Alithya’s PowerShell Accelerator for Ground-to-Cloud EPM

Oracle provides a powerful toolset for interaction with the EPM Suite through a set of REST APIs and a downloadable product called EPM Automate that provides for command line access to a significant portion of the REST APIs.  At many of our customers, we implement scripts to orchestrate and schedule processes.  These processes execute EPM jobs, transfer metadata and data to the EPM Suite, and download data from the EPM Suite.

We believe in standards to facilitate common implementations across our large customer base and to manage the evolving nature of Oracle’s EPM Suite.  Standardization improves our ability to support our customers, and we have taken steps to consolidate our scripting into a single preferred service accelerator that provides high-quality, implementation-proven script utilities in a packaged delivery.

When we started this effort, we established a set of criteria for what we wanted to accomplish:

  1. Provide scripts that work in either Windows or Linux environments.
  2. Apply scripting best practices in a packaged delivery.
  3. Improve quality, delivery performance, and supportability by having a set of scripted functions that are unit tested prior to first use at a customer.
  4. Provide a standard approach to setup of jobs including signing into EPM Automate.
  5. Provide a standard logging framework.
  6. Provide exception handling including emailing.
  7. Provide a standard approach to archival of transferred files.
  8. Provide a standard approach to post procedure clean-up of temporary files.
  9. Provide ability to run scripts individually and together.
  10. Allow the calling scripts to be easily readable.

Why PowerShell?

Establishing the programming language was foundational and involved conversations about batch, Bash and PowerShell.  Although each language has advantages and weaknesses, the Product team selected PowerShell for the following reasons:

  • Robust interpreted programming language that includes standard capabilities such as variable, functions, loops, exception handling, etc.
  • Native on Windows environments with a nice development environment, PowerShell-ISE.
  • Can invoke commands and batch scripts easily.
  • Intended future direction for Microsoft with strong on-line support.
  • Open-sourced and available on Linux, testing showed that little or no modification to scripts is required for use in Linux environments.

What are we Providing?  A Working Example

We provide a packaged set of utilities called EPMAutomatePowerShellUtilities as an accelerator to development of ground-to-cloud scripts.  EPM Automate is in the name because we primarily use EPM Automate to accomplish an action, but also use the REST APIs when EPM Automate does not provide the required action.

To highlight the accelerator, lets document a working example with a customer implementing a Profitability and Cost Modeling Cloud Service (PCMCS) solution.

Customer is providing dimensional data and content data files and needs the following actions:

  • Upload Dimensional Data and integrate into PCMCS
  • Upload Content Data and Run Allocations
  • Download Post Allocated Results
  • Run all the above as a Single Script

First, the Boiler Plate

All customer scripts have the following boiler plate to provide common behavior

try

{

  • $PSScriptRoot/config/properties.ps1
  • $epmautomatepowershellutilities/Utilities.ps1

    Pre-Job-Run $Profile

    #Place your actions here!

}

catch

{

    Email-Exception

}

finally

{

    Post-Job-Run

}

What is going on?

  • try … catch … finally – allows for exception handling and script resolution in a common pattern. Standardized exception handling improves the quality of the ETL process by ensuring that support personnel are notified via email for any process execution stoppage.
  • – $PSScriptRoot/config/properties.ps1 – loads the variables required to run the scripts. For example, we load $ApplicationName which is the PCMCS application with which we are working.  The properties.ps1 is a text file that requires very little maintenance after initial setup.
  • – $epmautomatepowershellutilities/Utilities.ps1 – loads all the custom functions we provide.
  • Pre-Job-Run $profile – sets up job and makes it ready to run including signing into EPM Automate.
  • #Place your actions here! – this is where the custom actions are placed. See Scripts 1, 2, 3, and 4 below for examples of custom actions.
  • Email-Exception – when an exception occurs, then email an error message including a zip of the temporary folder that contains process log and any other files that were created by custom actions.
  • Post-Job-Run – clean up after custom actions are complete by signing out of EPM Automate and optionally removing temporary folder (configurable).

Script 1: UploadDimensionData.ps1 – Upload Dimensional Data and Integrate into PCMCS

We won’t repeat the boiler plate and focus on the custom actions:

Upload-DimData-And-Load $ApplicationName “$inboxFolder\Dimensional Data”

Enable-App $ApplicationName

Deploy-Cube $ApplicationName -KeepData -RunNow

Readability is a huge factor here.  We really don’t need to explain what these custom actions are doing, but let’s highlight a couple of things.  First, the called function often looks a lot like a corresponding EPM Automate command; for example, “Enable-App” corresponds to the EPM Automate command “enableApp.”  Second, we provide more complex calling functions such as “Upload-DimData-And-Load” to perform a set of common actions that run multiple commands – in this case the upload of multiple files – and then run the loadDimData command for all the uploaded files.  Behind the scenes, an archive copy with a timestamp is placed in an archive folder for each of the uploaded files.

Script 2: UploadData.ps1 – Upload Content Data and Run Allocations

Again, without boiler plate:

Clear-POV $ApplicationName “VR_Working;SC_Forecast” -InputData -AllocatedValues -POVDelimiter “;”

Copy-POV $ApplicationName “NoVersion,SC_Forecast” “VR_Working,SC_Forecast” -isManageRule

Upload-Data-And-Load -ApplicationName $ApplicationName -Path “$inboxFolder\data” -DataLoadValue “OVERWRITE_EXISTING_VALUES”

Run-Calc -ApplicationName $ApplicationName -ModelPOV “VR_Working;SC_Forecast” -ExeType “ALL_RULES” -ClearCalculated -ExecuteCalculations -RunNow -isOptimizeReporting -POVDelimiter “;”

You’ll see a mix of EPM Automate analogs and a complex function that uploads all the content data and loads them into PCMCS.  Again, the archival of uploaded files occurs during the Upload-Data-And-Load function.

Script 3 – DownloadResults.ps1 – Download Post Allocated Results

The custom actions are:

Export-Query-Results $ApplicationName “PCMCSDataExport.txt” “Post_allocated”

Download-File “profitoutbox\PCMCSDataExport.txt”

Script 4 – JustDoIt.ps1 – Perform all Three Steps

The boiler plate is built so that the Pre-Job-Run, Email-Exception, and Post-Job-Run understand when they are inside a calling script.  This allows you to create a parent script to run multiple other scripts without modification of the called scripts.

Focusing on the custom actions:

. $PSScriptRoot\UploadDimensionData.ps1

. $PSScriptRoot\UploadData.ps1

. $PSScriptRoot\DownloadResults.ps1

In this parent script, EPM Automate is logged into a single time.  Any exception results in full stop and a single email sent with an integrated process log.

Final thoughts

The accelerator provides a high-quality framework allowing Alithya to focus on customer requirements and the actions needed to integrate with Oracle’s Cloud EPM suite.  The low level, expected behaviors, such as exception reporting, logging, emailing, and file archival are available on day 1 of the engagement.  With a focus on readability, these scripts are easily transferred to the support organization for long-term sustainability.

For long-term support, the customer can update the REST API version via the properties.ps1 file, and Oracle is providing EPM Automate updates that do not break prior scripts.  If EPM Automate has a breaking change, the customer can update the utilities themselves or request an updated set from Alithya.  Feedback from our customer base is positive with specific comments about the readability of the utilities and quality of initial deployment.

Overall, the accelerator is reducing the effort and time to deploy ground-to-cloud processes while improving the quality of deployment by reducing the time spent creating and debugging scripts.

Additionally, long-term support costs are lower through standardization of implementation patterns that allow support personnel to focus on what the script is accomplishing rather than how it is accomplishing it.

For comments, questions or suggestions for future topics, please reach out to us at infosolutions@alithya.comSubscribe to receive notifications about new posts about Cloud updates and other Oracle Cloud Services such as Planning and Budgeting, Financial Consolidation, Account Reconciliation, and Enterprise Data Management.  Follow Alithya on social media for the latest information about EPM, ERP, and Analytics solutions to meet your business needs.

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Implementing Zero Based Budgeting: Setting Up Your Environment

The previous post – Implementing Zero-Based Budgeting: The Requirements – outlined two key components of a successful zero-based budgeting program:  a culture change and a centralized system. We recommended creating a centralized system with Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service (PBCS)/Enterprise Plainning and Budgeting Cloud Service (EPBCS) because of the many advantages it provides such as an environment with data depth.

Even with a zero-based budgeting blueprint, many companies are still hesitant to go “all in” thinking that a zero-based budgeting program implementation requires too much time and resources. The introduction of Cloud services such as Oracle PBCS/EPBCS makes the implementation of a centralized financial system easier than ever, greatly reducing the barrier to entry.

This final post in this series shares the power of a PBCS/EPBCS environment to achieve the greatest success with a newly implemented zero-based budgeting program.

How Can PBCS/EPBCS Environments Enhance the ZBB Experience?

There are four key ways to gain the most from a PBCS or EPBCS environment, including the setup of targets and accountability metrics that offer more meaningful data and greater transparency when making budgeting decisions.

Clients are often given target settings goals in management meetings or over the phone, but we demonstrate for them how to integrate this into their budgeting systems. On numerous occasions, Alithya has been contracted to implement target settings where leadership sets growth targets and the systems flows down the revenue by service, product line, etc. In turn, analysts match the underlying details.

Not surprisingly, this is a common request because target setting has been a long-time tradition during the budget process. By setting up this target setting process in PBCS\EPBCS, an off-line process is instead online and is molded with the overall budgeting system process.  Combining that with the zero-based budgeting mantra allows targets to be set and provides analysts with their needed baseline.  Moreover, analysis can be done on departments that take the typical “reduce expenses by 10% approach” to archive the target number instead of the more insightful zero-based budget journey.  Yes, target setting in a centralized system is easier, but the benefit of a centralized system is the ability to see how teams react to the new target.  Did they take the traditional “reduce budget percentages to fit the numbers,” or did they look at their budget as a whole and analyze each line item and question the numbers organically?

After targets are set and the budget is approved, we look at the said cost saving come to fruition.  A centralized system allows capital projects or initiatives to be tracked to help systematically measure the expenditures of cost savings activities found during the zero-based budget discovery. This provides a clear picture of what each department is doing and holds them more accountable for project decisions. It is an achievement to complete a zero-based budget “diet,” but holding teams accountable brings them to the next level of the zero-based budget “lifestyle.”

In essence, this new budgeting environment provides better insight into data – insight that ultimately allows savings to be found more effectively. For example, if you want to see the cost of direct materials, this centralized system can be set up to capture the costs in order to analyze and keep track of the different KPIs that reduce or increase overall costs.

Another example of how this works is by segmenting down employee costs such as travel. Instead of having a run rate of 10% of direct labor or travel costs, determine what job or tasks required that travel and use this KPI to negotiate travel expenses to further drive down costs.  Essentially, use PBCS/EPBCS as a tool to capture KPIs (e.g. travel costs by job) and determine the best use of travel dollars and – more importantly – negotiate with vendors on key travel.

Lastly, a budgeting environment provides clarity to help teams make better informed decisions about future initiatives. With the ability to see all of the underlying data points in a single location, it is possible to identify past sales and marketing campaigns and expenditures that led to profitable customers. Therefore, zero-based budgeting teams that took the initiative to determine the best sales and marketing costs to benefit analysis from the ground up are able to dedicate more resources (e.g. dollars, people, etc.) to winning strategies.  This is in contrast to the traditional budgeting approach of “10% rate of marketing spend year-of-year” that often masks the winning and more importantly losing marketing initiatives. Moreover, such planning and availability of different data points helps draw key inferences that allow sales and marketing teams to be more successful.

Summary 

Utilizing a Cloud service such as Oracle PBCS/EPBCS makes it easier for companies to implement a centralized system and achieve success with a zero-based budgeting program. PBCS/EPBCS environments can and should be set up in a way that enhances the zero-based budgeting experience. This is achieved by integrating target setting goals and establishing accountability metrics that allow a deeper dive into budget data while providing greater transparency to make better informed decisions.

To learn more about zero-based budgeting best practices and to get professional help with your Oracle PBCS/EPBCS environments, feel free to contact our team of experts.

Implementing Zero-Based Budgeting: The Requirements

A Culture Change and a Centralized System

The first post in this 3-post series – Implementing Zero-Based Budgeting: Benefits, Myths, and Goals – covers the benefits of zero-based budgeting. To summarize, it enables you to achieve long-term savings that result in sustainable growth and holds your financial analysts accountable for the cost figures they approve and how they are managing the overall budget. This allows more effective recognition of any unwanted costs and how you that money can be shifted into other growth areas within the company.

However, to reap the benefits of a zero-based budgeting program, a culture change is needed first at certain levels within the company. The goal is to eventually have the entire company complete this culture shift, but it is best to start small. Along with a change in culture, a centralized reporting system needs to be created as well to provide teams the ability to share real-time numbers with each other to achieve the goals of this new budgeting program.

Better Than a Quick Fix

What exactly is meant by a culture change? This means starting small and fostering this culture change in other departments starting with Finance. To be successful with this new program, other departments will eventually have to jump on board with this new budgeting approach. These departments will need to step up in analyzing their own costs and how they can save more without diminishing their capabilities.

For example, while financial analysts talk to the shop floor to see where costs can be reduced, the HR department should work with Finance to determine how it can become leaner. Moreover, the IT department should take the lead on negotiating with its vendors to find any areas that can be saved. These are just a few examples of how different departments can step up to the plate; implementing a successful zero-based budgeting program will requires team effort.

Changing the culture doesn’t happen overnight. Senior leaders should take the lead in fostering this change. To ensure that everyone is on the same page, managers need advocate the new approach within their respective departments.

Incentives also help teams to buy into this new budgeting approach.  Although incentives for growth metrics may already exist, additional incentives can effectively encourage staff to find ways to reduce costs for the metrics they manage.

Some examples of incentive metrics are the realized ROI based on the requested capital expenditure and the total cost saving dollars resulting from a zero-based budgeting program. For the former, this can mean moving to the Cloud to save money or reducing redundant tasks by introducing centralized software. For the latter, it can be exemplified by achieving a 10% cost reduction per phone.

Best Practice to Achieve Success

A crucial component of the success of a zero-based budgeting program is an officer who governs the entire process from start to finish. This individual (or team) should contain deep knowledge of the budgeting process. Naturally, s/he will not know the ins and outs of each department, so that is why s/he needs to be an ambassador to department leaders. The officer will also provide oversight to ensure that past bad habits of budgeting do not return to plague this new program. And lastly, s/he must be dedicated to the craft of continuous improvement which means seeking outside counsel when needed.

As mentioned earlier in the post, a culture change needs to be accompanied by a centralized reporting system. Alithya has helped clients implement Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service (PBCS) and Enterprise Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service (EPBCS) and overcome the deficiencies of Excel-based models. These models lose sight of what the true cost numbers are because past budgets are simple anchors of history rather than detailed breakdowns of cost. Moreover, these numbers become siloed within the vast library of Excel models. With Oracle PBCS or EPBCS, budgets can be highly surgical and help leaders in the company pinpoint reductions.

A centralized system allows the capture of all changes in a single location in real-time, and it provides insight into how effectively managers seek cost savings. This can be used as a key indicator to determine if their actions are in line with this new methodology.

Furthermore, centralization not only holds managers more accountable, but it also empowers them to create innovative cost-saving solutions. Driven by incentives, staff will burn with a clear purpose to find new ways to achieve sustainable growth for the company and be rewarded for hard work.

Recapping What It Takes to Achieve ZBB Success

The goal is to create a cost savings culture that allows more capital to be invested into growing parts of the company. To be successful, follow the best practices outlined, starting with a culture change within the company and giving your teams a centralized PBCS and EPBCS system to more clearly see all data points. The hard work does not stop here, though! The next post delves into setting up a zero-based budgeting system.

Implementing Zero-Based Budgeting: Benefits, Myths, and Goals

If you are in the finance world, then you probably have heard of zero-based budgeting. Investopedia defines zero-based budgeting as “a method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified for each new period. The process…starts from a “zero base,” and every function within an organization is analyzed for its needs and costs.”

There are many reasons that financial professionals decide to use zero-based budgeting. For one thing, it goes hand-in-hand with a centralized system where information can be shared – something at which Excel spreadsheets are terrible. Furthermore, developing a centralized system enables you to scale to your needs as your company grows. Lastly, it enables financial analysts to spend more of their work week analyzing data instead of curating a financial system and worrying if the numbers match.

At Alithya, we have found with our past clients that a successful zero-based budgeting implementation resolves numerous problems. The two main things clients hope to achieve is growth across multiple business units and developing sustained cost reduction. With zero-based budgeting, you can earn long-term savings that can directly translate into sustainable growth.

Earning Long-Term Cost Savings

Zero-based budgeting becomes a daily exercise in cost savings for your financial teams. One method in achieving cost savings is renegotiating costs. For example, instead of taking the run-rate of 3% from last year’s numbers, perhaps you can contact your vendors to bargain for a better deal or switch to a different vendor with a more competitive price. Or how about having your analysts ask the IT department why it costs $38.03 per phone? What makes up that entire $38.08? Don’t assume that there aren’t any negotiable components of a cost.

The reason zero-based budgeting is so effective at long-term savings is that it is not a one-off fix. Many teams tend to implement one-off fixes, and then find that those fixes do not provide sustainable cost savings. A common example is offshoring your call center which might get you an immediate win in the cost column. However, this strategy typically reduces customer service quality while also limiting your ability to evolve with your business as it grows.

When enacting this type of program, you will analyze the costs of your business at every level. This may seem tedious, but what you will find is a clearer understanding of where your money is going. This can mean acquiring a greater understanding of contract labor costs as well as improving purchasing and procurement procedures, just to name a few. Moreover, when properly implemented, zero-based budgeting can reduce SG&A costs by 10 to 25 percent, often within as little as six months,” according to McKinsey & Company.

Debunking Myths Surrounding Zero-Based Budgeting

There are many myths surrounding zero-based budgeting that have sadly created an artificial barrier that CFOs and their teams do not want to cross. Many financial professionals think that it means cutting the budget down to the bare bones, but rather, a zero-based budgeting program analyzes costs from the top-down. Moreover, it is the CFOs’ duty to outline cost-cut targets so that their team’s efforts are focused.

Another misconception is that zero-based budgeting only helps with cutting the costs of SG&A. Actually, it can do much more, such as breaking down the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) and help teams make investment choices on the capital expenditure with the greatest ROI.

Just because your business is not in decline or stagnating doesn’t mean that you can’t adopt a zero-based budgeting program. If you are already achieving growth, you can use this type of budgeting method to keep the overall business leaner so that you can provide more runway for growing business units.

Do you really start from zero? This is a common question that we are asked, and many people think because of its name that you do always start from zero. Technically, this is true, but this is the core component that drives the cost management culture change that will be introduced in the next post in this series.

However, not all things have to start from zero. At Alithya, we have been through many implementations where parts of the P&L are driver-based or zero-based. This can be achieved with a detailed, structured, and interactive system (like Oracle PBCS/EPBCS) that gives you real-time feedback.

How Does Oracle PBCS and EPBCS Help Achieve ZBB goals?

The main feature you acquire when you implement an Oracle PBCS or EPBCS system with your zero-based budgeting program is deeper analytics. This data enables you to dig into the “why and how” of your P&L.

For example, you could pose the question what driver did they use? Did they just simply take last year’s actuals and add 3%? Did they take a cost-per-head and budget it manually, or did they take the easy way out? All are important questions that force finance teams to be more accountable when it comes to everyday decisions.

Recapping the Benefits of ZBB

By implementing a zero-based budgeting program with a centralized system, you can hold your analysts more accountable to cost figures while making them own up to how the costs are managed. It allows you to recognize any unwanted costs that can be diverted into certain growth areas as well as breed a culture of cost reduction and visibility. The latter requires that you to start a culture change within your team. It is an essential part of having success with a zero-based budgeting program which is why we will cover it in greater detail in the next post.

Redesign in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): From the Ground Up

We talked about adding new scope in New Scope in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): Add-Ons and modifying your application inside (i.e. changing reconciliation methods) and outside of ARCS (i.e. new data feeds) in Modifications in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): Tweaking and Tuning.

Today, we’re going to tear it down and rebuild from the ground up.

Let me start with this:  redesign IS possible. ARCS does not permanently punish any design decisions made on “Day 1,”…but not all changes are equal in complexity, nor can all changes be made without consequence. A successful implementation ensures that the application design is sound for today and that a well laid roadmap is in place for tomorrow. Many “one-off” changes can be made directly to a deployed reconciliation (i.e. only within a single period) or permanently going forward (i.e. to the profile). The “catch” is the key properties set on a profile or reconciliation – the Account ID. The Account ID represents the granularity at which the reconciliation is being performed, such as [Business Unit]-[Account] or [Entity]-[Natural Account]-[Subaccount].

ARCS From the Ground Up 1[Screenshot 6: The Account ID is a unique identifier for the reconciliation.]

The Account ID is fundamental to the reconciliation, as indicated by the asterisks (i.e. “*”) in Screenshot 6. Changing it in any way will break the Prior Reconciliation “link” with previously completed instances of the reconciliation.

But let’s push that idea one step further – what if I want to change the key properties themselves – that is to say – change the actual Profile Segments? The Profile Segments determine the name (ex. from “Company” to “Business Unit”), number (ex. from 2 to 3 segments), and even type of values (ex. setting up the Business Unit segment to always be an integer) that are viable for use when setting up an Account ID. Therefore, if this was set up incorrectly or if the granularity at which reconciliations are performed has changed since the initial implementation, then redesigning the Profile Segments may become a requirement.

ARCS even makes this type of redesign possible, but at a cost. An administrator needs to first delete all Profiles; only then will the application allow a modification to the Profiles Segments in the Configuration card.

ARCS From the Ground Up 2[Screenshot 7a: Unable to modify the Name of Profile Segment 1 which is currently named “Company.” The field appears grayed out. This is because Profiles are currently using these Profile Segments.]

ARCS From the Ground Up 3[Screenshot 7b: After removing the Profiles, Profile Segment 1 is now able to be modified. In the example, Profile Segment is renamed to “Business Unit.”]

While Screenshots 7a & 7b show that this is possible, there are repercussions. Similar to changing the Account IDs, this change will break any links to previously completed reconciliations. Additionally, any existing mappings within outside Integration solutions such as Cloud Data Manager or FDMEE, or references to Profile Segments in customized attributes or rules may be affected. This type of redesign should only be done after carefully considering all options.

Other common questions relate to redesigning an attribute, typically the system attributes such as Process or Account Type. This is a straightforward change as it relates to updating the property on the Profiles; however, it is important to note that any reference to any existing artifact (i.e. an artifact can be a format, a custom attribute, an attribute member, etc.) within ARCS will prevent the deletion of said artifact. As an example, if the Account Type structure requires redesigning, but there is a reference to any of the members (such as in a historical period), then these members cannot be deleted without first removing the references. This can be tedious when there are multiple years of reconciliations to consider.

ARCS From the Ground Up 4

[Screenshot 8: When trying to remove the Custom Attribute named “PLACE CUSTOM ATTRIBUTE HERE,” ARCS prevents this deletion and cites which artifact is using the Custom Attribute. In this example, the Bank Reconciliation format is using this Custom Attribute – thus, it cannot be deleted.]

Unlike many system messages, ARCS actually provides useful troubleshooting information as seen in Screenshot 8. However, it still may not be worth it to you to retroactively make this change. A recommendation is to “archive” artifacts that will not be used going forward by renaming them with “Old” or “Hist,” then create a separate artifact to use going forward.

ARCS From the Ground Up 5[Screenshot 9: A work-around to deleting previously used artifacts is to rename them and then use a new artifact going forward. In this example, the suffix “- Old” is added to this Custom Attribute to indicate that it is no longer in use.]

Previous uses of the artifact such as in completed reconciliations will update to reflect the name change. In the example provided in Screenshot 9, this custom attribute for historical periods will be updated with the “– Old” suffix to indicate to ARCS administrators that it is no longer in use but was used historically.

ARCS is a flexible application solution that allows for nearly any change to be made, though the effort and complexity will vary. While sound design can prevent many issues, it should be a comfort to know that there is “wiggle room” if the requirements change in the future.

Join me in the last post of the ARCS modularity series – a real crowd pleaser: Automation in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): At Its Finest

*Screenshots taken from the patch 1806 release.

Modifications in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): Tweaking and Tuning

In the last post, New Scope in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): Add-Ons, we discussed how ARCS sets you up to easily add on additional scope to your existing application and scale your solution. However, not all changes are brand new. Clients are often concerned with being pigeonholed based on their “Day 1” decisions. A common question I am asked during a design session is “Can I manually enter this reconciliation today, but create new feeds to automatically load the data tomorrow?” The answer is a resounding YES, and it provides clear added value to the next phase of any ARCS (or ARM) project. It can be a viable project strategy to set up reconciliations using an Account Analysis format on “Day 1” and change to a Balance Comparison format when automated data loads are built on “Day 100.”

Modifications in ARCS 1

[Screenshot 5a: Reconciliation 100-1000 is setup with a Balance Comparison format in Sep 2017.*]

Modifications in ARCS 2

[Screenshot 5b: The previous period’s reconciliation can be viewed in the Prior Reconciliations tab.*]

Modifications in ARCS 3

[Screenshot 5c: Reconciliation 100-1000 was previously setup with an Account Analysis format in Aug 2017. The format of a profile can be changed while maintaining the Prior Reconciliations link.*]

Depending on how this change is made, it is even possible to keep the modified reconciliation “linked” to the previously completed reconciliations even though the Format has changed, such as in Screenshots 5a – 5c. The ease with which ARCS allows you to change Reconciliation Methods (via Formats) gives you the flexibility to not bite off more than you can chew in the beginning of a project.

Changing Reconciliation Methods is often related to new integrations. Moving from the manual “fat fingering” of data to directly loading general ledger and sub ledger balances through Financial Data Management Enterprise Edition (FDMEE) or Data Management combined with the inbuilt auto-reconciliation tools can bring a “quality of life” change for end users as well as added confidence in the data’s integrity. It is always a best practice to pull data from the source. Creating the integration from the general ledger is typically part of the initial scope. The usual candidates for building additional feeds after the first project phase are the sub ledgers related to fixed assets, accounts receivables, and accounts payables. However, the most “bang for your buck” as it relates to what integrations to build depends on your line of business and specific company requirements.*

*Note that adding multiple general ledger feeds introduces additional complexities beyond the scope of this article. Please consult with your Oracle partner before adding to your application.

In some cases, the greatest efficiencies to your existing reconciliation process are gained in utilizing the power of ARCS Transaction Matching. This module is better suited to handle massive data volumes at a transactional level. As an example, instead of performing just a reconciliation of the balance sheet’s intercompany balances in ARCS Reconciliation Compliance at the end of the month, an enhancement to this process could be to perform the daily matching process in ARCS Transaction Matching to clear up issues in real time as they arise. This simplifies the month end’s reconciliation. ARCS Transaction Matching is a powerful supplement to an existing reconciliation system and continues to receive special attention from Oracle as seen with the major release of new functionality in Patch 1805.

Just as there are many ways your company can change, ARCS can be modified to match your needs even in a live application. However, sometimes changes are more fundamental than a bit of tweaking such as in an acquisition or the introduction of a new, company-wide general ledger. Or, perhaps, you are just not satisfied with the solution design. Join me in the next post as we discuss the dangerous topic of redesign in ARCS – what is possible…and what it costs.

In the next post, Redesign in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): From the Ground Up, learn how redesign IS possible in ARCS.

*Screenshots taken from the patch 1806 release.

New Scope in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): Add-Ons

This post follows last week’s post Modularity in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): No Mistakes from “Day 1” to “Day 100.”

Out-of-the-box, ARCS makes it easy to “oh, and this!” when adding new scope. The obvious example is monthly maintenance. Reconciliation Administrators and Power Users can build new Profiles to deploy for future months (or even the current month) with relative ease. With the “Copy” feature, previously created Profiles can serve as ready-to-use templates and reduce the manual effort involved in building a Profile from scratch.

New Scope in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS) - Add-Ons 1

[Screenshot 1: The Copy function from the Actions drop-down list can be used to duplicate existing Profiles*]

Copying existing Profiles, as seen in Screenshot 1, is intuitive, built-in functionality. This makes ARCS “Quick Starts” a popular project option when tight on a budget – the Partner will be contracted to create a limited subset of Profiles and the Client can then use these as a starting point to build out the rest, saving on the Build Phase effort.

Another common post-project add are Custom Attributes. As companies become more familiar with how their end users utilize the tool, new Custom Attributes can be included for reporting purposes (such as filtering or sorting in dashboards), providing information, or collecting feedback. Beyond the three system attributes of Process, Account Type, and Risk Rating, some typical Custom Attributes include source system names, supplemental detail such as cost center or department, or even more dynamic fields such as auto-populating metadata descriptions. Furthermore, where these are placed within a reconciliation changes the nature of what detail is being provided or collected. Custom Attributes can be placed at a reconciliation’s summary level, on each individual transaction, and even on the specific Action Plans within each transaction. Additionally, these can be inherited from a Format or set for individual Profiles. What information is useful or relevant to end users will change depending on the granularity.

New Scope in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS) - Add-Ons 2[Screenshot 2: Custom Attribute on the Summary tab*]

New Scope in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS) - Add-Ons 3[Screenshot 3: Custom Attribute on a Transaction*]

New Scope in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS) - Add-Ons 4[Screenshot 4: Custom Attribute on an Action Plan*]

The variety of locations within the reconciliation to place these Custom Attributes, as seen in Screenshots 2 – 4, and the ease at which these can be added provides your company with the flexibility to determine ‘what’ and ‘where’ information should be presented.

ARCS provides a plethora of tools to grow the application with your company and add-on to your “Day 1” implementation. But what if you like what you have built, and just want to tweak it?  Perhaps you want to move from “fat fingering” to fully integrating with your ERP source systems? The next post, Modifications in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): Tweaking and Tuning, discusses how ARCS can be modularly modified, keeping what you have…but better.

*Screenshots taken from the patch 1806 release.

Patch Today! Don’t Delay! Best Reasons to Upgrade Your EPM System

Putting off that upgrade to 11.1.2.4? Cloud not whetting your appetite for patches? Patch today. Don’t delay!

“But we’re going to the Oracle EPM Cloud soon!” you say. You should maintain your patches anyway. With the recurring maintenance, updates, and patches available to the EPM Cloud products, expect the on-premise patches to contain similar updates. An upcoming conversion to Oracle EPM Cloud products may benefit from running the latest on-premise codelines.

If you have an existing on-premise installation of Oracle EPM System, be sure to maintain the latest EPM System Patch Set Updates every 3 to 6 months. Here are a few great reasons why:

New Features

Patches often contain reactive bug resolutions to known issues; however, we have also been seeing new functionality released in patches for 11.1.2.4.

You Own It

You already pay for it! As long as your Oracle Maintenance contract is current (very likely if you are reading this article), you’re already paying for access to patches. Why leave them unapplied? You are running legacy code when the latest version costs you nothing additional. Windows XP was a great OS, but we’ve got to keep up with the times.

Supportability

Maximize your success by reducing time to resolution on your issues. Should you submit a support request to the vendor, the first line of response to a ticket is often about current patch levels. Once provided, the subsequent reply frequently contains a recommendation to apply the latest Patch Set Updates (PSUs) to see if that fixes the issue. Annoying? Perhaps you’re a pessimist. Or have just been remiss with your patching. I’ve certainly changed my mind on the matter and can better side with them. The reason? Supporting the latest codeline is more efficient and effective for the vendor. Your problem may have already been addressed in a code fix. They can better and more quickly support you if they are troubleshooting the current release instead of legacy code.

Stability

In older versions, patches seem to come out on a haphazard schedule. Over the last few years, Oracle has regularly streamlined EPM System patch releases – typically releasing Patch Set Updates quarterly, which are different from Patch Set Exceptions. PSUs are a grouping of PSEs or fewer, more significant PSEs that get regression tested collectively by the vendor and are released under a singular patch. We’ve gained a much higher degree of confidence with this bulk model of PSUs. The organization of release schedule and bug fixes is more dependable and greatly appreciated. The PSU model provides less ambiguity on which patches to apply and brings greater stability to all customers.

Upgrade

Maybe it’s bigger than patching. Are you not on version 11.1.2.4 of your EPM System? Compliance with Enterprise IT requirements around browser version and operating systems is often impetus for an upgrade. But there are also plenty of compelling new software features, functions, conventions, and improvements in 11.1.2.4.

Operating System (OS) support for current platforms maximizes your investment and supportability. When 2.4 came out, many customers were forced to upgrade their older systems for compliance with the latest enterprise standards for server operating systems and/or client browser versions. Instead of being faced with an IT mandated technology upgrade, an upgrade on the business’ schedule is preferred.

What Kind of Effort is Involved?

The comprehensive effort to bring a simple deployment (3-4 servers, no High Availability) up to the latest PSUs is typically less than a day per environment. That includes an analysis of existing patches, the patching itself as well as any prerequisites, and a post-check verification to confirm all patches applied are properly indicated in the corresponding inventories.

An initial patch application may take a little bit longer because there are often common prerequisites to address that don’t have to be handled with subsequent patching. There are also considerations like bringing WebLogic up to the latest patch level, as well as one-offs like the fixes for the Equifax-discovered vulnerabilities, that don’t happen frequently. Once you’ve got a solid base of primary critical patching, additional patching events are typically shorter.

Patching can be tricky. Documentation can often be ambiguous, whether it be an unintended omission or even assumed knowledge based on an implied experience or understanding of the product. Sometimes post-install instructions get skipped or SQL statements do not get executed properly as part of the patch. Less experienced resources typically only patch the EPMSystem11R1 Oracle Home; however, did you know that Oracle’s ADF framework also has an Opatch directory under oracle_common? Possibly because those are often prereqs. But what about Oracle Data Integrator (ODI) and Oracle HTTP Server (OHS)? They also may have applicable OPatches. Who knows what you’re missing? We do! Let’s button it up.

Contact us for more details.

Laser Tag for Cloud Analytics

A friendly game of laser tag between out-of-shape technology consultants became a small gold mine of analytics simply by combining the power of Essbase and the built-in data visualization features of Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC)! As a “team building activity,” a group of Edgewater Ranzal consultants recently decided to play a thrilling children’s game of laser tag one evening.  At the finale of the four-game match, we were each handed a score card with individual match results and other details such as who we hit, who hit us, where we got hit, and hit percentage based on shots taken.  Winners gained immediate bragging rights, but for the losers, it served as proof that age really isn’t just a number (my lungs, my poor collapsing lungs).  BUT…we quickly decided that it would be fun to import this data into OAC to gain further insight about what just happened.

Analyzing Results in Essbase

Using Smart View, a comprehensive tool for accessing and integrating EPM and BI content from Microsoft Office products, we sent the data straight to Essbase (included in the OAC platform) from Excel, where we could then apply the power of Essbase to slice the data by dimensions and add calculated metrics. The dimensions selected were:

  • Metrics (e.g. score, hit %)
  • Game (e.g.Game 1, Game 2, Total),
  • Player
  • Player Hit
  • Target (e.g. front, back, shoulder)
  • Bonus (e.g. double points, rapid fire)

With Essbase’s rollup capability, dimensions can be sliced by any one item or at a “Total” level. For example, the Player dimension’s structure looks like this:

  • Players
    • Red Team
      • Red Team Player 1
      • Red Team Player 2
    • Blue Team
      • Blue Team Player 1
      • Blue Team Player 2

This provides instant score results by player, by “Total” team, or by everybody. Combined with another dimension like Player Hit, it’s easy to examine details like number of times an individual player hit another player or another team in total. You can drill in to Red Team Player 1 shot Blue Team or Red Team Player 1 shot Blue Team Player 1 to see how many times a player shot an individual player. A simple Smart View retrieval along the Player dimension shows scores by player and team, but the data is a little raw. On a simple data set such as this, it’s easy to pick out details, but with OAC, there is another way!

Laser Tag 1

Even More Insight with Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC)

Using the data visualization features of OAC, it’s easy to build queries against the OAC Essbase cube to gain interesting insight into this friendly folly and, more importantly, answer the questions everybody had: what was the rate of friendly fire and who shot who? Building an initial pivot chart by simply dragging and dropping Essbase dimensions onto the canvas including the game number, player, score, and coloring by our Essbase metric “Bad Hits” (a calculated metric built in Essbase to show when a player hit a teammate), we discovered who had poor aim…

Laser Tag 2

Dan from the Blue team immediately stands out as does Kevin and Wayne from the Red team!  This points us in the right direction, but we can easily toggle to another visualization that might offer even more insight into what went on. Using a couple of sunburst type data visualizations, we can quickly tie who was shooting and who was getting hit – filtered by the same team and then weight by the score (and also color code it by team color).

Laser Tag 3

It appears that Wayne and Kevin from the Red Team are pretty good at hitting teammates, but it is also now easy to conclude that Wayne really has it out for Kevin while Kevin is an equal opportunity shoot-you-in-the-back kind of teammate!

Reimagining the data as a scatter plot gives us a better look at the value of a player in relation to friendly fire. By dragging the “Score” Essbase metric into the size field of the chart, correlations are discovered between friendly fire and hits to the other team.  While Wayne might have had the highest number of friendly fire incidents, he also had the second highest score for the Red team.  The data shows visually that Kevin had quite a few friendly fire incidents, but he didn’t score as much (it also shows results that allow one to infer that Seema was probably hiding in a corner throughout the entire game, but that’s a different blog post).

Laser Tag 4

What Can You Imagine with the Data Driving Your Business?

By combining the power of Essbase with the drag-and-drop analytic capabilities of Oracle Analytics Cloud, discovering trends and gaining insight is very easy and intuitive. Even in a simple and fun game of laser tag, results and trends are found that aren’t immediately obvious in Excel alone.  Imagine what it can do with the data that is driving your business!

With Oracle giving credits for a 30-day trial, getting started today with OAC is easy. Contact us for help!

A Safe Step into the Cloud: The Argument for Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS)

Before forecasting models, before fancy dashboards and pretty reports, before a data point is even considered “Actual” comes the age old question…

                “Does this number even look right?”

Bulls*#!

Account reconciliations – the means by which this question is answered – are a fundamental part of the financial close process. Imagine you are trying to build a sandcastle. Now imagine your “sand” is harvested from a cow pasture. You *could* continue to build this “sandcastle,” but you will likely finish with a pile of…bull-sand. In the same way, if your account balances and transactions have an integrity equivalent to “bull-sand,” this will inevitably lead to problems down the line.

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The shift to the Cloud has complicated the decision-making process when considering new enterprise-wide application tools. The choice of whether to go with a known “on-premise” solution or take a bold step into Cloud solutions is a daunting one, particularly when considering moving high-visibility cycles such as forecasting or financial consolidations into this brave new world.

A Justified Recommendation

Take the measured move instead. If you feel hesitant to go “all-in” on Cloud offerings, here are four reasons why you should consider entering the Cloud through the arch of ARCS…the ARCSway (Get it?…archway…ARCSway…never mind – just keep reading…)

Safe Bet on a Strong Foundation

Oracle introduced Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS) as the “one stop shop” solution for managing and streamlining the reconciliation cycle in the Cloud back in 2016. While it’s not uncommon for some EPM products to lose functionality during their initial transition into the Cloud space, ARCS retains the “good bones” of its on-premise counterpart – Account Reconciliation Manager (ARM). ARCS builds upon the clever functionality and customizability of ARM, released in 2012, yet with the slick look and feel of the Oracle Cloud experience.

Since its release, ARCS has become the “golden child” of the reconciliation product family, receiving not only “first dibs” on refinement of existing capabilities, but also benefiting from the newest components such as Transaction Matching (note: this has separate licensing than the Reconciliation Compliance component of ARCS).  As the product continues to gain steam, this trend is expected to continue. Between utilizing the tried-and-true foundation of the ARM tool and having Oracle’s watchful eye, ARCS is a safe bet.

No Mistakes with Modularity

Unlike some applications, ARCS is easy to implement in pieces. While good design will certainly prevent future heartache, there are no decisions made on Day 1 of a project that cannot be modified or enhanced in the future:

  • Want to manually enter data for reconciliations today, but automatically load them from a source system tomorrow? We can do this.
  • Missing fields for additional detail you would like users to include? Can be ready for next period (or the current one even!)
  • Only want to rollout in one country to start? No problem – go ahead and make the other entities jealous!

While some changes are “cleaner” than others (I am looking at you, Profile Segments!), ARCS welcomes you to “test the waters” and see what works in your company without needing to go “all-in.” For example, a current client has a live ARM application that provides a viable solution for its reconciliation process needs given the initial project timeline and budget. Although the client wasn’t able to fully utilize the available functionality at the time, the modularity of the reconciliation tools (both ARM and ARCS) allows the opportunity for enhancements without punishing this design decision – we are now revamping the client’s auto-reconciliation setup to further streamline the process. For Partners, this means additional project phases; for clients, this means not biting off more than you can chew (win-win!).

Want to dive deeper into this topic?  Read the blog posts in the series Modularity in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): No Mistakes from “Day 1” to “Day 100.”

Fast Implementation Cycles and Rapid ROI

Relative to other EPM project lifecycles, ARCS is typically a quick implementation. As with all projects, there are certainly exceptions, but with Ranzal’s “Quick Start” methodology, we have stood up applications in just six weeks! A strong inventory of project “accelerators” – custom tools and scripts that Ranzal has developed based on common requests across multiple clients – allows sophisticated deployments in a timely manner. Couple this with the inherent time saving benefits of Cloud technology (i.e. lack of infrastructure setup, etc.), and ARCS shines as the first step in a Roadmap, producing tangible metrics for evaluation (ex. completion percentages per period, timeliness per Preparer/Reviewer, reconciliation accuracy, etc.) and giving users a taste of the Oracle Cloud experience in a short period of time.

You Don’t Have Anything Today and It’s Costing You

I know that may read like a presumptuous fear tactic, but hear me out:

Account reconciliations ARE being completed in your company – one way or another. Whether that means your CPAs are *click*click* clicking away on their keyboards to manually update Excel spreadsheets or – heaven forbid – actually printing out recons to hand sign, if you cannot name the system that is comprehensively handling your reconciliation cycle, it’s because there isn’t one.

And this is normal. But there are costs associated with this normalcy.

Reconciliation cycles aren’t sexy (well…personal taste…) and often have low visibility to upper management. And yet (!) the reconciliation process is often widespread across the company spanning business entities, departments, and corporate ladders (I see you, Mr/s. Director signing off on recons). ARCS is an attractive option when considering enterprise-wide Cloud solutions to “test run” because everyone can try it. A successful ARCS implementation paves the way for easier adoption of future projects – it gets everybody onboard.

Step Through the “ARCSway” and Ditch the Bulls*#!

The shift to the Cloud is disrupting the traditional market of on-premise EPM solutions. As you look at the new strategic options available to your company’s roadmap, consider ARCS as a “first step.” Of note, it is important to have an accurate understanding of the tool – ARCS is first and foremost a management tool, and although it can provide helpful information in troubleshooting account variances, it does not replace actually performing a reconciliation in an ERP system. Additionally, customizing reports can be difficult (unless you are familiar with BI Publisher), although the out-of-the-box reports and strong dashboarding capabilities largely make up for this limitation. All-in-all, I strongly recommend this product as an introduction to the new Oracle offerings. ARCS’ “low risk, high reward” nature provides real company value quickly while presenting you with a good picture of life in the Cloud. Now is the perfect time to ditch your “bull-sand” reconciliation process and update to a more solid foundation in the Cloud through the ARCSway.

This post has been cross-posted on the #DataRestless blog site – read it here and other Oracle-related posts as well.

Contact us today for details about a custom Cloud solution for your business needs.

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