As APO enters the twilight of its product lifecycle, its age is definitely showing. The latest generation of planning applications can use buzzwords like cloud, big data and mobile while APO (SCM?) is chugging along with a 15 year old design, practically ancient in IT timelines. While APO gave us opportunities to work the words “live cache” and “heuristic” into the daily vernacular, those concepts are no longer enough to stay competitive. Yet for some reason, companies are still implementing APO today? Why is it still going strong? And why do some think it is still the best planning software option out there?
Why APO Is Past Its Prime:
APO is great for generating a plan, but horrible for communicating what that plan is to anyone who is not directly planning it. Let’s face it: the reporting in APO, especially for SNP, is just terrible. Reports are rigid and require a high level of customization for them to even be just a bit useful. There are selection variants, profiles and ALE grids. In short, it’s a mess. Many have tried to pull reports directly from the planning book with mixed results. Loading large numbers of materials at once is time consuming and performance intensive. BW reports are a decent alternative, if you can wait a day for the information. Whether you are trying to evaluate inventory shortfalls, capacity issues, or stock levels, it’s not hard to find a better solution than APO these days.
With solid state and in-memory drives taking hold, your old spinning disk hard drive is quickly becoming IT’s equivalent of vinyl records, without the hipster flair. Despite the unique application of live cache at its birth, today’s APO is still depending on reading and writing information to spinning disks. Creative IT types can solve a lot of problems, but are still bound by the rules of physics. Reading and writing to a hard drive is a handicap that was not a big deal in its infancy, but creates issues today. Speed is everything and today’s business environment demands instant answers. The ability to plan down to the second is useless in today’s world if you cannot provide answers without waiting for an overnight batch job to churn through the data.
Windows 98 called; it wants its user interface back. Any application in the last 5 years, including many web based platforms, have more intuitive and more informative user interfaces than APO. With the “Redmond Gray” color scheme and distinct desktop feel, it’s light years away from the mobile and tablet reality that exists today. User interfaces need to be intuitive, easy to navigate and informative. In today’s world, that’s not a feature, it’s just the cost of entry. Not much more to add here, other than the APO interface as it exists today is a huge constant visual reminder that it was built over 15 years ago.
Why APO Still Works:
Despite all these flaws (and more) I still believe that APO has a built-in advantage that still makes it the best planning application out there. It’s the integration. If your company runs on SAP and ECC, the core interface (CIF) delivers a more powerful advantage than any other planning application could achieve. Other applications can plan better, faster, stronger, but without the right data, you’re just getting a bad answer faster. The confidence and head start you get by using the CIF to integrate your business with your planning solution cannot be overstated. As anyone who has tried will tell you, integrating applications from different vendors is a tough, thankless job. If it is done poorly, your users lose confidence in the system and start planning offline, killing any hope of using whatever else you implemented.
Yes, the lowly CIF interface is APO’s competitive advantage and will continue to be, so long as most businesses run SAP. But that does not mean SAP has an easy road ahead with APO. It needs to adjust, evolve and adapt to meet the expectation of customers in 2014, not 2004. This means the reporting flexibility and a usable interface that is intuitive to use. The next generation planning tools from SAP will be run on the most popular reporting platform to date: Excel. Finally, a concept where common sense prevails.
There’s also the need for speed. HANA promises to be the killer app in this space. SAP’s HANA solution removes the barriers of reading and writing from a physical disk, and this unleashes all kinds of possibilities that were not possible before. Reporting in the application layer is the use case that drives HANA’s value.
However, even with these new solutions and the built-in advantage of the CIF, it is not an easy road ahead for SAP. The path from A to B needs to be clear, concise and logical to all levels of the organization. Without a clear roadmap ahead, APO’s users will remain in their Windows 98 view of the world, until they find a solution that does meet their needs, even if it’s not SAP.