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.

Thursday Apr 12, 2012

What's New in Oracle's EPM System?

Oracle’s EPM System R11.1.2.2  is now generally available to customers and partners on the download center.  Although the release number doesn’t sound significant, this is a major release of Oracle’s Hyperion EPM Suite with new modules as well as significant enhancements across the suite. 

This release was announced back on April 4th as part of Oracle’s Business Analytics Strategy launch, so analytics is a key aspect of the release.  But the three biggest pieces of news in this release are Oracle Hyperion Planning support for the Exalytics In-Memory Machine, the new Project Financial Planning Application and the new Account Reconciliations Manager module.

The Oracle Exalytics In-Memory Machine was announced back in October 2011, at Oracle OpenWorld.  It’s the latest installment from Oracle in a line of engineered systems that combine Oracle Sun hardware, with Oracle database and application technologies – in solutions that are designed to provide high scalability and performance for specific tasks.  Exalytics is the first engineered system specifically designed for high performance analytics.  Running in-memory versions of Oracle Essbase, as well as the Oracle TimesTen database and Oracle BI tools, Exalytics provides speed of thought response times for complex analytic processes with advanced visualizations.  Early adopter customers have achieved 5X to 100X faster interactivity and 6X to 10X faster planning cycles.  Hyperion Planning running with Oracle Exalytics will support enterprise-wide planning, budgeting and forecasting with more detailed data, with hundreds to thousands of users across an organization getting speed of thought performance.

The new Hyperion Project Financial Planning application delivered with EPM is also great news for Oracle customers.  This application follows on the heels of other special-purpose planning applications that Oracle has delivered for Workforce and Capital Asset planning.  It allows Project Managers to identify project-related expenses and revenues, plan and propose new projects, and track results over time. Finance Managers can evaluate and compare different projects, manage the funding process, monitor and report the actual financial results and impacts of projects and project portfolios. This new application is applicable to capital projects, contract projects and indirect projects like IT and HR projects across all industries.  This application is a great complement to existing Project Management applications, and helps bridge the gap between these applications, and the financial planning and budgeting process.

Account reconciliations has to be one of the biggest bottlenecks and risks in the financial close and reporting process, and many organizations rely on spreadsheets and manual processes to perform this critical process.  To help address this problem, Oracle developed an Account Reconciliation Manager module that is being delivered as part of Oracle Hyperion Financial Close Management.   This module helps automate and streamline account reconciliations and eliminates the chances for errors, omissions and fraud.  But unlike standalone account reconciliation packages, it’s integrated with the rest of the Oracle Hyperion Financial Close suite, and can integrate balances from any source system.  This can help alleviate a major bottleneck in the financial close process, increase accuracy and reduce risk, and can complement existing investments in Hyperion Financial Management, as well as Oracle and non-Oracle transaction processing systems.

Other enhancements in this release include an enhanced Web 2.0 interface for Hyperion Planning and Hyperion Financial Management (HFM), configurable dimensionality in HFM, new Predictive Planning feature in Hyperion Planning, new Detailed Profitability feature in Hyperion Profitability and Cost Management, new Smart View interface for Hyperion Strategic Finance, and integration of the Hyperion applications with JD Edwards Financials.

For more information about Oracle EPM System R11.1.2.2 check out the links below:

Press Release:

Product Information on

Product Information on OTN:

Webcast Replay:

Please contact me if you have any questions or need additional information –

Wednesday Mar 21, 2012

What's New in Business Analytics at Oracle?

Business Analytics, which includes Business intelligence and Enterprise Performance Management, are top priorities for IT and Finance executives in 2012.  Some of the hot market trends and topics include managing big data, mobile information access, in-memory computing, advanced analytics, predictive modeling, leveraging unstructured data, as well as risk and performance management. 

Find out what Oracle is doing about all of this, and what’s new from the market leader in Business Analytics by attending our live webcast event on April 4th titled “Introducing Oracle’s Business Analytics Strategy”.  At this event, you’ll hear about Oracle’s strategy for Business Analytics from Mark Hurd, Oracle President and you can learn about the latest advancements in Oracle’s Business Analytics solutions from Balaji Yelamanchili, SVP of Analytics and Performance Management.

The keynote session from Mark and Balaji will be followed by breakout sessions that provide a more in-depth look at what’s new in specific product areas including the latest release of Oracle’s Hyperion Enterprise Performance Management suite, Oracle Business Intelligence Applications and Exalytics In-Memory Machine, Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, Big Data and Advanced Analytics solutions.

This event will provide a great opportunity to hear about what’s new in Business Analytics at Oracle, and for attendees to pose questions to Oracle experts during live chat sessions.  Here’s a link to the registration page, and more details about the April 4th event.  We hope to see you (virtually) there!

Also, use the following hashtag to follow along on Twitter and share comments during the webcast and Q&A sessions:  #oracleanalytics

Tuesday Jan 17, 2012

Questions to ask SAP about BPC and their EPM Strategy

Over the past few months, my colleague Rich Clayton and I have been visiting customers evaluating Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) solutions, and in a number of cases it’s become evident that sales teams from SAP often misrepresent the complexity of deployment and administrative requirements of Oracle’s EPM solutions.  We have even seen evidence that most of SAP’s claims about Oracle’s EPM solutions are based on older releases of the products – dating back to 2007 or earlier.  On the flip side, they often overstate the simplicity of deploying and administering their own EPM applications, which were acquired from a number of different companies.  They also often compare and position SAP BPC (the former OutlookSoft product) to a broader suite of Oracle applications. 

Just the Facts

The truth is that Oracle offers the most comprehensive and integrated EPM suite in the industry, the Hyperion EPM Suite, which has been adopted by over 7,500 organizations globally.  It’s an integrated suite of best of breed modules designed to address specific EPM requirements with high performance and scalability.  Each of these can be deployed individually and deliver great customer value, but they also work better together as they share a common user workspace, reporting tools, MS Office interface as well as common administration, security, data integration tools, and dimension management.  The suite was well-integrated before Oracle acquired Hyperion and it’s become even more integrated in the four years since the Oracle acquisition.  Most of our customers have deployed two or more applications from the suite to address specific requirements and typically see a high return from their investment.

In contrast, SAP’s EPM suite resulted from the acquisitions of a number of different companies such as Pilot Software, OutlookSoft, Business Objects (which acquired Cartesis, SRC, and Armstrong Laing), Sybase and Cundus.  The SAP BPC Solution, based on the OutlookSoft product, is often positioned as an “all in one” product that can address a broad set of EPM requirements from strategic planning, to financial planning and budgeting, financial consolidation & reporting, enterprise dimension management as well as management reporting.  But SAP BPC is more of a “none in all” and doesn’t have the depth of functionality customers typically need in all of these areas and other modules will often be required to fully address customer requirements. 

So to help organizations fully evaluate SAP BPC, here is a set of questions to ask SAP sales teams about the product:

Questions to Ask SAP:

How many applications or instances of BPC will be required to support different requirements such as strategic planning, financial budgeting & planning, financial consolidation, management reporting?

How are different instances of SAP BPC administered, centrally or distributed?  How can we synchronize data and meta data across multiple instances?

How many users can be supported on a single instance of SAP BPC?  How many servers will be needed to fully support our application and user requirements?

What's your plan for industry or function specific planning applications?  Are these built on the same platform as SAP BPC and integrated with it?

How do you manage strategic financial modeling requirements with multiple embedded or layered "what-if" scenarios?

Which version of BPC does SAP consider strategic?  MS SQL Server / Netweaver / HANA?  A combination?

Which version of BPC is SAP demonstrating and why?  

Ask SAP to demonstrate all the methods for creating complex calculations? Excel formulas, Visual Basic Macros, BOBJ Business Rules Management and MDX Functions.

Did you / do you have to rewrite the BPC application to leverage HANA?  Is that work complete?  Has it been tested?  Deployed?  In production anywhere?  How many users?  How many countries?

How is SAP BPC integrated with SAP and non-SAP ERP applications?  Is this an IT-driven process or user-driven?  Does it support drill-through to transactional details?

How many clients with large-scale requirements have deployed BPC for their entire, enterprise-wide financial planning process?  In CPG, Retail?   On which platform?

What role does a web based user interface (UI) have in your development plans?  Is this getting as much emphasis as the Excel interface?

Is there any pre-built integration between BPC and Business Objects BI?  Is there common security?  Are there any pre-defined Universes?

How much work does it take to use Business Objects BI on top of BPC?  Any restrictions or caveats?  Does that depend on the architecture we choose to deploy?

Where does the calculation logic live in BPC?  In the worksheet?  In SQL Server/NW/HANA?  How does that scale?  Do you have any benchmarks? 

When will BPC and other applications be available on HANA?  How will we be able to migrate existing applications to HANA?  How is/will write-back be handled in HANA?

I hope this set of questions is helpful to customers considering Oracle’s EPM solutions vs. SAP BPC and the rest of their EPM suite.  Let me know if you have any comments or additional questions to add to the list.  Thanks!

Monday Dec 19, 2011

EPM Resolutions for 2012

With 2011 coming to a close and 2012 quickly approaching, many organizations are wrapping up their plans for the New Year.  While 2012 planning may be mostly financial in nature, organizations should also think about setting some goals and objectives for how they can improve their performance management processes.  With that in mind, here are my top 10 recommendations for EPM/BI process and system resolutions for 2012:

Streamline the period-end close.  With increasing regulatory and stakeholder reporting requirements like IFRS and Solvency II, many organizations spend too much time and resources on the financial close and reporting process.  Review your process and look for areas that continuously present hurdles or bottlenecks – such as data integration, account reconciliations, regulatory reporting, and XBRL-based filings.  These low-hanging fruit could be ripe for review and updating and targeting with software solutions that can help shorten the entire close and reporting process, like at Menzies Aviation.

Bring XBRL tagging in-house.   When first adopting XBRL, most organizations have chosen to outsource XBRL tagging to third party publishers.  But as detailed tagging of footnotes and disclosures drives up the cost of outsourcing, and organizations realize they can’t make last-minute adjustments to their filings – many are bringing XBRL tagging and filing in-house.  Integrating XBRL tagging with the financial close and reporting process, like StealthGas, can reduce the costs of outsourcing, improve accuracy and increase your ability to accommodate last minute changes.

Align planning processes.  Many organizations suffer from planning processes that aren’t aligned across functions and are supported by disconnected spreadsheets.  Look for ways to better integrate long-term, strategic planning with financial budgeting as well as operational planning.  Reel in processes that still rely on spreadsheets and use web-based software applications to eliminate time and resources spent on data collection and aggregation.  Connecting strategic, financial and operational planning like Societe General will also help improve resource alignment across the organization. 

Focus on forecasting.  Most organizations still have an annual budget process, but many are placing less focus and effort on this and are relying more on monthly or quarterly forecasts to update planning assumptions and implement changes to operating plans.  The rolling forecast technique is being utilized by many organizations like Sunshine 100 Real Estate to maintain a steady view of the business 4 – 6 quarters into the future.  This approach increases business agility and ensures better utilization of resources.

Leverage predictive modeling techniques to improve forecast accuracy.    Predictive modeling is being used in business forecasting by leading edge companies like Ingersoll Rand to bring statistical analysis and techniques such as Monte Carlo simulations into the mix.  These techniques can augment the forecasting be performed by line managers and can be used to validate those forecasts based on historical information, and to produce a broader range of outcomes to consider in decision-making. 

Get more granular on profitability and cost analysis.  Many organizations rely on corporate-level or divisional views of profitability and don’t regularly allocate revenues and costs down to the individual product, service or customer levels to understand which lines of business are adding or detracting value from the business.  Having a repeatable, accurate process and system for allocating revenues and costs, like Shenhua Gouhua Power, can reveal hidden insights about which parts of your business are truly profitable and which aren’t.  It can also help in allocating resources, adjusting pricing or customer service programs, or driving marketing campaigns.

Integrate sustainability reporting with financial reporting.  To address increasing stakeholder demand for more detailed disclosures regarding energy usage and carbon footprint, many organizations are producing a sustainability report or voluntarily submitting data to organizations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).  However the processes used to collect, aggregate and report this type of information is often manual – relying on spreadsheets, email and other processes which are unreliable.  Leverage existing business processes and systems like Dong Energy to collect, consolidate and report sustainability metrics and ensure that the non-financial information you are providing to stakeholders has the same level of accuracy as the financial results.

Centralize enterprise dimension management.  If your organization is maintaining dimensions and hierarchies such as charts of accounts and organizational structures in multiple systems, this would be a great time to centralize the management of this information. Centralizing and automating enterprise dimension management like Anglo American can lead to better IT governance, reduced costs, more consistency in reporting and high return on investment by eliminating manual, redundant administration across EPM, BI and ERP applications.

Standardize business intelligence (BI) tools.  Most large organizations have a variety of BI tools and data delivery systems and processes being utilized across different departments, business units and functions.  This often leads to different versions of the truth, duplication of effort, and higher support costs for IT.  Organizations like Presider and Home Credit Group that are standardizing BI tools and information delivery are able to improve user productivity, ensure more consistency in decision-making, and reduce costs of ownership and maintenance for IT.

Last but not least – go mobile!   Don’t be left behind – Gartner predicts that 33% of BI will be consumed on mobile devices by 2013.   Most of today’s BI tools provide support for deployment on today’s popular mobile devices.  Think about the mobile road warriors are in your business who can most benefit from having management dashboards and key metrics delivered to them anytime, anywhere to improve decision-making and customer service.

I hope these resolution suggestions give you some ideas to think about for your organization.  Best wishes for the holidays and continued success in 2012!


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