Does SAP S/4HANA Actually Have a Simplified Data Model & Faster Financial Reconciliation?

Executive Summary

  • SAP has proposed that HANA and S/4HANA has a simplified data model.
  • We validated these claims, including different account silos, faster reconciliation, understanding the performance of the columnar database.

Introduction: A Simplified Data Model?

SAP has been very consistent in pointing to the benefits of S/4HANA’s simplified data model and as part of its SAP Run Simple marketing program.

However, after listening to this sometimes, and reading on quite a bit of SAP marketing literature, I began to question this assertion of the SAP Run Simple program. In this article, you will learn whether S/4HANA has a simplified data model.

Interpreting SAP Run Simple Related to S/4HANA and HANA

When watching a presentation by SAP, or reading through documents related to S/4HANA and HANA generally, the proposed benefits “come at you” very fast.

It takes some time to sit down and look at each of the proposals individually to determine if they are either accurate or likely to be true.

Importance of Verifying the Simplified Data Model for SAP Run Simple

Understanding the concept of SAP’s proposal regarding a simplified data model is essential as it is used as a foundation on which to build an argument for other benefits, one of the most important beings that overall S/4HANA is more simple to use. However, the one I will use in this article is the proposed benefits of financial reconciliation.

The SAP states clearly regarding S/4HANA having a simplified data model for SAP Run Simple.

Jens Kruger from SAP has a video on S/4HANA, and he states that.

“S/4HANA offers a simplified data model.”

And that…

“All data is available without reconciliation, leaving financial departments to strategic tasks instead of just doing administrative functions. How can this be done? This is based upon a simplified data model. The simplified data model enables insights into financials data. “

He then goes on to say:

 “All of those silos required a reconciliation in order to get a consistent view on the data. And therefore getting instant insight into data across all silos is not possible. Therefore, the power of SAP HANA underneath the universal journal entry creates a single source of truth, and there is no reconciliation needed.”

 “Under a traditional close, it is consists of a lot of steps. They must be performed in a batch fashion since they are just running too long. With the SAP HANA platform we are now able to reduce this.”

And Jen also provides specific speed improvements.

Here is where the proposed speed improvements are declared by SAP. This is interesting because I had never heard that reconciliation was negatively impacting so many global FI/CO implementations, which is what Jens Kruger is proposing. 

Different Accounting Silos?

Jens identification of Financial Accounting Documents, Controlling Documents and Profitability Documents as separate silos are strange. These are all integrated transactions within the FI/CO module currently in ECC. However, his point seems to be that reconciliation times in ECC presently make them break into different silos.

This video from SAP also claims that financial reconciliation is much improved.

S/4HANA’s Data Model

Let us clarify what a data model is before we go through to validate the claim regarding its simplification.

A data model is the set of tables and the relationship between tables that are used — in this case — for the application to call upon. I have included just a small part of the data model in SAP ECC related to Work Centers, the Bill of Materials and the Production Version.

A simplified data model would mean that the tables and the relationships, as well as the primary versus secondary or supporting tables, are simplified. However, it can only partially say to be true of HANA. Here is why: 

  1. The Use of Columnar Tables
  2. Relationships Between the Tables
  3. Fewer Indices and Aggregation Tables

The Use of Columnar Tables

HANA uses columnar tables, which means that many tables are a single column. This, of course, significantly increases the number of necessary tables. Because the previous tables need to be emulated for people that need to see and work with the data, the data model is not simplified.

Relationships Between the Tables

SAP’s point is probably that they cleaned up the relationships, and having reviewed many previous SAP tables and modeled the tables in ERD diagrams, I can say that many of the tables and the relationships between the tables were indeed convoluted in their design.

When software development happens, the idea is that all the tables are laid out ahead of time. But the reality is that often the tables are added in a more holistic way, and much of ECC was written before more advanced data modeling tools were available.

Fewer Indices and Aggregation Tables

There are fewer database speeding mechanisms needed, like aggregates and indices, but this is not the actual data model. SAP may be using a shorthand here that when they refer to the term “data model” they mean all of the tables used in the database. I think that could be a fair point. Columnar databases indeed tend to need fewer supporting tables. However, HANA still uses aggregates, although they call it something else. It is right on the SAP HANA website. Aggregates are beneficial because they are precomputed combinations that are always reused.

What should be apparent from the bullet points above is that the “data model” simplification that is so breezily referred to by SAP is not definitive in any shape or form. With a columnar database, some areas become more simple, other areas more involved. Overall, there are also complexities involved with a new database, so I would predict that HANA will be more complicated than a company’s previous database installation. That is the issue with new products, and the more new, the more unpredictable outcomes.

I cover these types of risk interpretation topics in the book Rethinking Enterprise Software Risk: Controlling the Main Risk Factors on IT Projects. One of the issues I bring up in the book is if the software vendor has too much influence over the consulting company, the outcome can be highly risky projects being proposed.

SAP and SAP’s surrogates have pushed the idea that HANA provides simplification of an IT environment. For example, in an article on HANA, John Appleby (an SAP surrogate) made the following statement.

“Most organizations spend a substantial amount on BI projects, and with BW on HANA they will either spend less (fewer full time employees or consultants) or achieve more for the same, in a shorter elapsed time. Our benchmarking suggests that project build times are 20-30% less with BW on HANA, leading to an overall saving of 10-12% or more for capital projects.”

We analyzed SAP’s proposal that HANA’s data model is simplified in the article Does HANA Have a Simplified Data Model?

In this article, we will evaluate this proposal of simplification from another dimension.

Lack of Simplification to HANA

The following quotation is from a reliable and verified source that works in databases (but one who prefers to remain anonymous).

“On the overall topic of “simplification” from the database layer into application tier point of view currently HANA looks like anything but simplification forcing significant re-mapping of functionality between different, new modules, the deployment of the Universal journal, the 400 page HANA simplification guide, etc etc.”

These are, of course, the areas of HANA that customers tend to not find out about until after they have either engaged in a HANA POC or implemented HANA.

“In essence SAP have partially switched from the need to develop and regression test over multiple AnyDB choices to sustain the PAM / Client NetWeaver platform choice, to forced client migration of functionality between modules and cloud (SCM is a good example roughly half the function lands in S/4HANA, roughly half in the Cloud based IBP functionality) with multiple version / functional interdependencies.

Also, HANA appliance building block sizes are not very granular.

This to me simply looks switching one set of challenges for another, it’s not really simplification.”

Simplified Data Model = Faster Reconciliation as Part of SAP Run Simple?

Is it the simplified data model that speeds reconciliation and therefore creates a single version of the truth? As I just discussed, using a columnar database uses fewer assisting or secondary tables. But it also creates a lot more tables, with many more relationships, in addition to having to generate the views of the previous tables of ECC as it is illogical to work with just a bunch of columnar tables.

If you go into ECC on HANA, you will see all the same tables that you have seen before because they are emulated by HANA — so how much this is simpler depends upon your point of view.

Understanding the Performance of the Columnar Database

Secondly, a columnar database like HANA will underperform a standard row based (aka relational database) in transaction processing — and this includes year-end close (all other things being equal).

When HANA is proposed to be universally virtuous in performance in all situations, remember that a columnar database only outperforms relational databases for analytical applications. However, S/4HANA is intended to sit only on HANA (although I see this exclusivity changing in the future). But HANA uses much more expensive and higher speed hardware, so the increase in speed, in this apparent non-analytical application, will come from more costly and higher speed hardware only.

Therefore, the statement that HANA’s “simplified data model” will lead to faster reconciliation is not valid.

Why Faster Hardware is Actually What Will Lead to Faster Reconciliation

However, if we give it some consideration, this faster settlement will be equally available, a company that would simply port its current ECC system to faster hardware.

Multiple Versions of the Truth?

It seems that SAP is changing the previous story on ECC to make points for S/4HANA. I don’t think that SAP would be talking about how slow its reconciliation and period closing is in ECC if they were not trying to sell S/4HANA (call me cynical). If this is all true about reconciliation latency, then the question is do other software vendors face this issue.

To find out, I reached out to two financial vendors, Intacct and FinancialForce, two accomplished vendors in the area of financial applications, to determine if they have similar reconciliation problems. Neither of them uses an in-memory database. Neither of them seemed to have heard of the difficulties with reconciliation and period closing that is described by SAP. When I spoke to FinancialForce, they had the following to say about reconciliation and period closing in their system:

“You need to do all the things to setup the year end, and we have an automated button that performs all of the reconciliation. The a button is hit and the journals are created for you. This is not even a batch job process — in that it may take 30 minutes to 2 hours, with 2 hours being on the very long side.”

Therefore, what amounts to a quarterly or yearly process takes, in most cases, roughly 45 minutes. So if we take SAP’s proposal, S/4HANA will cause save 420 hours on the quarterly close. If that is the number of hours saved, how many total hours are present ECC systems taking exactly? That just sounds terrible.

Something which is not being adequately explained by SAP is that there are things to check before reconciliation is performed.

Reconciliation Speed Issues?

ECC’s hardware, not the data model of ECC versus S/4HANA, is what is attributed to reconciliation speed changes. But secondly, two financial vendors are unaware of the batch problems in their systems that SAP has attributed to ECC.

Here are some important things to consider when interpreting the message of reconciliation and period closing, as described by SAP:

  • It should be remembered quarterly closing is only a small portion of the activities performed within FI/CO.
  • Finance is not an area that requires a lot of computing power, and SAP is stretching here to find something that can help sell S/4 Simple Finance.

Advice on Enjoying the S/4HANA Quiz

To see the full screen, just select the lower right-hand corner and expand. Trust us, expanding makes the experience a whole lot more fun.

 

Conclusion

The information provided by SAP on this topic is convoluted, and once broken down into its constituent pieces, it does not add up. Jens Kruger of SAP is commingling several different topics to make a case for S/4HANA Simple Finance, but the items that he attributes to HANA are not related to what he calls out. All of this is part of the attempt to fit into the SAP Run Simple marketing program. However, SAP Run Simple has little to do with reality. SAP Run Simple is nothing more than a marketing construct.

There is also appears to be an exaggeration on the part of SAP as to the impact of quarterly closes. This is not the first time I have seen this type of proposal from SAP. SAP also uses the example of long run times for MRP used to justify Simple Logistics. Why these issues have not been brought up more on articles on S/4HANA is a concern. However, I suppose that allows me to provide some outstanding value to my readers and my clients. But it brings up a lot of issues regarding either the knowledge level or the independence of many of the media outlets that carry stories and are supposed to analyze SAP. For software buyers, if you have a consulting company that is proposing to you that the SAP S/4HANA data model is simplified, that would bear an explanation on their part as to why that is. If they are just blindly agreeing with SAP on everything, then they will be limited in how much they can help you.

Recommendation

My recommendation is that the time required for reconciliation and quarterly closes be benchmarked in the client’s current ECC system to determine whether or not this is an issue. Statements about the reconciliation and quarterly close time should not be looked at in a separate matter but checked against what other software vendors in the area have to say on the topic.

Curious about the reality of S/4HANA implementations? See our The S/4HANA Implementation Study, for real story and details on actual S/4HANA implementations.

Financial Disclosure

Financial Bias Disclosure

Neither this article nor any other article on the Brightwork website is paid for by a software vendor, including Oracle, SAP or their competitors. As part of our commitment to publishing independent, unbiased research; no paid media placements, commissions or incentives of any nature are allowed.

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References

Marketing constructs like SAP Run Simple and simplified data models that have nothing do do with reality detract from implementing beneficial programs. I cover how to interpret risk for IT projects in the following book.

https://www.bluefinsolutions.com/insights/john-appleby/september-2012/building-the-business-case-for-sap-bw-on-hana