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SAP Cloud for Planning: A Primer with Karuna Mukherjea

by Karuna Mukherjea

April 22, 2015


Karuna Mukherjea, SAP Senior Director of Product Marketing, SAP EPM, discusses SAP Cloud for Planning with SAPinsider. Below is a full transcript of the conversation:

Ken Murphy, SAPinsider:  Hi, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider, and I am pleased to be joined on this podcast by Karuna Mukherjea, a Senior Director of Product Marketing in the SAP Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) team. Karuna leads the product marketing for SAP Cloud for Planning, and she is also an author of a recent article in the SAPinsider April issue, called “Plan Simpler with a Future-Oriented Cloud Application.” Karuna, welcome to the podcast.

Karuna Mukherjea, SAP: Thank you so much Ken, I’m happy to be here.

Ken: Karuna, there’s a lot of ground to cover with SAP Cloud for Planning. I was hoping to start with a brief description, if you can tell our listeners what is SAP Cloud for Planning, why is it important, and what are the important things that customers need to know?

Karuna: Sure, and once again thank you for SAPinsider for having me. As we all know, SAP Cloud for Planning is our brand new built for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) financial planning and analysis (FP&A) solution. It’s natively built on the HANA Cloud Platform, and we released the solution in early 2015. It is now available to our customers. Some key highlights of the solution; it really is a people-centric solution designed to help simplify the financial planning and analysis process. It was really built to eliminate the need to have different tools. As we all know, core planning processes is around analysis, and we really wanted to bring together a solution that enables our business users to do all of these important tasks within the FP&A process.

What it also allows is not just finance, but other lines of business as well to eliminate the complexity around their planning processes, to quickly integrate their corporate and divisional plans to help them drive better results, to help them drive a system around data-driven decision making. SAP Cloud for Planning also comes with embedded analytics and collaboration that are really important for business users in the FP&A process. It really enables customers large or small whether they’re on SAP ERP or not to really get up and running quickly no matter how large their data-set is, no matter how many users they have, on this new cloud-based FP&A solution.

Ken: You touched on analysis. Can you address more how the application incorporates analysis into planning processes?

Karuna: Sure. So from a background perspective, I have been in the FP&A space a long time, but when I look at solutions that are available to our customers today, to finance users today, to support this FP&A function, most of the solutions the primary focus really is around planning, budgeting, forecasting. It’s almost like they’ve forgotten the analysis part in the financial, planning, and analysis space. The solutions fail to provide the business users the ability to analyze in the context of the plan their budgets and forecasts. Which is extremely important. If you look at the definition of FP&A, the function itself truly becomes relevant from my perspective and the financial analyst is spending less time manually configuring reports, consolidating information and really spending more time analyzing that information. They need to spend more time on analysis to have a higher impact on the growth of the organization.

So what we have done with Cloud for Planning, specifically on the analysis piece, is provide this comprehensive integrated analytical platform that can enable the business users to simulate planning scenarios in real-time, to perform self-service analysis, drill-down capabilities on metrics, create their dashboards, create their key performance indicators (KPIs) at the same time share this insight and analysis with their key stakeholders. So what we are really talking about here is not a separate analysis engine or separate analysis product, but rather bringing that in and incorporating that into your core planning platform, into your core planning application.

Ken: Also Karuna, SAP has stated that the solution is designed around the end user with reducing complexity in mind. Can you address some of the ways that it does this?

Karuna: I touched upon that at the start of this; it’s really a solution that has been designed around the end user, it’s been a solution designed around people. When we look at design of solutions, we really wanted to move this to a new paradigm about designing a planning application focusing on the people, focusing on the business users, rather than just on the system and technology as a lot of companies in the past have done. And we tried to understand what the needs of our users are, we tried to understand how they are doing their job, what tools they’re using today, what is working for them and what is not. That really has been the design philosophy of building the solution. We actually wanted to design the solution for financial planning and analysis application that business users will love. It’s about following that artful balance of keeping the interface clean, keeping the interface simple, at the same time providing this powerful functionality. As we all know, FP&A is a very complex, a very integral, a very important part of your overall corporate strategy, and so we cannot just focus on keeping the UI simple. We really needed to focus on providing the functionality that goes into creating these corporate plans, the modeling engines that are required, the calculation engines that are required, the reporting and the analysis piece that is required. So it was really about bringing all these different aspects together, not just the interface but also the functionality behind it.

The planning function, by definition as we all know, is very calendar driven. So it’s about doing quarterly plans, or weekly forecasts or monthly forecasts. However, none of the solutions that are available in the market today have taken the approach of integrating this calendar event management functionality within the planning application. Our plan is today oftentimes troubled with managing these states, managing these timelines during the various phases of the planning process. We solved the problem quite easily by embedding the robust event manager calendar functionality into this cloud for planning application to really enable the planners to manage these different planning phases from a single application. The same concept goes on to collaboration. So planning by definition is a collaborative function within any organization large or small; it’s about a group of people, a group of departments coming together to provide the input to analyze what goes into a financial plan. And so it becomes very important that we have a framework in place that allows these business users to collaborate with each other in real-time and in context of the information that they are working with. So if they are looking at plans for a certain region or a certain product, there’s a very specific set of people they need to collaborate with, and so giving them that ability with a collaborative platform within the planning application has been one of those other really unique use cases that we’ve brought in, into our Cloud for Planning solution. So it’s really been designed around the end user. Of course we’re privileged enough to have the HANA Cloud Platform to work with that gives us the technical agility that we need, but it’s really been designed around the user.

Ken: What does it mean for the customers, the SAP customers, who are running SAP Business Planning and Consolidation (SAP BPC) on SAP HANA on-premise? What’s the migration path?

Karuna: I’m so glad you asked the question. As you all know, we have our marquee product, SAP Business Planning and Consolidation application, we have several hundreds of thousands of customers who are deploying the solution. And so it really has been built, so Cloud for Planning can be a standalone solution but it also has been built to complement our existing SAP Business Planning and Consolidation application. So if you are a customer who wants to complement their existing SAP BPC implementation with a public cloud planning application and kind of want to get the benefit of being both, having both an on-premise solution as well as a cloud-based solution, we have full bi-directional integration between the two solutions so you can really deploy this in a hybrid approach. So let me give you an example. You could possibly be running your financial planning or financial planning on BPC on an on-premise environment, or maybe you have a managed cloud environment with the HANA Enterprise Cloud, but you now have your organization has grown, you have new business units coming in, you have acquisitions, and you really want them to also be part of this larger planning process. You can deploy Cloud for Planning at these various different business units, and really integrate it with your corporate plan. So not only can you bring in data, bring in your information from these cloud instances into your BPC environment, but you can also push out information into these line of business units that are using Cloud for Planning, so it really works well in a hybrid approach. What this really means for our customers is they can adopt this new cloud application gradually in a non-disruptive way and really in a way that is going to add value to their existing planning environments vs. it being disruptive or being one vs. the other.

Ken: Also Karuna, as you know next month is the SAPPHIRE conference in Orlando.  What is planned for attendees who want to learn more about SAP Cloud for Planning?

Karuna: It’s very exciting for us at SAPPHIRE, it’s right around the corner and we are all working feverishly to get things lined up. There’s a lot happening, specifically for SAP Cloud for Planning. We have several demo theater sessions running for Cloud for Planning, both on the Finance line of business campus, as well as our Platform and Technology campus, so I’d highly encourage you to come see the product in action, come and attend one of our demo theater sessions. We also have micro-forum sessions that are being run where you have a chance to come and talk to our product experts, hear about how Cloud for Planning can fit into your specific environment. We have presence in several pods across the campuses whether it’s in the Finance line of business or the Platform and Technology campus which is going to be staffed by product experts. Come and have a one-on-one conversation with us, come and see the product. So a lot going on; there are several opportunities to meet with people who are experts in the Cloud for Planning or for that matter the larger planning space within SAP. Hear more about it, we’d love for you to come and meet us at SAPPHIRE.

Ken: Karuna, thank you for joining us today to talk about SAP Cloud for Planning.

Karuna: Thank you so much. Just one last note if you are on social media I’d highly encourage you to follow us on our handle, #PlanSimpler, @SAPanalytics, and get the latest and greatest information about SAP Cloud for Planning.

Ken: Again, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider and we’ve been speaking with Karuan Mukherjea, who is a Senior Director of Product Marketing in the SAP EPM team, and she’s leading the product marketing for SAP Cloud for Planning. Karuna, thank you.

Karuna: Thank you so much Ken.

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