The 2014 SAP Conference for EPM: Strategy AND Execution

In EPM (or enterprise performance management if you prefer full names), we talk a lot about the Strategy to Execution cycle, believing that enhanced performance is possible by linking and continually re-aligning operational plans with business strategy and objectives.

While EPM as a solution area is focused primarily on the area of Finance within organizations, the principle of linking strategy with execution spreads far wider than this, and having an eye on your goals despite all that goes on around you can prove to be a success factor in many parts of business, if not personal lives also.

I’m presently involved in planning for the 2nd annual SAP conference for EPM, which is a collaborative venture between TA Cook Conferences and SAP. Being mindful of the strategy to execution link has been a big part of our planning cycle, and as we now approach the event (with just 5 weeks to go), I am pleased that we took the decision to set out our objectives early, defined a plan to work to, have held regular alignment calls with central and dispersed teams so that we can adjust plans and correct our course in light of new information or changes – with the result that we are now well on track towards holding a terrific event that has an excellent speaker line-up, fabulous sponsors and so far is seeming to attract interest and registrations from many Finance executives and managers.

stage

Customer stories are key

Given my involvement in the event planning team I thought it might be remiss of me if I didn’t share some details of it with you in the coming weeks. After all, many readers of this blog channel are Finance professionals, and so it’s something that I hope will be of interest. At the last event we took feedback from many customers who attended, and by-and-large they told us that the thing they wanted to hear most at the conference were stories from other customers about their EPM solution experiences. With that in mind we set out our stall this year to focus squarely upon giving our customers’ the stage – with the result that we have eleven SAP EPM customers joining the event next month to talk about their experiences in implementing and using EPM solutions. With speakers from a range of industries using varying EPM solutions, there will surely be “something for everyone” interested in EPM. Our speaker line-up this year includes:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
  • Citrix
  • City of Henderson
  • Dolby
  • HealthNet
  • John B. Sanfilippo and Sons
  • Lexmark
  • Mars
  • Owens Corning
  • Pacific Gas & Electric
  • T-Mobile

As well as this impressive customer line-up, we also have some special guests joining the conference including Joel Bernstein, SAPs CFO Global Customer Operations and Paul Hamerman, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research who are both due to take part in a discussion panel on day-1, and Gary Cokins of Analytics-Based Performance Management who will present the day-2 keynote. More details are available in the event brochure

Collaboration leads to better results

Our ability to secure this excellent speaker line-up has in many ways been a result of great collaboration with our sponsoring business partners. I’ll mention them more in my next blog as partners have been a key factor for us in creating a well-rounded agenda. Suffice to say as a result of that collaboration, we can expect to hear some terrific EPM stories from the customer speakers who have decided to join us at the event.

There’s no particular secret to setting up and hosting events. Obviously you need the right subject matter, but that alone doesn’t create the event. What you do need is a clear strategy, a workable plan and then you have to execute on it. This needs careful thought, planning, collaboration and continual re-alignment towards the overall goal despite the many challenges that occur along the way. And that’s really no different to many processes in business…albeit just a bit more “glitzy” perhaps in the end result!

Lessons Learned on Writing a Book for Finance

From Malcolm Faulkner, Senior Director Product Marketing EPM, SAP

I recently blogged on my book on Financial Planning and Analysis (FPA). If you are thinking about writing your first book too, then you are probably interested in the experiences of others including myself as to what to expect. So here’s my story – with my best intent to encourage you to follow your dreams of becoming an author. I hope this will make you a little bit more prepared in your undertaking.

People studying in library

Let me say off the bat that I like books. I like browsing in book stores, I like the feel of new books, I like libraries, and I like the idea of absorbing knowledge. I especially like well-written books – the ones that have beautifully crafted sentences and contain elegant turns of phrase.

Most importantly you’ve got to have both the desire to write and the idea for the book. I always wanted to write a book and assumed one day I would. It came down to a matter of timing – having a thorough-enough idea for a book and the relationship with a publisher. I suspect in these days of self-publishing the latter is less important in terms of writing the book. But it certainly helps to manage the project – because that is a huge part of it.

The SAP Connection

Because of my role at SAP, I had the opportunity to meet personally with SAP Press and talk to them about the idea. So getting a publisher to listen to me wasn’t a problem. I still had to pitch an idea and have them do their own internal analysis as to the viability of it. Part of this process involved producing a fairly detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline of the proposed book. This I found quite challenging but it really helped later. Even if the contents change – and it will – having a plan is an essential first step if it is ever going to get done, just like any project.

I also had two book ideas. The first was on the concept of business transformation in finance processes – how to make finance more efficient and effective through process improvements and the judicious use of software applications. In hindsight, while this is a topic of interest to me, it is not where I spend much of my time in my current job. So writing a book on this subject would have been too much of a challenge. Lesson learned – pick a subject in which you have some experience as well as an interest.

Making It Happen – Challenges and Obstacles

For the book I did choose to write, I had a co-author, William D. Newman.   It was, for me, the price of admission since a related book had already been published by SAP Press previously. This, even though our new book was of a much grander scale and had a completely different objective in mind than the earlier work.

Writing a book with someone else has pros and cons. Certainly, there are advantages in having other authors writing chapters and sections. But you also have to deal with differing schedules, styles, viewpoints, and so on. It’s not for everyone and something to consider carefully if you’re facing a similar situation. That said, it would have been extremely hard to complete the book without my co-author (or even get the project off the ground). So for that, I am eternally grateful.

In the end, it was not the actual writing that was difficult for me for the most part. That’s not to say there weren’t times when I had writer’s block. Largely, it was the amount of research and access to relevant content that I found most challenging. I often found myself, to quote John Naisbitt, “drowning in information but starving for knowledge.”

In part this was due to the subject of my book – using SAP solutions for financial planning and analysis is a massive topic.

Achieving the Author’s Objective

Towards the end, completing the book wasn’t much different than finishing a software product. It was a compromise between content and timeline. Any creative work is likely to be never perfect at least in the eyes of the creator. That is what next versions are for, and today with the internet there are plenty of options for continuing to evolve a topic beyond the foundation provided by a book.

Signs that Your Financial Close Process May Be Broken

From Elizabeth Milne, Senior Director Product Marketing EPM, SAP

Print

Recently I worked with Deloitte to publish the paper “5 Signs that Your Financial Close Process May Be Broken (and What to Do about It).” Deloitte is a fantastic partner with massive experience working around the close process and helping organizations shorten the close cycles and improve quality.

I worked with John Steele, Principal, Stuart Scott, Senior Manager, and Swapna Satwik, Manager at Deloitte on this paper. We had many conversations sharing our experiences working with customers to define the “5 Signs.”

The area of the financial close is where I’ve been focused pretty much since the beginning of my career. I started out working in finance at The Walt Disney Company and at Warner Bros closing the books and creating financial reports. Later, I moved to the software side of things and spent eight years implementing consolidation software.

Part of the fun of working on implementations is working with the customers to understand their processes and how we can improve them. The area of financial consolidation certainly has it’s complexities, but there are also consistencies across organizations.

So what are the five signs?

  • No defined close process
  • Not enough automation
  • No access to real-time data
  • Poor integration with plan and actual data
  • Manual creation of financial statements

And what should you do about them? Well, download the paper to find out!

In order to improve the close process, you need to identify any area where you can standardize, automate, and centralize. This analysis should cover people, processes, and technology.

To read the paper, visit Deloitte’s collateral kiosk and search on Financial Close.

 

This article was originally posted on the SAP Analytics blog channel, 21 August 2014

New SAP Press Book Offers Primer on Financial Planning and Analysis

From Malcolm Faulkner, Sr Director Product Marketing, SAP

A book I co-authored has recently been published by SAP Press and is now available on their website. I’ve been asked by my SAP enterprise performance management (EPM) marketing colleague, Mr. Chris Grundy (who manages our EPM social media programs) to write a blog explaining why we wrote the book, and to describe the whole experience. In this blog, I’ll provide a short overview of the book itself and in a second blog, I’ll share some of the lessons I learned in writing a book.

FPA Book

First off, the intention in writing the book was to explain in one place what financial planning and analysis processes are and how SAP software can make them more effective and efficient. The book is written as a primer for everyone interested in implementing SAP’s enterprise performance management applications to improve their strategic, financial planning and profitability analysis processes.

To that end, I truly believe the book provides enormous value to anyone interested in these functions and how software applications support them – in general and specifically, SAP applications. Enterprise performance management is an enormous subject that embraces many functions and business practices.

If you work in strategy, financial planning, or business analysis or a related field, and particularly, if you use or are considering using SAP software, then I hope you’ll check out Financial Planning and Analysis with SAP: SAP Solutions for EPM, by William D. Newman and myself.

Part 1 – The EPM Foundation

In Part 1 of the book, we define enterprise performance management, discuss it’s relation to business intelligence (BI), describe the financial planning and analysis lifecycle, and cover the key processes that occur in it. These include strategy development and translation (execution), planning, budgeting and forecasting, profitability and cost analysis, and internal monitoring and external reporting of performance. We also introduce the EPM portfolio from SAP.

Part 2 – EPM Products from SAP

In Part 2, we explore the three key EPM applications used to enable financial planning and analysis – SAP Strategy Management, SAP Business Planning and Consolidation, and SAP Profitability and Cost Management. We also have a chapter on SAP Financial Information Management, the “glue” for integrating SAP’s EPM solutions. Lastly, we discuss the use of both SAP’s EPM products and BI tools for continuous performance monitoring and support of reporting requirements.

Part 3 – Leveraging Capabilities from Alternative Software Solutions

An important component of EPM applications is financial consolidation. This is the sister of financial planning, so we include one chapter on it just for completeness. For more information on financial consolidation you can also read Accelerated Financial Closing with SAP by James Fisher, Elizabeth Milne and Birgit Starmanns.

Deploying an EPM application shouldn’t be a protracted process. While they may embody sophisticated forecasting and modelling processes, they aren’t massive ERP applications. Therefore, the implementation times should be correspondingly shorter.

Customers are also looking for pre-built content and best practices. SAP bundles (and sells) pre-built content along with the underlying applications and a prescribed set of services that are called rapid deployment solutions (RDS). We discuss the RDS’s that currently exist to help accelerate the adoption of SAP’s EPM solutions within financial planning and analysis.

EPM is a broad domain and uses data pulled from many other systems and sources, particularly ERP and data warehouses. Therefore, it would be remiss not to include some discussion of peripheral solutions, integrating SAP EPM with them and investigating how to extend EPM capabilities into other SAP solutions.

Part 4 – The Future of Enterprise Performance Management

Anybody involved with financial planning and analysis (whether on the business or IT side) is well aware of the developments in Big Data, cloud, and mobility, along with innovations in analytics. These advances are beginning to change the way we access and use applications along with providing additional power, capability and convenience. This last section talks about the relevance of these emerging technologies and highlights the future and planned innovations for EPM from SAP.

Wrapping it up

As I wrote in the forward, when writing this book, we focused on four key processes in financial planning and analysis, which themselves are composed of many sub-processes and activities. That’s a ton of stuff before we even begin to think about SAP’s EPM portfolio. On top of this, we have to consider the turmoil from a rapidly changing global business environment and huge technology shifts that are dramatically changing the way in which applications are built, deployed, and used. To say that writing this book was a massive undertaking would be an understatement to say the least. However, we believe that it fills a void and hope that it will help all readers better grasp the issues and importance of EPM.

This blog article originally posted on SAP Analytics 14 August 2014

Is Yoga our best performance management tool? – Part 2

From Malcolm Faulkner, Senior Director Product Marketing, SAP

Optimal performance depends on the effectiveness of the employees and management. Peak performance requires us to have alert and agile minds. In business we need to monitor the environment for changing conditions, opportunities and threats. Agile minds means we are able quickly interpret situations and devise appropriate responses. We were not created to be sedentary creatures and we can only have optimal mental performance if we are physically fit. Whether or not you do other forms of exercise Yoga makes a good complement as it stretches and relaxes tight muscles. Organizations in turn benefit from fit employees. Some progressive companies have recognized this and in addition to having onsite workout facilities schedule Yoga classes.

Continuing on from part I where I wrote about four ways in which Yoga helps you perform better, here are my five other reasons.

  • Focus
  • Patience
  • Courage
  • Clarity of mind
  • Fitness and health

5. Focus

In a world of increasing technological distractions and ever shortening attention spans the ability to focus is seemingly becoming a lost art. Some activities simply require deep concentration. Try computer programming or writing a blog, while being constantly interrupted. Instead, try taking some time with the smart phone and your browser shut off and focus your mind on a task at hand.

6. Patience

Depending on our job at some point we all have to either deal with unhappy customers, difficult co-workers, micro managers, overbearing, irrational bosses and worse. All of which require patience. How we handle these situations makes all the difference – we can escalate or mitigate. Yoga poses take time to perfect – they teach us to be patient.

7. Courage

Perhaps strange but courage is a word I hear yoga teachers use often. How exactly does yoga teach us courage? Our lives are not in danger and we are unlikely to get hurt. If it gets difficult we can stop. I’ve been doing yoga for so long I am completely un-phased about walking into a studio. In fact, as a Bikram yoga junkie I relish the heat. Yet, I often see the apprehension on newbies faces. The simple fact is they know they are about to struggle and endure the effort and exhaustion caused from a new and rigorous exercise practice. Some poses are frankly frightening as you could fall over while trying to do an unsupported handstand or headstand and break or tear something nasty. It would be easy to opt for something else less painful (at least initially). Developing the courage to do some of these “dangerous” poses might take years. The same is true in our personal and work lives – making difficult decisions takes courage and it is usually easier to opt for the status quo.

8. Clarity of mind

Having a clear mind allows us to make good decisions, to not overreact and to find the best course of action in any situation. It is hard to make good decisions when you are stressed or flustered. Yoga encourages and provides us with an opportunity to practice focusing the mind and in doing so clearing it of the plethora of thoughts that permeate and convolute our physical existence. This is possible because of the effort and concentration required to hold and perfect a pose. Through this mediation miraculously we begin to see things clearer and calmer. We can explore all angles of an issue and will likely formulate a more measured, well-thought out response to any problems, disputes or challenges that vex us, than we would have otherwise.

9. Fitness and health

Recently I read that a couple of years since the London Olympics that perversely physical activity in the UK has declined to levels below before the games. The desire to exercise is a personal thing. For those that don’t like to exert themselves physically there are forms of yoga that provide the many benefits described above in a gentle, gradual way, without the need to sweat so much. Much of the benefits of Yoga, after all are achieved through releasing and relaxing. That said Yoga comes in many forms. Arguably there is a form for all types of personality. The hot, sweaty, Bikram kind, graceful flows, gentle Yin Yoga and Iyengar for perfectionists, to name a few.

Mixed race woman using tablet computer on yoga mat

There are many other personal and professional benefits that can be derived from a regular Yoga regime beyond those discussed here. What you work at in one area of your life transfers over to other parts of it. So your Yoga practice serves as a microcosm for how you act off the mat. Certainly, it is hard to argue against the virtues of a centuries old practice. Yoga then will not only make you fitter, healthier and less stressed out, it will make you mentally more stable and calmer – better able to function in the rigors of your work life. It will also make you more effective, efficient and happy. This is all good business.

If you’re skeptical give it a try. But commit yourself to at least 3 times a week for a month at the minimum. See how you feel – and if it makes a difference and you’re inclined then please share your experiences here.

Is Yoga our best performance management tool? – Part 1

From Malcolm Faulkner, Senior Director Product Marketing, SAP

Yoga was conceived thousands of years ago as a practice designed to clear the mind of distracting thoughts through completion of a series of demanding physical postures held for a few seconds or even minutes. While Yoga by origin is a spiritual practice a by-product of it is better health and fitness. For many people this is the reason they do it. Yet the benefits of Yoga extend to the mental and emotional as well as the physical.

With the increasingly rapid advancement of technology machines and devices are doing increasingly more of the tasks that humans previously had to – many of them better than we could – but for the time being people run businesses and the performance of individuals and teams remains the ultimate determinant of results. Therefore, anything that helps us perform better in all aspects of our lives, not just work, is a good thing. It’s a simple fact that healthier, happier, more relaxed people, able to think clearly and make good decisions are good for business. Not to mention the reduction in lost productivity and associated medical costs caused through poor health and sickness.

In this two-part blog series I’ll share nine ways Yoga will help you perform better individually and in your career and correspondingly benefit your employer. The first four ways which we’ll cover in part I are:

  • Balance
  • Flexibility
  • Integrity and
  • Discipline

yogaman

 

1. Balance
Balance is an integral part of yoga poses. If you are off balance emotionally then how you respond to what life throws your way is much harder. It’s a bit like trying to reach for a glass from a cabinet while standing on a three-legged stool.

Analogously, for organizations the Balanced Scorecard was developed in recognition that organizations need to focus on more than financial (for profit) or customer (non-profit) goals in order to prevail. Any company that is purely financially focused will not survive in the long term. Sacrificing product quality to maintain margins will eventually lead customers to look elsewhere and competitors to emerge. Pushing employees to deliver more without addressing their job satisfaction is only successful in a down economy. When conditions improve and jobs abound they will surely hop ship.

2. Flexibility
A flexible body leads to a flexible mind as the saying goes. In business we often see the term, agility, described as a desirable characteristic of top-performers. Agility refers to the ability of shift course on a dime and refocus resources rapidly in response to new opportunities or changing conditions. Accordingly, business processes need to be flexible. There needs to be a readiness of available resources that can be diverted. There needs to be a willingness of management to act and there should not be bureaucratic processes that allow individuals to delay changes because the rules permit or require them to do so . So agility depends on process and people but the willingness to be flexible has to be there. As individuals we need to be flexible in the face of inevitable change – to bend with the prevailing winds, adapt to new environments, and accept and embrace change. Without an openness (or flexibility) to change it will not happen easily. We need to follow a path of least resistance and adapt. As Charles Darwin wrote “It is not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent … it is the one that is the most adaptable to change”.

3. Integrity (honest conduct)
You know (hopefully) whether you possess this quality or not. When you are bent over in Dandayaman-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana (you can look it up) halfway through a rigorous hot yoga class you can rest up and not put your head on your knee. Assuming you have some moral compass you know whether you are being honest or not.

As individuals or organizations we will eventually pay a price for any lack of integrity. It may not be immediate but sometime, somewhere down the road we will meet the piper. The great tech meltdown of the past decade saw the eventual demise of companies (and their leaders) that lacked integrity.

4. Discipline
It is hard to practice (yoga) day in day out. In the same way it is hard to mediate, exercise, eat well, abstain from temptations and the list goes on. We understand the rewards of a disciplined life but it takes immense effort sometimes, perhaps often. Sometimes you don’t feel like it and the mental effort to drag your body into the studio can seem overwhelming. Yet, you would never regret doing it. If we can make the commitment to follow through and remain dedicated to a task in one area of our lives then we can apply the same discipline in other (work) activities – and see them through.

Look out for part 2 of this blog where I’ll cover five other benefits.

Is Your Finance Organization Thriving or Merely Surviving?

Coffee-break with GameChangers

Enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions are redefining how organizations manage and grow business. New technologies have exploded and the possibilities must seem endless to those in charge. In a recent SAP Game-Changers radiocast, panellists Steve Sussman, VP of sales and marketing for Column5; Michael Svolos, senior director of TekLink; and Karuna Mukherjea, senior director of product marketing on the SAP solutions for EPM team, offer insights into three main areas: enterprise mobility, cloud, and social and beyond.

Determine the value of your enterprise mobility processes
Moderator Bonnie Graham quotes Mukherjea as saying that “mobility is core to a successful EPM solution workforce.” Mukherjea asserts that EPM processes have gone mobile, giving users the ability to provide real-time input while on the job.

Mobile solutions are helping companies expand and accelerate EPM advancement, but, as Sussman cautions, “without doing the hard work up front of rethinking the process, they are putting themselves at risk of actually seeing any value from that investment in the project.”

He continues, “The big challenge sometimes is to convince the organizations not to just apply the technology to the existing process but to really use that as an option to rethink the process and how it currently operates today.”

Svolos echoes, “It’s important not to fall in love with what you are doing but rather understand why you are doing it.” This is the kind of distinction that makes the difference between surviving and thriving.

Accelerate innovation through cloud adoption
Svolos explains that many of his larger customers – Fortune 500 companies – are not adept at quickly shifting technology. With the cloud, however, they’re able to quickly see results such as proof of concept – enabling them to take their data, try it out on a cloud-based system, and achieve the ROI that they are expecting.

Mukherjea adds that cloud “has not only reduced the barrier to entry into organizations as we develop new solutions… but more importantly it’s about agility.” Svolos agrees that part of the allure of cloud is the predictability of cost to implement and support the platform over time.

Get ready to go “mocial”
And get ready for another industry buzzword. According to Mukherjea, the terms mobile and social have formed the amalgam “mocial,” referring to social collaboration that promotes work-life balance.

Many new technologies, such as the SAP Jam social software platform, foster real-time collaboration within a small network. Integrated with EPM processes, such platforms can greatly simplify and accelerate problem solving or keep problems from cropping up in the first place.

So where can all these innovations take EPM and finance? The panellists foresee a new title called “Chief Financial Technology Officer (CFTO)” coming into the mix to more seamlessly handle the new technologies that will define EPM.

To learn more, listen to the full radiocast.