Interview with an expert: how good is SAP Analytics Cloud for visualizations?

The latest BI & Analytics Survey 21 by market analysts BARC includes a closer look at the SAP Analytics Cloud. A chat with Stefan Schwenzl, head of T.CON GmbH & Co. KG’s Analytics strategic business field, about the findings.

Plattling, July 26, 2021

Interview with an expert: how good is SAP Analytics Cloud for visualizations?

Hello Stefan Schwenzl! The survey found that 93% of the BI experts would recommend the SAP Analytics Cloud. Does this high number surprise you?

No, it’s really not surprising at all. We have been tracking the development of SAP Analytics Cloud since the beginning. We’d felt for a long time that the SAP environment was lacking a front end that would enable us to offer usable “self-service” products. It’s true that there were good visual reporting tools available in the business objects environment, but you really had to have had training to use these; indeed, sometimes the task had to be delegated to the IT experts. Now, however, users in the department can compile their own reports using the SAP Analytics Cloud – that’s a huge step forward for any company working on a “data-driven” strategy. Decisions and insights are generated directly within the operative business, founded on data and analyses.

The SAC makes the data available in a form that is very easy to work with. At the same time, of course, a high level of integration with other SAP systems can be achieved quickly and easily. This makes the switch – which is, after all, still a change – to SAC very straightforward, with no major technical hurdles. All in all, as a front-end solution from SAP SE, the SAC is a real winner – and that’s confirmed by the findings of the BARC study! That’s not to say that there aren’t individual situations where some niche product better fits the bill. But in the general case, a company looking for a strategic front-end reporting solution, something that’s fully integrated with the SAP system and can offer the whole gamut of functions – right down to planning – will find just what they need in the SAC.

Another perennial issue on the agenda for BI professionals – and the BARC study confirms that this year is no exception – is the need to rapidly incorporate large, and ever larger, volumes of data from a variety of sources and processes and present this information in a useful format that will help decision-makers make the right decisions at the right time. Is the SAP Analytics Cloud a suitable tool for responding to this need? How good is it at visualizations?

As far as integration possibilities go, the SAC is very open and excellently suited to integration with all kinds of different systems. We’ve found that we can link it to new systems very quickly. And the simple visualizations and standardized information formats for data from mixed sources create a real added value for the user.

However, when we’re looking at large volumes of data – you need to be aware that the SAP Analytics Cloud is not a data warehouse. The trick is to decide on a case-by-case basis what data should be fed into the SAC, and in what volumes. Sometimes it’s a more practical solution to link live data, especially with SAP HANA systems such as B/4, S/4 or S/4HANA.

The SAC is capable of mixing data loaded in the SAC with live linked data, although there are limitations here. A useful BI strategy that an enterprise might consider is to use a data warehouse to combine data from different sources for reporting. Again, it depends on the business process case whether the data warehouse is managed with, say, SAP BW/4, or – looking to the future, perhaps – with a data warehouse cloud.

Lots of IT departments are optimistic about the SAP Analytics Cloud; they see it as a system that finally makes it possible to roll out real self-service BI tools to other company departments, tools that users can understand without having to call in the experts. In the survey, 93% of respondents evaluated the SAP Analytics Cloud functionality for creating dashboards as “good” or “excellent”. So why are there still so many projects where the SAP Analytics Cloud rollout hasn’t actually been accepted by users as anticipated?

That’s a good point – we’ve certainly found the same thing and we’ve been called into some projects for exactly that reason. In these projects, the SAP Analytics Cloud has been introduced as a new, high-quality front-end for “self-service” reporting, with excellent visualization features.

The idea is that experts in the department can use the information that they themselves are familiar with to develop a story or dashboard based on their own ideas and issues. However, the tool simply doesn’t get used. But why not?

The SAC finally gives us a tool and technology integrated into the SAP landscape that allows users to create visual stories and dashboards for themselves. It works. It gives good results. But the challenge is to use it well.

The user interface is new. The project represents a change. Too many enterprises underestimate the hurdles that these changes pose for their users. The result is that we keep on seeing projects where the dashboard just isn’t being used to its best advantage.

What can we do, as SAP Analytics Cloud experts, to help a project that has got bogged down?

When we get called into one of these projects, how do we tackle it? We approach the project with a strong focus on user experience (“UX”). First of all, we define clear, project-independent guidelines in the SAC for look-and-feel, appearance and CI and help the users by providing these as templates in the SAC

Secondly, we train the key users, so that they understand how to create good visualizations, and what doesn’t work. Last but by no means least, we create routes for users to easily access their reporting products in the SAC.

All these points create simple, clear waymarkers that should be established in the SAC before starting a project. Processing them is straightforward and doesn’t eat up resources. They are independent of the technical integration, which of course also has to be handled to ensure single sign-on, system integration and user management are all managed effectively.

As SAP Analytics Cloud experts, do you tackle the topic of UX in the same way at all levels of the hierarchy, or is there a difference depending on whether the future users will be in one of the technical departments or at executive level?  

For the bigger dashboards, for example for the management board, we treat the project like a UX software development project. We use the same approach as when developing for the Lumira dashboard: lots of feedback loops that maintain close links with the actual users. Each iteration is another step forward in implementing content and usability requirements into the dashboard.

This means that the users quickly see their requirements being implemented in the technology: they aren’t just receiving a boxed solution matching their requirements, they’re closely involved in its production. Thanks to this approach, the users are already familiar with the new technology by the time it’s ready, and will even be keen to recommend “their” solution to other people!

Ultimately, the data in the dashboard is still much the same as before. It’s just that the way it’s represented is better matched to the way users want to work with it, as well as being tuned to meet the corporate attitudes and mindsets. That way, the flagship project can truly fly its flag, and will draw new projects in its wake – and the company will benefit from high-quality, useful visualizations. The waymarkers are all in place. Once that’s done, users can easily build on the foundations and try things out for themselves. It’s not long before the new technology is making waves.

We’ve been providing support for corporate analytics projects for over twenty years, and we understand just how important UX is for users. That’s why we offer a custom UX consultation package for the SAC.

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Norbert Kytka, Headquarters Plattling