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24 November 2015

The end of OOW 2015, the Cloud, and us

A day late and a dollar short

Apologies for the tardiness of this, the incredible tardiness, really, but I have been beyond swamped by work.  I try not to bring my Cameron-actually-gets-paid-for-this-work life into this blog (although I am in fact not independently wealthy and must earn my crust) and this is `certainly not a marketing moment because I couldn’t market death during the Black Plague, but more of an excuse that this was an assessment to end all assessments (strategic, staffing, infrastructure – okay, that bit I merely stole incorporated someone else’s work – design, implementation, administration, etc., etc., etc.) and I had to put in an insane number of hours.  It wasn’t a chapter in a book (please, give me a few years to emotionally/financially/professionally recover from the latest) bit it was damn close.

Also, that was perhaps the most epic run-on sentence I’ve written since 7th grade.  Mrs. Baker, if you’re reading this, I know you’re proud of me.  Or perhaps mortified.

So with that hopefully accepted excuse and call out of my atrocious grammar, and since I’ve completely and totally missed the window for live blogging OOW 2015 (to put it mildly) I’m going to focus, as many others have done, with my take on the fairly momentous announcements this year.
One note before I dive into the meat of this -- for those of you who follow me on Twitter, I did live Tweet the conference.  It wasn’t quite like being there but it was as close as I could make it in real time.  Check me out at @CameronLackpour and yeah, this makes me a completely sad social media geek.  I promise not to tweet about hamburgers or inspirational sayings or how awesome I am – there is a surprisingly large amount of that, even in our space, and it’s drivel.  Of course, as what I post is also sometimes complete and utter crap, I suppose I am guilty of the same sin.  I also throw in an occasional retweet of @King Henry VIII, @sadserver, and @honest_update but otherwise I am all work, all the time which makes Cameron a dull boy.  Have truer words ever been written?

Back to the subject at hand, please don’t misunderstand what I am about to write as I find OpenWorld (OOW15) to be:  evincing, enervating, educational, and exhausting.  The product briefings and explanations of Oracle’s general product direction are always valuable.  But there has been a certain lack of excitement in the EPM space during the few years I’ve been attending OOW.  That sure wasn’t the case this year.

And finally, the point of this post

I’m going to try to look at what’s coming from the Cloud and what it means for us from a can-I-keep-my-job perspective for Planning and Essbase geeks; I’m simply not qualified to comment on the other applications except in the most general of ways.

Moving on from the products, the person I expect to read and hopefully get value from this is a geek who is somewhat concerned about what these tools will do to his continued employment.  Is there anything to worry about or is it all peaches and cream.

I think it’s the latter, and with luck the below will make you agree.

Brave New World

It’s a brave new world, and one that a number of consultants (like hangs out with like) have complained about or more accurately voiced fears about what it means for their skillset.

Will it still be technical?  Take a look at my younger, smarter, taller brother from a completely different set of parents, i.e., Celvin Kattookaran.  He’s doing all kinds of technical stuff with the cloud.  My (and your) inner geek can rest easy.

What about infrastructure consultants?  They are in a bit of a pickle as so much of the cloud offerings are to get around the Horror That Is EPM Infrastructure.  I’m not sure what to say about this one other than if they can do infrastructure, they can do functional EPM with their collective eyes closed.  But yes, the glory days of that seem to be on their way out, although there will be plenty of on-premises customers for quite a while to come.

Will there still be design work?  How could there not?  Businesses still have to figure out how to go from where they are to where they want to go, and how that journey fits in with the EPM product line.  We do that all the time unless we’re in code monkey gigs.  

Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service

It’s here, it’s been around for over a year, and it’s wildly popular.  I don’t know the exact numbers, but I do know that it’s far outselling new instances of Planning.  I would imagine there are also a fair number of conversions from on-premises to PBCS.

Given that’s a released product, all I can say is go have a gander at the exhaustive documentation here

It’s largely the same application with some wizards (Sample – same concept as before, Simple – quick and dirty, and Advanced – what we likely are familiar with using on-premises).

Note that are none of the specialized applications such as Workforce, Capex, etc.  You get to roll your own just as in the days of yore.

I don’t see a diminution in any kind of skills that your typical functional consultant or administrator exercises on a regular basis.

PBCS Enterprise aka Enterprise PBCS

Those missing sort-of-prebuilt modules we know (and sort-of-love) in on-premises Planning.  They’re in EPBCS, and quite a bit more.

This one’s a bit harder to understand from a skills perspective both because the product isn’t out and the details, at least to non-Oracle employees aren’t totally clear.  

What is clear is:  pre-built content, wizards out the wazoo – alliteration is our friend – for all kinds of Plan Types.  Financials, Workforce, Capex, and Project planning are all part of the product.

Here are some further details and before anyone gets excited, here’s the standard Oracle Safe Harbor statement:

The following is intended to outline our general product direction. It is intended for information purposes only, and may not be incorporated into any contract. It is not a commitment to deliver any material, code, or functionality, and should not be relied upon in making purchasing decisions. The development, release, and timing of any features or functionality described for Oracle’s products remains at the sole discretion of Oracle.

Also, before anyone else gets excited (I’m looking at you, Oracle) everything I’m going to note is publicly available from the OOW portal.  I saw some of this before the conference, and yes, my lips were sealed.  But now?  This is available to all.  Who knows if any of it will come true, cf. the Safe Harbor, but one can hope.

EPBCS will have Financials (bread and butter of Planning), Workforce (ibid.), Projects (Project Financial Planning), and Capital (Capex).  Nothing new here, nothing that at first blush that should make us worry.  

But it gets better.  Financials will have prebuilt components for Financials (Gross Margin), Expense (Opex, taking into consideration Capex and Workforce), Balance Sheet (tied to Income Statement and Cash Flow), and Cash Flow.

We’re not going to build this from scratch.  Do I care?  No I do not.  Are you really, really, really in love with integrating all of this?  Wouldn’t it just be better to figure out what’s needed and then put it together?  Right, I thought so.

Driver based planning, trending accounts, good old manual accounts – they’re all there and they’re out of the box, ready to go.

Here’s a flavor just on the Financials side of things.
Product Revenue:  Volume, Discount%, etc.
Services Revenue:  Service Hours/Rate drivers
COGS:  Material Unit Cost drivers, COGS%
Compensation (tie to WFP)
Selling Expense
Balance Sheet
Sources of Cash
Uses of Cash
Non-operating Cash Activities
Write off%
Inventory days
Trend Allocations
CY Actual Average
CM Actual
PY trends
Forecast avg and w/ seasonality
Revnue by employee, sales, margin
Expense by headcount, FTEs
Balance sheet ROE, ROA, RONA, ROC
Cashflow NPV, Discount rate

Good grief that’s a lot of things we don’t have to work out.  

There’s more, much more.  I’m excited in case you can’t tell.

Essbase Cloud Services

This is awesome and entirely different in its impact.  Whereas the Planning cloud products are all about simplifying and some would argue, deskilling us although I hope you’re now disabused of that notion, EssCS is anything but.

For the full details on this product, read my post here.  From a skills perspective, I think the impact of this will be huge.  Why?  

If Essbase works in the cloud as well as it does on-premises, and a customer doesn’t have to maintain infrastructure to support it, and Oracle patch it all the time instead of supporting a long list of currently active releases across a bewildering combination of products, OSes, application server types, hardware, and thus Oracle can improve the product continuously, etc., etc., etc., I think we’re going to be in a new world of Essbase awesomeness that will let us focus on design, not the messy bits of running the tool.

Building apps from Excel either through formatted sheets or a raw data feed with dimensionality (I’m still not exactly sure how this works but I think it’s akin to what we do today with loading data and dimensionality in one file is a vast simplification of the pretty much unloved EAS.  It’s easier, more intuitive, and faster.

What this means for us is that we can go ahead and design those Essbase databases, just as we always have, but without the pain that goes along with setting up infrastructure (not like I would ever do that) for a smaller client (sort of my customer base), or dealing with the bajillion tools (EAS, Studio, EPMA – shudder – or whatever else floats your Essbase boat) we have today.  It’s all of the awesomeness of Essbase since the Year Dot, with none of the pain.

That allows me (you) to focus on design, and not on the non-functional stuff that just gets in the way.

And that’s the point

EPM Cloud – at least as far as PBCS, EPBCS, and Essbase go – is all about letting functional practitioners focus on requirements, design, and implementation.  Get infrastructure out of the way, get the drudgery of building the basic Planning apps out of the way, bring Essbase back to its roots to get that enterprise-level noise out of the way.

It’s the power of EPM without the pain.  

It’s a focus on the functional design and implementation side of the tools.

It’s the future.

Does that deskill you?  Why would it?  

To steal a line from Jake Turrell, would you rather be a plumber, or an architect?

Be seeing you.

27 October 2015

OOW 2015, day 1 -- Essbase in the Cloud

It’s here, it’s here, it’s here

And it’s for real.  Essbase Cloud Service, aka EssCS has arrived.  And it’s pretty awesome.

I first heard about this from ER who found the release docs on Network54.  And then I promptly asked for his post to be deleted because I had no idea this was about to drop.  Oracle played the release pretty close to the vest.  Some partners may have been involved in a beta, but not me.  Or MMIC Glenn Schwartzberg, and if he didn’t know, I think very few do.

For details on all of the things that Essbase cloud means, I encourage you to read fellow ACE Director Eric Helmer’s excellent blog post.

I also encourage you to take a looky-look at the Essbase 12c documentation.

I’m not going to restate what either document, but instead give you an experiential take on what it’s like to use it from a developer’s point of view.  Yes, this is Cameron the touchy-feely guy.

A note about my mad photography skilz

The screenshots are, for the most part, taken from the side of the demo screen.  I wanted to stick my big head in front of everyone to take these snaps but thought I’d be torn limb from limb by the ultra Essbase geeks in attendance.  Also, I can’t take pictures to save my life.

With that caveat, off we go.

At the demo grounds with my peeps

Here’s Kumar Ramaiyer, Essbase development manager, and Natalie Delemar, ODTUG Kscope chairwoman, ODTUG Vice President, and all-around Essbase geek, about to go into the demo.  The crowd grew and grew.

More and more

The gaggle of geeks got bigger and bigger.  There’s the back of Gary Crisci’s head as well as the Planning product manager Shankar Viswanathan.  

The men responsible

Steve Liebermensch, where are you?  In his absence, here’s Gabby Rubin and Kumar Ramaiyer, product and development management.

The obligatory Safe Harbor

It wouldn’t be a demo without Oracle’s warning that what you see may indeed come true, or may never happen, and you shouldn’t make any decisions other than giving in to an extreme Essbase geekout.  Seriously, don’t drive your company’s strategy, commitments, etc., etc., etc. through what you see here (or in the demo grounds) because it could all change.

You’re looking at alpha code and I suspect many of the limitations will go away by the time it ships but who really knows.

Logging into the cloud

Where’s EAS?  Where’s Studio?  Nowhere to be found in the cloud.  They’re just too chatty.  But they will be available on-premises, at least for a while.  The strategy is evolving but I think they aren’t going away any time soon.

One note about the database you’re about to see:  Hybrid is the standard, which I find fascinating, although ASO can be built in a different way.

Importing a database into the cloud from metadata in Excel, yes, Excel

I’ve likely bored you with my first experience with Essbase:  1993 (or 1994 as I no longer remember), OS/2, Essbase 3.1, a Compaq 66 MHz 256 MB server under my desk.  Essbase was largely a departmental solution, managed by finance super users.  

That was then, this is now, and now Essbase is an enterprise level tool with all of the infrastructure complexity that implies.  

It isn’t that EssCS won’t be suitable for the enterprise, it’s that it will also be suitable for smaller instances.  This will, I think, lead to an Essbase renaissance as those enterprise chains will be broken.

Did you notice the >8 character name?  Finally, finally, finally, although my sort-of expertise of scrunching down a app/db name down to 8 characters will become obsolete with which I’m more than happy to see go bye-bye.

Yes, it’s Sample.Basic metadata in Excel

What does that mean?  It means users/admins can build Essbase databases not through a hierarchy management tool, e.g., EAS or Studio, but directly from metadata stored in Excel which is then uploaded.  

Excel is a tool almost everyone in every department uses and understands.  So why not have the analysis tool be the Essbase administration tool?  Exactly.

Do you see the tabs?  Each one is a separate dimension.  Within a given dimension, you can see how the metadata is defined as well as the parent-child hierarchy.  I have to confess I didn’t ask why all of the dimensions are defined here as well as in the separate tools.  I’ll try to find out.

Editing the outline in the admin console

Excel isn’t the only interface – you can still directly edit the dimension although not in a manner familiar to EAS/AppMan users.

Currency conversion is not dead

The 12c ReadMe says it’s no longer supported.  And yet here it is.  Is it different?  Good question but I have no idea.

Member formulas and Kumar’s finger

Member formulas can still be entered manually.


Want a change log?  Here it is.

You’ve imported it, now export

Outlines go both ways – no different than EAS today.

Note the tabs, note the formula

We saw before that member formulas can be made directly in the admin console; they can also be done in the Excel metadata file.

Solve order?  BSO/Hybrid?

Where did that come from?  Shades of the ASO engine on top of BSO in Hybrid?  Probably.

Note well

Database notes are alive and well, as are data and metadata uploads.

Btw, love the >8 character names.  Like a rainstorm in a drought.

Run it and monitor it

There’s a console, conceptually similar to Planning, FDMEE, and Shared Services.

Load data

File, SQL, file name, abort on error, but NO LOAD RULES.  Actually they will be there, somehow, maybe on-premises only, but I’m not sure.  Fingers crossed on their timely demise but dreams don’t always come true.  :)

What’s going on?

Here’s the data load showing that all is well.
Did it work?

Attributes?  Yep.

There was a question today on Network54 re attributes in EssCS – it sure looks like it’s included.

Calc script editor

They’re not dead!  How could they be?

Sandboxing in Essbase

This was demoed at Kscope15, but it’s the concept of different users entering different values.  An admin looks at them via process management and decides what to merge/release.  It is Pretty Cool.

A list of scenarios.

Sandboxing process management

Commenting on a sandbox scenario

Scenario console

Loading data and metadata simultaneously to ASO

ASO isn’t dead.  In fact it’s the default for a combined data and metadata load.  Again through Excel although I believe .csv and database loads will also be possible, but don’t hold me or Oracle to that.

Can you mobile adminster EssCS?  Yep.

From the sublime to the ridiculous but not really.

First off, this is mega cool.

Secondly, I can actually see a use case on something a bit larger than on an iPhone 5 being generated on the fly – you’re in a meeting, need to look at results quickly, and aren’t in front of your laptop.  While today that scenario does require a laptop it means you popping off to your office to do just that.  It’s no longer necessary.

Here’s a load from DropBox.  Yes, DropBox.  OMG so cool.  And flexible.

Can it be edited on mobile?  Why yes it can.  

Smart View in the cloud

That’s not actually correct, this is on-premises Excel connecting to EssCS.

What does this all mean?

Here’s how I see it:
  1. Essbase will – optionally – go back to its departmental roots.  Will it replace Exalytics?  No, it’s not there, and will likely never be.
  2. Essbase applications will be easier to implement than ever.  
  3. Does anyone love owning EPM architecture?  Just what I thought.  This obviates that ownership.  Cue general joy except for infrastructure consultants.
  4. EssCS will lead, on-premises will follow.  It’s frustrating but like any other business, the Essbase team have to follow the money which in this case is Cloud funding.  There’s a commitment to bring functionality to on-premises but EssCS will always lead.
  5. Given that EssCS is by default Hybrid, we have yet another confirmation that Hybrid is the direction for Essbase.  Cue general joy again.
  6. Given Hybrid’s central role, upper level cross dimensional tuples will have to be supported.

There’s an awful lot I don’t know, and an even more awful lot I didn’t quite understand, and alas quite a bit I’ve already forgotten.  

What’s really importing is that Essbase is progressing, a lot, quickly.  We’re all going to be challenged to keep up with the tool.

It’s very exciting times.

Be seeing you.