What are the plans for SAP’s planning solutions portfolio?


A quick jog down memory lane, as I am flying from PHL to SNA. About 10 years ago, I went to an SAP training course in Northern CA to learn SEM-BPS . My background at that time was all ABAP, BW and some SD/FI on functional side. Till today – that BPS training by Peter Jones has been the best class I ever took for an SAP technology, and till date – BPS is the fastest I ever came up to speed on any SAP technology.

With all its technical beauty, BPS had its fair share of problems too. One such issue was the front end in Excel. It was a powerful front end, but BEx had an excel front end too. It was not an efficient process to use BPC excel for planning, and then switch to BEx for reporting. As a result, we used to replicate a lot of reporting functionality into BPC layouts to make life easier for users.  Needless to say, users were not thrilled – and this was not good for TCO.

BPS was not the slickest way to do planning in an enterprise, but it did its job within its limitations. SAP did the right thing soon after – and brought out integrated planning – popularly known as BI-IP. Now, BEx was the one client for planning and reporting. But IP could not do everything BPS could do – and there were a lot of consultants who hated it, and thought it was a step backwards compared to BPS.

 

One  issue with IP was lack of CRM integration. CRM planning could not be done with IP – it still needed to be done using BPS, due to a UI limitation. So market planning, TPM etc continued to use BPS while others moved over to IP.  Incidentally, the CRM integration to BPS is nothing to write home about – it is as un-user friendly as it gets. But it did its job at the time.

Then SAP acquired Outlooksoft. When I was a BPS consultant, I used to think that SAP will surely buy Hyperion. But Oracle bought them instead, and SAP took Outlooksoft, which is a Microsoft based product.

Outlooksoft’s strength was superior user experience. When I played with it – not in a project scenario, I think it was at an SAP booth at Teched or SAPPHIRE – I liked it, and thought it was pretty fast too. The only thing I did not like was that there was no netweaver integration. But SAP said they will come out with a netweaver version soon, and they did.

By now, SAP had at least 4 planning options – BPS, IP and 2 outlooksoft versions, which got renamed to BPC. Well, same with consolidations part of the house too – with EC-CS, BCS, BPC, Cartesis. As far as I know – everything was and is supported till date, and there is a “it depends” answer if SAP is asked what tool to choose.

So much for history – lets fast forward to the shiny new world of HANA. So the stand-alone HANA is mostly a datamart on steroids, with no generic killer app till date. SAP came up with CO-PA accelerator, which is pretty good. Then there is smart meter analytics – which I never understood why SAP did, instead of something else with more widespread appeal across the install base. And all this time – SAP, customers and partners have been asking “where is the HANA killer app?”.

So the next generation of HANA came where BW could use it as a database. The moment I heard about BW on HANA – the thought that crossed my mind was “wow – this is exactly what SAP needs. Not just for reporting, but for planning”. BPC netweaver is not exactly the fastest planning engine I have seen. In fact, I am not so sure how well it will work with big amounts of data, unless customers also buy BWA.  I am sure SAP will claim it is quite good on performance etc based on what they have seen – but based on my own limited experience, it has some ways to go.

Remember the BPS question of why do I need separate excel client for BPS when BEx already has one –  And then SAP coming up with IP that solved that issue? One would have thought that lesson was learned well by SAP – but guess not. BPC has its own excel client, while BEx, and Analysis for office also have excel clients. It beats me why analysis client couldn’t have been enhanced to cater to BPC too. There is more – remember the postable nodes in BPS that saved many a project some valuable time in implementing? Where did that disappear in the new products?

In my mind – BPC on HANA is a no brainer for SAP to prioritize. That is a killer app that SAP and Partners and Customers can all be happy to implement without the necessity for marketing  hype. Now, I do know that BPC on HANA is in the works, and will come out some day soon. I also understand from some blogs on SDN that SAP is building a planning layer in HANA that is different from BPC (but probably can be used by BPC later I suppose). The question is how many evolutions will it take before it moves all the performance hogging functionality into the HANA layer and provide true disaggregation, and lightning fast performance?

 

Since ECC on HANA is also around the corner, will it take away investment from BPC on HANA?

And will SAP converge its planning technologies? Can SAP incorporate the best of BPC’s user experience, IP/BPS’ netweaver integration, NGAP’s HANA friendliness, R’s predictive abilities , BWA’s OLAP processing speed etc into one coherent product? or- as a buddy warned me today on twitter – will it end up with BPC’s integration and BPS’ user experience if SAP went down this route?  And will SAP come up with a full fledged cloud based planning environment along the lines of tidemark ?

I am sure SAP has some smart people doing its product portfolio planning, and that everything will converge at some point. But the sooner it happens – the more their customers will appreciate it.

I am not sure if the agile development paradigm used by SAP these days will help or hurt the speed of such integration. When different scrums happen for BPC, BW, NGAP etc – the project manager in me keeps thinking they will find it harder and harder to prioritize integration dependencies. Each product might get unique benefits for sure – but customers only care about overall solutions at the end – not individual products. With a distributed development organization like SAP, I would expect this to create more silos – not less. I have seen fiefdoms develop in big globally distributed teams I have managed in my past life – but those were in implementation projects, not product development. I have heard that SAP uses scrum of scrums to address this issue – so I trust they have a grip on this. And in any case, I am out of my depth when it comes to product development – so I will leave it at that.

Random parting thoughts -

1. Now that SAP plans to put HANA as the engine on every SAP product runs, and since Vishal has announced ECC will work on HANA in Q4 – I wonder if planning will stop being a separate system, and get folded into the business suite. On first thoughts it makes sense to me for a large set of customers to do cross domain planning to pull it back into business suite, and then let HANA deal with OLTP/OLAP planning loads efficiently. Planning is one of the most collaborative aspects in an enterprise – so I think streamwork integration is also a no brainer in this situation.I have no idea what are SAP’s thoughts on this – but I am very curious on what is the strategy for planning in the nirvana state.

2. A more technical question – if HANA is the database for BW going forward, will it make sense to convert most cubes to an account modelling structure to make use of columnar storage? Has any one tried to compare this with a traditional key figure model in BW on HANA to check performance?  If my instinct is right – and account model does help – it is definitely a plus for BPC, since it only supports account model now.

Only time will tell – or may be one of the EPM leaders at SAP can explain that to me at some point, ideally as a comment here, so that everyone can read it.