SAP BI
Wessel Verheijen

Which BI-Tool is better: SAP Analytics Cloud or Microsoft Power BI?

This is probably not the first blog you have read about the use of BI tools. Many blogs will tell you the difference between the tools SAP Analytics Cloud and Microsoft Power BI. The reporting capabilities are very close to each other in terms of functionality. That’s why you are reading this blog instead. We will not cover the reporting features between the two tools. That’s because it will probably not make the difference in your decision of what tool to choose. So, which BI tool is the best choice for your SAP and non-SAP data?

SAC and PowerBI; what are you basing your choice on?

Many companies base this choice on the fanciest reporting and dashboarding features and figure out the data sources, connections and authorizations later. What if you find out that these don’t work after the investment has been made? This blog will review SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) and Microsoft Power BI (PBI) bottom-up to help you pick the tool that will fit your company best.

Four steps to choose the BI tool that is right for you

Step 1: Where is your data coming from?

The first step you need to take is to determine what your primary source of data is for the desired reports. In our context, it’s SAP data or non-SAP data.

By reviewing the data source list for both tools, it becomes immediately clear which tool prefers a certain data source. SAP sources are clearly preferred by SAC – not surprisingly. If you have many non-SAP sources, you might best be served by PBI.

Note: if you are using a data warehousing solution to combine data sources, this is your data source for reporting.

Step 2: Choose the right connection

After choosing the primary source of data, you need to determine which connection type is required. Since non-SAP sources are usually not used in SAC, we’re focusing on SAP data sources in this example.

SAC is optimized for real-time data connections on SAP data. You will get all metadata like hierarchies, units and descriptions directly from the source and ready for use in reporting.
Power BI is optimized for imported data for any source, since you will have the full analytic engine available in the report.

Note: Review if your company allows replication of data to reports. If this is not allowed, the imported data option is dropped.

Step 3: Authorization

The connection that you have chosen will also impact the available options for authorization.

SAC has an out of the box integration with real-time SAP sources. This allows administrators to keep role management in the source system without having to replicate this for reporting. SSO can be configured for Power BI on real-time SAP sources, but it requires a Kerberos setup. Microsoft delivers clear documentation on how to set this up.
When importing data, it’s common to replicate authorization models for reporting. Both SAC and Power BI use Row-Level Security for this. In SAC, you apply RLS for each dimension. Power BI allows a more complex filter statement or data key to be applied, which can be setup centrally for the report.

Step 4: Modeling and reporting

It is possible that the choice for your BI-tool is clear at this point. That is a good thing, since the choice will be based on the best fitting tool in your IT landscape and governance rules.

If this is not the case and your choice depends on the best choice for building the fanciest reports, here is what stands out in my opinion.

When importing data and modeling your data model, Power BI is a clear winner. It gives you a powerful analytic engine and the freedom to build a relational data schema and prepare data.
SAC enforces a star-model which requires more ETL or specific data preparation. Also, data preparation options are far more limited.

In building your actual report or dashboard, the reporting possibilities are mostly like-for-like between the two tools. These are my favorite features:

Input controls give your users high flexibility to personalize the view of the report. ID’s and descriptions are a standard way of documenting master data in SAP. These are available by default in SAC. Responsive pages help to show the report correctly on different screen sizes.

Power BI visuals can be styled extensively, which can make your report look amazing. You can use DAX-formulas to build measures, tables and transformations. This is very similar to formulas in Excel, so offers a steep learning curve for most Excel users. The expression library is very extensive and provides you with many options to customize your data and formulas.

Conclusion: choose your BI tool based on technical possibilities

When deciding on a new BI-tool for your organization, don’t just look at the fanciest reporting options. In many cases, the technical possibilities will decide which tool fits best in your IT-architecture and strategy.
When choosing between SAC or Power BI, you can take the following best practice.

Choose SAP Analytics cloud when…

  • You report primarily on an SAP-source

  • Your reports require real-time data

  • Authorization and role structures are setup in the source

  • Users use different screen sizes, so responsive pages are needed

Choose Microsoft Power BI when…

  • You report primarily on a non-SAP-source

  • Your organization allows for data replication

  • Good looking visuals are important

  • You need options for data transformation with DAX-expressions

Learn more

If you want to learn how to connect SAC and Power BI reports to SAP HANA and SAP BW, check out this blog.

If you want to learn how to use Power BI on SAP, check out this McCoy TV Episode.

If you want to learn more about SAP Analytics Cloud, check out this blog.

If you want to learn how to build reports and dashboards with Power BI, replay this webinar.

If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to Roel van Bommel or Joury Jonkergouw.