November 29, 2017

The Biggest Change to Reporting & Analysis in 2018 Won’t Be the Cloud

Screenshot from https://www.oracle.com/solutions/business-analytics/day-by-day.html

Companies spent most of 2017 either preparing their journey to the Cloud, getting started on moving their applications to the Cloud, or hoping the whole Cloud thing would go away if we just ignored it long enough (like my late fees at Blockbuster). But in the end, the Cloud isn’t revolutionary: the Cloud just means someone else is managing your server for you. While it’s nice that your servers are now someone else’s problem, there is an actual revolution happening in reporting & analysis and it’s a technology that’s been around for decades.

The Future of Reporting & Analysis Can Also Take Selfies

Up to this point, mobile has been an afterthought in the world of reporting & analysis: we design for a laptop first and if something ends up mobile-enabled, that’s a nice-to-have. The commonly held belief is that mobile devices (phones, tablets) are too small of a footprint to show formatted reports or intricate dashboards. That belief is correct in the same way that Microsoft Outlook is way too complex of an application to make reading emails on a mobile device practical… except that most emails in the world are now read on a mobile device. They’re just not using Outlook. We had to rethink of a smaller, faster, easier, more intuitive (sorry, Microsoft) way of consuming information to take email mobile.

Reporting & analysis will also hit that tipping point in 2018 where we ask ourselves simply “what questions do I need answered to make better business decisions faster?” and then our phones will give us exactly that without all the detail a typical report or dashboard provides. Will mobile analytics kill off desktop applications? No more than the desktop killed off paper reports. They all have their place: paper reports are good for quickly looking at a large amount of formatted information, desktops will be good for details (Excel will live on for the foreseeable future), and mobile will take its rightful place as the dominant form of information consumption.

Forget the Past and Pay Attention to the Present

The greatest thing about mobile is that everyone has their phone less than six feet from them at all times [you just glanced over at yours to see if I’m right]. But would you ever look at your phone if your screen took a month to update? Traditional reports are very backwards-looking. Your typical Income Statement, for instance, tells you how you spent the last year, it sometimes tells you about the upcoming forecast, but it rarely tells you, “am I making money at this moment?” Just like the dashboard of a car would be awfully useless if it gave you last month’s average gas tank reading – hey, I was 75% full in December! – mobile reports won’t be for looking at historically dated information. Instead, we’ll look to mobile to give us just the information we need to take physical actions now.

But Why is 2018 the Year of Mobile Analytics?

Quite simply, we didn’t have the technology to support our decisions until now. While we could take reports or dashboards and interact with them on mobile devices, we don’t want to actually perform analytics on our phones. We want the computers doing the analysis for us. While we’ve had data mining for years, it was relegated to high-priced data scientists or not-so-highly-paid analysts.

We now have artificial intelligence that can look through our data 24/7 and with no guidance from us, determine what drivers correlate with which results. Machine learning can then determine which information it delivers do we truly find useful. And so we don’t have to dig through all the results to find out what the system is trying to tell us, the mobile analytics apps in 2018 will convert complex information into natural language. It will simply tell us in plain English (or your language of choice), “I looked through all your information and here are the things you need to be aware of right now.”

While that may seem like distant promises to many people, it’s here now. At Oracle’s OpenWorld 2017 conference, there was an amazing demonstration of everything I mentioned in the last paragraph. The audience was even more amazed when told that all that functionality would be in Oracle Analytics Cloud before OpenWorld 2018. I’m sure the employees of Microsoft, Tableau, QlikView, and others are either busy working on their own technological magic or they’re busier working on their resumés.

Am I Ready for the Future?

Start finding out at EPM.BI/Survey. Each year, I conduct a global survey of Business Analytics. Last year, I asked over 250 companies how they were doing in the world of reporting, analysis, planning, and consolidation.  To participate in this year’s survey, go to EPM.BI/Survey and spend 15 minutes answering questions about your State of Business Analytics that you maybe haven’t thought of in years. In exchange for filling in the survey, you’ll be invited to a webcast on January 31, 2018, at 1PM Eastern, where you’ll learn how your BI & EPM (Business Intelligence & Enterprise Performance Management) stacks up against the rest of the world.

If you have any questions, ask them in the comments or tweet them to me @ERoske.

May 1, 2017

Top 5 Quotes from Oracle’s 2017 Modern Finance Experience

Three days of Oracle’s Modern Finance Experience set my personal new record for “Most Consecutive Days Wearing a Suit.” Surrounded by finance professionals (mostly CFOs, VPs of FP&A, and people who make money from Finance execs), I came prepared to learn nothing… yet found myself quoting the content for days to come.

The event featured top notch speakers on cutting edge concepts: the opening keynote with Mark Hurd, a panel on the changing world of finance with Matt Bradley & Rondy Ng, Hari Sankar on Hybrid in the world of Oracle EPM, and even one of my competitors (more on that in a second).

For those of you who couldn’t be there (or didn’t want to pay a lot of money to dress up for three days), I thought I’d share my top five quotes as best as I could transcribe them.

“IT currently spends 80% of its budget on maintenance. Boards are demanding increased security, compliance, and regulatory investment. All these new investments come from the innovation budget, not maintenance.”
-          Mark Hurd, Oracle, Co-Chief Executive Officer

Mark Hurd was pulling double duty: he gave the opening keynote at Oracle HCM World (held at a nearby hotel) and then bolted over to Oracle Modern Finance Experience to deliver our keynote. He primarily talked Oracle strategy for the next few years which – to badly paraphrase The Graduate – can be summed up in one word: Cloud.

He gave a compelling argument for why the Cloud is right for Oracle and businesses (though server vendors and hosting providers should be terrified). Now let me be clear: much of this conference was focused around the Cloud, so many of these quotes will be too, but what I liked about Mark’s presentation was it gave clear, concise, and practically irrefutable arguments of the benefits of the Cloud.

The reason I liked the quote above is it answers the concerns from all those IT departments: what happens to my job if I don’t spend 80% of our resources on maintaining existing systems? You’ll get to spend your time on actually improving systems. Increased innovation, greater security, better compliance … the things you’ve been wanting to get to but never have time or budget to address.

“The focus is not on adding lots of new features to on-premises applications. Our priority is less on adding to the functional richness and more on simplifying the process of doing an upgrade.”

-          Hari Sankar, Oracle, GVP of Product Management

I went to a session on the hybrid world of Oracle EPM. I knew Hari would be introducing a customer who had both on-premises Hyperion applications and Cloud applications. What I didn’t know is that he would be addressing the future of Oracle EPM on-premises. As most of you know, the current version for the on-premises Oracle EPM products is 11.1.2.4.x. What many of you do not know is that Oracle has taken future major versions (11.1.2.5 and 12c) of those products off the roadmap.

Hari spoke surprisingly directly to the audience about why Oracle is not abandoning EPM on-prem, but why they will not be pushing the Cloud versions and all their cool new functionality back down to the historical user base. To sum up his eight+ minute monologue, the user base is not requesting new functionality. They want simplicity and an easy path to transition to the Cloud eventually, and that’s why Oracle will be focusing on PSUs (Patch Set Updates) for the EPM products and not on “functional richness.”

Or to put it another way: Hyperion Planning and other Hyperion product users who want impressive new features? Go to the Cloud because they’re probably never coming to on-premises. To quote Hari once more, “create a 1-3 year roadmap for moving to a Cloud environment” or find your applications increasingly obsolete.

 “Hackers are in your network: they’re just waiting to pull the trigger.”

-          Rondy Ng, Oracle, SVP of Applications Development

There was an entertaining Oracle panel led by Jeff Jacoby (Master Principal Sales Consultant and a really nice guy no matter what his family says) that included Rondy Ng (he’s over ERP development), Matt Bradley (he’s over EPM development), and Michael Gobbo (also a lofty Master Principal Sales Consultant). While I expected to be entertained (and Gobbo’s integrated ERP/HCM/EPM demo was one for the ages), I didn’t expect them to tackle the key question on everyone’s mind: what about security in the Cloud?

Mark Hurd did address this in his keynote and he gave a fun fact: if someone finds a security flaw in Oracle’s software on a Tuesday, Oracle will patch in by Wednesday, and it will take an average of 18 months until that security patch gets installed in the majority of their client base. Rondy addressed it even more directly: if you think hackers haven’t infiltrated your network, you’re sticking your head in the sand.

Without going into all of Rondy’s points, his basic argument was that Oracle is better at running a data center than any of their customers out there. He pointed out that Oracle now has 90 data centers around the world and that security overrides everything else they do. He also said, “security is in our DNA” which is almost the exact opposite of “Danger is my middle name,” but while Rondy’s line won’t be getting him any dates, it should make the customer base feel a lot safer about letting Oracle host their Cloud applications.

 “Cloud is when not if.”

-          David Axson, Accenture, Managing Director

I have to admit, I have developed a man crush on one of my competitors. I wrote down more quotes from him than from every other speaker at the event put together. His take on the future of Finance and Planning so closely paralleled my thoughts that I almost felt like he had read the State of Business Analytics white paper we wrote. For instance, in that white paper, we wrote about Analysis Inversion: that the responsibility for analyzing the report should be in the hands of the provider of the report, not the receiver of the report. David Axson put it this way: “The reporting and analysis is only as good as the business decisions made from it. In finance, your job starts when you deliver the report and analysis. Most people think that's when it ends.”

The reason I picked the quote above is because it really sums up the whole theme of the conference: the Cloud is not doing battle with on-premises. The Cloud did that battle, won with a single sucker punch while on-prem was thinking it had it made, and Cloud currently dancing on the still unconscious body of on-prem who right now is having a bad nightmare involving losing its Blackberry while walking from Blockbuster to RadioShack.

David is right: the Cloud is coming to every company and the only question is when you’ll start that journey.

“Change and Certainty are the new normal. Combat with agility.”

-          Rod Johnson, Oracle, SVP North America ERP, EPM, SCM Enterprise Business

So, what can we do about all these changes coming to Finance? And for that matter, all the changes coming to every facet of every industry in every country on Earth? Rod Johnson (which he assures me is his not his “stage” name) said it best: don’t fight the change but rather embrace it and make sure you can change faster than everyone else.

"Change comes to those who wait, but it’s the ones bringing the change who are in control."

-          Edward Roske, interRel, CEO


To read more about some of those disruptive changes coming to the world of Finance, download the white paper I mentioned above.

May 23, 2016

7 Signs Your EPM is Lagging Behind Your Competition

Regardless of industry, regardless of size, regardless of duration, all companies have similar issues in their financial analysis, planning, and consolidation areas. From building budgets to financial reporting, how can CFOs, VPs of Finance, Directors of FP&A and Controllers tell if their FP&A teams are falling behind their competitors? Here are seven signs that your Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) environments are stuck in the last decade:
  1. Strategy is planned verbally or in spreadsheets. While the majority of strategic CFO’s agree that Finance should be looking forward and not backward, most strat planning is done in Excel or worse, out loud in various meetings. There is no modeling unless someone comes up with a bunch of linked spreadsheet formulas. Strategies are agreed to in conference rooms and conveyed at a high-level via email (or they aren’t communicated at all). Strategies are evaluated by whomever has the best anecdote: “well, the last time that happened, we did this…” The only thing worse than not having a solution for strategic planning is not doing strategic planning at all. Speaking of spreadsheets…
  2. Excel is the key enabling technology in your FP&A department. One sure way to tell if your EPM function is falling behind is to ask “what is the single most important tool your department uses when running reports? Performing analysis? Coming up with a strategic plan? Preparing the budget? Modeling business changes?” If the answer to four-out-of-five of those is “Microsoft Excel”, ask yourself if that was by design or if people just used Excel because they didn’t have a better system. Excel is a wonderful tool (I open it every morning and don’t close it until I leave), but it was meant to be a way to look at grids of data. It was not meant to store business logic and it was never meant to be a database. Force your FP&A group to do everything with Excel and expect to be waiting for every answer… and then praying everyone got their formulas right when you make business decisions based on those answers.
  3. There is only one version of the budget. No one really thinks that there’s only one way that the year will end up, but most companies insist on a single version of a budget (and not even a range, but a specific number). Not only are EPM Laggards (companies with EPM trailing behind their peer groups) not planning multiple scenarios, they’re insisting that the whole company come up with a single number and then stick to it no matter what external factors are at play. Ron Dimon refers to scenario plans as “ready at hand plans” waiting to be used once we see how our strategic initiatives are enacted. EPM Laggards not only don’t have additional plans ready, they insist on holding everyone in the organization accountable to one single number, outside world be damned.
  4. Budgets favor precision over timeliness. Your competition realizes that a forecast that’s 95% accurate delivered today is more helpful than a budget that was 98% accurate 6 months ago. Yet EPM Laggards spend months coming up with a budget that’s precise to the dollar and then updating it periodically at a high level. It’s amazing how often FP&A groups end up explaining away budget vs. actual discrepancies by saying “the budget was accurate at the start of the year, but then things happened.” Budgets should be reforecasted continuously whenever anything material changes. Think about it: if you had one mapping app that gave you an estimate of your arrival time to the 1/100th of a second at the time you departed and another mapping app that constantly refined your arrival time as you drove, which one would you choose?
  5. No one takes actions on the reports. Edward’s Rule of Reporting: every report should either lead to a better question or a physical action. If your department is producing a report that doesn’t lead someone to ask a bigger, better, bolder question and doesn’t lead someone to take a physical action, change the report. Or stop producing the report entirely. EPM Laggards spend an inordinate amount of time collecting data and generating reports that don’t lead to any change in behavior. EPM Leaders periodically stop and ask themselves “if I arrived today, is this what I would build?” Half the time, the answer is “no,” and the other half the time, the answer is “if I arrived today, I actually wouldn’t build this report at all.”
  6. Most time is spent looking backwards. Imagine you’re driving a car. Put your hands on the wheel and look around. Notice that most of your visual space is the front windshield which shows you what’s coming up ahead of you. Some of what you see is taken up by the dashboard so you can get a real-time idea of where you are right now. And if you glance up, there’s a small rear-view mirror that tells you what’s behind you. A combination of all three of these (windshield, dashboard, and rearview mirror) gives you some idea of when you should steer right or left, brake, or accelerate. In a perfect EPM world, your time would be divided the same way: most would be spent looking ahead (budgeting and forecasting), some time would be spent glancing down to determine where you are at the moment, and very little would be spent looking backwards since, let’s face it, the past is really difficult to change. In your car, you’d only look at the mirror if you were changing lanes or you were worried about being hit from behind, and business is similar yet most EPM Laggards drive their cars by looking backwards.
  7. Labor is devoted to collecting & reporting and not planning & analyzing. If you spend all of your time gathering data, reconciling data, and reporting on data, you’re answering the question “what happened?” Your competition is spending their time analyzing (“why did this happen?”) and then planning to take action (“what should I do next?”). There is a finite amount of time in the world and sadly, that holds true in our FP&A departments too. If your EPM system is focused on collecting, consolidating, & reporting and your competition has their EPM focused on analyzing, modeling, & planning, who do you think will win in the long run?


What You Can Do

If you look at those seven top signs you’re lagging in your EPM functions and wonder how to improve, the first step is to stop building anything new. While this seems counterintuitive, if you take a tactical approach to solving any one area, you’re going to put in place a single point solution that will need to be thrown away or redone as you get closer to your overall vision for EPM. So what’s step 1? Have an EPM vision. Ask yourself where you want your company to be in three years. What do you want out of consolidation, reporting, analysis, modeling, and planning and how will all of those functions be integrated?

You are not alone. I have seen hundreds of FP&A departments in my time struggle with having a vision for just one area let alone a long-range vision. Even when leadership has a vision, it quite often focuses on system improvements (we’re not sure what to do, so let’s throw technology at it!) rather than try to improve processes too. Thankfully, there is hope and as my good friends at G.I. Joe always say, knowing is half the battle.

More Information

If you have any questions, ask them in the comments or tweet them to me @ERoske.

November 27, 2015

Learn About Hyperion & Oracle BI... 5 Minutes at a Time

Since early 2015, we've been trying to figure out how to help educate more people around the world on Oracle BI and Oracle EPM. Back in 2006, interRel launched a webcast series that started out once every two weeks and then rapidly progressed to 2-3 times per week. We presented over 125 webcasts last year to 5,000+ people from our customers, prospective customers, Oracle employees, and our competitors.

In 2007, we launched our first book and in the last 8 years, we've released over 10 books on Essbase, Planning, Smart View, Essbase Studio, and more. (We even wrote a few books we didn't get to publish on Financial Reporting and the dearly departed Web Analysis.) In 2009, we started doing free day-long, multi-track conferences across North America and participating in OTN tours around the world. We've also been trying to speak at as many user groups and conferences as we can possibly fit in. Side note, if you haven't signed up for Kscope16 yet, it's the greatest conference ever: go to kscope16.com and register (make sure you use code IRC at registration to take $100 off each person's costs).

We've been trying to innovate our education offerings since then to make sure there were as many happy Hyperion, OBIEE, and Essbase customers around the world as possible. Since we started webcasts, books, and free training days, others have started doing them too which is awesome in that it shares the Oracle Business Analytics message with even more people.

The problem is that the time we have for learning and the way we learn has changed. We can no longer take the time to sit and read an entire book. We can't schedule an hour a week at a specific time to watch an hour webcast when we might only be interested in a few minutes of the content. We can't always take days out of our lives to attend conferences no matter how good they are.  So in June 2015 at Kscope16, we launched the next evolution in training (epm.bi/videos):


#PlayItForward is our attempt to make it easier for people to learn by making it into a series of free videos.  Each one focuses on a single topic. Here's one I did that attempts to explain What Is Big Data? in under 12 minutes:

As you can see from the video, the goal is to teach you a specific topic with marketing kept to an absolute minimum (notice that there's not a single slide in there explaining what interRel is). We figure if we remove the marketing, people will not only be more likely to watch the videos but share them as well (competitors: please feel free to watch, learn, and share too). We wanted to get to the point and not teach multiple things in each video.

Various people from interRel have recorded videos in several different categories including What's New (new features in the new versions of various products), What Is? (introductions to various products), Tips & Tricks, deep-dive series (topics that take a few videos to cover completely), random things we think are interesting, and my personal pet project, the Essbase Technical Reference.

Essbase Technical Reference on Video

Yes, I'm trying to convert the Essbase Technical Reference into current, easy-to-use videos. This is a labor of love (there are hundreds of videos to be made on just Essbase calc functions alone) and I needed to start somewhere. For the most part, I'm focusing on Essbase Calc Script functions and commands first, because that's where I get the most questions (and where some of the examples in the TechRef are especially horrendous). I've done a few Essbase.CFG settings that are relevant to calculations and a few others I just find interesting.  I'm not the only one at interRel doing them, because if we waited for me to finish, well, we'd never finish. The good news is that there are lots of people at interRel who learned things and want to pass them on.

I started by doing the big ones (like CALC DIM and AGG) but then decided to tackle a specific function category: the @IS... boolean functions. I have one more of those to go and then I'm not sure what I'm tackling next. For the full ever-increasing list, go to http://bit.ly/EssTechRef, but here's the list as of this posting: 
To see all the videos we have at the moment, go to epm.bi/videos. I'm looking for advice on which TechRef videos I should record next. I'm trying to do a lot more calculation functions and Essbase.CFG settings before I move on to things like MDX functions and MaxL commands, but others may take up that mantle. If you have functions you'd like to see a video on, shoot an email over to epm.bi/videos, click on the discussion tab, and make a suggestion or two. If you like the videos and find them helpful (or you have suggestions on how to make them more helpful), please feel free to comment too.

I think I'm going to go start working on my video on FIXPARALLEL.

September 28, 2014

Oracle Exalytics X4-4 - Bigger, Better, Stronger

X4-4 - Same price as the X3-4 but with more power

The big announcement about it is today at OpenWorld (it would be awesome if they mentioned it during the Intel keynote tonight), but the Exalytics X4-4 is actually available now.  It's the same price as the X3-4 ($175,000 at list not including software, maintenance, tax, title, license, yada yada).  This does mean the X3 is - effective immediately - no longer available, but then again, since the new one is the same price, I'm not sure why anyone would want the older one.  No word yet on if you can upgrade an X3 to an X4, but since they did offer an upgrade kit from X2 to X3 (though I never heard of anyone buying it), I'm guessing there will be one for those wanting to make an X3 into an X4.

X4-4 Specs

The main improvement over the X3 is the number of cores: it's still 4 Intel chips, but those chips all now have 15 cores on them, meaning the X4 has 60 cores compared to the X3's 40 cores.  Here are the important details:

  • 4 Intel Xeon E7-8895v2 processors running at 2.8 - 3.6 GHz
  • 8 - 60 cores (capacity on demand, more on this in a second)
  • 2 TB of RAM
  • 2.4 TB of PCI flash
  • 7.2 TB of hard disk running at 10K RPMs (not that fast these days)
  • 2 Infiniband ports running at 40 Gb/s
  • 4 Ethernet ports running at up to 10 Gb/s

Cool Thing 1: Variable Speed & Cores


You probably heard about this last July.  Oracle worked with Intel to design a line of their Xeon E7-889x chips specifically for Oracle.  What we didn't realize until we saw it show up on the X4 spec sheet was that the chips were going in the Exalytics X4.  Simply put, on the fly, Exalytics can vary how many cores it uses and when it's fewer cores, the speed goes up.  If it's running 15 cores per chip, Intel sets the speed to 2.8 GHz.  If it's only using 2 cores per chip the speed goes all the way to 3.6 GHz (a GHz is one billion clock ticks per second).