Enterprise reporting and analytics are constantly evolving, both as new technology is introduced, and as organizational requirements change. The need for an agile, flexible solution that can quickly deliver meaningful business value has never been more critical.
Software vendors are addressing these requirements in various ways and, almost without exception, the infrastructure of choice is cloud. Where these vendors differ in strategy, is how they are going to market with these offerings; some vendors such as Microsoft and Tableau focus on a distributed model, while SAP focuses on a centralized model. In this post, I highlight some of these key differences with a focus on SAP’s modern BI strategy and solution, SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC).
What’s the Difference?
SAP’s approach has been to focus on a holistic view of analytics, optimized for their “Intelligent Enterprise.” That’s not to say SAP Analytics Cloud cannot be used with non-SAP data sources (quite the contrary), but the greatest differentiation from their competition and your return on investment comes when blending one or more of SAP’s ever-growing portfolio of enterprise software solutions (ERP, Concur, SuccessFactors, Ariba, and more recently, their acquisition of experience management firm Qualtrics). It’s clear that this is where SAP is focusing their near-term development effort. The investment in a dedicated, agnostic, semantic layer in the cloud has shifted to the nascent SAP Data Warehouse Cloud. This moves the center of gravity further away from the self-service persona and provides more ammunition to the likes of Microsoft Power BI and Tableau. Perhaps this is a battle SAP is not equipped to win, or not prepared to fight — only time will tell.
There are three key areas were SAP Analytics Cloud stands above the rest: 1) it is a common cloud first solution 2) it offers an improved security because of the option to leave data on premise; and 3) the product is a unique combination of business intelligence, planning and predictive analytics. Let’s look a little closer at these three components.
From SAP’s perspective, designing a common cloud solution for reporting and analytics creates a force multiplier when it comes to understanding what drives the business and how to impact future decisions. Most notably, there is no desktop install for the creation of content (unlike other solutions), which reduces the friction to onboard new users — they just click on the link in an invitation email and are creating and sharing insights in minutes. SAC also promises a common design interface for all of the different data sources, meaning that business users gain from a standard feature set and inherit the underlying metadata. SAP is uniquely positioned to build and leverage this, as the competing products (or customers) would need to recreate these complex relationships, which is no small feat.
Another area where SAP has what could be considered to be a unique value proposition, is the way users can interact with sensitive data such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Optionally, SAC can be designed to leave all sensitive data behind the company firewall. This solves numerous compliance and privacy concerns for many companies, from healthcare to insurance and banking. Compare this to a solution that requires all of the company’s sensitive information to be copied, uploaded, stored and paid for (again!) in its cloud platform.
The third point for SAC’s differentiation is the triangulation of business intelligence, planning and predictive analytics. No other BI solution on the market today offers this combined solution, delivering business insights, on one platform. For example, the Finance team can predict sales demand for a new product line in a single report that contains real-time Actuals data from SAP S/4HANA for a similar brand, real-time marketing data from SAP Cloud for Customer, then forecast cost of sale and demand and share all of these insights to the broader team (or keep the scenario in a private view).
Being able to report and visualize existing data is table stakes for any BI solution; the real value comes when an organization can leverage this data to drive the business forward though a proactive and collaborative forecasting process, augmented by intelligent machine-driven insights, without having to jump through technical hoops across fragmented tools. Traditionally, planning software has been limited to the very few, often a subset of the finance team.
Planning and forecasting activities are time consuming, iterative and expensive processes often littered with a smorgasbord of fragile, bloated spreadsheets containing cryptic logic embedded in long nested formulae or macros. In order to collaborate on the planning process, these spreadsheets might be attached to emails with filenames such as “Marketing_F20_Final_v7_USETHIS.xls.” SAP solves this challenge by providing a solution that can drive actionable intelligence and collaborative planning from a single solution, reporting historical actuals from disparate systems (on-premise and cloud), augmenting this corporate information with machine derived insights and driving the company’s strategic and tactical goals.
For many organizations, the planning and forecasting process is so arduous that the value and engagement with the key stakeholders is lost, and the level of sophistication not much more than “Actuals +5%.” By blending the power of a cloud-based solution with modern BI while still allowing the familiarity of an Excel interface, SAP’s Analytics Cloud is delivering on the vision of a truly collaborative optimized and scalable environment, where teams can share insights, set goals for the organization and leverage embedded predictive algorithms to augment the process of running the “Intelligent Enterprise.”
In summary, SAP’s vision of holistic cloud-based analytics differs significantly from the traditional BI and data visualization solutions, making a direct comparison challenging. Our customers, particularly with an SAP landscape, are already seeing the business value of a solution where they can analyze information and drive the business proactively through a collaborative, single interface which allows scalability for their organization.