Partly Cloudy Forecast | Intro to SAP Analytics Cloud
What is SAP Analytics Cloud?
Great question! It is a tool, built from the ground up by SAP, as a cloud-based solution that combines a number of features and functions in to a single toolset. Those features include some aspects of what we deal with today, including planning and reporting capabilities, but it also takes some of those same capabilities and kicks them in to high gear. Specifically, it has a robust set of built-in BI tools that allow users to build dynamic charts, graphs and visualizations and save them in to “stories”. From a planning standpoint, users have the ability to key in values via a “grid”, but Analytics Cloud also offers some predictive capabilities, so that you can take historical data and allow the system to predict future values. Originally introduced as Cloud for Planning, then revised as BusinessObjects Cloud, it was recently renamed to SAP Cloud Analytics.
Finally, the SAP Digital Boardroom is an option for customers to implement that gives them the ability to present their data and stories via an interactive, multi-screen interface. Users can create agendas for meetings with links to specific stories, then filter and drill-down, simply by touching the screens and adjusting criteria on the fly. So, it’s part planning tool, part analytics, part dashboard and part “continuing to be evolved” as SAP continues to enhance and add to Analytics Cloud.
What’s Under the Hood?
Without getting too technical, we now know that it’s a new cloud solution, also commonly referred to as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and it’s built entirely on the HANA Cloud Platform (HCP). If you are curious about HCP, here is a link to a short, two minute video that does a great job providing an overview. One of the unique aspects of the software is that SAP is adhering to a rapid development and deployment cycle with releases of updates and new content every few weeks. So, what this means is that our clients don’t have to purchase hardware, install various software components and maintain all of it moving forward, like we do in our installations currently.
With Analytics Cloud, there are still servers and software, but they are maintained centrally in data centers, hosted by SAP. If a customer chooses to implement Analytics Cloud, they purchase the licenses they wish and SAP will then create a “tenant” for them. The clients connect to their tenant using a unique URL (currently only Google Chrome is supported) and they are off and running!
How Do You Drive This Thing?
Like any planning or analytic toolset, data is key! There are a number of options to loading data in to Analytics Cloud and all of them have pros and cons.
- The first option is to start by creating a new model and dimensions from scratch, similar to how we do it in SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC) today, then load data to it. This option is certainly more work up front, but you have control over how you define everything.
- The second option is to load data via flat file to one of these already existing models, or you can let Analytics Cloud create the model and dimensions on the fly for you. This option allows the end-user the ability to develop objects on the fly, but we lose a little control over how we want things setup.
- A third option is for Analytics Cloud to connect to various data sources or apps such as BW, BOBJ Universes, Success Factors, Google Drive and even back to BPC environments. These are connections, similar to our NetWeaver projects today, where the data is replicated/copied in to the Analytics Cloud environment.
- The fourth and final option is probably the most unique, in that you can connect to a live HANA data source. What this means is that you can connect to data within a HANA environment and read the data real-time, without having to load or replicate it. Bonus! Once we have the data, then we move on to developing our stories. Stories can take on various forms whether in grid format for planning purposes or KPI’s, charts, graphs, etc. for analytics.
There are honestly a lot of possibilities when it comes to visualizing the data within Analytics Cloud and we’ll cover this in more detail in future blogs.
What Does This Mean To Me?
This is a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor with a completely new toolset from SAP. Because of its rapid development and deployment cycles, SAP is taking customer feedback and building these enhancement requests in to the toolset in future releases. SAP is also working diligently with customers and partners alike to develop compelling use cases that speak to the tools, capabilities and benefits. Analytics Cloud is very much a complimentary toolset to customers’ core planning and BI toolsets today.
Perhaps Analytics Cloud could be used by remote users to enter a high level forecast or capture statistical information. What about capturing sales forecasts from the sales team out in the field? Another option could allow finance end-users to be able to easily load their own data and develop analyses on the fly, without the assistance of IT. These possibilities are certainly realistic, whether using Analytics Cloud as a standalone application or in tandem with core toolsets such as BPC or BOBJ BI applications.
Need More Information?
I hope you found this initial overview helpful, and in future posts I hope to compare and contrast this tool with BPC, as well as dive deeper in to specific areas of Analytics Cloud, including the Digital Boardroom, building stories, loading data and many other features of Analytics Cloud.