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).


June 15, 2014

Oracle Tours Africa and the Middle East

Happy Father's Day, everyone!  I got up early this morning to write about my recent experience traveling the world on Oracle's behalf.  I got to attend the first annual Oracle Technology Network tour of Africa and the Middle East.  It made 2 stops in North Africa (both in Tunisia), 2 stops in Saudi Arabia, and the final stop was in Dubai, UAE.

Tariq Farooq first mentioned the idea of doing a MENA (Middle East & North Africa) tour to me in Beijing last fall.  He asked if I'd be willing to travel half-way around the world to speak to people in English that primarily spoke French and Arabic, and I - of course - said "yes."  Here's Tariq being interviewed by Lillian Buziak at Collaborate 2014 (audio is a bit difficult to hear):


I had two reasons for wanting to go: I do love educating/evangelizing for Oracle EPM, BI, and Business Analytics.  The possibility of reaching new audiences for the first time was exciting. My other reason for going was that I wanted to experience totally different cultures than I ever have before.  I've spoken on 5 continents (now 6 after this tour and I'm anxiously awaiting the OTN Tour to Antarctica) before and have seen presented everywhere from a women's college in Mumbai that was 95F with no air conditioning in the presentation room to a ballroom in the Philippines that had 3 simultaneous English sessions going on (in one room!) all happily observed by smiling Filipinos.  From China to India to Australia to Germany, I have seen some amazing slices of life, but nothing prepared me for the differences I saw on this tour.

In each of the sections below, I have linked the header to a blog from my new best German friend, Bjoern Rost.  He blogged after every stop and unlike me, he actually understood all the Oracle RDBMS sessions on the tour.  Visit http://portrix-systems.de/blog/author/brost/ to see his entertaining blog posts.  (Warning: though I think Bjoern is hilarious, being German, you may find his posts to be 'not funny.'  German humor is an acquired taste.)

I left for the first stop, Tunisia, on Memorial Day (in the USA), May 26, 2014...


December 16, 2013

My Friend, Mike Riley, Has Cancer

I found out this summer that one of my best friends - one of the entire Hyperion community's best friends - has cancer. This is his story.

But first, a mea culpa:

In 2008, I Was An Idiot

Back in early 2008, I wrote a blog entry comparing Collaborate, Kaleidoscope, and OpenWorld.  In this entry, I said that Collaborate was the obvious successor to the Hyperion Solutions conference and I wasn't terribly nice to Kaleidoscope.  Here's me answering which of the three conferences I think the Hyperion community should attend (I dare you to hold in the laughter):
Now which one would I attend if I could only go to one?
Collaborate. Without reservation. If I'm going to a conference, it's primarily to learn. As such, content is key.
I actually got asked a very similar question on Network 54's Essbase discussion board just yesterday (apparently, it's a popular question these days). To parrot what I said there, OpenWorld was very, very marketing-oriented. 80% of the fewer than 100 presentations in the Hyperion track were delivered by Oracle (in some cases, with clients/partners as co-speakers). COLLABORATE is supposed to have 100-150 presentations with 100+ of those delivered by clients and partners.
In the interest of full-disclosure, my company, interRel, is paying to be a 4-star partner of COLLABORATE. Why? Because we're hoping that COLLABORATE becomes the successor to the Solutions conference. Solutions was a great opportunity to learn (partying was always secondary) and I refuse to believe it's dead with nothing to take it's mantle. We're investing a great deal of money with the assumption that something has to take the place of Hyperion Solutions conference, and it certainly isn't OpenWorld.
Is OpenWorld completely bad? Absolutely not. In addition to the great bribes, it's a much larger conference than COLLABORATE or ODTUG's Kaleidoscope, so if your thing is networking, by all means, go to OpenWorld. OpenWorld is the best place to get the official Oracle party line on upcoming releases and what not. OpenWorld is also the place to hear better keynotes (well, at least by More Famous People like Larry Ellison, himself). OpenWorld has better parties too. OpenWorld is also in San Francisco which is just a generally cooler town. In short, OpenWorld was very well organized, but since it's being put on by Oracle, it's about them getting out their message to their existing and prospective client base.
So why aren't I recommending Kaleidoscope (since I haven't been to that either)? Size, mostly. Their entire conference will have around 100 presentations, so their Hyperion track will most likely be fewer than 10 presentations. I've been to regional Hyperion User Group meetings that have more than that (well, the one interRel hosted in August of 2007 had 9, but close enough). While Kaleidoscope may one day grow their Hyperion track, it's going to be a long time until they equal the 100-150 presentations that COLLABORATE is supposed to have on Hyperion alone.
If you're only going to one Hyperion-oriented conference this year, register for COLLABORATE. If you've got money in the budget for two conferences, also go to OpenWorld. If you're a developer that finds both COLLABORATE and OpenWorld to be too much high-level fluff, then go to Kaleidoscope.



So, ya, that entry may live in infamy.  [Editor's Note: Find out a way to delete prior blog posts without anyone noticing.]  Notice that of the three conferences, I recommended Kaleidoscope last and dared to say that it would take them a long time until they had 100-150 sessions like Collaborate.  Interestingly, Collaborate peaked that year at 84 Hyperion sessions, and Kaleidoscope is well over 150 Business Analytics sessions, but I'm getting ahead of myself.


In 2008, Mike Riley Luckily Wasn't An Idiot


I had never met Mike Riley, but he commented directly on my blog.  He was gracious even though I was slamming his tiny little conference in New Orleans:
Hyperion users are blessed with many training opportunities. I agree with Edward, the primary reason for going to a conference is to learn, but I disagree that Collaborate is the best place to do that. ODTUG Kaleidoscope, Collaborate, and OpenWorld all have unique offerings. 

It’s true that ODTUG is a smaller conference, however that is by choice. At every ODTUG conference, the majority of the content is by a user, not by Oracle or even another vendor. And even though Collaborate might seem like the better buy because of its scale, for developers and true technologists ODTUG offers a much more targeted and efficient conference experience. Relevant tracks in your experience level are typically consecutive, rather than side-by-side so you don’t miss sessions you want to attend. The networking is also one of the most valuable pieces. The people that come to ODTUG are the doers, so everyone you meet will be a valuable contact in the future.

It’s true, COLLABORATE will have many presentations with a number of those delivered by clients and partners, but what difference does that make? You can’t attend all of them. ODTUG’s Kaleidoscope will have 17 Hyperion sessions that are all technical. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a member of ODTUG for eight years and this is my second year as a board member. What attracted me to ODTUG from the start was the quality of the content delivered, and the networking opportunities. This remains true today.

I won’t censor or disparage any of the other conferences. We are lucky to have so many choices available to us. My personal choice and my highest recommendation goes to Kaleidoscope for all the reasons I mentioned above (and I have attended all three of the above mentioned conferences).

One last thing; New Orleans holds its own against San Francisco or Denver. All of the cities are wonderful, but when it comes to food, fun, and great entertainment there’s nothing like the Big Easy. 
Mike was only in his second year as a board member of ODTUG, but he was willing to put himself out there, so I wrote him an e-mail back.  In that e-mail, dated February 10, 2008, I said that for Kaleidoscope to become a conference that Hyperion users would love, it would require a few key components: keynote(s) by headliner(s), panels of experts, high-quality presentations, a narrow focus that wasn't all things to all people, and a critical mass of attendees.

At the end of the e-mail, I said "If Kaleidoscope becomes that, I'll shout it from the rooftops.  I want to help Kaleidoscope be successful, and I'm willing to invest the time and effort to help out.  Regarding your question below, I would be more than happy to work with Mark [Rittman] and Kent [Graziano] to come up with a workable concept and I think I'm safe in saying that Tim [Tow] would be happy to contribute as well.  For that matter, if you're looking for two people to head up your Hyperion track (and enact some of the suggestions above), Tim and I would be willing (again, I'm speaking on Tim's behalf, but he's one of the most helpful people on planet Hyperion)."


K(aleido)scope


Kaleidoscope 2008 ended up being the best Hyperion conference I ever attended (at the time).  It was a mix of Hyperion Solutions, Arbor Dimensions, and Hyperion Top Gun.  With only 4 months prep time, we had 175 attendees in what then was only an Essbase track.  Though it was only one conference room there in New Orleans, the attendees sat in their seats for most of a week and learned more than many of us had learned in years.

After the conference, Mike and the ODTUG board offered Tim Tow a spot on the ODTUG board (a spot to which he was later elected by the community) to represent the interests of Hyperion.  I founded the ODTUG Hyperion SIG along with several attendees from that Kaleidoscope 2008. I eventually became Hyperion Content Chair for Kaleidoscope and passed my Hyperion SIG presidency on to the awesome Gary Crisci.  In 2010, Mike talked me into being Conference Chair for Kaleidoscope (which I promptly renamed Kscope since I never could handle how "kaleidoscope" violated the whole "i before e" rule).  Or maybe I talked him into it.  Either way, I was Conference Chair for Kscope11 and Kscope12.

During those years, Mike worked closely with the Kscope conference committee in his role as President of ODTUG.  Mike rather good-naturedly ("good-natured" is, I expect, the most commonly used phrase to describe Mike) put up with whatever crazy thing I wanted him to do. In 2011, he was featured during the general session in several reality show parodies (including his final, climactic race with John King to see who got to pick the location for Kscope12).  I decided to up the ante in 2012 by making the entire general session about him in a "Mike Riley, This Is Your Life" hour and we found ourselves laughing not at Mike, but near him.  It included Mike having to dance with the Village Persons (a Village People tribute band) and concluded with Mike stepping down as President of ODTUG...

... to focus his ODTUG time on being the new Conference Chair for Kscope.  Kscope13 returned to New Orleans and Mike did a fabulous job with what I consider to be Hyperion's 5 year anniversary with Kscope.  Mike was preparing Kscope14 when I got a phone call from him.  I expected him to talk over Kscope, ODTUG, or just to say hi, but I'll never forget when Mike told me he had stage 3 rectal cancer.  My father died in 2002 of colorectal cancer, and the thought that one of my best friends was going to face this was terrifying... and I wasn't the one with cancer.

I feel that the Hyperion community was saved by Mike (what would have happened if we had all just given up after Collaborate 2008 was a major letdown?) and now it's time for us to do our part.  Whether you've attended Kscope in the past or just been envious of those of us who have, you know that it's the one place per year that you can meet and learn from some of the greatest minds in the industry.


Mike Helped Us, Let's Help Him


Kscope is now the best conference for Oracle Business Analytics (EPM and BI) in the world, and Mike, I'm shouting it from every rooftop I can find (although I wish when I climbed up there people would stop yelling "Jump!  You have nothing else to live for!").  I tell everyone I know how much I love Kscope, and on behalf of all the help you've given the Hyperion community over the last 5 years, Mike, it's now time for us to help you.

After many weeks of chemo, Mike goes into surgery tomorrow to hopefully have the tumor removed.  Then he has many more weeks of chemo after that. He's a fighter, but getting rid of cancer is expensive, so we've set up a Go Fund Me campaign to help offset his medical bills.  If you love Kscope, there is no one on Earth more responsible for its current state than Mike Riley.  If you love ODTUG, no one has more fundamentally changed the organization in the last millennium than Mike Riley.  If you love Hyperion, no one has done more to save the community than Mike Riley.  

And if after reading this entry, you love Mike for all he's done, go to http://bit.ly/HelpMike and donate generously, because we want Mike to be there at the opening of Kscope14 in Seattle on June 22.  Please share this entry, and even if you can't donate, send Mike an e-mail at mriley@odtug.com letting him know you appreciate everything he's done.