SAP CAR: The Untold Story

SAP CAR: The Untold Story featured image

SAP Customer Activity Repository (CAR) is a powerful data platform that collects, cleanses, and centralizes customer and transactional data previously spread in different formats over separate applications. It provides a common foundation and a harmonized multichannel transaction data model for all-consuming applications.

Different modules are included in SAP CAR that offer a variety of services for different use cases:

  • POS Data Transfer and Audit (POSDTA)
  • Multichannel Transaction Data Management
  • Unified Demand Forecast (UDF)
  • Demand Data Foundation (DDF)
  • Omnichannel Promotion Pricing (OPP)
  • Inventory Visibility and Omnichannel Article Availability and Sourcing (OAA)
  • On-Shelf Availability (OSA)

In this blog, we will focus on the analytical capability of SAP CAR.

What Does SAP CAR Offer?

Near Real-Time Analytics at the Lowest Granularity

Sales analysis has steadily grown in sophistication for retailers as computing has become more powerful and more affordable. Traditional sales reporting systems have some limitations when it comes to sales and inventory analytics:

  • Analytics on the most granular level (TLOG) may not be available.
  • Latency is so great that analysis has lost much of its relevance.
  • New reporting requirements often lead to complicated changes in data models and the ETL process.

SAP CAR addresses these limitations by providing near real-time access to transaction-level sales data – SAP CAR collects Point of Sales transactions at the TLOG level. This allows analysis and reporting on any level of granularity in seconds. When a POS trickle feed is used, new data is available for reporting within minutes of the sale. You will be able to see the current inventory position of a particular product at a particular store. You will also be able to evaluate sales performance and promotion effectiveness at any store in real-time.

Besides POS sales transactions, master data (product, store), transaction data (billing documents, sales documents, purchase orders), and inventory data (unrestricted on-hand inventory) can be replicated from your ERP system (SAP ECC or SAP S/4HANA ) in real-time using SLT (SAP landscape transformation). In this way, SAP CAR can capture sales transactions across multiple channels, enabling the retailer to get a 360-degree view of the customers and cross-channel transaction data.

Other modules can also consume this real-time sales and inventory data inside SAP CAR, such as OAA (Omnichannel Article Availability and Sourcing). We will discuss this topic in more detail in future blogs.

Real-time reporting on transaction-level data provides the following benefits to retailers:

  • Evaluate the actual profitability of stores, items, customers, and promotions (in any combination).
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of loyalty programs, promotions, and other marketing efforts.
  • Quickly respond to changes in customer behavior.
  • Improved targeted marketing.
  • Provide a more satisfying shopping experience and better interactions with customers.
  • Report against master data directly replicated in real-time, rather than master data transformed in batches.

Back-End Virtual Data Models

SAP CAR offers powerful real-time analytic capabilities. Data model/logic is built using SAP HANA calculation views (also known as SAP HANA Virtual Data Models). These views are built on the data stored in your SAP HANA database. No data is physically loaded and stored in these virtual data models, and no ETL process is involved. SAP CAR comes with an extensive library of standard analytical content for reporting (known as SAP HANA Live Content).

Some standard analytical content includes:

  • Multichannel sales analytics – POS sales and Sales from other channels
  • Inventory visibility – current inventory position (processed + unprocessed sales)
  • Cross company stock in transit

You can leverage the standard analytical content as an accelerator for your implementation. However, most implementations will involve some level of customization or extension of this content to meet specific business requirements.

Front-End Reporting Tools

To address reporting needs in an SAP CAR implementation, there are various options you can use to consume the virtual data model (SAP HANA calculation view) and build reports and dashboards on top of SAP CAR data. Some of the options include:

  • Smart Business KPI/SAP Fiori – Based on the Smart Business and Fiori framework. SAP has delivered standard Fiori analytical apps for multi-channel sales analysis. Users can leverage Smart Business KPI Modeler to build their own KPI Fiori tiles and publish them to the SAP CAR Fiori Launchpad. You can also build custom Fiori tiles and extend standard Fiori analytical apps if additional functionalities and visualization are required.
  • SAP Analytics Cloud – SAP’s strategic analytical application in the Cloud. You can create a live connection to the SAP CAR virtual data model, using the self-service BI capabilities to build reports, dashboards and consume SAP HANA virtual data model in real time. SAP Analytics Cloud is positioned as a self-service data visualization and dashboarding tool with an intuitive user interface. Topic-specific dashboards can be built in a day or less.
  • SAP BusinessObjects – SAP’s classic analytical application on-premise. You can connect to the SAP CAR HANA virtual data model directly using SAP Web Intelligence (Webi) or Analysis for Office to perform real-time analytics on SAP CAR data.
  • Non-SAP reporting tools – Non-SAP reporting tools (ex. Tableau, PowerBI) can also be used to connect to the SAP CAR HANA virtual data model for reporting and analytics.

Analytics in SAP CAR vs. SAP S/4HANA vs. EDW

Many systems offer analytical capabilities for retailers today, such as SAP S/4 HANA, SAP BW/4HANA, and SAP CAR. Where does SAP CAR fit into the overall reporting landscape? Can I get all the reports I need out of SAP CAR?

To answer this question, let us compare them side by side:

SAP CAR vs. S/4HANA

CAR offers near real-time reporting capabilities on sales, promotion, and inventory data at the POS transaction level. S/4, on the other hand, also offers real-time operational reporting capabilities with its embedded analytics functionality. However, the real-time analytical capability is limited to the available data in your SAP S/4HANA system. A retailer typically aggregates the POS data and post back to SAP S/4HANA at the end of the day or multiple times a day. In either case, there will be latency, and your SAP S/4HANA system will not be able to provide visibility on your inventory position and sales data in real time. Since your SAP S/4HANA system typically does not store POS sales data at the transaction level, you must access that level of granularity from your SAP CAR system.

SAP CAR vs. SAP BW/4HANA (or any other enterprise data warehouse system)

Do you still need a BW system or EDW (enterprise data warehouse system) if you already have SAP CAR?

SAPCAR itself is not an EDW system, and it cannot replace all the functionalities an EDW system provides. For example, SAP CAR stores sales data at the lowest granularity (TLOG level), but you will not retain data at this level in SAP CAR forever. Depending on the transactional data volume, retailers usually only keep the TLOG data for a limited time. I have seen anywhere from 3 months to 4-5 years. To retain full history, data needs to be transferred to an EDW system or data lake at some point.

SAP CAR also does not provide out-of-the-box functionalities to handle non-cumulative key figures such as inventory movement data and slowly changing dimensions. For example: If I want to see a particular product’s store inventory position at a particular time in the past, it is challenging to achieve this reporting out of SAP CAR unless you maintain a daily inventory snapshot.  Same for the slowly changing dimensions, such as a store, has been reassigned to a different regional hierarchy. The business wants to report on point-in-time sales data based on the old hierarchy assignment. Custom solutions need to be built for these situations to be handled in SAP CAR. On the other hand – it is quite easy to query non-cumulative key figures and tracking slowly changing dimensions in an EDW system. The functionalities are provided out of the box.

To summarize when to use which system for analytics:

  • SAP S/4HANA – Real-time operational data and reporting to support critical daily business decisions.
  • SAP CAR – Multichannel reporting at the lowest granularity. Real-time POS sales analytics, inventory visibility, and planning process.
  • SAP BW/HANA (EDW) – historical data, long-term business decisions, and historically-referenced master data reporting. Data consolidation and harmonization from multiple source systems.

Summary

The real-time analytics capabilities provided by SAP CAR and SAP HANA give retailers unprecedented insight into how their customers shop with them across multiple channels. Businesses can access critical information to support daily business decisions without a tremendous amount of latency. Access to this data and the pre-delivered SAP analytical content and tools allows retailers to quickly identify trends, issues, and changes in customer behaviors and act on them.

For more on how your company can use SAP CAR, contact Rizing.