Top 10 lessons learnt from building a SAP Digital Boardroom
I have been involved in many projects where I got chills down my spine as I set my eyes on the management pack that had to be delivered. A stack of reports piled knee high, and most of the time only a portion of them ever get reviewed in meetings. In contrast, my introduction to SAP Digital Boardroom made me feel as if I was part of the Tom Cruise’s movie Minority Report. The difference being that this was real, it dawned on me that I can now help my customers move into the digital world quicker and assist them to drive better decision making by giving the power of reporting back to business.
In Part 1 of my 2 part series I want to share with you the 10 lessons I have learnt from developing a SAP Digital Boardroom, I hope you find them useful as you embark on the same exciting journey.
- Understand what drives your business
I have noticed that very few customers can actually tell me why a report is needed when I analyse their reporting packs. They are very good at explaining what is on the report and how they get the data but don’t know what business question the reports answers. Reports are typically passed down from team to team, and often when an employee resigns they handover their reporting responsibilities to the next in line, the reason why some reports were created getting lost in the process.
I suggest when you start on the design of a digital boardroom, ask the “Why?” on every component you want to add. If neither you nor the business owner can answer why this report or visualisation is required and what business question it will answer, it does not belong on your digital boardroom. Get your list of KPIs that drive your business and redesign your management pack to help you move your business forward with the right information at hand.
- Anybody can write down 30 000 words, but it doesn’t mean it tells a story
Data visualisation is an art, similar to writing a short story with 30000 words. It is not just a set of graphs that you can put together quickly without any thought on where what will go. Each data requirement has a very unique way that it should be displayed in order to get the right message across. Pie graphs and 3D charts are old school, you have to ensure that the visualisations you build portrays the message you want to get across.
There are various guidelines and websites that provide guidance on the correct graph type for the data you want to display. Invest time in making sure the design is correct before you start developing. Choosing the right graphs in combination with identifying the correct KPIs is probably the most important step of developing your digital boardroom.
- Give business users the opportunity to shorten the financial reporting period
There are a handful of companies that truly have an automated reporting process. More commonly, most companies still have a lot of manual intervention and a large portion of the monthly reporting pack is direct table extract from the source system. Planning and forecasting is performed in Excel and a dedicated team is responsible for preparing the monthly report. Very often there are big data extracts from which smaller reports are built, those reports being the source for further additional views.
With a SAP Digital Boardroom project, the reporting process can be streamlined. As discussed earlier, only the necessary visualisations and required views of reports should be included. There is no need to create layers of data to generate the final report. The ability to create data models with live data connections (eliminating the need to replicate data) enables a shortened reporting process. Furthermore, less time is spent on preparing the layouts as the live data plugs into the visualisations you already defined in your design of the SAP Digital Boardroom
- There is a difference between a Digital Boardroom and a Story
SAP Analytics Cloud stories are the building blocks of an SAP Digital Boardroom. Stories are usually defined for a specific topic or line of business function. A story brings together the visualisation components or KPIs on one canvas. One or more stories can be combined to create a SAP Digital boardroom.
SAP Digital Boardroom is the showcase solution of SAP Analytics Cloud and has some additional features that is not available in a standalone story. SAP Digital Boardroom is the future of digitalized reporting and can enable business to move away from paper based management reporting packs. The solution enables executives to get answers to questions asked during meetings immediately because of the real-time analytics, drill down and what-if capabilities that are part and parcel of the solution. We should also not be fooled by the name SAP Digital Boardroom and think that it is only meant to be used by executives in board meetings. This tool can be used at any level and in any meeting (via multiple devices) where a report is required.
My recommendation, start small. First develop one story, then another, and soon you will have all the components that make up your company’s Digital Boardroom.
- Variance analysis available on charts
Reporting is all about comparisons. Business users always want to know which unit performed the best and by how much. Every financial report I have built required a variance amount and variance percentage value as part of the key components of the report.
The ability to dynamically determine the variance between any two categories on a graph is a big value add. The visualisation is not cluttered with variance numbers and there is no debate on whether you should show the value or the percentage variance on the screen, by default both is shown in the tool tip.
The variance is calculated based on the sequence of selection.
- Know the screens you are designing for
Screen size does matter when you are designing for your digital boardroom. Always consider the dimensions of your digital wall. There are settings that allow you to tweak your display but the end state of the Digital Boardroom needs to be considered when placing your filters, visualisations and reports.
One design tip I can offer: position filters on the bottom half of the screen, the digital walls are very big and if the filters are positioned on the very top, very few people will be able to reach and change them.
- You don’t need to be a data scientist to enable predictive analytics and what if scenarios in the SAP Digital Boardroom
SAP Analytics Cloud offers the ability to create predictive analytics. This can be achieved by either using exponential, time series prediction or even linking to R. The setup is hours or days, not weeks and months, and you don’t need to be a data scientist to get the desired result. In addition to the predictive capabilities you can also setup what-if scenarios to assist in planning and forecasting.
- Creating a home screen that shows what is important to the individual logging on
Not only do you feel very welcome when you logon to the SAP Analytics Cloud with its personalised greeting, you have the ability to create a personalised home screen to show you the most important information as you start your navigation. You can pin visualisation from any story to the home screen. You can move them about and create your own look and feel. I haven’t been able to track the Pin functionality down on components in the Digital Boardroom yet however it is available on each graph if you view the individual stories.
- There is no “Undo” button
In the beginning days of BEx Analyzer, one of the first functions I always taught my students were “Back” and “Back to Start”, they allowed us to undo a single navigation step or all navigation steps. I found these functions very useful because we often clicked too quick or clicked too often due to low connection speeds. This resulted in an undesired report state as we had jumped too far into our analysis. I wish that the “Back” or “Back to Start” functions were available on each graph of the SAP Digital Boardroom but unfortunately they’re not. The back button on the browser doesn’t always result in the desired state and the reset option only gives me the “Back to Start” functionality. I want to be able to “Undo”!
- It feels like my birthday every second week
I’m as excited as a little kid on my birthday day when I see the email from SAP Cloud Analytics explaining the new features and functions that have become available in the latest release. SAP has kept to their promise and delivered new functions and features frequently. The system is stable and I haven’t experienced any instability due to new releases.
In my next blog, I will I share with you why I think SAP Analytics Cloud Planning it the next best thing.