We have all overcome mistakes in life, using the rearview mirror to observe how easy it would have been to sidestep the pitfall, commenting, “If only I knew then what I know now.” This thought crosses my mind almost daily.
What do you do when you feel this way about the EPM process, BPC or your consultants? Do you ever wonder how they became experts, or how qualified they truly are? How do they define best practice? Recently, I worked with a customer who started their BPC journey with an early version of BPC for NetWeaver. They sought out highly talented consultants, assuming their talent and experience based on their reputation within the industry.
Their chosen consultant’s background was in SAP’s BW – Integrated Planning (SAP BW-IP), a utility provided with BW to facilitate write back functionality into BW objects which acts as a key function of BPC. However, BW-IP is not a full-featured EPM solution. In fact, the rationale behind SAP’s acquisition of OutlookSoft (now BPC) in 2007 centered on their realization that BW-IP is not as capable for EPM as BPC.
Consultants trained on non-BPC products learn database and interface design methods geared toward products with which they’re familiar, tempting them to assume the same approaches will work with BPC. (Not so fast!) After reviewing many customer solutions, implemented by many different consultants, I’ve observed that consultants fluent in BW-IP employ certain telltale methods that tend to produce poor results in BPC.
Here are a few of the lowlights you may have seen in your implementation. If you recognize any of these, you should reach out to the experts at Column5 to help straighten your EPM path.
The Data Tab
A common strategy in BW-IP reporting or input interface design is to have an unformatted tab in an Excel workbook handle the data exchange functionality. Other tabs retrieve data from tab using VLookUp functions, displaying it in neatly formatted rows and columns. This approach, while suitable standard for BW-IP solutions, has severe drawbacks for BPC, including solutions that are:
- Producing static and lifeless reports. There’s a lack of dynamic and interactive capability, like drill down or drill through, using the reporting tabs.
- Tedious and high maintenance. Each row requires manual effort to configure the VLookUp function, formatting and other necessary analytics.
- SLOW. The data pull tab must be larger to feed the permutations covered in all of the tabs, which ultimately impacts performance.
- Fragile. Row insertion could spark a chain reaction on all the reporting tabs in the workbook.
- Restrictive of BPC. All of BPC's rich functions are rendered moot through incompetence, resulting in a transformation of traditionally feature-rich BPC into a feckless caricature of an EPM solution.
My concern is that many customers may have the impression that this is simply how BPC is supposed to work. Let me be very clear: the characteristics above do NOT describe BPC.
Another common technique is the attempt to use custom measures to combine time, averaging and other functionality in the measures dimension. Invariably, the measures dimension uses MDX (MultiDimensional Expressions) syntax to derive new values. MDX is to BPC NetWeaver as Kryptonite is to Superman. Do not use it if you can avoid it – you almost always can! The BW-IP solution and BW InfoCubes use a key figure dimension, which can be easily confused with the measures dimension. Key figures in InfoCubes can be edited and added to, and that’s fine. This should only be done very sparingly in BPC however, as there are other ways to solve many of those requirements without adding MDX. This causes significant performance problems throughout the system. Please contact an expert right away if you’re experiencing slow performance - especially if you have numerous members in your measures dimension. You should have Periodic, QTD and YTD measure. Beyond that, you have custom measures and may have a solution designed by someone who's not particularly strong in BPC.
Finally, one of the highest impact differences between the products is that much of the financial intelligence written into BPC is not present in BW-IP. Understanding debit and credit balance accounts, performing better or worse analysis and even currency translation has to be custom code added into a BW-IP solution. BPC handles these out of the box after expert configuration. Inexperienced consultants may not know this, causing them to engage in sign flipping and better or worse variance analysis via manual calculations.
This approach sentences finance departments to spend countless hours manually editing thousands of lines of code across hundreds of Excel workbook tabs when only one member has been added. This is not how it is supposed to work - you should not settle for this lifestyle.
Uninformed consultants are easily identified when you’re working with data pull tabs with reporting and input tabs pointing to the data tab, custom measures and manually defined financial intelligence. Customers can’t be expected to know better - they’re at the mercy of consultants and may not know how to validate the consultant’s skill level. But I do expect consultants to know better, and to fully understand what they do not know.
If you are struggling with BPC, please reach out to Column5, or check out one of our upcoming EPM events.
If you're new to EPM, click the link below to learn more.
- Do You Need an SAP BPC Insurance Policy?
- 11 Dirty Secrets of EPM Projects
- 5 Lessons I Learned from My 5-year-old Daughter about EPM
David Den Boer founded Column5 Consulting in 2005. Under David´s leadership, Column5 has evolved beyond its reputation for technically superior solutions to be an influential global provider of high—value EPM solutions. His prior experience includes consulting experience as Director of Services at OutlookSoft from 2000 to 2005.