A Look at the Reporting Benefits of SAP Analytics Cloud
SAP has done it again. It’s made us all rethink what we are currently doing as we wait patiently until it has a fully integrated product. I’m, of course, talking about SAP Analytics Cloud, which is part of its Unified Reporting strategy that will allow customers to combine data from all SAP systems, including SAP SuccessFactors. I’ve written at www.stephenhgallo.com recently about reporting in 2018, and this is a follow-up to it. I’ll start with the cynical approach to this with the it’s-about-time dig, but in truth, I’ve been doing SAP ERP HCM reporting with SAP tools for more than 10 years. It’s hard. I’m sure that it took years of planning for SAP to finally take on this initiative with its daunting requirements, and I’d probably shed a few tears of dread if I were sitting in SAP’s conference rooms designing how this is all going to work. I say years of planning because none of this works without SAP HANA. When SAP decided to build SAP HANA, I have to imagine this was one of the use cases for building it.
What I’m finding in the market, though, is a polarizing effect every time SAP announces something with the roadmap in its infancy. To SAP’s credit I’ve seen more innovation in this product since it launched than in many of SAP’s prior endeavors. SAP is constantly trying to make it better, or in this case, the best, and it will get there. The effect that it has on customers, though, is the old wait-and-see mentality. For example, someone at an organization considering investing in SAP Analytics Cloud might comment as follows: “Should we purchase now? No wait, on the roadmap six months from now is the feature we might need. Let’s wait until SAP launches it and then see how the feedback is on it.” Wash, rinse, and repeat. What I’m going to try to impress upon you is not to wait. Start piloting the application. It does have its merits.
Let’s start this journey by talking about what SAP currently offers. I won’t go deep into the current SAP SuccessFactors reporting; others have already done so. However, if we look back at the SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC) side of the house, we still have our good old ad hoc query, SQ01 – ABAP Query for HR, and then solution tools to get data out of your module of choice, Wage Type Reporter (Payroll), PT_QTA10 (Absence quotas), and so on. Again, there are reams of information on these. When I speak about the SAP ECC side, I’m also referring to systems based on Employee Central Payroll (ECP).
These tools provide you with the data to do your own analysis. You can download whatever you like, shove it in a warehouse — Excel, Access, your choice — and create your own analytics. The problem, however, is every time you want to produce an up-to-date version, you need to download the data all over again. This is not a very efficient process.
SAP Analytics Cloud Reaches the Pinnacle of Reporting
When I look at a reporting maturity model, I see SAP Analytics Cloud as the highest level of reporting. If you go from reactive reporting to proactive reporting to metrics to planning and finally to predictive analytics, SAP Analytics Cloud is at the top of the game. SAP Analytics Cloud is going to bring us out of the Excel analytics that every HR department is doing monthly, quarterly, or annually. It’s providing the automated analytics that allow you to monitor your key business metrics to see if your business is performing to the levels that you desire. SAP has other analytics products in the market, including SAP Business Intelligence (SAP BI) and SAP Lumira, but I consider SAP Analytics Cloud’s ability to link up to your systems with ease as the benefit it offers to enterprises. Let’s take a look at Tables 1-5 to see the data sources to which SAP Analytics Cloud can link.
To clarify, live data resides in the source system. SAP Analytics Cloud reads it on the fly to get your data. Import data will be brought out of your system into the cloud. Currently the advantage of import data is that it’s easier to create your own datasets of data mashed up against other import data. Apparently, there are still some limitations of mashing up live data with import data, but SAP has said it is resolving that soon.
Now we must understand the types of questions planning and predictive analytics help us solve to understand what value SAP Analytics Cloud brings to an organization. I use some examples that were shown at SAPPHIRE NOW:
- Are we attracting hires by ethnicity? (Recruiting)
- Are we hiring a diverse workforce? (Onboarding)
- Are we promoting across ethnicities? (Employee Central/SAP ECC)
Figure 1 is a screen shown in a demonstration at SAPPHIRE NOW.
With these metrics, as chief of diversity, I can get instant insight about how my plans are performing, which areas of the company need my involvement, and a view of the overall health of the workforce sliced by any dimension I see fit. SAP Analytics Cloud can also, based on prior data, predict where your trends for these metrics will go in the future. So right now, it might look like region X is not performing, but looking at a predictive trendline into the future (not shown), we can see they are on the upside. Therefore, I should focus my time on regions where my metrics are trending downward. This information is invaluable for leaders and managers, but also invaluable to analysts. Analysts spend countless hours putting these types of charts and predictions together, only to have to do them all over again next month. With SAP Analytics Cloud you have the build-it-once, use-forever type of deployment.
Get On Board, But Check the Roadmaps
For the executives and managers of the world I see SAP Analytics Cloud as a no-brainer. Even if you sit and tell yourself that you’ve invested so much time in Work Force Analytics, or SAP Lumira, or SAP BI, know that the SAP Analytics Cloud is going to have all of this available in the platform. Some of it is already here and some of it is coming. Always check the roadmaps at https://www.sap.com/products/roadmaps.html and watch the webinars. This is the future of SAP reporting, and it’s something you should get on board with. Coming from a guy who works for an SAP software partner that does reporting, take this advice with more than a grain of salt. If you’re a leader, get a subscription, grab an analyst, and lay out a one-month plan of analytics you want and point them in right direction. You might be surprised with what they can accomplish in a short period of time.
However, if this is the greatest thing since sliced bread for managers, it still lacks some functionality and some of these use cases may never be included in the software or can be arduous to build. SAP is great at always showing us its prize pony when it talks about innovation, but there is always a dark underbelly of SAP ERP HCM that only us on-the-ground analysts understand — data consistency and auditing. This term is so broad in scope I will just provide a few examples below of issues I’ve come across in the past. These are problems that every customer has and some a customer created for itself, but remember customers buy SAP solutions because of all the standards SAP provides. However, you also buy SAP software because you can customize it to your business processes. These five examples are SAP ECC based; however, I’m sure those of you on Employee Central or an SAP ECC hybrid system can relate:
Issue 1: I have Rehire Dates that are before my Hire Date on Infotype 0041.
Cause: This is caused by human error.
Issue 2: We have a Z table in SAP ECC based on a payroll area that stores my annual merit effective dates and we need to ensure that the base pay Infotype was loaded correctly based on those dates.
Cause: This is a customization problem.
Issue 3: I need to know which employees are reaching their 401K limits as I need to start their deferred comp plans.
Cause: This issue is seen everywhere in the US as configuration is not always correct.
Issue 4: I work in Wisconsin, and I have this work schedule, so I’m only allowed to be in Payscale groups 12345 and 12346.
Cause: The business rule was localized to a customer process.
Issue 5: I need to submit to a union by region all the hours and types of hours their employees worked.
Cause: This is an example of the dreaded union reconciliation.
The examples I listed above are actual examples of things I’ve worked on for customers recently. Looking at the list I’m sure you can imagine some things you’ve had to reconcile in the past. And what do we use to get this data if you just have standard SAP tools?
Three choices of a few of the reporting tools to accomplish this that are available are SAP Ad Hoc Query (Figure 2); SAP Success Factors Ad Hoc Query/Online Report Designer (ORD), as shown in Figure 3; and SAP Wage Type Reporter (Figure 4).
You look at some of the use case examples and think, well, actually we could put most of these into Payroll Control Center (PCC). And you are right. It all boils down to budget and priority. If I have an analyst who can put this together, why spend the time and the money to put some of this in PCC. The answer is you should always be improving your processes, but I digress, and that’s a philosophical discussion for another day. (Also, PCC adoption is low. That’s another philosophical discussion.) The first four items I listed could be done in PCC; however, the fifth is kind of an ad hoc request that we are all too familiar with. Someone, somewhere, either in our company or outside our company, requests a bit of data that we do not have readily available. So, we use the standard SAP tools to mash this data together and provide them the report.
As long as I’ve been doing this, there is no way around ad hoc requests. They will always be the fly in the ointment to any reporting strategy. This is where SAP Analytics Cloud falls down. When I go to customers and we define what they are looking for, 20% of it is metrics; 40% is operational reporting such as payroll; 20% is data consistency; and the last 20% of the work is ad hoc requests. It’s typically 20% of what they are producing, but in some cases, it can be 40% of the effort. Keep this in mind when you decide to move to SAP Analytics Cloud.
So, I do recommend that you move to the SAP Analytics Cloud. It’s actually really neat, fairly intuitive, and for things like basic gender or hiring metrics, you can have those up and running quickly. I built a gender dashboard in a day. Don’t think, however, that SAP Analytics Cloud solves all your reporting issues. It doesn’t. You will still need tools — whether they are standard solutions delivered by SAP or third-party tools — to assist with your ad hoc questions, data remittance type reports, and master data consistency audits.