Analytics Cloud with Finext

Finext is dedicated to providing the best-in-class tools to help financial professionals optimize their work. SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) is one part of the toolbox we deliver to the office of the CFO, enabling BI, predictive forecasting, and planning. As part of our SAP Cloud Finance tools, it’s a key part of our cloud finance portfolio and one that we’re proud to be part of.  

We sat down with Jeroen Zeeuw, Team Lead for Financial Planning and Analysis and SAP Consultant at Finext, to discuss SAP Analytics Cloud, its role in financial organizations, and its place in our portfolio.  

By Jeroen Zeeuw, May 2023

What is SAP Analytics Cloud?

SAC is a cloud platform offering business intelligence, planning, and predictive forecasting– complete with machine learning intelligence in the cloud – in an integrated cloud platform. As part of SAPs Intelligent Enterprise strategy, SAC embeds into the cloud suite, meaning data is integrated across SAP tools.

It’s also the successor to SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence (SBOP BI) – the on-premises solution which SAP is maintaining until 2027.

“SAP Analytics Cloud officially became a product in 2017.” says Jeroen, “At the time, it was still an immature product, that happens more with SAP solutions. SAP introduces solutions and then invests in development as customers show interest. That also happens with new ‘larger’ features added to their solutions. A new feature is launched, and it doesn’t do much, but over time, it’s 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 features for different planning processes originated from different departments within the organization.

“It also allows you to have various departments join forces and deliver an integrated plan. If Sales goes “we’re going to sell X products” production can communicate with “Y is our production capacity, we can’t exceed that”, meaning your silos essentially disappear while various departments still have the possibility to plan on their preferred level of detail.”

Another large benefit is, of course, integration. SAC allows you to create live connections to SAP ERP and BW systems – and that offers a lot of value for Group Reporting, etc. Due to the live connection, master data nor transaction data require to be loaded from the source system. Meaning that with SAC’s smart dashboarding capabilities users can start their analysis anytime and analyze where specific numbers came from. But integration in planning processes is just as important.

“Proper integration plays a large role in saving time during planning cycles. Loading financials, volumes or FTE from other source systems gives you a head start.”

Of course, you can also use SAC as a standalone solution, it is SaaS which on itself is a major benefit. You don’t need hardware or servers; you can buy the tool and it’s ready to go – after you integrate your data model. It’s a fairly easy starting point, even if you’re moving your planning process out of Excel.

Integrated Analytics and Machine Learning

“SAC offers significant analytics functionality. For example, Smart Insights will automatically check figures, flag variance between figures, and help you to elaborate on differences. If you average at a 10% difference between planning and actuals, but on X month that goes to 20%, Smart Insights will actually highlight which product was an outlier – so you can more easily look into the discrepancy.

Similarly, Predictive Forecasting is a machine learning program that improves as you feed it data. It checks Actuals and then forecasts planning at the data level you select – whether that’s product, employee, seasonal – etc. Those types of insights can be very valuable and SAC generates them with little effort from the user.”

Planning, Prediction, and Business Analytics in One

“SAC is the only solution that offers business intelligence planning and predictive features in one tool. In my opinion, that’s a major selling point.”

“Choosing the right license depends on what you want to do with SAC. If you just want to analyze data in e.g., Azure or BW, you could just go for the BI license. This allows you to run and develop reports and dashboards using data imported to SAC via or via a live connection. On the other hand, if you want to go into planning, you’d want a planning license to enable those processes, and if you want to develop in the tool, you need an admin license.”

SAC’s Roadmap

SAP updates SAC on a quarterly release cycle including new features and development.

“There are lots of new features coming up and quite a few that have only recently been introduced. For example, during the last release cycle, SAP introduced a debugger. That will be quite useful for scripts in data actions.”

“I’m also quite excited for the new Master Data load feature. Of course, SAC already has a master data import, but this new functionality means end users can trigger master data imports. This is useful because end users often know about master data updates before the admin does. And with this update, that user no longer has to contact the administrator to synchronize the systems”.

“In addition, SAP is working on a content library, which will enable developers to create or adjust reporting components to organizational preferences and store them centrally. Allowing all users to re-use those components will contribute to unified reporting components and easier report-building.”

Finext and SAC

Finext has been working with business analytics and planning since day one of the organization – over 20 years. We’ve also been working with SAP since 2007, when SAP purchased OutlookSoft. Finext was the first and largest OutlookSoft implementation partner in the Benelux, so we continued working with SAP on the product – even as they changed it into BPC. So, it makes sense for us to transition to working with BPC’s successor on S/4HANA.

“We actually started looking into SAC in 2018. That was mostly a process of learning it, familiarizing ourselves with it, and waiting for it to be mature enough to run projects. By 2019, it was mature enough to run planning processes, which was when we did our first implementation”.

Finexts Role in Implementation

SAC is a cloud tool, so the technical requirements are relatively light. Finext starts with a design and thereafter implements the solution by setting up the required models, structures, calculations, connection, dashboards e.g., in the system. The design can be based on already existing planning models (in Excel or other solutions) but Finext has strong (industry specific) planning knowledge too and is therefore capable of challenging your current processes and creating completely new planning processes.

“Often, we have to convert Excel models to SAC solutions. While Excel is a great tool, it introduces a lot of risks of error – such as shifted columns, some files being in an older format, etc. With SAC tools, you get a central place of truth and enable various silos to work together to a unified strategy”

“Plus, in Excel, no one has the option to use predictive forecasting or machine learning. It’s something new in the planning process. There are steps for organizations to take to incorporate those – and we are happy to help with that as well.”

Quite often, the build is performed by Finext only. But there are options for customers to contribute to the building as well. In most cases their contribution is most beneficial in the report building.

“Anyone can learn to build a report in SAC. The larger challenge is understanding the underlying data model. E.g., do you understand what you’re looking at? At Finext, we build planning processes with the intent of maintaining simplicity, which can be challenging. However, when reporting on S/4HANA tables, we’re often not in charge of the data model. That’s why we normally deliver training and offer ongoing business consultation after implementation – so your financial consultants can build their own reports.”

If you’d like to learn more about SAC or you’d like to discuss your organization’s needs around financial planning and analysis and business intelligence, get in touch or join us at the online SAP Close Up on June 22nd! Sign up now via this link.

Planning, Budgeting & Forecasting SAP Cloud FinanceSAP Analytics Cloud