Understanding SAP Analytics Cloud

Riaz Ahmed

August 2017

In this article, Riaz Ahmed, the author of the book Learning SAP Analytics Cloud provides an overview of this unique cloud-based business intelligence platform. You will learn about the following SAP Analytics Cloud segments

  • Models and data sources
  • Visualization
  • Collaboration
  • Presentation
  • Administration and security

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

What is SAP Analytics Cloud?

SAP Analytics Cloud is a new generation cloud-based application, which helps you explore your data, perform visualization and analysis, create financial plans, and produce predictive forecasting. It is a one-stop-shop solution to cope with your analytic needs and comprises business intelligence, planning, predictive analytics, and governance and risk. The application is built on the SAP Cloud Platform and delivers great performance and scalability. In addition to the on-premise SAP HANA, SAP BW, and S/4HANA sources, you can work with data from a wide range of non-SAP sources including Google Drive, Salesforce, SQL Server, Concur, and CSV to name a few. SAP Analytics Cloud allows you to make secure connections to these cloud and on premise data sources.

Anatomy of SAP Analytics Cloud

The following figure depicts the anatomy of SAP Analytics Cloud:

Learning SAP Analytics Cloud

Data sources and models

Before commencing your analytical tasks in SAP Analytics Cloud, you need to create  models. Models are the basis for all of  your analysis in SAP Analytics Cloud  to evaluate the performance of your organization. It is a high-level design that exposes the analytic requirements of end users. You can create planning and analytics models based on the cloud or on premise data sources. Analytics models are more simpler and flexible, while planning models are full featured models in which business analysts and finance professionals can quickly and easily build connected models to analyze data and then collaborate with each other to attain better business performance. Preconfigured with dimensions for Time and Categories, planning models support for multi-currency and security features at both model and dimension levels.

After creating these models you can share it with other users in your organization. Before sharing, you can set up model access privileges for users according to their level of authorization and can also enable data auditing. With the help of SAP Analytics Cloud's analytical capabilities, users can discover hidden traits in the data and can predict likely outcomes. It equips them with the ability to uncover potentials risks and hidden opportunities.

To determine what content to include in your model, you must first identify the columns from the source data on which users need to query. The columns you need in your model reside in some sort of data source. SAP Analytics Cloud supports three types of data sources: files (such as CSV or Excel files) that usually reside on your computer, live data connection from a connected remote system, and  cloud apps. In addition to the files on your computer, you can use on-premise data sources such as SAP Business Warehouse, SAP ERP, SAP Universe, SQL database, and more to acquire data for your models. In the cloud, you can get data from apps like Concur, Google Drive, SAP Business ByDesign, SAP Hybris Cloud, OData Services, and Success Factors.

The following figure depicts these data sources. The cloud apps data sources you can use with SAP Analytics Cloud are displayed above the firewall mark, while those in your local network are shown under the firewall.As you can see in this figure, there are over twenty data sources currently supported by SAP Analytics Cloud.  The method of connecting to these data sources also vary from each other.

Learning SAP Analytics Cloud

Create a direct live connection to SAP HANA

You can connect to on-premise SAP HANA system to use live data in SAP Analytics Cloud. Live data means that you can get up-to-the-minute data when you open a story in SAP Analytics Cloud.In this case, any changes made to the data in the source system are reflected immediately. Usually, there are two ways to establish a connection to a data source – use  the Connection option from the main menu, or specify the data source during the process of creating a model. However, live data connections must be established via the Connection menu option prior to creating the corresponding model.

Connect remote systems to import data

In addition to creating live connections, you can also create connections that allow you to import data into SAP Analytics Cloud. In these types of connections that you make to access remote systems, data is imported (copied) to SAP Analytics Cloud. Any changes users make in the source data do not affect the imported data.

To establish connections with these remote systems, you need to install some additional components. For example, you must install SAP HANA Cloud Connector to access SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC) for Netweaver. Similarly, SAP Analytics Cloud Agent should be installed for SAP Business Warehouse (BW), SQL Server, SAP ERP, and others.

Connect to a cloud app to import data

In addition to creating a live connection to create a model on live data and importing data from remote systems, you can set up connections to acquire data from cloud apps, such as Google Drive, SuccessFactors, Odata, Concur, Fieldglass, Google BigQuery, and more.

Refreshing imported data

SAP Analytics Cloud allows you to refresh your imported data. With this option, you can reimport the data on demand to get the latest values. You can perform this refresh operation either manually, or create an import schedule to refresh the data at a specific date and time or on a recurring basis.

Visualization

Once you have created a model and set up appropriate security for it, you can create stories in which the underlying model data can be explored and visualized with the help of different types of charts, geo maps, and tables. There is a wide range of charts you can add to your story pages to address different scenarios. You can create multiple pages in your story to present your model data using charts, geo maps, tables, text, shapes, and images. On your story pages, you can link dimensions to present data from multiple sources. Adding reference lines and thresholds, applying filters, and drilling down into data can be done on-the-fly. The ability to interactively drag and drop page objects is the most useful feature of this application.

  • Charts: SAP Analytics Cloud comes with a variety of charts to present your analysis according to your specific needs. You can add multiple types of charts to a single story page.
  • Geo Map: The models that include latitude and longitude information can be used in stories to visualize data in geo maps. By adding multiple layers of different types of data in geo maps, you can show different geographic features and point of interests enabling you to perform sophisticated geographic analysis.
  • Table: A table is a spreadsheet like object that can be used to view and analyze text data. You can add this object to either canvas or grid pages in stories.
  • Static and Dynamic Text: You can add static and dynamic text to your story pages. Static text are normally used to display page titles, while dynamic text automatically updates page headings based on the values from the source input control or filter.
  • Images and Shapes: You can add images (such as your company logo) to your story page by uploading them from your computer. In addition to images, you can also add shapes such as line, square, or circle to your page.

Collaboration

Collaboration, alert, and notification features of SAP Analytics Cloud keep business users in touch with each other while executing their tasks.During the process of creating models and stories, you need input from other people. For example, you might ask a colleague to update a model by providing first quarter sales data, or request Sheela to enter her comments on one of your story pages. In SAP Analytics Cloud, these interactions come under the collaboration features of the application. Using these features users can discuss business content and share information that consequently smoothens the decision making process. Here is a list of available collaboration features in the application that allow group members to discuss stories and other business content.

  • Create a workflow using events and tasks: The events and tasks features in SAP Analytics Cloud are the two major sources that help you collaborate with other group members and  manage your planning and analytic activities. After creating an event and assigning tasks to relevant group members, you can monitor the task progress in the Events interface. Here is the workflow to utilize these two features:
    • Create events based on categories and processes within categories
    • Create a task, assign it to users, and set a due date for its submission
    • Monitor the task progress
  • Commenting on a chart's data point: Using this feature, you can add annotations or additional information to individual data points in a chart.
  • Commenting on a story page: In addition to adding comments to an individual chart, you have the option to add comments on an entire story page to provide some vital information to other users. When you add a comment, other users can see and reply to it.
  • Produce a story as a PDF: You can save your story in a PDF file to share it with other users and for offline access. You can save all story pages or a specific page as a PDF file.
  • Sharing a story with colleagues: Once you complete a story, you can share it with other members in your organization. You are provided with three options (Public, Teams, and Private) when you save a story. When you save your story in the Public folder, it can be accessed by anyone. The Teams option lets you select specific teams to share your story with. In the Private option, you have to manually select users with whom you want to share your story.
  • Collaborate via discussions: You can collaborate with colleagues using the discussions feature of SAP Analytics Cloud. The discussions feature enables you to connect with other members in real-time.
  • Sharing files and other objects: The Files option under the Browse menu allows you to access SAP Analytics Cloud repository, where the stories you created and the files you uploaded are stored. After accessing the Files page, you can share its objects with other users. On the Files page, you can manage files and folders, upload files, share files, and change share settings.

Presentation

In the past, board meetings were held in which the participants used to deliver their reports through their laptops and a bunch of papers. With different versions of reality, it was very difficult for decision makers to arrive at a good decision. With the advent of SAP Digital Boardroom the board meetings have revolutionized. It is a next-generation presentation platform, which helps you visualize your data and plan ahead in a real-time environment. It runs on multiple screens simultaneously displaying information from difference sources. Due to this capability, more people can work together using a single dataset that consequently creates one version of reality to make the best decision.

SAP Digital Boardroom is changing the landscape of board meetings. In addition to supporting traditional presentation methods, it goes beyond the corporate boardroom and allows remote members to join and participate the meeting online. These remote participants can actively engage in the meeting and can play with live data using their own devices.

SAP Digital Boardroom is a visualization and presentation platform that enormously assists in the decision-making process. It transforms executive meetings by replacing static and stale presentations with interactive discussions based on live data, which allows them to make fact-based decisions to drive their business. Here are the main benefits of SAP Digital Boardroom:

  • Collaborate with others in remote locations and on other devices in an interactive meeting room.
  • Answer ad hoc questions on the fly.
  • Visualize, recognize, experiment, and decide by jumping on and off script at any point.
  • Find answers to the questions that matter to you by exploring directly on live data and focusing on relevant aspects by drilling into details.
  • Discover opportunities or reveal hidden threats.
  • Simulate various decisions and project the results.
  • Weigh and share the pros and cons of your findings.

The Digital Boardroom is interactive so you can retrieve real-time data, make changes to the schedule and even run through what-if scenarios. It presents a live picture of your organization across three interlinked touch screens to make faster, better executive decisions.

There are two aspects of Digital Boardroom with which you can share existing stories with executives and decision-makers to reveal business performance. First, you have to design your agenda for your boardroom presentation by adding meeting information, agenda items, and linking stories as pages in a navigation structure. Once you have created a digital boardroom agenda, you can schedule a meeting to discuss the agenda. In Digital Boardroom interface, you can organize a meeting in which members can interact with live data during a boardroom presentation.

Administration andsecurity

An application that is accessed by multiple users is useless without a proper system administration module. The existence of this module ensures that things are under control and secured. It also includes upkeep, configuration, and reliable operation of the application. This module is usually assigned to a person who is called system administrator and whose responsibility is to watch uptime, performance, resources, and security of the application. Being a multi-user application, SAP Analytics Cloud also comes with this vital module that allows a system administrator to take care of the following segments:

  • Creating users and setting their passwords
  • Importing users from another data source
  • Exporting user's profiles for other apps
  • Deleting unwanted user accounts from the system
  • Creating roles and assigning them to users
  • Setting permissions for roles
  • Forming teams
  • Setting security for models
  • Monitoring users activities
  • Monitoring data changes
  • Monitoring system performance
  • System deployment via export and import

Signing up for trial version

If you want to get your feet wet by exploring this exciting cloud application, then sign up for a free 30 days trial version. Note that the trial version doesn't allow you to access all the features of SAP Analytics Cloud. For example, you cannot create a planning model in the trial version nor can you access its security and administration features. Execute the following steps to get access to the free SAP Analytics Cloud trial:

Put the following URL in you browser's address bar and press enter: http://discover.sapanalytics.cloud/trialrequest-auto/

Enter and confirm your business e-mail address in relevant boxes.

Select No from the Is your company an SAP Partner? list.

Click the Submit button. After a short while, you will get an e-mail with a link to connect to SAP Analytics Cloud.

Learning SAP Analytics Cloud

Click the Activate Account button in the e-mail. This will open the Activate Your Account page, where you will have to set a strong password. The password must be at least 8 characters long and should also include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

After entering and confirming your password, click the Save button to complete the activation process. The confirmation page appears telling you that your account is successfully activated. Click Continue.

You will be taken to SAP Analytics Cloud site. The e-mail you receive carries a link under SAP Analytics Cloud System section that you can use to access the application any time. Your username (your e-mail address) is also mentioned in the same e-mail along with a log on button to access the application.

Summary

SAP Analytics Cloud is the next generation cloud-based analytic application, which provides an end-to-end cloud analytics experience. SAP Analytics Cloud can help transform how you discover, plan, predict, collaborate, visualize, and extend all in one solution. In addition to on-premise data sources, you can fetch data from a variety of other cloud apps and even from Excel and text files to build your data models and then create stories based on these models. The ultimate purpose of this amazing and easy-to-use application is to enable you to make the right decision. SAP Analytics Cloud is more than visualization of data it is insight to action, it is realization of success.

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