Essential Budgeting & Planning System Components – Part 5: Tactical Planning Dashboards with Visualizationsby Dwight deVera
For my final post in this series, I’ll cover tactical planning dashboards as a component that shows planners where they can make the changes that have the biggest impact on the plan.
Data visualization has struck a chord with many executive decision-makers as a way to condense large amounts of information, format it in a way that’s easy to digest and understand, and most importantly, reveal vital business insights that can help them make better decisions. Thankfully, visualizations are not reserved for executive decision-makers; similar types of visualizations can be beneficial for planning managers too.
Planning dashboards allow planners to see the whole picture at a glance, determine whether their plans are favorable or not, and provide guidance for where to direct their attention. When budgets are out of alignment or plans are going astray as the year progresses, the visualizations on a planning dashboard say, “look exactly here – this is your problem – this is where you can make an adjustment that will have a real impact – the other changes you’re going to make are a waste of time.”
Last week I had the pleasure of attending Collaborate 13, the Technology & Applications Forum for the Oracle Community, for the first time. Over 5,000 Oracle experts, users, and partners assembled in Denver, Colorado for a week of education and networking.
I was there as arcplan’s Director of North American Alliances to build and expand our partner community. As the most widely-used third-party BI frontend to Oracle Essbase, I was looking to meet with Essbase experts as well as Hyperion and OBIEE consulting and systems integration firms. Collaborate was an excellent way to get in front of these companies, who can benefit by adding arcplan to their solutions portfolio. I found a great deal of interest and acceptance of our positioning: arcplan as a lower cost, less complex, and quicker-to-implement solution than OBIEE; our extensive connectivity within and outside of Oracle databases; and our ease of use for developers and end users.
My colleagues mentioned that last year at our booth, the common theme of conversations was the challenges IOUG and OAUG members were experiencing around budgeting and planning. This year, however, the conversations tended toward challenges around reporting and dashboards – the importance of connecting all their data sources and making meaningful use out of the data they already have without having to build additional repositories or metadata layers. arcplan is a lightweight, flexible alternative to the Oracle and SAP BI tools many companies have in place that aren’t meeting their needs.
While I met with partners and our team manned the booth, our CEO Roland Hölscher attended Collaborate’s educational sessions…
If you weren’t already familiar with what to look for when buying budgeting and planning software, tuning into this series has shown you that it’s a long list! There are many capabilities that should be considered essential to your system. So far I’ve covered the importance of workflow, spreading, and offline planning. Today I’ll explain why supporting detail and commentary should to be added to the mix.
Supporting detail is the content that supports the plan data existing below the system grain. The system grain may be the department, account or cost center level. Supporting details tell an additive story that literally supports the higher level numbers in the plan.
A couple of use cases for supporting detail: (1) Depending on how large your organization is, sometimes the submitted budget values are fairly large numbers. For instance, the finance director may question why you, the VP of Sales, have asked for $250,000 in travel and entertainment expenses for the 2013 budget. Supporting detail capability gives you the opportunity to tell that story below the account level and explain what makes up that number.
Along with our partner Limpida, we recently held the first event dedicated to arcplan users in France. arc|forum took place on March 21st in Paris at La Cantine, the city’s first collaborative workspace (“co-working space”) – a unique location for this one-of-a-kind event.
The event brought arcplan users together with technical and functional experts. Among the 40 participants were management and directors from Veolia Water, Siemens, Natixis, Diana Food, and Bank BNP Paribas, to name a few.
arc|forum’s agenda balanced customer presentations with knowledge exchange and workshops. It kicked off with a presentation from myself – I’m arcplan’s Director of Strategic Alliances, and I spoke about arcplan’s goals and objectives for the French market.
Next, our CEO Roland Hölscher (pictured right) gave insight into our next platform release (slated for September). He revealed that it will be centered on the concept of DORA: Develop Once, Run Anywhere – arcplan’s approach to business intelligence for all devices and form factors. It makes responsive design simple and easy, and allows our unified platform for reporting, dashboards, and self-service BI to be even more flexible and dynamic.
I am sitting on a train to Düsseldorf on my way back from Paris, where I presented an update of what we are doing at arcplan to a mixed audience of customers and prospects. Part of my presentation included the usual content of company and product development updates. The outlook included a preview of our next release, code named Xenon, in the context of what is happening in businesses these days. One of the key topics was the explosive appearance of mobile devices and the challenges this poses to organizations – different form factors and operating systems, security issues, and expectations from a user community that is educated by the private consumption of applications on these devices (bringing an expectation of usability to the business environment). Of course, I introduced our first-ever approach in the business intelligence world to solve the dilemma of catering to this ever-increasing diversity of different device types and form factors as DORA: Develop Once, Run Anywhere. This is accomplished by responsive design for business intelligence and analytics applications. The audience was clearly impressed as was our customer advisory board in a similar session last week.
However, this blog article is not about how to develop and deploy analytic content effectively in this new world; it’s about the business value BI solutions create.
This year we were positioned by Gartner in their annual Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms. Although the Gartner analysts expressed strong appreciation for our capabilities (and commented accordingly in the strengths and cautions section of the report), we are positioned at the lower end of the niche vendor section. We were told this is partially due to self-service analytics and data discovery playing a strong role in this year’s Quadrant as this represents advanced BI. Really?