One of the most frequently asked questions from customers using BPC at the moment is which client tool is the best fit for BPC on HANA. In this article we will compare the various front-end tools that can be used in combination with SAP BPC in a simple way. We will do this by drawing a comparison between the SAP BPC Frontend tools: Analysis for Office (AO) and the EPM Add-in which both are used in Microsoft Office. We will conclude with the new SAP convergence client 2.2 which has been released in November 2015 and take a look at what is to come with 2.3 in 2016.
Analysis Office vs. EPM Add-in | It seemed a very easy task to list down the differences between the tools before we writing this article, but in practice it turned out to be quite a challenge to identify factors that determine the completeness of a tool. This is comparable to the discussion about the exact distinction between Reporting and Analysis in SAP Frontend tools, and especially for Planning Applications like BPC NW, Integrated Planning and BPC on HANA 10.1. To have a clear picture of the tools, we started looking at what is shipped by default with Microsoft Office products of which everyone knows how these work, and what advanced users can do with it. We also know how powerful Excel is and how it is the tool of choice within Finance departments. Excel is of course ideal for calculations, pivot tables and focus on content rather than formatting/presentation and data integration. Major missing element of Excel is the ability to easily connect to SAP systems where all actual data is stored. For example, Excel doesn’t hold any integration with actuals versus plan data, making it very difficult to have one centralized version (one version of the truth) and performance can be a problem if you have complex calculations of data retrievals.
Analysis for Office | What make Analysis for Office different from EPM Add-in? In the first place, AO requires a BusinessObjects Platform (if you want to deploy your reports on BO server) and EPM is a standalone client tool (Excel add-in). It also is the successor of BEx (Web) Analyzer and can be installed as Microsoft Excel plugin or can be used as a web version (OLAP). Analysis Office is the right tool for users with extensive analysis needs. It is particularly suited to access and analyze OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) sources. It offers slice-and-dice capabilities and supports use of hierarchies, for example a cost center hierarchy. It is a tool for analysts who know the data and are looking for answers by exploring the data. The dataset is also usually built by the IT organization and is often based on the specifications of the business analyst. AO works nicely for ad-hoc analysis-type of reporting without focusing on formatting and complex calculations (e.g. VLOOKUP’s and pivoting).
Analysis for OLAP | Functionality-wise Analysis for OLAP matches Analysis for Office with the big difference that it runs in a browser. This often has a preference from an IT perspective because the roll-out and maintenance of the tool is much easier. However, the fact that it lacks integration with Excel makes Analysis for OLAP less popular with business analysts. Analysis for OLAP doesn’t have a future in SAP’s plans. It seems to be phased out in the future.
EPM Add-in | The Enterprise Performance Management or EPM Add-in for Microsoft was released for SAP EPM’s suite as depicted below. This client tool was built to harmonize different Microsoft Office based clients used within the SAP BusinessObjects and EPM portfolio. Previous tools like Extended Analyzer (acquired from Cartesis) used for BPC 7.X and EVDRE were migrated to EPM 10.0. The EPM tool contains huge improvements with Excel integration and provides features and functions for the business users to analyze and report. One of the features of EPM is the ‘Local Members’ which can be explained as ‘dynamic referencing formulas’. This feature is integrated in Excel and can be created in EPM by the business users without any involvement of the IT organization. This increases the user adoption of EPM. The business users are now in the driver’s seat and are able to create their own reports, local formulas, input on data cells and reuse the look and feel by applying the standard EPM formatting sheet. EPM is not only used for BPC but it can also be used for the entire EPM Portfolio. For example, Financial data (BOFC) can be combined with SAP Strategy Management (SSM) by joining data from different EPM data sources into one report.
One EPM client for BPC Standard and Embedded version | EPM has been released for two types of BPC on HANA versions: BPC ‘Standard’ and ‘Embedded ’. The Standard version is like a standalone version within SAP BW and it has a Consolidation engine in it, which is used for Financial Planning & Consolidation. With Embedded version BW on HANA is integrated and Master/Transaction data can be reused without any conversion or formatting. Embedded version can’t consolidate data but it’s the best for Planning, like Budget, Supply Chain Planning, Cost/Sales/Logistic Planning etc. Both versions work in Excel but with different connections to their data sources.
Analysis Office 2.X : Convergence of AO and EPM Add-in | In September 2015 SAP announced a new client tool for EPM and AO called Analytics Office , which includes the EPM add-in and AO in one installation. The tools are just merged technically from an installation perspective and EPM/AO can be used independently from each other: there are two separate ribbons with each their specific functionality. If you are using AO reports- you have to logon in using the AO client and if you want to switch to EPM, an additional logon is required to access the EPM reports. Once you are logged in – the refresh function works across tools and can be used for all reports which are opened in the EPM/AO sessions. We don’t see any added value to move from EPM or AO to the new converged client if you just use one of these tools. From an IT perspective it makes scripting easier only having one script to rollout both tools in one client.
Analysis Office 2.2 has been released | The new Analysis Office 2.2 has been released in November 2015 with more integration and improvements. With the AO 2.2 version, EPM SP23 was taken as a reference for the EPM part. Analysis Office has been improved with more features like formatting and prompts. But is this version now ready to be used or just for piloting? Eventually you would expect that EPM and AO are merged into one single tool. What we heard explicitly at SAP’s Strategy sessions is that both tools will be merged into one Office Client and that would be Analysis Office. Something we should expect to be delivered in 2016 but we are eagerly anticipating a new roadmap for Analysis Office 2. 4 and further.
Latest and greatest – Analysis Office 2.3 has not been released yet but we know already that AO 2.3 is planned for June 2016. What we know about the 2.3 version is not much more than that Analysis Office can handle local calculations similar as in EPM, which would be a big improvement. This means you can have ‘local member’ formulas in rows or columns and you can apply specific formatting to it. Another feature is the ‘work statuses’ (facilitates Data information about planning cycle such as data locking or submission management) which was not supported in the previous versions. More and more reasons to switch from EPM to Analysis Office for BPC ‘Embedded’ version.
Wrap-up | We can clearly see SAP is investing in further development and enhancements of AO while EPM only has bug fixing as a priority. This brings us to conclude that within a few years EPM is nearing the end of its product lifecycle, since the introduction in 2011.
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1. Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms, Q1; 2015
2. Analysis Office Roadmap Webcast Notes: Apr 24, 2015
3. BA270 TechEd 2015 Presentation Slides 20-24: Hands-On, Embedded Model in SAP BPC
4. The Forrester Wave™: Enterprise Business Intelligence Platforms, Q1 2015
5. BA261 TechEd 2015 Presentation Slides 9 – 19: Analytics Clients in Microsoft Office
6. Roadmap of Analysis Office: Dec 8, 2015