Last Friday we enjoyed one of the special privileges we have in our partnership with Oracle in The Netherlands – we have a private session on one of Oracle’s latest products Enterprise Planning and Budgeting (announced as early as 2002 as successor to OFA and OSA – Oracle Financials and Sales Analyzer – finally released in October 2004 in a controlled release; more general availability is expected after Q1 2005, say April or May (the first new piece of information we gathered). Note that this visit to De Meern to learn more about EPB was triggered by two of our customers with specific questions, such as I discussed in a previous post Oracle (finally) announced release of Enterprise Planning and Budgeting. Our delegation consisted of a commercial representative, an analyst/developer, a business consultant and a technical consultant/architect/developer (that’s me).
EPB is a tool that primarily supports – as the name says – planning and budgeting. It completely handles the workflow around budgeting as well as integrating actuals (available from the CPM that is fed from either Oracle Apps or some 3rd party ERP system or an operational Data Warehouse) into the planning and forecasting process. It should replace Excel as the primary tool for creating budgets and trying to compare budgets and planning to actuals. It has 10 predefined Dimensions – such as time and geography – and allows another 20 Dimensions to be user defined. In the demonstration of EPB, we saw how a business process around a particular type of budget was set up. A template budget was created. The overall figures were derived from historical actuals, forecasted according to specific formulas. A group of users was given privileges (and responsbility) to revise/suggest/provide certain numbers in the budget – while being not able to change others. Limits were set for certain numbers – i.e. maximum or minimum thresholds (absolute or warning levels) were set for example for the number of people that could be dedicated or the number of working days with which could be calculated. When the workflow is started, all people involved are alerted of tasks they need to perform, for example review and complete budget. Using web based navigation and personalized pages, users can quickly find the particular budget they need to complete. Entering a budget takes no more than clicking a button. At that point, the workflow proceeds to the next stage and the personal budget just submitted can be merged into the overall budget. Complex workflows with extensive budgetsheets that would typically be large Excel-sheets are managed smoothly and strictly by EPB. One of the prime objectives with EPB is global consistency of the numbers. There is only one budget and only one set of numbers.
EPB does allow multiple versions of a budget. However, each version is completely consistent. It does not – surprisingly enough and somewhat disappointing – provide facilities for automatic comparison between different versions of a budget.
EPB sits at the strategic level of the stack of Oracle Analytical applications. Activity Based Management is another product at that level – that will probably be folded into EPB later this year. At the operational level you find the Daily Business Intelligence and Balanced Scorecard – both very much integrated with Oracle Apps. This Summer (2005) will see a Consolidation product that will provide legal consolidation. That will complement the current stack to allow Oracle to better competition against Hyperion and Frango (Cognos).
EPB is one of the tools that an organisation could implement during projects to achieve compliancy with regulations such as “sox” (Sarbanes Oxley) – that way not only will you get compliancy but a lot of additional business benefit at almost no extra costs.
In more or less random order some of our findings from this session:
- The benefits an organisation will get from using EPB will be larger as the organsation is bigger and more complex. One could almost say: only for real enterprises with complex business models and distributed workflows around planning and budgetting will EPB really pay off
- It is very much to be seen whether EPB will be used by organisation that do not make use of Oracle Apps (the Oracle EBusiness Suite). If these organisations go through the trouble of extracting data from their own data warehouse to provide to the data loader APIs of the CPM (the foundation for all Analytical Applications offered by Oracle) they can benefit from the EPB capabilities for Planning and Budgetting. Oracle Apps has standard out-of-the-box processes to upload relevant data to CPM.
- Technology: EPB is a browser based application, built with Oracle UIX frontend technology (rendering pretty rich HTML interfaces). I like web-architectures in general: distributing EPB is no more difficult than emailing a url, which is great. However, HTML – even UIX based – lacks the direct interactivity and seemingly smart interfaces that can be developed using real rich GUIs (such as Java Applets). I am not sure whether HTML currently offers the best user experience for EPB. I was confused by many of the screens and relatively simple tasks seemed to take many user actions as well as (partial) server roundtrips.
EPB uses the OLAP engine in the Oracle 9iR2 Enterprise Edition RDBMS (which is shipped with EPB). It creates Analytic Workspaces – based on a single “Shared” Analytical Workspace created from the relational data in the CPM – for various processes in EPB. Once a user starts working on a scenario or creating her or his own budget, EPB will create a Personal Analytical Workspace – behind the scenes. Once the user is done and the results can be merged into the general budget, this Personal AW is removed after having been merged into the Process AW.
The workflow is implemented using Oracle Workflow – the PL/SQL based engine that is heavily used by Oracle Apps.
- EPB can be installed stand-alone as well as integrated with the Oracle E-Business Suite (release 11.5.10 or later). If you install EPB stand-alone (also for Oracle Apps users with an older version than 11.5.10), you have to also install a substantial part of the Oracle Apps 11.5.10 Foundation – which amounts to some 4 Gb in supporting framework.
- Getting a Proof of Concept going using actual Customer Data will take no more than a couple of days (assuming the customer has Oracle Apps). That is to say: after two days, the customer will see his own data in EPB. Typically a full Proof of Concept – configuring a real Business Process and talking through the details – will take something like two weeks. The EPB training – that will allow students to configure business processes in EPB, do some administration and simply use the product – will probably take four days. The training should be available this Spring (beta-runs have already taken place).
- release of Oracle Discoverer OLAP (the Drake release) is expected two weeks after OOW – that means just before Christmas.