May 9, 2008

Solutions Road Trip - Future of Hyperion

Profitability Management was next in Al Marciante's presentation on the future of Hyperion. He pointed out that HPM (my new acronym for Hyperion Profitability Management) was the first application built from the ground-up using the System 9 framework (which is now the System 11 framework, I guess). For the first time, I finally understand what this application does (thank you, Mr. Marciante). It's basically a big allocation engine. It takes high-level costs and using a graphical interface, allocates them down through multiple stages along multiple dimensions. With the costs fully allocated, profitability can be analyzed! In other words, it's what we've been building for years in Essbase cubes just a whole lot easier to use than pages and pages of complicated Essbase calc scripts. He showed a screen shot of a traceability interface that allows a user to track his costs back graphically to see how he was allocated specific costs. We certainly couldn't do that with Essbase calc scripts. I think I'm going to like this application (now that I understand what the heck it does).

Al started off the discussion of the OBIEE+ products with a curious statement that I tried to write down word for word:
Oracle Answers+ is having the OLAP UI updated to access Essbase more like
Web Analysis does. Oracle products are the future direction, but IR, FR,
and WA will be around for a while.
I can draw two things from this: in the future, Financial Reporting, Web Analysis, and Interactive Reporting are going away; and they're probably being replaced with Oracle Answers+. While this is obviously subject to change, I've heard rumors along these lines from other people. If I was a betting guy (and it's been previously established that I am), I would start looking to Answers+ for my future development.

He did say that changes already underway for the OBIEE+ products would continue. The only interesting (to me) improvement to Financial Reporting is that a user will be able to annotate a report right on the report itself. The annotations can be across an entire report, down a column, across a row, or on a specific cell. Annotation types can include plain text, links to entire documents, or links to the web (URLs).

Aside from some graphical improvements, I didn't see much interesting in the way of new Web Analysis enhancements. Interactive Reporting 11 will include active sections embedded within documents, charting enhancements (the new charts look very pretty), and dashboard enhancements.

Workspace is being significantly enhanced. There was an entire slide of tiny bullets of which I was able to jot down just a couple. It seems that Workspace is also going to be carried forward and will most likely be the face of OBIEE going forward as well. Improvements I was able to jot down include improvements to searching (being able to find documents no matter what folder they're in), UI customization (hiding/showing specific menu items, filters, and other personalization), dynamic help, contextual navigation, and integration with Oracle WebCenter (whoopee!).

Al said that Smart View was here to stay. His exact quote was:
Oracle is standardizing on Smart View. OBIEE is even moving to Smart View.
I'm extremely pleased to hear this because we have a number of clients standardizing on Smart View for Microsoft Office integration. Standardizing on Smart View also means that Oracle will have a vested interest in fixing all the Smart View bugs, anomalies, and undocumented features in Smart View 9.3.x. Someone asked if the Essbase Add-In was disappearing because of the enhancements to Smart View 11. Al admitted that he didn't know when the Essbase Add-In was going away, but he did say that it was going to be still included in Essbase 11. He felt that it would be at least 2010 before enough people were comfortable with Smart View to drop the Essbase Add-In, but he also pointed out that all new functionality was only going to be made available in Smart View. Speaking of new functionality, Smart View enhancements include:
  • Report Designer. There will be a new designed in Smart View (it looks Excel only) that lets you build a complex report with multiple sections: a dashboard, for lack of a better term. Some sections could be grids, others could be charts, and still others could be objects like buttons & drop-downs.
  • Personal Views. This is awesome. One of the problems with Essbase cubes these days is that they're getting too big. A few years ago, most Essbase cubes had 5-9 dimensions and since users could actually comprehend them, it was good. Modern day Frankencubes have 10+ dimensions and users find it impossible to locate the data in the cube. Every day we hear cries of "I started drilling and all my numbers disappeared." Smart View Personal Views are supposed to cure that. First of all, administrators will be able to set default queries. If you have to specify a version, scenario, and year before any numbers appear, then your default query would include an already selected year, version, and scenario. That's not all, though: if you have a user that only needs to analyze 8 of 10 dimensions in your Essbase sales cube, then the user can be set to only see a slice of the cube with those dimensions being the only ones that the user ever sees. In other words, you can have one master cube that appears to be several different cubes depending on the user audience. This will allow a company to build one very large ASO cube with tons of dimensions without having users' heads explode (never a good thing).
  • Additional Data Sources. The new version of Smart View will add OBIEE, Hyperion Strategic Finance, and Hyperion Enterprise as data sources. That's right: Hyperion Enterprise is not only still alive and kicking, it's getting its Excel add-ins (Retrieve and Analyst) replaced with Smart View. Welcome to the 21st century, Enterprise users.
  • Ease of Use Improvements. There will be better flow of the user interface, default POVs (points of view), and default aliases in the new release. There is also a much improved connection manager. The old one required a user to know about provider types and sensitive URL strings. The new one looks more like Windows Explorer and is, in my opinion, 149 times easier to use. A user can finally log on without a crash course in Quantum Hyperion Dynamics.
  • Hyperion Planning. In the words of the great Al, "Excel will be the primary interface for Planning going forward. While users are happy doing HFM entries over the web, they seem to really want to use Excel as their means of sending in Planning data. Smart View is being expanded to become the primary interface for Hyperion Planning." He did say that it would be 2009 before Smart View was that primary interface, but there are several improvements to Smart View 11's access of Planning including form-based ad-hoc planning (you can now make forms that give a user a starting point for "ad-hoc planning"), the ability to launch Smart View from Planning web forms, and document attachment support.
Planning 11 will include the new Calculation Manager (which runs as part of EPM Architect). This will allow a user to graphically write rules that will become calc scripts behind the scenes. Yes, I know this sounds like Hyperion Business Rules circa 2004, but I'm told from someone who beta tested the new Calc Manager that it writes much better calc scripts than it did before. A user can even import templates with well-written scripts right into Calc Manager. Planning 11 also has a number of UI improvements including attaching documents, showing member formulas from a data form, hiding and showing rows dynamically, job status viewing, and folder security. As part of the Planning 11 beta, I've seen an entire 77-slide PowerPoint (yes, seventy-seven slides) on the new features of Planning 11. I encourage anyone who has Planning to request a copy of the new feature list from your Oracle Account Manager, because the changes to Planning in System 11 are massive. Once the product becomes generally available, I'll probably schedule a webcast to walk everyone through the new Planning 11 features.

Life Cycle Management will be released as part of System 11. This tool will allow an administrator to easily move objects (or entire applications) across servers. It's all done using XML files, and one of the beta testers told me it's very slick. The nice part about Hyperion using XML to do the application/object transfer is that if you wanted to, you could directly edit the XML files since they're plain text. This opens up the possibility of writing our own editors for objects without being stuck in the Hyperion way of doing things.

The other change Al mentioned for Oracle Hyperion EPM System 11 was that HAB (Hyperion Application Builder), Hyperion Objects, and a few other web-based development initiatives Hyperion tried over the years were all being replaced with Oracle JDeveloper (in Oracle ADF). While I'm glad that we're getting a single development environment, I'm sort of tired of having to change technologies every year or two. I'm hoping that they stick with JDeveloper for at least the rest of this decade.

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