Thursday Dec 14, 2023

Inside Insights: Modernizing FP&A with SAP Analytics Cloud with Nick Verhoeven

In this 2nd part of a 2-part series of Tech-Driven Business, Nick Verhoeven, Solution Manager for Planning & Analytics at SAP, rejoins Mustansir Saifuddin to dive into how SAP Analytics Cloud's seamless integration between planning, reporting and predictive capabilities is modernizing FP&A strategies. SAP Analytics Cloud continues to reshape business analytics and strategy. His key takeaway? With continuous technology developments, make sure you have a vision and then see how technology can help you achieve it. 

As solution manager at SAP, Nick's role is to align the different functions within the company. Customer engagements, analyst relations as well as supporting the internal controlling functions are the main drivers of the role that spark enthusiasm in Nick and steer the solution in the right direction. Nick’s discipline stemming from professional sports is his main strength, helping him drive enterprise engagements however sluggish processes might be.

Connect with Us:

Nick Verhoeven

Mustansir Saifuddin,

Innovative Solution Partners ,

Twitter: @Mmsaifuddin

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or learn more about our sponsor Innovative Solution Partners to schedule a free consultation. 

Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00.260] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Welcome to Tech-driven business brought to you by Innovative Solution Partners. Nick Verhoeven, Solution Manager for Planning and Analytics at SAP, rejoins me to dive into how SAP Analytics Cloud's seamless integration between planning, reporting, and predictive capabilities is modernizing FP&A strategies. SAP Analytics Cloud continues to reshape business analytics and strategy.


[00:00:37.390] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Welcome back, Nick, to Tech-driven business.


[00:00:39.830] - Nick Verhoeven

Thank you, Mustansir. I'm happy to be here.


[00:00:43.670] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Well, thank you, Nick. It's been an amazing session we had last time. Really enjoyed the discussion. And for our conversation today, I'd like to give a little background on what we talked about last time. We were looking on the surface of what planning is and what planning brings to SAC, especially in the analytics space. You are bringing both the planning capabilities and analytics together in the SAC platform. So what I would like to do today is I would like to start our conversation with taking it a step further. A lot of times, customers look at things where they are looking at, What benefit does it bring to me? What do I get out of this tool? So if I want to go and bring on planning capabilities of SAC, and how does it compare to other planning tools in the market? How does that sound to you?


[00:01:44.810] - Nick Verhoeven

I think that's great. I always look forward to a bit of a deep dive in SAC and cloud, so let's do it.


[00:01:51.060] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Awesome. Let's start with the most obvious thing. Whenever you look at any planning tool, you look at features. So what are some of the key features of SEL that elevates it compared to other planning tools in the market? What's your take on that?


[00:02:08.510] - Nick Verhoeven

Well, that's a good one, Mustansir, but if I look at it, so this is my perspective, what I think is unique to the experience cloud is the flexibility in an enterprise setting. So what do I mean? What I mean by that is that with its integration to SAP systems and non-SAP systems, using commonly accepted APIs for metadata as transactional data to create and maintain data models for planning, that they can be easily extended with flexible dimensions and measures and accounts for a user interface. There you see this enterprise as well as business functionality coming together in that sweet spot. But then if you go beyond data, going beyond the model itself, you have user interactions through data inputs, analysis, workflow. Here similarly, we offer flexibility through drag and drop and wizards to build entire flows for the business user. But here we can also expand into scripting on those same objects and using a single artifact, lowering overall total cost of ownership, but allowing for limitless flexibility. Now having all these capabilities puts SAC Cloud in a true sweet spot in offering enterprise as well as flexibility, allowing for the FP&A persona and IT persona to work side by side on these different capabilities.


[00:03:31.360] - Nick Verhoeven

And I think that's really unique to us.


[00:03:35.080] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Yeah, I think definitely I echo that same sentiment. One thing that really stuck out for me in this conversation is you mentioned flexibility a few times. So from your perspective, what you're seeing in this tool, what I'm hearing is from a business user's perspective, the flexibility is at a different level. Is that true? What is your take? What are you hearing from the customers when you talk about flexibility and that business ownership on this tool?


[00:04:07.790] - Nick Verhoeven

Well, it's a sliding scale. In essence, a lot of business users are not used to working with enterprise tooling. They're used to working with Excel, and flexibility is 100% there. Then if they move to enterprise tooling, they need to be guided to a certain extent. I have a nice example from a toothpaste company from the US. What they've done is they've started with extremely guided applications, really having the user guided step-by-step, using heavily scripted applications, which are more expensive in the maintenance of such applications. But as the users gotten into it and started to accept the application with less flexibility than Excel, they've actually opened up bit by bit the functionalities that SAC brings to them. In a self-service perspective that they can do their own thing. With that, they started using those flexible functionalities for themselves, as still using scripting every now and then when they want to extend, but having the ability to create their own stuff, create their own models. Then they're really starting to appreciate the benefits of having a centralized database that consolidates all of the planning inputs side by side with a tool that is flexible enough for them to work on, albeit never as flexible as I thought.


[00:05:28.310] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Yeah, sure. And that's the key differentiator, right? And thank you for delving into the details of this. So what I'm hearing is at least you have two different paths. If you start off with a flexible application where a business user takes ownership versus an example where you started off with a guided approach and then let the business ease into the tool. So seems like multiple options available from how business can benefit from this tool. Great. Thank you. So now, and this question always comes up, and I've been working with planning and analytics in the SAP space for quite some time. What would be your recommendation for existing BPC customers? What is a realistic path forward for them?


[00:06:16.780] - Nick Verhoeven

To your point, we get this question a lot because, of course, we have a huge user base using our BPC solution. Now, the first thing that I always want to say is we have tied our BPC support to that of BW for HANA, which is a long lasting one. There is no case of forced migration of any kind because this theoretically goes all the way up to 2040. However, it is the case that if you want to innovate, BPC is a platform that is being maintained and not expanded. This is where SAP Analytics Cloud comes in as our flagship cloud platform, neatly integrating with BPC so you can move on a case-by-case basis and build experience in the new platform. But no need, we're not forcing you in that sense. But realistically, customers have made major investments and moving without any aim of innovation does not make sense. My advice to BPC customers is to figure out where do you want to be from an FP&A perspective? What do you need? Considering the standstill of B2C from a functionality perspective and strong innovation in SAC and create an approach that aligns with your budget and resource constraints but still allows you to innovate at the because FP&A cannot sense it.


[00:07:34.430] - Mustansir Saifuddin

I think that's the key point you mentioned, right? And the FP&A is this whole paradigm is shifting in this space. And if you're looking at a tool that is not moving with those changes and how the business is changing over across the board. So what is the best way to move forward? Is it a combination? What I'm hearing is it can be a combination of you still having your PPC and your landscape, but you're introducing SAC slowly, so where you can take in the benefits of all the new innovations that are coming in in SAC, correct?


[00:08:11.400] - Nick Verhoeven

Yes. That is the more typical, to be fair. There is multiple examples that we have from companies. Some immediately go for a big process redesign because they want to consolidate their tooling, meaning they will only have a single platform and they move it immediately. But that requires a lot of resources and budget. If you do not have that available, but you do want to innovate, it makes more sense to do this case-by-case basis because it's a lot of change and you need to be ready to do the change management if it all happens at once. It's not black or white, but I would... I think that the more you go case by case is more logical if you have a big BPC investment.


[00:08:50.440] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Makes sense. That takes me to a different topic and this same realm of conversations that we're having. Let's think from a business user's perspective, how can a business user be more effective using having SAC planning at their disposal versus other traditional planning applications? Can you provide some examples from your experience?


[00:09:14.290] - Nick Verhoeven

Definitely. Because where I see traditional solutions having their place and mainly being very important to add up the numbers, they were also quite inflexible, up to the point that they were mere models of consolidation where data was added up. With SAP planning or SAP cloud planning, as our marketing department tells me to call it, one can do instance simulations using the versioning concept as well as running flexible, driver-based, and predictive-based calculations. That's a lot of buzzwords. What does it mean? Let's take the example of our reference customer Roche. They are a big pharmaceutical company in France. In their R&D expense planning, which is, of course, key as a pharmaceutical company, they had to produce about 20,000 data points each and every time that they run this situation. They, using our predictive functionality, have automated 16,000 out there. This is where they've used the embedded predictive capabilities in SAP's cloud for planning to automate to a certain extent, their planning process. Not all of it, because not all is automatable. But they've used the points that are predictable, used predictive for that. With that, they got the focus on those 4,000 points that are currently not that predictable, and they've increased their accuracy.


[00:10:36.560] - Nick Verhoeven

This is really innovating the department, doing more with less and focus on where it matters for the people.


[00:10:46.180] - Mustansir Saifuddin

I think that that is something that a lot of times it's not very obvious, especially you mentioned predictive capabilities and especially a lot of customers. But when you think about the traditional planning applications and tools available, a lot of times they don't even have those capabilities available. So from a business user's perspective, having this available at the disposal, it just gives them a lot more flexibility as well as control on what they are trying to get out of the tool. So it definitely, I think, puts them in a different level compared to how the traditional planning applications work in the past. Now, you used the example of Roche. How often do you see predictive being part of the planning solutions in terms of customers using SAC? Is this pretty prevalent or is it just trying to catch on now? What is your take on that?


[00:11:51.220] - Nick Verhoeven

I wouldn't dare say that it's only starting to catch on because from the very beginning there were customers experimenting with this. But I think since we've released and this was 2021, 2022, the ability to directly write back into planning versions from predictions, this has really taken off. I actually myself have done an internal project with our central forecast team, where for central forecast, this is at a higher group level, we do the entire P&L using SmartPredict. I've trained a number of controllers to apply SmartPredict to the predictive functionality in SAP's cloud on their planning models. And not all accounts were automatable, but the ones that were are now being utilized. And we see those controllers applying it themselves because the focus of our predictive is that it's very much business-user-based. However, we are heavily investing in this. You say, What is the difference of a modern tool? I think that we are going to, and this is in our statement of direction, we are going to infuse artificial intelligence into each and every workflow of SAP and it's cloud for planning. This will go from version management to data management to scripting. All of that will get artificial intelligence and this will even more widen the user base that's able to work with SAP and it's cloud for planning.


[00:13:15.890] - Nick Verhoeven

And first release is being mentioned on TechEd, which is currently ongoing. Their Just Ask has been presented as the natural language ability that we will get in SAP and it's cloud also on planning models.


[00:13:29.760] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Yeah, I think that is really good news. I mean, a lot of customers that have been thinking about that and now, as you already took the initiative of sharing that information with us, this is awesome because what I see, especially in this area, when you allow the business users to be more in control and this capabilities with AI becoming more forefront in a lot of these scenarios, and you have that tool that is already having those capabilities where it's allowing the business to take more control of their planning process, I think that's the wave of the future, basically. So talking from that angle, let's take a step back. The analytical applications, they've been around for some time. Can you use or share with us a use case where analytical application is required for a planning project?


[00:14:32.510] - Nick Verhoeven

Yeah, sure I can. An analytical application is now embedded within the story, right? So it's a single artifact. But looking at the scripting functionalities of the unified story, so the former analytical application, we can devise a use case, and this, of course, comes from practice, but I'm not allowed to call the customer name, but let us just imagine I am a regional manager at a supermarket and I'm on the road. This regional manager then needs to analyze financial performance as well as subjective scores on cleanliness of the stalls and such. On entries or I enter this local supermarket, I desire to input set scores on my iPad and I would like to also compare these to the financial performance. After these inputs have been done, I want to sit down with the local manager and I want to figure out how can we tweak local forecast numbers based on the latest actuals and market expectations. In this situation where I need this flexibility on my mobile device, it is clear that I want a mobile experience and an easy way to input the numbers, say, in entry form with sliders. Having this is not standard.


[00:15:49.910] - Nick Verhoeven

Of course, we have the ability to add Sliders, but how do we make sure that it writes back in the correct position of our plan and model? This can be easily achieved using descriptive functionality. This is an alternate way to leverage standard functionality, but then from Script. In this way, we will feed the Sliders into the model. We will make sure that we have a guided experience for a supermarket manager that is not necessarily someone that can build applications themselves. We actually see many specific requirements being fulfilled in this rate to really guide users through the process. Think about pop-ups, entering the screen, sliding screens as you go through them. Extra relevant for infrequent use, where a user can make do with minimal SAC training to what is needed using the scripts, you can really simplify their whole experience. I think that is key functionality where the scripting can help to either hide what could be viewed as a complex experience or to extend functionality that is just needed in that specific case, like the regional supermarket manager here.


[00:16:58.920] - Mustansir Saifuddin

I think that's a great example, especially I like the fact that you're taking that extra step to make it easier for any user who maybe he or she may not be as comfortable with the application. How can you make their job function easier to handle depending on the requirement, right? And I see analytical applications becoming a key factor in those scenarios where you have the ability as a user to do things on the fly, but as long as you have the minimal training given to you, that makes a lot of sense. I think we talked about a lot of different things today. We are coming to the end of our session. Based on what we have covered so far, what is that one key takeaway that you would like to share with our listeners today?


[00:17:49.610] - Nick Verhoeven

Well, I'd say there is really a new world of possibilities in the world of planning today. We've discussed a few with scripting and flexibility, but there is much more to explore now with AI also being infused into the platform like we mentioned. With that, it only becomes useful if we get tired to a specific strategy. Where does FP&A see themselves in the next 1-5 years in the world of AI, autonomous finance, and big data? Then we would want to see that you use that strategic vision and turn it into reality using rapidly evolving platform with the latest technology in the cloud, because that's the only place where this innovation can be offered. I would, of course, say look at SAP cloud, but my colleagues will tell you that you also have to look at the SAP Datasphere to have the surrounding data fabric. So really look at all the innovations ongoing, but always look at them into the respect of where is your FP&A strategy heading? You have a vision, you have something that you want to deliver on, and how can technology help you with that? And then as soon as you map that out, I'm quite sure the experts are more than willing to guide you on that.


[00:18:59.290] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Yeah, I think that's a great takeaway, especially you mentioned DataSphere, right? I mean, you think about technology, you think about cloud, all of it needs to be put together in a nice data mesh in terms of how you bring it all in one platform. And, of course, cloud is the way to go. So great insight on that one. I do appreciate your time. Thank you very much for sharing your insights. It's been a pleasure having you on our show. And definitely like to share this information with our listeners and make sure that they get the benefit of what you had to share today with us. So again, thank you.


[00:19:40.480] - Nick Verhoeven

You're most welcome, Mustansir. I'm looking forward to see the recording.


[00:19:47.260] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Thanks for listening to Tech-driven Business brought to you by Innovative Solution Partners. Nick Verhoveen highlighted the dynamic evolution of SAP Analytics Cloud, emphasizing its integrative power within business planning and forecasting. His key takeaway: With continuous technology developments, make sure you have a vision and then see how technology can help you achieve it. We would love to hear from you. Continue the conversation by connecting with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. Learn more about Innovative Solution Partners and schedule a free consultation by visiting isolutionpartners. Com. Never miss our podcast by subscribing to our YouTube channel. Information is in the show notes.

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