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Leveraging SAP HANA for more efficient financial processes

Interview with SAP's Birgit Starmanns

by Allison Martin and Birgit Starmanns

January 29, 2014


Birgit Starmanns, a Senior Director at SAP and a well-known speaker at the SAPInsider Financials events, and distinguished author for Financials Expert, discusses how SAP HANA can be integrated into a company’s financial systems for more efficient accounting and why its a growing trend among companies.

Transcript of the interview:

Allison Martin: Hello, my name is Allison Martin, with SAPinsider, and I’m the Conference Producer of the SAPinsider Financials event. I’m joined today by Birgit Starmanns, who is a Senior Director with SAP. Birgit is a well-known speaker at our Financials events as well as an author for our Financials Expert publication. How are you today, Birgit?

Birgit: I’m doing great, thanks Allison. How are you?

Allison: I’m well, thanks. Now to start off, would you mind giving us a bit of your background and how long you’ve been working in the field of SAP Financials?

Birgit: Sure. I’ve been working in the field of SAP Financials for 23 years, and I understand I’m totally dating myself here. I started my career as a consultant with PriceWaterhouse, and I spent nine years in consulting, mainly with PW, but after that with some smaller boutique firms, and in, it was basically FICO consulting and my specialties were product costing and profitability analysis, so really bringing together the financial and logistics ends of the business.

I joined SAP in 1999, and in my various roles at SAP I covered CRM for a while, so again going back to that whole integrated view, big-picture view of how logistical processes can affect finance, and then for about four years I’ve now been part of the marketing organization where we market our financial solutions across the various portfolios, which includes ERP Financials as well as enterprise performance management and governance, risk, and compliance.

Allison: Great, well thanks again for joining us. So, the topic of today’s podcast is to really help listeners get a better understanding of how SAP HANA can be integrated into a company’s financial system for more efficient accounting. So these days it seems like a lot of companies are starting to look at in-memory computing and integrating that into their financial operations. Why do you think that is?

Birgit: We’ve done a couple of surveys actually, that we sponsored, where we’re asking financial executives ‘What are your priorities?’ And after the economic downturn that we saw a few years ago we’re finding that executives, both CEOs as well as CFOs, are looking at some moderate growth, and finance is really being tasked to become a more strategic advisor to the business. So one of the reasons that finance is looking at in-memory computing, they want to step away from just being that reactive report-generation machine, but to really be able to help the business make decisions by coming up with the financial implications of decisions.

So, if they have to make a decision, for example, make or buy, or in which product or geography do we want to invest, by being able to use tools that run on HANA they can very quickly do simulations, what-if analysis, prediction, to come up with what the financial implications of those decisions would be. So that makes finance a more strategic advisor. And in order to do that a lot of that transactional piece has to work more efficiently and in an automated fashion, if possible. So that’s really why finance is interested in that particular technology because it helps them become more strategic to the business.

Allison: Great, yeah that makes sense. And what would be some of the first key steps an organization looking to run their managerial and financial accounting on SAP HANA would have to take?

Birgit: The first decision that an organization would need to do, would need to make, is to determine whether there are just some specific places in the process where they want to leverage HANA, or whether they really want to take, for example, the entire ERP and put that on HANA. What a lot of companies are doing as a first step is they’re looking at a scenario that we call the “sidecar scenario,” where you’re not basically replacing your entire database on ERP, but picking out certain scenarios, so for example inter-company reconciliation or profitability analysis. So companies that make extensive use of profitability analysis they, many times, have a lot of data, and I’ve actually heard a lot of companies say that they’ve never archived, so the more data you have the longer it takes them those reports to run, and the COPA module actually has a separate database, and this is actually a really popular scenario, where a company will say, ‘Well, instead of having to run reports the night before and then come in the next morning and look at the reports, that’s not really real-time, so it’s difficult to identify a problem and then you have to run the report again the next night in order to figure out what might be causing that problem.

By putting that scenario on HANA as an example, they can get the benefits of HANA and in a very quick implementation. That way they can get the benefits of HANA immediately. So really the first step is, you know, ‘Do we want the entire ERP on HANA? Do we want to have specific scenarios on HANA?’ And then identify those. But a lot of companies are really going down the path of saying, ‘Well, we’re going to just take these scenarios and this is where our pain points are in starting off with HANA that way.’

Allison: Great, well thanks for that. And what would you say are some of the biggest advantages and benefits you’ve seen companies achieve as a result of using SAP HANA as a secondary database?

Birgit: Well, the biggest benefit is being able to look at things real-time because a lot of times when you see these reports in financial reporting you want to know why something happened. Why is this region no longer profitable, why is this product line not profitable, or looking at combinations of dimensions. So really being able to do that analysis in real-time, so that example that I just used of having to run reports in batch, that’s not really helpful and as one analyst once told me in a briefing a few months ago, “It’s the end of ‘I’ll get back to you.’” So if you think about sitting in a meeting, somebody has a financial question, and the answer is usually, ‘Well, let me go to my Excel sheet and run some numbers and I’ll get back to you.’ 

But with things like HANA and even being able to access information on HANA through a mobile device such as an iPad or a tablet, this financial organization can pretty much provide those responses immediately. So that’s one of the biggest benefits, the other benefit is just the automation and the speed with which the transactions can run, so for example an inter-company reconciliation, matching the goods receipts, invoice receipts, which usually takes a lot of time, having that then faster also makes it possible to close the books faster. So one of the goals, ultimately, is to have really an immediate soft close available at all times. So being able to have that information at your fingertips and being able to answer those business questions, that’s really the biggest benefit.

Allison: Great. Well thank you so much for your time today, and I really look forward to hearing you present at our upcoming Financials conferences.

Birgit: I’m excited to be there! Thank you.

Explore more in-depth articles and videos from Birgit Starmanns at Financials Expert, including, Understand Your Project Costs in an Engineer-to-Order Manufacturing Environment and Finance in the Cloud or On Premise? Expert Guidance for Choosing the Right Deployment Option for Your Organization.

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