Friday Jan 31, 2014

Planning and Budgeting in the Cloud

Oracle’s Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service is a new cloud service based on the functionality of the latest release of Oracle Hyperion Planning, which is the global market-leading packaged application for Planning and Forecasting. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Toomey, a Senior Director of Product Marketing for Business Analytics at Oracle, on a podcast, and she relayed a lot of useful information to our listeners about the types of companies that are turning to the cloud for budgeting and planning, and the kinds of benefits they can experience. 

But first things first. I asked Jennifer to explain to our listeners why companies are moving to the cloud -- what are some of the challenges with planning, budgeting and forecasting that can be addressed with a cloud-based solution?  She relayed to our listeners that planning extends far beyond the walls of the finance organization. “Pretty much every department in your company is involved with planning and budgeting.” The vast majority of planning and budgeting work is done outside of the Finance, Planning and Administration group by line of business users. Jennifer further explained that while common wisdom suggests that more inputs can help lead to more accurate forecasts, the problem is often that these inputs are done via disconnected processes – often using spreadsheets.  There is a huge amount of inefficiency and a general loss of productivity in the planning process done this way.  

According to industry studies, on average:

20% of employees are involved for at least three weeks to create the annual plan
This can add up to 3% of a company’s revenue, or
$1,000 per employee!


So how can Cloud help? Jennifer explained that using a cloud-based model, a planning solution can be quickly and flexibly rolled out across the organization, enabling you to easily gain the input and intelligence of line of business managers as part of the planning process. Moreover, up until a couple of years ago, we still saw reluctance in the Finance department around adopting cloud applications, largely driven by security and data confidentiality concerns. However, this reluctance is vanishing rapidly.    Analyst studies indicate that Finance executives are increasingly buying into the SaaS model, and in a recent survey that we conducted, three quarters of respondents indicated that they are currently using or will consider deploying EPM in the cloud. So what is happening with Oracle’s Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service?  Jennifer explained to our listeners that “Oracle’s been moving aggressively towards the SaaS model across its application suite and, as we’ve seen our customers’ attitudes shift in favor of cloud, we are now moving our EPM applications into the Oracle Cloud.” She also described some of the functionality being offered:

It is based on the functionality of the latest release of Hyperion Planning, which is the market-leading packaged application for Planning and Forecasting, and it is optimized for the cloud.
Ability to migrate from on-premise
Data integration
Financial and management reporting
Full MS Office Integration
Same security, operations and infrastructure as all applications that are part of Oracle Cloud

It is important to note that this is not simply a hosted version of Hyperion Planning, but rather, it is a new application that has been completely optimized for the cloud.  We chatted about some of these cloud-specific enhancements to accelerate usage and minimize administration, including online help, guided tutorials, and diagnostic tools.

What are the key benefits for customers with this cloud offering and who can benefit? Jennifer explained to our listeners that mid-size companies have a lot to gain, especially if they don’t have the resources to implement an on-premises solution. Hyperion customers with a custom-based Planning application in Essbase also have the opportunity to modernize and have a fully workflow-enabled application. But really any customer looking to quickly roll out a departmental or line of business-based planning solution, outside of finance would benefit greatly. They can all expect:

Fast Adoption
First-in-Class Functionality
Flexible Adoption (it is exactly the same software whether in the cloud or on-premises– so organizations can change the deployment method in the future with minimum effort if they need to) 

In summary, Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service offers world-class functionality with the simplicity of the cloud.

To listen to the entire podcast, click here.
To learn more about Oracle’s Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service, click here.












Wednesday Jan 22, 2014

Scorecards in the Wild West?

Oscar Pardo, a Solutions Consultant for Oracle, works with Federal, State and Local governments helping them to herd their wild KPIs and establish scorecards to meet US requirements from the President. I had the pleasure of interviewing Oscar during a podcast and he gave some sage advice on what to expect when building scorecards.  He described how Oracle Scorecard and Strategy Management is just the Sheriff you need to help tame your runaway KPIs, and manage your performance.

Oscar began the interview by defining what public sector organizations are trying to accomplish with their business scorecards. Agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the Veterans Administration, and Health and Human Services are enormous (the size of some of the largest companies in the world!) and need tools to help them understand where they are performing well, and where they are underperforming. Basically, they are trying to accomplish the same things that private sector companies are striving for. Things like:

Transparency to their public
Insight into how well they are running and where they can take actions to improve
Accountability for their funding. With the close scrutiny of funds and cost cutting in budgets, agencies are more accountable than ever for their funding
A better grip or control of what is occurring and what actions they can act on  
A way to monitor those actions and make sure they are working

Oscar also mentioned the most challenging aspects of creating scorecards were:

Developing the right KPIs, and getting consensus. This is like walking around in the Wild West. Everyone wants KPIs for themselves – there is often little organization and few rules around choosing them or deciding how to use them.
Defining the Key Performance Indicators. This takes a lot of time and effort
Locating where the information resides. This takes the longest amount of time. Federal Agencies have a harder time of it, because they have a greater volume of data because they are larger organizations. Information resides in many different systems and is measured at different levels.

Interestingly enough, the most challenging aspects were not software related!



So what part does software play in scorecards? According to Oscar, scorecard software acts like a Sheriff would in the Wild West, upholding the laws. Without the Sheriff enforcing the laws, in this case guidelines, executives will ask for more and more KPIs – then the data collection activity, reporting, and subsequent activities will get out of hand. Here is some advice Oscar shared to help:

Have a single champion, group, or department that is in charge of determining what makes sense to capture and what will have the greatest impact to the organization, because there is a big cost in collecting and maintaining this information. – The champion is like the town Mayor; setting the rules that the Sheriff enforces.
Develop an Office of Strategic Management (or other performance management governing department) or appoint individuals to appropriately define KPIs and objectives. They can then help the Mayor so KPIs can be implemented quickly and uniformly across the organization.
Don’t wait. Too many times I hear customers say, “Let’s wait until next year” or “After the next reorganization or administration”.  With a strong governing agency that is responsible for scorecards, those excuses are no longer valid.  The job of an incoming administration would actually be easier because they have visibility into the organization on Day One.

So what benefits are public sector agencies experiencing with scorecards? Is it worth their while? Oscar told us YES, it is worth their while and here’s why:

Monitoring performance is so much simpler. The Oracle Scorecard and Strategy Management product gets you up and running quickly.   You don’t have to build it, and it comes with the Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation Suite.
Scorecards and Business Intelligence naturally go together. Scorecard initiatives work well with a formal Business Intelligence / Data Warehouse in place.  
Mobile scorecard capabilities.  Having scorecard information available on your mobile device enables you to take this information with you and act upon it without being tied to your desk or office.
Build it with market prevalent Scorecard methodologies like Balanced Scorecard or Six Sigma.  It has an easy to use interface to help agencies define goals and objectives, then facilitate the building of KPIs to track and meet these goals and objectives – all within the same tool the organization uses to do its BI reporting.
Informative visualizations like Contribution Wheels, Strategy Trees, Watch lists, Cause and Effect Maps, and Strategy Maps are available automatically.  

Oscar told us that Oracle made a great decision in making Oracle Scorecard and Strategy Management part of the BI Foundation which marries technology with the scorecard methodology (the Sheriff).  Add the Mayor and other constituents to work with Oracle Scorecard and Strategy Management, and you too can tame YOUR Wild West.

To listen to the entire podcast, click here.
To learn more about Oracle Scorecard and Strategy Management, click here.

Friday Jan 10, 2014

The Deeper Realities of Implementing Shared Service Costing with Hyperion Profitability and Cost Management

You may have heard this one before, but it remains true. Many companies around the world are still fighting to understand what their true costs and profitability are – by region, by customer, by product etc. I caught up with Stuart Croucher, Senior Associate at Marsh & McLennan Companies, and Mike Killeen, Vice President of Technology with Edgewater Ranzal, an Oracle Platinum Consulting partner, to talk about Mercer, a Marsh McLennan Company and their understanding of cost and profitability. Until recently – they too were struggling with this business issue.

Marsh & McLennan Companies are the premier global professional services firms providing advice and solutions for risk management, strategy and human capital management.  They are comprised of four companies:

+ Marsh- a global leader in insurance brokering and risk management  
+ Guy Carpenter- a global leader in risk and reinsurance intermediary services  
+ Oliver Wyman- a global leader in management consulting and
+ Mercer - a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement, and investments

Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth and performance of their most vital asset – their people.  Over the last several years, Marsh & McLennan Companies has seen transformational change with the establishment of a new shared service center to support the finance and information technology functions.  However that did not come easily.



Stuart shared with our listeners that two years ago, Mercer’s senior leadership changed overnight. In the new CEO’s  first town hall to the company, he spoke of the urgent need for Profit and Loss statements  by line of business and by country level.  He could not believe if he asked a business leader in Brazil what his profit was, that he didn’t know the answer.

How were they measuring cost? Previously, all Mercer measurements had been performed on a contribution margin basis; this simply meant that each LOB was judged on how much it contributed to Mercer’s central costs. Function costs were all held centrally and not allocated to the businesses. This was simply unacceptable to the new leadership team because it did not allow them to understand which businesses and countries were truly profitable.

As you might expect, under new management, finance was given the immediate task of implementing business/country level profit and loss statements, as the new CEO had made it one of his top priorities. This meant developing a rapid (like yesterday) solution using Excel. Eventually, with extraordinary effort, they were able to build and deliver a successful solution using many, extremely large MicroSoft Excel workbooks and MicroSoft Access - but they ran into all the usual Excel model based issues, after go live: 


+ It was very difficult to answer questions from the business -  in other words,  why did I get this allocation 
+ It was impossible to keep track of changes to the model 
+ It was difficult to re run the model for a different scenario --  for example,  running it for Budget and now wanting to run it for Prior Year Restated.

What Mercer wanted for the future was to deliver an allocation solution that combined the Oracle Hyperion Planning and Hyperion Profitability and Cost Management approach providing a platform for future growth and the ability to easily run multiple versions. Also key was low IT involvement when running the model -- they wanted Finance to completely own the day-to-day running of the model.

Mike further explained that Marsh & McLennan Companies needed to put together a new shared service center to support the controllership and Financial Planning & Administration within all of their operating companies. A key component of that shared service center was the selection and standardization of a performance management platform to create a consistent user experience for their users, and to lower the firm’s Total Cost of Ownership. For this reason, Hyperion Profitability and Cost Management was evaluated and selected as a tool that could meet the needs of this solution for the F-A-S-T requirements - specifically Flexibility, Audit and Control, Shared Methodology, and Transparency. For most of Mike’s clients, the F & T tend to be the most important.

The flexibility of Hyperion Profitability and Cost Management (HPCM) was critical to Mercer in the development process, because it allowed the business users to see the impact of an allocation methodology or attribution change. Mercer couldn’t have done that with a traditional “take the requirements and build it via a calc script” type approach. Additionally, the traceabilty maps in HPCM were helpful in getting sign off on the allocations, and additionally answering questions that came back from the Planners regarding where a charge came from. Finally, by moving the older model in Excel to an Oracle EPM packaged application, they were able to offer the audit and control needed to ensure confidence in the numbers, and additionally, provide an ability to run the models via shared methodologies for budgets, actuals, and forecast scenarios. Mercer took advantage of features that allowed them to run 2013 budget data through 2012 methodologies and 2013 methodologies, and seeing the impact of methodology change alone on results.

It became apparent quickly that there were deeper realities of implementing Shared Service costing with Hyperion Profitability and Cost Management. To hear more, click here to listen to the entire podcast.

To learn more about Hyperion Profitability and Cost Management, click here.

Wednesday Jan 08, 2014

Why Are My Numbers Different From Yours?

Happy New Year!

Organizations spend way too much time arguing about whose numbers are right, where they came from, and what they mean, rather than spending time discussing what to do about them.  I had the pleasure of interviewing book author and consultant Ron Dimon, Enterprise Performance Management Advisory Services Partner at CheckPoint Consulting – an Oracle Platinum Partner – during a Podcast, and he provided some interesting insights into this topic.




Ron and I have been involved in Performance Management in one way or another since about 1999 and it amazes me that organizations today still rely so much on spreadsheets to do their planning and forecasting, profitability analysis, and even to record and report their financial and operational results.  But, I am hopeful, as many companies and institutions now embrace the tools and processes of Enterprise Performance Management (EPM), that this will change, turning performance management into a discipline and a competitive advantage.To listen to the entire Podcast, click here.

I asked Ron to give his point of view on why people are still uttering “Why are my numbers different from yours?” With all the technology and systems we have now, why is this still an issue for many organizations?  He told our audience that he believes much of the issue can be attributed to spreadsheets. “While great for some things, they were never meant to be collaborative, controlled, enterprise-wide consolidation and reporting engines or reporting systems.  We have grown to rely on them, because they are pervasive and so easy to set up.”  Ron explained that it is relatively easy to whip up a customer profitability spreadsheet, for example, in less than an hour. You just need to collect the sales and expense numbers, take a stab at indirect costs and voila!  The problem, he suggested, starts after the report is set up and we need to share it, compare actuals to forecast, or include some historical trend data.  Ron explained that, “When Finance gets a look at the spreadsheet, they have to reverse engineer it and will probably quickly find that my basis for allocating expenses is wrong, or I haven’t taken into account commission splits, or I’m not including a foreign subsidiary of the customer in the sales results…the list goes on and on.”

So how can this be corrected? Ron talked about a way of still using Excel to create easy, on-the-fly reports – but rather, using Excel directly connected to the central repository of data to ensure that everyone creating reports is starting from the same set of data. The Oracle solution he has used for this is called Oracle Hyperion SmartView for Office and is part of the Oracle EPM System.  Because the spreadsheet is essentially connected to the underlying central repository of the EPM system, there is less time spent arguing about why numbers are different.

So is Oracle Hyperion SmartView for Office the answer? Does it solve the data problem all by itself? Ron explained to our audience that SmartView is the window to all that data; it’s one way to access it. But how and when the data gets into the central repository, and how it’s organized and transformed once it gets there requires an Enterprise Performance Management System (EPM). Oracle’s EPM system is both a collection of tools and a group of processes that govern how your data, especially financial data, is recorded, reported and used. 

Ron explained that an EPM profitability application, like Oracle Hyperion Profitability and Cost Management (HPCM), is a much more disciplined way to truly determine customer profitability – unlike the spreadsheet example mentioned previously. Instead of the finance person making up formulas, allocations, and deciding what is included in that customer number or not, HPCM does it for you.  So now you CAN spend more time on what do to with that customer: pay more attention, adjust prices, offer new services (or even fire them!) – and much less time arguing about why my numbers are different than yours.

To listen to the entire Podcast, click here.
To learn more about Oracle’s Enterprise Performance Management solution click here, and to learn more about HPCM, click here.

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This blog will highlight key EPM market trends, recent events and other news of interest to our field, customers and partners.

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