Oracle’s ARCS Patch 1812 and Patch 1811 Review: Gazing into the Crystal Ball

Peruse the Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS) forums on Oracle’s Cloud Customer Connect and you’ll notice a theme: Transaction Matching. Questions, comments, and critiques have been flooding in from across companies and industries, clients and consultants alike. Combine this with Oracle’s game-changing announcement of the EPM Cloud price simplification plan teased for 2019 – that is, the strategic move to strictly sell bundled EPM Cloud products in the near future (more on this another time – it’s a doozy) – the changes released for ARCS in Patches 1811 and 1812 could not have come at a more opportune time. Furthermore, these changes provide a sneak peek into Oracle’s crystal ball of what’s to come.

The WHAT has come: Changes for ARCS at the end of 2018

The most important change to ARCS from the 2018 season finale, Patch 1812, is the shift from having separate reconciliations between Transaction Matching and Reconciliation Compliance to one standardized use of Profiles. This is configured through the new reconciliation methods provided in Formats (Balance Comparison with Transaction Matching, Account Analysis with Transaction Matching, and Transaction Matching only).

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The implication is that Transaction Matching reconciliations receive all the benefits that previously only Reconciliation Compliance enjoyed, including but not limited to: bulk uploads/updates to Profiles and reconciliations, access to new Workflow options such as Reviewers and Teams, and detailed filtering options including the more hidden statistical metrics (such as attributes related to count, etc.). It is important to note, though, that these new features will almost exclusively relate to new reconciliations using one of the two ‘*with Transaction Matching’ format options, as seen below. Still, the opportunity for clever design is there.

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Furthermore, to support this change, Period will now be shared between the two feature sets. Additionally, reconciliations that are performed in Transaction Matching will now utilize their period-end Balances loaded to Reconciliation Compliance. While historically there have been business processes put in place to ensure that the balance loaded to Transaction Matching equaled the balance loaded for the month-end reconciliation in Reconciliation Compliance, patch 1812 ensures that a system process governs the data’s integrity – certainly a more reassuring thought.

Two additional under-the-radar features introduced in Patch 1812 are (1) the ability to have Workflow that includes multiple members while not requiring an order precedence to the work and (2) the option to now have end-users approve their own re-assignments, reducing the administrative bottleneck. These changes provide value-add functionality that demonstrate Oracle’s willingness to listen to customer feedback even during these more “stuffed” patches.

The last item to mention was actually included in Patch 1811. In Transaction Matching, a text file can now be generated with the transactions or adjustments from the tool which can then be uploaded to the ERP source systems as a journal adjustment. This has been an ongoing request, and I am happy to see it finally actualized.

The WHAT does it mean: Implications and Expectations for ARCS in 2019

Transaction Matching’s relative strength to its competitors is becoming increasingly apparent, as Oracle continues to sure up areas in need of support while also providing updates that show a sensitivity to market demand. The move to unify Transaction Matching and Reconciliation Compliance is not a new idea, as Patch 1805 made apparent with the uniting of the two UIs (and much more – see Oracle Product Management’s webinar update here), but nonetheless is a bold one that I anticipate will pay dividends. The automatic conversion of Transaction Matching reconciliations to Profiles is a nice touch too, making the transition an easier pill to swallow for skeptical clients who I am sure were not eager to pay expensive consulting fees for this. Even smaller changes such as providing a space for strictly manual matching (i.e. without Auto Match rules; Patch 1811 change) demonstrate ARCS’ commitment to be an approachable and modular product that grows with your company – a benefit I have consistently touted in the past, and I expect to continue to do so in the future.  More details about the benefits of ARCS are shared in the posts A Safe Step into the Cloud: The Argument for Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS) and Modularity in Account Reconciliation Cloud Service (ARCS): No Mistakes from “Day 1” to “Day 100”

Changes continue to come to ARCS that only slowly trickle, if at all, down to Account Reconciliation Manager (ARM). This was true for the Variance Analysis reconciliation method which arrived in May 2017 for ARCS, but not until Dec 2017 for ARM, and it is a fair guess that this will be true for the aforementioned “All Preparers” and “All Reviewers” workflow options and end-user re-assignment configuration setting. Combine this with more and more dollars being invested in Transaction Matching compared to Reconciliation Compliance (from where I’m looking, anyway), and the message is clear on who the favorite is in the Oracle product family. While ARM contains strong functionality as an on-premise option, expect the functionality gap to increase compared to its Cloud counterpart.

Lastly, the inclusion of a journal adjustment export out of Transaction Matching is a combo solution: a “we can do that too” to product competitor Blackline’s existing functionality as well as a demonstration of Oracle’s willingness to think outside of the product. This highlights ARCS’ flexibility as a tool capable of being used within other processes. In fact, the Oracle EPM Cloud ecosystem is one of ARCS’ biggest strengths over its competitors.  I would love to see this journaling ability out of Reconciliation Compliance as well which would provide the functionality to most ARCS clients. Regardless, this is a step in the right direction.

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

Ushering in the New Era of Hyperion Strategic Finance

Welcome to the first installment of our new Hyperion Strategic Finance (HSF) blog series. Edgewater Ranzal’s HSF team has been working closely with Ranzal’s other Hyperion practices (HFM, FDM, Planning/Essbase etc.) to hone in on how HSF can be utilized to its full potential in accordance with the other product offerings.  As part of that process we felt it was important to start a dialogue (blog) to share some of our insights on various topics ranging from new product release info to cutting edge integration best practices.  We are hoping this series will be a good resource for you and your organization on your HSF journey.

Given the major changes to HSF in the 11.1.2.2 release, and the exciting product roadmap ahead of us, I thought it would be good to start the series by discussing “The New Era of Hyperion Strategic Finance.”

So…What’s new?

With the 11.1.2.2 release comes probably the most significant change to the product since it was acquired by Hyperion.  A shift in the user interface from a traditional thick client to an Excel based Smart View Add-in is at the core of the change.  The enhancement enables the end user to perform the majority of HSF modeling activities directly in an Excel workbook.  With this change, the legacy reporting in the HSF client has been REPLACED with Excel reporting via Smart View.  This means that those who choose to implement 11.1.2.2 will be required to use the Smart View based reporting and/or export the data to an external database (i.e. Essbase) to utilize other reporting tools (i.e. Financial Reports, OBIEE etc.).  For any current HSF users looking to upgrade, it is important to note that the process of upgrading to 11.1.2.2 automatically converts existing HSF reports into the Smart View format, however, existing charts/graphs will need to be rebuilt and some formatting issues have been identified which may require some re-work.  While this does introduce a big change for end users, it also presents a great opportunity by opening up native Excel functionality like allowing the use of Excel graphing, conditional formatting, highlight sums, and the group / ungroup data feature etc. To view the full list of new features you can look through the 11.1.2.2 Read me, available here.

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Why make the change?

Some existing clients have asked me why this change was made in the first place.  The answer is really two-fold:

1. Tighter Integration with Hyperion Planning: If there has been one consistent theme throughout all of my meetings/conversations with Oracle’s HSF/Planning development team it has been a desire to continuously improve the integration between Hyperion Planning and HSF.  The integration I’m referring to doesn’t stop at data, but also includes seamlessly integrating the end user experience.  Everything from selling the tools as a combined solution (i.e. bundled pricing) to having both HSF and Planning users interact with the tool in a similar manner (i.e. Smart View) have been or will be addressed.  Below I will outline some additional roadmap items that are planned that will continue this theme.

2. Reporting: All legacy HSF users that have spent time creating, formatting, and modifying HSF reports are well aware that reporting has NOT been an area of strength previous to 11.1.2.2.  Both Oracle and our implementation team consistently receive requests to have HSF reporting operate “more like Excel.”  This move is a direct response to those requests, and it is definitely a big step in the right direction.

Current Challenges:

As with any major change / new release there are going to be some growing pains and the 11.1.2.2 release of HSF is no different.  We have been working closely with Oracle over the past couple of months to identify any issues, make recommendations, and test fixes that have been applied.  The main point I want to make clear is that from a functional perspective the tool has the EXACT same capabilities.  You are simply changing the way you do things, not what can be done.  There is a bit of a learning curve to understand the new menu bar, short cut keys etc…but in general it still functions much like its predecessor with the added benefit of the Excel look and feel.

A couple of things to look out for if you will be implementing AND going live prior to the 11.1.2.3 release:

1. Issues with large numbers of active reports:  We have experienced some performance issues when working with a file that has numerous reports (standard or freestyle) open at once.  This includes reduced speed of the check out / in process, flickering upon calc/refresh, and occasional freezing of the application.  Currently, the product seems to work more seamlessly when working with just the accounts tab or 1-2 reports, however, fixing this is at the top of Oracle’s priority list and we expect it to be addressed sooner rather than later.

2. Renaming of Time Periods: You want to avoid renaming the default time periods in the entities (i.e. Changing 2013 to FY13).  In the current release this can cause some calculation issues in system regarding the funding routine.  Again, this has been identified by Oracle and is expected to be resolved in the next patch set or release.

3. Smart View Parity: There are some features that are not currently in the Smart View interface which may require users to revert back to the old HSF client.  Some of these features include the debt/depr schedulers, ECM/ACM etc.  This means that the end user may have to jump between interfaces in certain instances.  The good news is that these features are expected to be added to the Smart View functionality in the next release (11.1.2.3) and can still be utilized in the traditional client if need be.  To see a full list of these items look to the 11.1.2.3 roadmap column below.

4. With the change in the technology, come some changes to the infrastructure component, so it is important to discuss these requirements with your technical team to diagnose hardware and software needs before moving forward. It is also important to note that the upcoming release of 11.1.2.3 will NOT be backward compatible with 11.1.2.2.  So, if you have a multiproduct implementation with integration components you would need to upgrade the entire suite.

Product Direction / Road Map

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The above picture is a snap shot of the HSF roadmap given to me by the Oracle product team.  You can see the current release (as of this blog post) on the far left, calendar year 2013’s scheduled release (11.1.2.3) in the middle, and the subsequent releases on the far right.  The focus this year is to truly stabilize the Smart View integration and incorporate all of the standard features of the thick client into the Smart View interface.  The exciting part of this is how the changes in 11.1.2.2 have set up the product for even more advancement in the future.  Post 11.1.2.3, a lot of the heavy lifting for HSF’s major changes will be complete.  This will allow the team to focus on true feature enhancements like adding a monthly depreciation scheduler or addressing the concept of parent level scenario modeling (possibly an idea for a future blog post!).  In addition, if you look at the future direction, in the Enterprise Readiness section, you will see items such as LRP Integration to Planning, Automated Data Loads, DRM support etc…This represents a future state which allows a user to manage both data and metadata in a consistent manner between HSF, Planning, and Essbase.  Imagine a world where you can have one excel worksheet open with your HSF model and another with a LIVE connection to an HSF reporting cube (via Essbase) for Ad-hoc purposes!  Not only that but a world where the Essbase cube is automatically updated as you make changes to the HSF model, meaning no manual metadata management between applications or tedious mappings that need to be maintained. This type of enhancement truly empowers the user to focus on the modeling aspects of HSF while allowing Essbase to shine for management reporting – truly using the right tool for the right job.

Our Recommendation

Overall we are very excited about the direction Oracle is heading with HSF.  The Smart View capability in 11.1.2.2 is really just the first step in what we see as a continued effort to make the product better for its users.  With that in mind, we have begun multiple 11.1.2.2 implementations, however, it is understood in all cases that there will be some issues to work through and there are no pending deadlines where these issues could put the project success at risk.  In fact, the Go Live dates are not expected to occur until a time when we believe 11.1.2.3 and / or an 11.1.2.2 patch set will be available.  Given that, we do recommend that all new HSF clients seriously considering starting with v11.1.2.2 while taking note of the challenges mentioned above.  Initially this approach eliminates the need for your end users to learn two different user interfaces.  Additionally, if you are willing to give feedback, as an 11.1.2.2 client you will definitely have the ear of the Oracle team as it pertains to resolving any existing product issues, as well as requesting new enhancements for the future.  Oracle is very eager to make this release a success and they truly value any input early adopters can provide.  So if you have the patience to work through some bumps in the road, and the time to resolve the issues you may encounter, I would definitely encourage giving the 11.1.2.2 release serious consideration.

I hope you found this information helpful.  We look forward to coming out with many more in the future. In that vein, if you have any ideas / request for blog topics please feel free to leave them in the comments section or reach out to me directly at rmeester@ranzal.com and we will make sure to address them in future posts.

About the Author

Ryan Meester is a Practice Director for the Strategic Planning Practice at Edgewater Ranzal.  His first encounter with HSF dates back to 2004 as a Consultant with Hyperion in the HSF practice.  After three years in that capacity, leading projects and assisting with business development efforts, Ryan co-founded Meridian Consulting International with two of his Hyperion colleagues, Andrew Starks and Ricardo Rasche.  At Meridian, Ryan, Andrew, and Ricardo focused exclusively on HSF implementation services until Meridian was acquired by Edgewater Ranzal in May of 2010.  This was a strategic acquisition for both Meridian and Ranzal. Both organizations were seeing more and more multiproduct implementations which required a broader EPM focus. The acquisition effectively rounded out Ranzal’s EPM service offering by adding HSF expertise to their repertoire.