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Why BI Is Ripe - NOW! - For Businesses of Any Size
is also known as :
Oracle Business Intelligence
Comprehensive Business Intelligence
Oracle Hyperion System
Business Intelligence System
Scalable Set of Business Intelligence
Introduction to Business Intelligence,
Business Intelligence Software,
Why BI is Ripe,
Business Intelligence and ERP,
Business Intelligence Planning,
ERP Business Intelligence,
Business Intelligence Performance,
Enterprise Performance Management,
Online Analytic Processing,
Business Intelligence Capabilities,
Oracle E-Business Suite,
Business Intelligence Consulting,
Oracle Online Analytic Processing,
Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition.
Exploring the Vast Potential of BI and EPM
By Al Perlman
When Rob Gordon joined Taleo as director of finance
about 18 months ago, he knew something had to be done -quickly - about the company's antiquated budgeting and
Taleo, a pioneer in creating talent management solutions
and in providing software as a service, was approaching
$120 million in revenue and had more than 600 employees.
Yet, in finance, it was not quite so innovative or dynamic.
"We had two or three financial analysts and a director
and we were stuck in 'Excel world,'" Gordon recalls. "It
was somewhat manageable - everyone was sitting in close
proximity to each other - but it just wasn't practical."
Every month Gordon had to provide management with a
new high-level rolling forecast for the remainder of the year.
How did he do it?
"I'd put my finger in the wind and hope to catch something,"
At the time, though, it was no laughing matter.
Gordon recognized the need for Taleo to move to a financial
reporting system that was as progressive as the rest
of his company: A system that would take advantage of
technology advances that were becoming available to businesses
of all sizes.
Gordon had some very clear objectives: The information
presented to Taleo managers and employees had to be accurate,
current and easily shared; it had to be consistent in
providing one version of the truth; and it had to support reporting
in multiple currencies.
Beyond all of that, the solution had to address Taleo's
long-term needs for flexibility and scalability - this was,
after all, a rapidly growing, high-profile public company -yet it also had to provide a simple upgrade path for a group
of financial planners and business managers who were already
quite comfortable in Excel.
The solution Gordon chose was the Hyperion Essbase
online analytic processing (OLAP) server, which is part of
Oracle's highly integrated and highly scalable set of Business
Intelligence (BI) and Enterprise Performance Management
It took only three months for Taleo to go from its decision
to use Oracle Hyperion Essbase to getting the initial deployment
phase up and running. And the benefits were immediate:
The system went live on Dec. 9, 2007, and by
January 2008, Gordon and his team had used it to present
their first draft of an annual budget.
"We could not imagine turning around a budget in Excel
within a month," Gordon says. "We were able to decentralize
the planning process and have everything roll up into a
single database. And we're finding that the capability of our
reporting is much more powerful now. Our managers are
asking for - and getting - many more cuts of the business
than they ever thought possible. For instance, capital: If an
executive wants to know how much is in the capital fund,
we just put it into the system and we can tell exactly how
much capital is available and how much of that is depreciation
"I'd put my finger in
the wind and hope to
Addressing The Needs of Mid-Sized Businesses
The Taleo that Gordon joined 18 months ago was - and
still is - fairly typical of a large portion of small and midsized
businesses. For many of these companies, the idea of
financial planning is whatever information they can generate
on Excel spreadsheets. And, like Gordon of 18
months ago, many of them still have their fingers in the
Fortunately, however, it doesn't have to be that way anymore.
The concepts that Taleo embraced a year and a half ago
- concepts built around business intelligence and ERP -are now within the reach of almost all businesses. In particular,
these solutions are especially attractive and compelling
for those in what is often called the mid-market -companies of $25 million to $1 billion in sales, or smaller
companies in emerging markets such as energy, technology
"We're seeing a big wave in the emerging and mid-market
areas for companies needing business intelligence capabilities,"
says Lisa Davis, the CEO and founder of
Analytics Partners, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based supplier of
business intelligence and EPM solutions built around the
Oracle product line. "These companies are finding that it is
critically important for them to know their customers, to
know what they're spending, to know which customers are
profitable and which aren't.
"With the economic challenges businesses are facing,
companies are getting more proactive - they're saying, ‘I
need to know what's going on NOW - why did this happen,
how did it happen, why did we not know,'" Davis continues.
"We tell them, ‘If you're not getting the right
information at the right time, how can you afford not to do
this?'Businesses have got to be able to look at information
over time and learn from it. If not, in today's economy, they
could be under tomorrow."
The idea that businesses of all sizes should have real insight
into their operations and their customers - to be able to
do their planning, forecasting, modeling and adjusting based
on data that is current, accurate, accessible and flexible - is
at the core of today's expanding BI and EPM market.
Spearheading and driving this market with its typically
aggressive approach is Oracle, a company that has always
been a pioneer in developing progressive and industrial
strength software solutions for businesses, particularly
among the larger global enterprise companies.
Oracle, through acquisitions and its own software development,
has turned its attention to the mid- market with a
coordinated approach that is powerful, innovative and -most important - highly attuned to the needs and price
points demanded by mid-market and emerging companies
requiring leading-edge BI and EPM solutions.
"Business pains are very much in common across all
sizes of business," says Colin Dover, director of Business
Intelligence and Enterprise Performance Management at
Oracle. "Everyone needs reporting, everyone develops silos
of information - little buckets of data - that are much more
valuable when they're combined so the business can move
towards a 360-degree view of their customers and their own
Oracle's approach to the market reflects its vision that
business intelligence represents a broad continuum. Companies
can start with a system that focuses on one area of
the business - as Taleo has in finance - and provides solutions
for very specific requirements, such as planning,
budgeting and forecasting.
Then, as the company's needs and capabilities grow, it
can expand into a business-wide EPM solution that provides
a much broader view of the company and its customers,
with a system that links sales and finance and HR
and manufacturing so that, as Dover suggests, the company
can have a 360-degree view and make decisions based on
accurate, current and actionable information. The common
thread, Dover believes, is a system that enables the business
to act on information that is predictive of what will
happen in the future.
"Anyone who is doing budgeting, planning and forecasting
should be part of the business intelligence conversation,"
Dover says. "This is something that Oracle is leading
- BI has traditionally told you what you did and what you're
doing. It's something like a rear-view mirror. With EPM,
the ethos is a past, present and future perspective, where
you really do have insight into your customers. The business
can understand why certain customers are valuable,
which ones are the most profitable, which ones cost the
most to maintain. It enables managers to tune the business
more readily - identifying the most profitable customers so
the company can find more of them that fit that kind of profile."
Oracle's range of offerings to mid-size and emerging
companies reflects its vision that: (1) BI and EPM solutions
can be embraced by companies of all sizes, and (2) Building
BI and EPM solutions is a process: Some companies
will necessarily start smaller than others and focus on specific
areas of the business where they will be able to see immediate
Taleo is an example of a company using a specific solution
for a specific business function, in this case Essbase
for financial reporting and forecasting. As the company
considers expanding its BI and EPM capabilities to other
parts of the business - for instance, adding a BI solution for
the sales organization - it can layer in the Oracle Business
Intelligence solution, which can surface data from the Essbase
If it wants to start small, it can purchase the Oracle
Business Intelligence Standard Edition, which is targeted for small and mid-sized businesses, and has a starting
price point of $1,000 per user, with a minimum of five
users. If it were to decide to take on a major EPM initiative,
it could opt for Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise
Edition, which is a fully featured solution. From the
customer's standpoint, the advantage is that it can start
with the Standard Edition and migrate to the Enterprise
Edition without having to change anything that it has already
Certainly, the aggressive moves by Oracle to extend into
the mid-market have been welcome and reassuring to companies
in the market. After all, when the dominant player
in enterprise software extends its reach with an aggressive
commitment to the next level, it makes for a strong statement
that can help to galvanize a market.
Beyond the statement, however, is the reality that Oracle's
commitment means a comprehensive, integrated approach
to business intelligence and EPM as well as an
upward path for companies to expand their use of BI and
EPM as their companies grow and as they recognize the
benefits of bringing in additional departments, business
functions and operations.
For Gordon at Taleo, one of the key reasons he turned to
the Oracle Essbase solution was its Excel add-in feature,
which meant that the finance department, as well as others
in the organization, could still work in Excel. "That was a
strong selling point," Gordon recalls. "Our managers are
comfortable in Excel."
The other features that pointed to an Essbase solution
were its ability to handle multiple currencies and the flexibility
afforded by its Web capabilities in creating and designing
forms that Taleo could structure for its own
requirements, Gordon says.
Now, when Gordon does his monthly forecasting, he no
longer has his finger in the wind. "Every month we forecast
the rest of the year," Gordon says. "Every month we
see if we are tracking to our plan and deviating in any way.
Our Oracle Hyperion system gives us great flexibility to do
that and enables us to quickly adjust operations. If the forecast
shows we're going to miss target, for instance, we can
do something about it. We have the flexibility to pull levers
and not be blind-sided."
In fact, Gordon's only regret about the system is that he
wasn't there to get it installed sooner. "When I joined we
were approaching $120 million in revenue and, frankly, we
could have used the system a little sooner than that," Gordon
says. "I would have liked to have seen it when we were
approaching, say, $50-$75 million in revenue and 300 employees.
That's when the company definitely hit that point
where we needed to change the infrastructure."
Orchard Supply: Easing The Pain Around Planning
As with Taleo, it's not unusual for the finance department
to be the entry point for a business to get into utilizing BI
and EPM solutions. "Those who describe forecasting and
planning - guys running spreadsheet models - they recognize
that those pieces need to be integrated to have real
value," Dover says.
That has been the case at Orchard Supply Hardware, a
San Jose, Calif.-based chain of hardware and home improvement
stores with 85 locations throughout the state of
California. Two years ago the company started implementing
an Oracle Hyperion system "to get us out of the pain
we were feeling around planning," says James DeBenedetti,
a senior financial analyst who manages all aspects of the
Hyperion systems applications at Orchard Supply.
"We were tired of doing our budgeting and planning in
Excel," DeBenedetti recalls. "Before we rolled out Essbase,
our fiscal budget took about nine months. We really needed
to find other options to address the multiple spreadsheets
that we had that were not consolidated and not updated.
With the Essbase system we did the first pass on our budget
in about seven weeks."
The system is currently supporting about 75-80 people
out of the approximately 250 people working out the company's
home office. It is used for all financial planning and
reporting functions across all departments - marketing, finance,
human resources, accounting, store planning, real
estate and IT. "Anybody who has to do a budget for a cost
center," DeBenedetti says.
Previously these individuals would come up with a number
on a spreadsheet. Now, he says, they are directly inputting
their plans and forecasts into the database. "This
way the financial plan is always in the database and it's always
accessible and up to date," DeBenedetti says. "Our
planners and business executives can pull up online reports
and they can get the most current thinking, as opposed to
asking the finance department to create reports and get back
to them in an hour or a day or however long it used to take."
Orchard Supply is also using an Oracle Hyperion Web
Analysis tool to create an executive dashboard that provides,
among other things, current sales trends, weather
forecasts - important for managing inventory in the home
improvement industry - as well as other information related
to margins and inventory. It also includes an abridged income
statement and balance sheet and is refreshed three
times a day. "We can do up-to-the-minute financial reporting
within hours after we close a quarter," DeBenedetti
proudly points out.
Sales analysis is refreshed overnight, DeBenedetti says, primarily because the company believes it could be distracting
for stores and executives to be trying to manage
that on a real-time basis. "It's a large mountain of data, so
we don't even bring it up real-time from the stores at this
point," DeBenedetti says. "But when managers arrive in the
morning they can see the prior day's sales, year to date,
month-to-date as soon as they log in."
The other thing Orchard Supply hasn't done is give the
individual stores access to the system. "We don't really
want to push the financial data to everyone at this point,"
For the financial team, however, the BI and EPM solutions
from Oracle have solved critical problems and created
tremendous opportunities. "Data consistency has been an
issue in the past, DeBenedetti says. "Someone would have
spreadsheets not reflective of the most current thinking. The
Oracle Hyperion system has reduced the problems around
forecasting and planning - we don't have to worry about
somebody having a bad number. Essbase has become core
to the financial team: We can't operate as a financial team
Because the implementation has been so successful, Orchard
Supply is looking at ways to expand it to other parts
of the business. DeBenedetti says Orchard Supply is starting
to scope out a revenue and inventory planning application
that would be built on the same infrastructure. "This
will allow us to do category-level sales analysis and inventory
planning and margin analysis," DeBenedetti says.
"We're looking to start this in a few weeks."
Gallup: Exploring the Vast Potential of BI and EPM
As mid-market companies such as Taleo and Orchard
Supply look to expand their reliance on BI and EPM to help
them become more efficient and competitive, one of the organizations
they can look to as a potential role model is The
Gallup Organization. Gallup has taken an extremely progressive
approach to BI and EPM - using it not only to improve
its own operations, but also as part of the solutions set
it sells to its customers.
"The promise of Business Intelligence is to help you
make better decisions," says Jim Collison, Technology
Manager at The Gallup Organization. "If we can give our
customers a tool to help them make better decisions faster,
then we are enhancing our value to them. In the past, we
would give our customers a static report. It was valuable,
but they couldn't drill down for more information. Now,
with the new tools we are offering, it's more self-serve -they can get additional information without coming to us,
and they don't have to wait for it. Plus, with better graphics,
we are able to tell the story better, make our data easier
to read and make it easier for our customers to use the information
to make decisions."
Gallup has been using BI tools for at least eight years and
until two years ago utilized a proprietary system. "We
looked around and saw that the BI market had matured and
consolidated and we realized it was time to move onto a
platform where we didn't have to keep re-inventing the
wheel," Collison says.
"Every month we see
if we are tracking to our
plan and deviating in any
way. Our Oracle Hyperion
system gives us great
flexibility to do that and
enables us to quickly
From the beginning, Collison says, Gallup approached
the project with the intent of using the BI and EPM tools for
internal operations as well as for customer deployments.
The company chose Oracle as its supplier and implemented
the Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle Business Intelligence
Enterprise Edition, including a variety of specific
tools such as Oracle Marketing, Oracle Sales, Oracle Learning
Management, Oracle Financials and other products for
Gallup has been using the system for its own financial
reporting since February, 2008, and rolled it out to its first
external client in late September, 2008. Internally, prior to
the Oracle deployment, the organization had a financial system
that was separate from its sales and marketing system.
Now the two have been integrated and the business is running
more smoothly and efficiently.
"We're getting better visibility into all of our potential
sales opportunities," Collison says. "It has streamlined the
process of integrating financial and sales and it's made the
numbers easier to get to, faster and more accurate. We now
do have a single version of the truth."
On the financial side, the company, which is privately
held, reports revenue twice a day internally and all employees can access that information. Collison points out that
this information is available globally and can be viewed in
multiple currencies. In addition, the Oracle CRM system
enables the company to view deals in all phases of their development
and to build out financial reports and dashboards
that are tied directly into sales and marketing.
As for BI and EPM solutions for customers, Collison
points to the dynamic reporting of research results - and the
ability for customers to generate their own reports - as well
as the improved availability of data and the enhanced presentation
"The visual benefits sell themselves," Collison says. "As
far as we're concerned, this is the next generation of reporting."
Collison gives an example of how the BI tools might
work for a customer:
"Say I'm the manager of a five-state area of retail store,"
Collison says. "I'm looking at my employees - who has
higher levels of engagement, who doesn't. What products
are selling better in some regions than others. Which stores
or store managers are doing better than others. Maybe I need
to investigate what some of my managers are doing right
and apply that methodology to my other stores - find a best of-breed approach. We could have provided that information
before in a series of reports we printed manually. Now
we allow our customers to make better decisions, faster."
Collison says he fully realized that Gallup was on the
leading edge of the BI and EPM revolution when he attended
the recent Oracle OpenWorld conference in San
Francisco. "Folks were finding out about our OBIEE implementation
and our customer rollout," Collison recalls.
"And people were coming up to me and saying, ‘You guys
are actually doing this?'"
BI and EPM: Building A Bright Future
The answer, of course, was yes. Gallup is actually doing
BI and EPM, and so are Taleo and Orchard Supply Hardware
and thousands of other businesses of all sizes, in all industries,
all around the world.
And this, really, is still the beginning, still a time when
the business and technological advances promised by BI
and EPM are still being developed and explored and enhanced.
For Oracle, being at the forefront of a technology
revolution is a familiar place to be.
As Dover of Oracle says, "You're never to small to start
thinking about business intelligence."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Al Perlman is co-founder and partner
of New Reality Media. He is an award-winning journalist
and publishing executive who has launched more than a
dozen successful high tech media products, including Interactive
Week, CRN, VARBusiness, Baseline, CIO Insight,
CommunicationsWeek, Information Week and others.
ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS
Thinking About BI and EPM?
PLANNING IS IMPORTANT. Is your organization thinking about doing a BI or EPM deployment? Here's
some practical advice from some managers who've gone through the process:
- Know Thyself. "When you design the system, you have to understand what it needs to do for you,"
says Rob Gordon, director of finance at Taleo. "It's not a hard case to make - you're getting multiple
cuts of the data more efficiently and more quickly - but when you're ready to implement, the individual
leading the process should understand how financials roll up to date and where you want
to go with it."
- Don't Be Afraid To Change. "There's a lot to be gained from really ripping the process apart when
you're doing an implementation of this nature," says James DeBenedetti, a senior financial analyst
at Orchard Supply Hardware. "Stop and rethink how you do your planning or monthly reporting and how you put that together. Ask yourself and your team: ‘Do I really need this report? How would I
change this process to do things better.'"
- Clean Your Data. "If you're doing a financial application, it's a good time to clean up your chart of
accounts before you embark," says DeBenedetti. "I would also recommend trying to get your data
cleaned. This was one of the biggest time consuming parts - extracting old data and making it consistent."
Jim Collison, technology manager at The Gallup Organization, agrees: "It's about the data
and not the tools. If your data isn't right - if it's not set up in a way that is easy to get to - all of this
work will be for naught. We spent a lot of time on the back-end schemas to get them to be what we
wanted them to be."
- Plan and Plan Some More. "Take your time architecting and planning," says Collison. "If I could
give one piece of advice it is plan, plan, plan." Adds Gordon, "If you start without a plan toward an
end goal, you could make decisions that sell yourself short. We avoided pitfalls by designing a hierarchy
the met the needs of what we needed to report for SEC filings."
- Get Management On Board. "You have to have support from the top - you cannot do without it. You'll
have zero adoption," DeBenedetti says. "And you have to have more than one or two executives. You
have to go down to the next layers and make sure they're engaged, make sure they know that this
really matters to them. You need to get someone in each of the functional areas to understand and
champion the system." Collison says the key to the successful deployment of BI and EPM at Gallup
has been getting the business decision-makers involved. "They have to really own it," he says.
- Get Outside Help. "I can't imagine doing this on your own," says Gordon. "Being an end user, you
don't appreciate what goes on behind the scenes to make it work. We used a consultant - TopDown
Consulting - and they did a great job." Collison also recommends getting outside help, but using it
judiciously. "One of our most important lessons was to use our consultants (Optimum Solutions)
strategically," Collison says. "If you bring in too many consultants, you'll have a problem with knowledge
transfer. We were much more successful with pinpoint consulting where we would ask the consultants
to tell us what to do and we would do the actual work."
- Get Inside Help. "The situation to avoid is to have the implementation team crank it up and be done
with the project and then leave," DeBenedetti says. "If you don't have someone on staff who can
continue to grow and maintain the application and the content, it's going to quickly fall out of favor
because the data will be stale and the application will fail. Get the commitment from the organization
to dedicate the resources needed to maintain the system once it's up and running."
- Choose the Right Technology Partner. "It doesn't take armies of people to get these things deployed,"
Collison says. "We deployed it with a handful of people. Plan it out well and make sure you're partnering
with the right folks. Oracle has been our partner the whole way. We went to Oracle and told
them we want to roll this out to the public. They've given us best of breed products and they've got
good folks over there who have a good handle on what they're doing."
- Al Perlman
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