March 4, 2008

Look Smarter Than You Are With Essbase: An End User's Guide

Tracy McMullen and I co-wrote a book on Essbase almost exactly one year ago. At the time, it was called Essbase for Mere Mortals until our trademark attorney identified some issues with the title which just goes to show you that trademark attorneys are worth every penny. We went through 6 or 7 different titles only to have every single one of them rejected by our trademark attorney on infringement grounds which just goes to show you that trademark attorneys are very frustrating. We finally got approval for the name Look Smarter Than You Are with Hyperion Essbase.

Sales in the first year have been phenomenal. At last check, we were one of the top 25 best selling books of all-time on (our publisher) and they publish over 10,000 titles. Normally a computer book has big sales shortly after the release but then sales die down over the lifetime of the book. Our sales last quarter were the biggest yet. Instead of an overnight bestseller, does that make us an overyear bestseller?

Feedback on the book has been mostly positive. People tend to like the humor and the step-by-step approach (as opposed to the more "look up specific stuff" method that the Essbase Database Administrator's Guide follows). My mother complained that the book cost too much, but she was the only one I heard that voiced that concern (Mom's exact quote was, "do I really have to spend $49.95 just to prove I love you?"). The only recurrent complaints were that the index page numbering was slightly off (fixed in the newest release) and that the book was too administrator-oriented to give to, say, an entire finance department.

Frankly, that last criticism was correct. While we built the first third of the book to be geared towards end users, it was immediately followed by a few hundred pages of material about building and administering cubes. While the information wouldn't harm an end user, it seemed silly to make people pay $49.95 for a book and then tell them not to read two-thirds of it. In a fit of (retail) inspiration, Look Smarter Than You Are with Essbase: An End User's Guide was born. It's primarily the same content as the full-blown guide, but with the administrative content removed (and with a new retail price of $29.95 to entice companies to buy in bulk for entire departments).

The book is in the final proofing stages and should be available on our publisher's site by end of March and it'll be on in late April or early May. The point of the book is to give end users of Essbase everything they need to know to slice and dice Essbase cubes from Excel, Word, PowerPoint, or whatever.

The last part of the book to be written was, oddly, chapter one. As readers of our other book
can attest, chapter one is the story that sets the tone for the entire book: this won't be your average, boring computer manual. In my last book, the first chapter was the completely true story of how I blacked out the entire city of New Orleans using only the power of Essbase (or so I thought). I finished chapter one of "An End User's Guide" at three o'clock this morning, so I thought I'd share it with you. It's humorous in a dark, dry sort of way (or at least I think it is after staying up until 3AM writing it). Subject to proofing revisions, here's Chapter One of Look Smarter Than You Are With Essbase: An End User's Guide:

Chapter 1:
How I Almost Killed a Man

In the worst of times, desperate men can be driven to commit acts of desperation. Case in point, I'm sitting in my cubicle at this moment, trying to figure out how to kill my boss with only the power of my thoughts. I've come to the conclusion that it would be much easier to kill him if 1) he was here at the office with me instead of home asleep in his bed; and 2) my brainwaves weren't reduced to brainripples since it's 3AM and budgets are due in six hours. I'll have to abandon the mental murder idea. On to Plan B: how to kill my boss using a luke warm Starbucks venti vanilla latte.

This isn't getting me anywhere. Murder probably isn't appropriate in a business situation and normally I wouldn't attack any of my coworkers with cold, milk-based drinks. How in the name of Odin did I end up like this? As best as my sleep-derived memory can recall, it started with a phone call from my boss, Mr. Deadman. The phone rang; my heart sank.

"Sorry to bother you on such a lovely day," he said. I knew he was looking out his window at the sunset as I stared at my graying, windowless cubicle wall. At least I have a picture of a kitten clinging to a branch with the inspirational quote "Hang on... help is coming" to keep my morale up.

"No, no bother. Any questions on the consolidated budget? They're due tomorrow, so there better not be any questions. You know how I like to leave every day by 5." Since I hadn't left before 6 in this millennium, I laughed at my own semi-joke until I noticed that I was the only one laughing. He didn't say a word.

The silence stretched on like... something that stretches on for a really long time. As I stared at my kitten poster for salvation, he said, "That's actually why I'm calling. I just need you to increase the IT hardware budget by 10%. Rising cost of servers, don't you know? No hurry, because I'm leaving for the day in just a couple of minutes. I won't even be able to look at the revised numbers until morning."

I could feel the anger rising as my morale deflated. I threw a pencil at the stupid kitten picture. Through gritted teeth, I managed to stammer, "Sure... no... problem..." and in my head I continued 'you jerk.'

With the perky voice of someone about to leave at 5:05PM, he said, "excellent, and since it's no problem, can you do me a favor and analyze the IT budget growth since last year? I'd do it myself but I have a doctor's appointment first thing in the morning and I won't be in until right before the budget review meeting."

I imagined that I was the one hanging from that kitten's little tree branch. He took my moment of wondering in entirely the wrong way. "Oh, don't worry, it's nothing serious. It's just a routine check up but I figured I'd do it before year end when things are going to get really hectic. Well, have a great one. Don't work too hard."

He chuckled as he hung up the phone. Yes, he actually chuckled. I ripped the kitten poster off the wall and got to work.

Updating the IT budget itself wasn't what took forever: it was consolidating all of our spreadsheets together. With over 200 Excel spreadsheets, I have to open up each one off the network share drive in exactly the right order, press F9, and then on to the next worksheet.

I ran into a frustrating situation around 11PM. After the initial submission of the budget sheets, someone had opened up his sheet and decided that things would be a bit prettier with one fewer column, so he deleted it. My summary workbook, of course, wasn't smart enough to pick up on this change, so my formulas were adding in the wrong column. I noticed around 11, but it took me until 3AM to find the problem and correct it.

Now we're back to where our story began. Budgets have been consolidated, all errant formulas have been corrected, and I haven't even started on the analysis my boss requested. It's at this point that I realize that there's virtually no way to kill someone with a latte (even a really tasty and worth every dollar Starbucks latte) so I'd need find a better plan. My eyes search my cubicle for implements of destruction.

My eyes wander past my red Swingline stapler and to my monitor where Excel is staring at me: mercilessly mocking me with its unnaturally straight gridlines. The numbers seem to be running across the screen and that's when I realize that I really need to take a nap. Wait. What is this menu item I see between Window and Help? Is this some form of salvation in the form of Essbase or is it just a mirage in the desert that is my existence?

Choirs begin to sing as I realize that the key to my getting a few hours of sleep lies in the hands of a little Excel add-in and its good friend, Essbase. No, they aren't real choirs but rather my iPod playing Beethoven's Ninth, but surely this must be a sign. Remembering everything I learned in that best-selling Essbase book I read, I raced to the Essbase menu and within minutes had resubmitted my budgets, consolidated them, and performed some pretty amazing analysis. I finished everything just in time to sing along with Ode to Joy in gleeful gibberish German.

I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, my boss was standing at the entrance to my cubicle wearing golf attire. Doctor's appointment, my ass. He spoke as I wiped the drool from the corner of my mouth.

"Wow, that outfit looks great on you. It looks even better on you today than it did yesterday. Say, what happened to your cat poster?"

It was balled up in my trash can at the moment, but I knew just where he should stuff it. I started to suggest it when he said, "I got the analysis you sent me at 4AM. I don't know how you got it done in time. It was wonderful."

Clearing thoughts of relocating my poster into one of his orifices from my head, I managed to eke out, "thank you?"

He smiled and put his hand warmly on my shoulder. I didn't immediately try to break his wrist which meant that my thoughts of death by mind/coffee were gone only to be replaced (momentarily) with thoughts of a sexual harassment lawsuit.

"While I'd love to take the credit, Mr. Deadman, I have to say that I couldn't have done it without Essbase. It saved my life last night" and yours to, I didn't add out loud.

He smiled from sunburned ear to sunburned ear. "Well, I always knew that buying Essbase was a good idea. I guess this proves it. You owe me one!"

He skipped off as I grabbed my copy of Look Smarter Than You Are with Essbase: An End User's Guide and threw it at his head.

Note that the authors of this book do not condone in any way killing people with your thoughts, your venti latte, or your copy of this book. While the story above is false, similar situations occur all the time. We hope that you learn from this book so that you don't do something you might regret after 5-10 years of hard labor. Don't wait until 3AM to recall your Essbase teachings. Read this book, learn how to use Essbase to your advantage, and please, get a good night's sleep.