I had a good talk with my prospective client (a university out of New York). They're having problems with their current Hyperion consulting firms. Standard story: over budget, way behind schedule (they're on year two of their Hyperion Planning implementation), and apparently, poorly designed. It doesn't sound like they're using any type of budgeting best practices, and from a technology standpoint, it's about as unoptimal as you can get. We're going to do a 2-3 week assessment out there to help them optimize what they currently have and determine how best to get them to the finish line of phase 1 of their project.
After lunch, I met with another consulting company that we might be interested in acquiring. They focus on a specific aspect of Hyperion consulting which is just starting to take off. While we could build up our own knowledge, it may be simpler just to acquire the knowledge.
I just sat through a presentation on the future of Essbase that was the first presentation at which I've learned anything helpful. Al Marciante was the primary presenter. Al and I go way back (we're both from DFW). He joined our "Solutions Road Trip to the South" event back in August to present on the Hyperion products beyond 9.3.1. This presentation is targeted just to the Essbase products. Al started with the standard disclaimer: we don't actually have to deliver anything we're talking about. In other words, if we can't get it working by the ship date, let's all pretend we never mentioned it.
There are four major aspects to which they want to target the future of Essbase: End User Experience, Powerful Analytics, Rich Data Types, and Deployment Flexibility.
End User Experience. They're going to expand one of the OBIEE components called Answers+ to go against Essbase. Essbase Visual Explorer will be able to define data mining models. I'm particularly excited about this one, because defining data mining models right now requires an administrator with degrees in statistical analysis, artificial intelligence, and MDX. It's apparently going to be a graphical interface to setting up mining scenarios.
The final addition to the end user experience is what they're calling "Personalized Office Analytics." This will dramatically improve the functionality of SmartView (so I'll finally have a reason to stop using the Essbase add-in:). SmartView will now have a designer for building reports/dashboards. The example they showed had 3 grids on the same Excel spreadsheet and they were all linked to a single point of view. OBIEE will now be a source for SmartView. The neatest feature is "filtered database views." This will allow a user to, for instance, take a 12-dimensional model and make it seem like it's a 4-dimensional model.
Powerful Analytics. A lot of this functionality is related to attribute dimensions. Some of the neater features include attributes that change over time, the use of attributes as filters (instead of just for aggregation like, show me all the products that are red), and attributes that support one to many relationships. The last one probably needs an example. Say you have a dimension called Customer and an attribute dimension called Salesperson. Large customers for example, may have multiple salespersons. Currently, Essbase would make you assign a single salesperson to a customer. In the future, you could assign the customer member to multiple attributes.
Expanding Data Types. Essbase in 9.5 and later will be able to handle non-numeric data. This is really cool. For instance, you could have a cube that houses addresses for customers. Now behind the scenes, the text/dates are being translated to numbers and then they are replaced with the text/dates at retrieval time. In other words, they're being implemented similarly to Hyperion Planning Smartlists, but at the database level. I can think of hundreds of cases where our customers could have benefitted from this over the years.
Deployment Flexibility. Cubes will now be supported where 100% of the data is being pulled real-time from a relational repository and only the outline is stored in Essbase. Essbase will be a source for OBIEE which doesn't excite me much, but I bet it excites a lot of OBIEE admins. Partitioning is being totally revamped, and one of the benefits of this is that ASO can now be the target of a replicated or transparent partition. There will be full life cycle management (robust functionality to move from development to QA to production and so on) of Essbase applications down to the object level. Exposed through Shared Services, there will even be audit reporting when things move from environment to environment.
Essbase Studio. There was also a demonstration of Essbase Studio, a new graphical modeling environment for building multiple Essbase cubes. It seems to combine EAS and EIS. It's very, from what I can tell, IT centric. Compared to EAS which can be easily explained to an end user, Essbase Studio requires an IT background. It uses words like schema and context a lot. They did say that Essbase Studio would be replacing EAS, so I'm a little worried about those end user admin types.
While the purpose of Essbase Studio seems to be to support companies that want to share dimensions, calc scripts, load rules, and so on between multiple Essbase outlines, it does add some neat drill through capability. While you could always drill from a data cell to relational detail (or a URL), drill-through has been expanded to allow drilling on members as well. For instance, you could click on a member called "Cola" and it would drill back to an on-line product catalog and show you a web page about the product name. Drill-through is now enabled to other types of data including FDM.
Oracle refused to give the timeframe for all this functionality other than "sometime in 2008," but based on the demo, it seems to be not far from beta. If I was a guessing man, I'd say that all of the functionality above is going to come out in Essbase 9.5 sometime in quarter one.
So overall, how was the presentation? Al's part was fairly entertaining. The demo guy seemed like he was a decent human being, but I think he made Essbase Studio seem far more complicated than it was. All in all, though, I'm excited about the future of Essbase. It's comforting to see that Oracle is putting significant R&D into future releases of Essbase.