Laser Tag for Cloud Analytics

A friendly game of laser tag between out-of-shape technology consultants became a small gold mine of analytics simply by combining the power of Essbase and the built-in data visualization features of Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC)! As a “team building activity,” a group of Edgewater Ranzal consultants recently decided to play a thrilling children’s game of laser tag one evening.  At the finale of the four-game match, we were each handed a score card with individual match results and other details such as who we hit, who hit us, where we got hit, and hit percentage based on shots taken.  Winners gained immediate bragging rights, but for the losers, it served as proof that age really isn’t just a number (my lungs, my poor collapsing lungs).  BUT…we quickly decided that it would be fun to import this data into OAC to gain further insight about what just happened.

Analyzing Results in Essbase

Using Smart View, a comprehensive tool for accessing and integrating EPM and BI content from Microsoft Office products, we sent the data straight to Essbase (included in the OAC platform) from Excel, where we could then apply the power of Essbase to slice the data by dimensions and add calculated metrics. The dimensions selected were:

  • Metrics (e.g. score, hit %)
  • Game (e.g.Game 1, Game 2, Total),
  • Player
  • Player Hit
  • Target (e.g. front, back, shoulder)
  • Bonus (e.g. double points, rapid fire)

With Essbase’s rollup capability, dimensions can be sliced by any one item or at a “Total” level. For example, the Player dimension’s structure looks like this:

  • Players
    • Red Team
      • Red Team Player 1
      • Red Team Player 2
    • Blue Team
      • Blue Team Player 1
      • Blue Team Player 2

This provides instant score results by player, by “Total” team, or by everybody. Combined with another dimension like Player Hit, it’s easy to examine details like number of times an individual player hit another player or another team in total. You can drill in to Red Team Player 1 shot Blue Team or Red Team Player 1 shot Blue Team Player 1 to see how many times a player shot an individual player. A simple Smart View retrieval along the Player dimension shows scores by player and team, but the data is a little raw. On a simple data set such as this, it’s easy to pick out details, but with OAC, there is another way!

Laser Tag 1

Even More Insight with Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC)

Using the data visualization features of OAC, it’s easy to build queries against the OAC Essbase cube to gain interesting insight into this friendly folly and, more importantly, answer the questions everybody had: what was the rate of friendly fire and who shot who? Building an initial pivot chart by simply dragging and dropping Essbase dimensions onto the canvas including the game number, player, score, and coloring by our Essbase metric “Bad Hits” (a calculated metric built in Essbase to show when a player hit a teammate), we discovered who had poor aim…

Laser Tag 2

Dan from the Blue team immediately stands out as does Kevin and Wayne from the Red team!  This points us in the right direction, but we can easily toggle to another visualization that might offer even more insight into what went on. Using a couple of sunburst type data visualizations, we can quickly tie who was shooting and who was getting hit – filtered by the same team and then weight by the score (and also color code it by team color).

Laser Tag 3

It appears that Wayne and Kevin from the Red Team are pretty good at hitting teammates, but it is also now easy to conclude that Wayne really has it out for Kevin while Kevin is an equal opportunity shoot-you-in-the-back kind of teammate!

Reimagining the data as a scatter plot gives us a better look at the value of a player in relation to friendly fire. By dragging the “Score” Essbase metric into the size field of the chart, correlations are discovered between friendly fire and hits to the other team.  While Wayne might have had the highest number of friendly fire incidents, he also had the second highest score for the Red team.  The data shows visually that Kevin had quite a few friendly fire incidents, but he didn’t score as much (it also shows results that allow one to infer that Seema was probably hiding in a corner throughout the entire game, but that’s a different blog post).

Laser Tag 4

What Can You Imagine with the Data Driving Your Business?

By combining the power of Essbase with the drag-and-drop analytic capabilities of Oracle Analytics Cloud, discovering trends and gaining insight is very easy and intuitive. Even in a simple and fun game of laser tag, results and trends are found that aren’t immediately obvious in Excel alone.  Imagine what it can do with the data that is driving your business!

With Oracle giving credits for a 30-day trial, getting started today with OAC is easy. Contact us for help!

A Safe Step into the Cloud: The Argument for Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS)

Before forecasting models, before fancy dashboards and pretty reports, before a data point is even considered “Actual” comes the age old question…

                “Does this number even look right?”

Bulls*#!

Account reconciliations – the means by which this question is answered – are a fundamental part of the financial close process. Imagine you are trying to build a sandcastle. Now imagine your “sand” is harvested from a cow pasture. You *could* continue to build this “sandcastle,” but you will likely finish with a pile of…bull-sand. In the same way, if your account balances and transactions have an integrity equivalent to “bull-sand,” this will inevitably lead to problems down the line.

sandcastle_collapsing_400px

The shift to the Cloud has complicated the decision-making process when considering new enterprise-wide application tools. The choice of whether to go with a known “on-premise” solution or take a bold step into Cloud solutions is a daunting one, particularly when considering moving high-visibility cycles such as forecasting or financial consolidations into this brave new world.

A Justified Recommendation

Take the measured move instead. If you feel hesitant to go “all-in” on Cloud offerings, here are four reasons why you should consider entering the Cloud through the arch of ARCS…the ARCSway (Get it?…archway…ARCSway…never mind – just keep reading…)

Safe Bet on a Strong Foundation

Oracle introduced Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS) as the “one stop shop” solution for managing and streamlining the reconciliation cycle in the Cloud back in 2016. While it’s not uncommon for some EPM products to lose functionality during their initial transition into the Cloud space, ARCS retains the “good bones” of its on-premise counterpart – Account Reconciliation Manager (ARM). ARCS builds upon the clever functionality and customizability of ARM, released in 2012, yet with the slick look and feel of the Oracle Cloud experience.

Since its release, ARCS has become the “golden child” of the reconciliation product family, receiving not only “first dibs” on refinement of existing capabilities, but also benefiting from the newest components such as Transaction Matching (note: this has separate licensing than the Reconciliation Compliance component of ARCS).  As the product continues to gain steam, this trend is expected to continue. Between utilizing the tried-and-true foundation of the ARM tool and having Oracle’s watchful eye, ARCS is a safe bet.

No Mistakes with Modularity

Unlike some applications, ARCS is easy to implement in pieces. While good design will certainly prevent future heartache, there are no decisions made on Day 1 of a project that cannot be modified or enhanced in the future:

  • Want to manually enter data for reconciliations today, but automatically load them from a source system tomorrow? We can do this.
  • Missing fields for additional detail you would like users to include? Can be ready for next period (or the current one even!)
  • Only want to rollout in one country to start? No problem – go ahead and make the other entities jealous!

While some changes are “cleaner” than others (I am looking at you, Profile Segments!), ARCS welcomes you to “test the waters” and see what works in your company without needing to go “all-in.” For example, a current client has a live ARM application that provides a viable solution for its reconciliation process needs given the initial project timeline and budget. Although the client wasn’t able to fully utilize the available functionality at the time, the modularity of the reconciliation tools (both ARM and ARCS) allows the opportunity for enhancements without punishing this design decision – we are now revamping the client’s auto-reconciliation setup to further streamline the process. For Partners, this means additional project phases; for clients, this means not biting off more than you can chew (win-win!).

Fast Implementation Cycles and Rapid ROI

Relative to other EPM project lifecycles, ARCS is typically a quick implementation. As with all projects, there are certainly exceptions, but with Ranzal’s “Quick Start” methodology, we have stood up applications in just six weeks! A strong inventory of project “accelerators” – custom tools and scripts that Ranzal has developed based on common requests across multiple clients – allows sophisticated deployments in a timely manner. Couple this with the inherent time saving benefits of Cloud technology (i.e. lack of infrastructure setup, etc.), and ARCS shines as the first step in a Roadmap, producing tangible metrics for evaluation (ex. completion percentages per period, timeliness per Preparer/Reviewer, reconciliation accuracy, etc.) and giving users a taste of the Oracle Cloud experience in a short period of time.

You Don’t Have Anything Today and It’s Costing You

I know that may read like a presumptuous fear tactic, but hear me out:

Account reconciliations ARE being completed in your company – one way or another. Whether that means your CPAs are *click*click* clicking away on their keyboards to manually update Excel spreadsheets or – heaven forbid – actually printing out recons to hand sign, if you cannot name the system that is comprehensively handling your reconciliation cycle, it’s because there isn’t one.

And this is normal. But there are costs associated with this normalcy.

Reconciliation cycles aren’t sexy (well…personal taste…) and often have low visibility to upper management. And yet (!) the reconciliation process is often widespread across the company spanning business entities, departments, and corporate ladders (I see you, Mr/s. Director signing off on recons). ARCS is an attractive option when considering enterprise-wide Cloud solutions to “test run” because everyone can try it. A successful ARCS implementation paves the way for easier adoption of future projects – it gets everybody onboard.

Step Through the “ARCSway” and Ditch the Bulls*#!

The shift to the Cloud is disrupting the traditional market of on-premise EPM solutions. As you look at the new strategic options available to your company’s roadmap, consider ARCS as a “first step.” Of note, it is important to have an accurate understanding of the tool – ARCS is first and foremost a management tool, and although it can provide helpful information in troubleshooting account variances, it does not replace actually performing a reconciliation in an ERP system. Additionally, customizing reports can be difficult (unless you are familiar with BI Publisher), although the out-of-the-box reports and strong dashboarding capabilities largely make up for this limitation. All-in-all, I strongly recommend this product as an introduction to the new Oracle offerings. ARCS’ “low risk, high reward” nature provides real company value quickly while presenting you with a good picture of life in the Cloud. Now is the perfect time to ditch your “bull-sand” reconciliation process and update to a more solid foundation in the Cloud through the ARCSway.

Contact us today for details about a custom Cloud solution for your business needs.

Large Sandcastle

Enterprise Data Management Cloud Service (EDMCS) – First Impressions

Continuing its momentum with Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) Cloud initiatives, Oracle recently released Enterprise Data Management Cloud Service (EDMCS). Here are some initial impressions of the application to provide fundamental information and spark discussion.

First, some background: these observations are based on an actual project from working with a client who was 1 of 3 selected for the EDMCS Early Adopter Program. This client is essentially going all-in on Oracle EPM Cloud, with Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service (PBCS), Financial Consolidation and Close Cloud Service (FCCS), and Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS). One on-premise component, Financial Data Quality Management Enterprise Edition (FDMEE), is also in the mix. This client quickly realized its reporting structures between the Planning/Budgeting and Financial Close/Consolidation worlds, while not identical, were similar and contained a high degree of shared structures. The idea of maintaining these reporting structures in multiple tools did not make sense, leading the client to inquire about EDMCS. After an evaluation, Oracle selected them to participate in the early adopter program for EDMCS with Edgewater Ranzal as the implementation partner.

EDMCS = DRM in the Cloud, Right?

Well, not exactly, but that’s not necessarily the right question to ask. EDMCS is NOT a lift-and-shift of Data Relationship Management (DRM) to the Cloud. Yes, there are similar concepts and constructs in EDMCS that a DRM administrator will quickly grasp (Add/Insert/Delete/Remove of members, Shared members, properties, and node types to name a few). But EDMCS utilizes a different philosophy to manage your enterprise master data along with a different data model, all geared around effective master data management for EPM Cloud products. It’s crucial to adopt a new mindset as you embrace EDMCS and not be constrained by “this is how DRM did it.”

With EDMCS, you will immediately notice new functionality such as the capability to create an Enterprise Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service (EPBCS) or PBCS application in EDMCS, which provides the built-in connectors, properties, and validations for those target applications. Simply step through the Register Application wizard, specify your dimensions and plan types, and EDMCS will automatically build the rest for you. The built-in properties and validations enforce constraints and business rules to ensure no changes can be made that could break EPBCS/PBCS.

For other use cases, EDMCS provides the ability to create a custom application along with custom properties. As EDMCS matures, the number of packaged connectors, applications, and validations will surely increase.

So, the Data Model is Different?

The EDMCS data model is quite different from DRM. Understanding the EDMCS data chain is crucial to effective administration, especially given new concepts such as Viewpoints, Hierarchy Sets, and Node Sets.

Key data objects include:

  • Node Type – a collection of nodes and associated properties for your application
  • Hierarchy Set – defines the parent-child relationships of nodes
  • Node Set – defines a group of nodes available for a viewpoint. This may include all nodes in a hierarchy set or a subset of nodes
  • Viewpoint – the other data objects come together to provide the viewpoint, which is essentially the “hierarchy” you interact with to modify nodes, parent-child relationships, and properties

The diagram below, taken from the Oracle EDMCS Administration Guide, is a useful reference as you start to build out your EDMCS applications. Future blog posts will explore these key constructs in more detail.

EDMCS Figure 1

Does EDMCS include Data Relationship Governance (DRG)?

Not yet, but workflows, approvals, separation of duties, and other data governance goodness is on the roadmap for EDMCS. But fear not! EDMCS already provides a “request” mechanism. Modifications to master data can only be performed within the context of a request. Requests can include interactive changes through the UI or batch loading of changes through an Excel request file (think of request files like automator or action scripts, but easier to use and yes, in Excel!). Comments can be included with a request and, continuing with one of the strongest features of DRM, requests provide auditability by capturing the who/what/when/where of every change performed in EDMCS.

How is the User Interface?

One of my favorite features is the visual feedback EDMCS provides as you make changes within a request. As you add, insert, remove, delete, reorder, or modify a member, visual icons and highlights are displayed for that member in real-time to capture the action being performed on that member. You basically get a preview of the change before it’s committed. Changes to properties are visually highlighted and easy to spot. Validations are performed as the request is in Draft status and instantly flag any violations with error messages highlighting the problem node and issue.

Summary

Overall, EDMCS is an exciting entry into the EPM Cloud market and a foundational tool critical to maximizing your EPM Cloud investment. While DRM administrators will experience an adjustment period as they learn EDMCS due to the data chain and new terminology, they will be pleasantly surprised with the available functionality such as pre-packaged connectors and properties for PBCS/EPBCS, the use of requests (and did I mention you can load Excel files?!), and the real-time visual feedback as you modify and validate your master data.