Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

Quick Tips for Using BI to Improve Budgeting & Planning


The end of the fiscal year can often be a stressful time for businesses, which is why you need a sophisticated way of managing critical budgeting and planning processes. If you’re still using Excel and you’re bogged down with dozens (or hundreds) of spreadsheets, think about taking advantage of your company’s BI system to make this budgeting cycle a little less overwhelming. Or maybe it’s time to consider dedicated budgeting software that’s part of your company’s larger business intelligence (BI) strategy.

Maybe you don’t think that BI and planning go hand-in-hand, but trust me – after working with literally hundreds of customers who are using BI to manage their planning – they do. BI allows the finance department to provide timely consolidated budgets and forecasts that leverage data from a variety of sources so you can understand how your business may perform by modeling a range of scenarios.

Here are a few tips to consider when using BI for budgeting and forecasting.

1. Move on from spreadsheets and think about adopting dedicated software as part of a larger BI initiative. Organizations with revenues of $35M or more are typically at a stage when financial planners must deal with a plethora of spreadsheets during budgeting season (not to mention a number of versions of each spreadsheet). This amount of data quickly becomes unwieldy and prone to errors. By integrating dedicated budgeting software into your BI platform, you can perform real-time “what if” predictive modeling and monitor performance against a target to improve performance. Think about all the value you’ll add as a financial planner with up-to-date data – not plans that are outdated as soon as they’re formed.

2. Integrate BI software into existing budgeting processes. If you’re a smaller company, you likely don’t have the time or resources to reinvent the wheel. Use your company’s existing BI tool into your already-defined process. If you don’t currently have a tool, look for software that easily and flexibly integrates with your existing data sources, includes adjustable templates and offers your planners a Web interface for offline planning.

3. Create an organized workflow for your BI collection and analysis process. Logically order your planning tasks and keep an eye on where your team is in the planning cycle. This will help you better monitor, analyze and make tactical adjustments to the budgeting process throughout the year.

4. Collaborate within your organization for increased efficiency.

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What OLAP and MDX Mean for You


Are you an Oracle customer who’s heard about OLAP but aren’t sure what it can do for you? Oracle OLAP (On-Line Analytical Processing), an option to Oracle Database 11g Enterprise Edition, is a calculation engine that supports advanced analytical applications including planning, budgeting, forecasting, sales, and marketing, to help identify key business trends and model complex business scenarios.

MDX stands for Multidimensional Expressions and lets you query multidimensional objects, such as cubes, and return multidimensional cellsets that contain the cube’s data. With the MDX Provider for Oracle OLAP, organizations and departments that use Excel for ad-hoc querying, analysis and reporting can connect to Oracle OLAP data just like connecting to any other data source.

The MDX Provider for Oracle OLAP enables users to take advantage of Excel PivotTable and PivotChart functionality to analyze Oracle OLAP data, including advanced formatting and dashboard presentation capabilities, and integration with other Microsoft Office products. With all data and calculations stored centrally in the database and analysis performed directly against the database, users benefit from the performance and security features of the Oracle Database, while helping to ensure that the analysis performed takes advantage of the very latest information.

Yes, it’s a mouthful, but essentially, MDX allows for easier, faster querying of your database, which is of course a good thing.

arcplan recently partnered with Simba Technologies, whose MDX Provider for Oracle OLAP allows organizations to utilize arcplan’s portfolio of products for Business Intelligence and planning. Even though arcplan’s products can access Oracle OLAP through standard SQL queries, the addition of MDX provides for a much more efficient method of data access.

There’s more information about this on arc|community, our user forum.


Clues That Your BI Dashboard Has Gone Bad


You don’t have to look at the expiration on your milk carton to know that it has soured – it usually gives you some pretty strong clues, like smell, discoloration, or a strange consistency. In the same way, you probably have an idea that your BI dashboard has gone bad – clutter and unreadable graphs are sure signs that it’s time for a refresh. Other clues are less obvious, like maybe your role has changed but your dashboard hasn’t changed along with it. Let’s dive into these clues and see if you can relate to any of them:

1. Your dashboard is too busy. The biggest limitation of dashboards is the physical size of your screen. When your dashboard was created, did it take this into account? Are all of your metrics on one screen, which forces you to do a whole lot of scrolling? A dashboard should not require the user to scroll left, right, up or down to see the entire screen. Try a creative way of accessing additional information, like implementing tabs or hierarchies to drill down into more detailed information.

2. Flashing lights and pretty pictures. Does your dashboard look like a fireworks display on the 4th of July? Certainly your dashboard needs to be attractive, but you can display a whole lot of nothing through the inappropriate use of graphs and graphics. Dashboards should be analytical tools, not just pretty pictures. They need to provide business value, which can be achieved through simple charts (read: not 3D) and appropriate animation, keeping the flash to a minimum. Here’s a tip: if you’re using stoplight indicators, think about making stoplight symbols a standard in your organization. That way, employees who are colorblind can still get value from your indicators.

3. Lack of a role-based view.

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Hey Students! Ready for the BI Challenge 2012?


Update June 2012: Learn more about the students who won our competition >>

Attention students in Germany, Austria & Switzerland! arcplan’s student relations arm, arc|ademy, is holding its first annual BI Challenge! A total of 15,000 euros in prize money awaits the winners.

Challenge Categories
We’re inviting students who are using the BI platform arcplan Enterprise 7 as part of their studies to create an arcplan application and enter it into one of three categories: “Innovation,” “Fast Movers,” and “Business Excellence.” In the first category, the winning application will be particularly innovative in its visualization, methodology, or technical approach. Fast Movers are applications that have been deployed in an extraordinarily short span of time or can be deployed particularly quickly. Finally, the Business Excellence category is for applications that aim to improve the quality of business decisions. Each winner will receive 5,000 euros.

Submission Details
Students wishing to apply (as individuals or as teams of up to six people) for the arc|ademy BI Challenge 2012 can submit their applications as presentations – in PowerPoint or PDF format (in German) – or as arcplan documents together with the databases. These documents should not contain any confidential information and the overall size of the application should not exceed 10Mb. When submitting only a presentation, temporary access to a live test system should be provided.

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Our New Partnership with Teradata – See us at the PARTNERS User Group Conference


We’re excited to announce our new partnership with Teradata, THE big data/data warehouse experts! arcplan is their only partner to support Teradata’s new OLAP interface.

The cool thing for Teradata customers is…well, there are many cool things! arcplan is the ideal front-end to Teradata, providing analysis, reporting, planning, and real-time mobile analytics to Teradata customers. The new “arcplan OLAP Connector for Teradata” allows users to answer multidimensional analytical questions by slicing and dicing their large data volumes quickly over the Web or on any mobile device. Teradata customers can also build ad-hoc reports, intuitive and interactive dashboards, and can even manage their budgeting and planning with one architecture.

We’re also a sponsor of Conquering Complexity, the Teradata PARTNERS User Group Conference, taking place October 2-6 in San Diego, CA. Stop by and see us at booth 613!

In the meantime, if you have any questions, leave us a comment or email There’s more information in the full press release.