Out-of-the-Box Features: Profitability and Cost Management Cloud Service (PCMCS) – Intelligence and Dashboarding: Traceability

Traceability is the buzz word in any regulated industry. Being able to prove the numbers is crucial to all businesses, but it can be very time consuming and complex for companies that operate across multiple and diverse lines of business with a large pool of Channels, Services, Customers or Products. Shared Services implementations require a clear understanding of the flow of costs.

Where is this cost coming from?

Why have I been charged so much more this month for the same service compared to last month ?

These questions should be easy to answer. Unfortunately, not all profitability analysis technologies are able to support a quick turnaround for providing the required level of detail.

PCMCS has more than one option to easily provide much-needed answers.

The Rule Balancing report is one of numerous out-of-the-box (OOTB) features included with an Oracle Cloud Service subscription able to support data traceability and transparency. For more details about the type of information the report provides and to learn the ease with which it can be set up for your application, review this comprehensive blog post.

Besides Rule Balancing reports, PCMCS OOTB features support transparency within allocations and/or profitability models with Traceability maps.

The focus of the current post is how to access, build, and use Traceability maps.

The order in which I am covering the PCMCS OOTB features is directly related to the Intelligence menu options available in PCMCS.  As a recap, the 6 menu options are listed below:

Alex Mlynarzek - Analysis Views and Scatter Analysis - 2-28-19 - Image 1  1.  Analysis Views (How to create them, customize them and use them here)

Alex Mlynarzek - Analysis Views and Scatter Analysis - 2-28-19 - Image 2  2.  Scatter Analysis (Setup and configuration covered here)

Alex Mlynarzek - Analysis Views and Scatter Analysis - 2-28-19 - Image 3  3.  Profit Curves (Usage and features covered here)

Alex Mlynarzek - Analysis Views and Scatter Analysis - 2-28-19 - Image 4  4.  Traceability

Alex Mlynarzek - Analysis Views and Scatter Analysis - 2-28-19 - Image 5  5.  Queries

Alex Mlynarzek - Analysis Views and Scatter Analysis - 2-28-19 - Image 6  6.  Key Performance Indicators

The contents of this blog are based on the standard Bikes (BkML30) demo application, so you can follow the step-by-step details without having to go through an app setup from scratch. You can load and deploy this application directly from your PCMCS Instance through a couple of clicks via the Application menu using the + / Create button.

Traceability – Intro

The traceability maps, whether in PCMCS or in on-premise HPCM, allow users to graphically visualize the allocation flow. A chosen business segment can be traced through the allocation steps, either backwards or forwards, starting from a predefined point. Images  make up the map of a data point either flowing into the selection of members chosen by an end user to troubleshoot or flowing out of that selection into subsequent allocation steps.

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 1

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 2

Traceability is a great tool for troubleshooting specific intersections of detailed data such as base level accounts against a specific department. However, when there is a need to identify patterns or troubleshoot allocation results at a higher level, the Standard Profitability (the first on-premise version of the Profitability module) Traceability maps are not geared to handle such requests. In order to perform a high-level analysis in Standard Profitability models, users would have to revert to Smart View or Financial Reports.

Being able to trace data at a summarized level of detail is the key difference between traceability in Management Ledger applications and traceability in Standard Profitability. Management Ledger allows end users to select the level within the hierarchy where they desire to launch or generate traceability, whether base level or otherwise.

Traceability – Setup

The starting point of any traceability map in Management Ledger is Model Views.  If you are interested in learning how to build and use Model Views, spend a few minutes reviewing this prior post.

List of steps necessary to launch a traceability report in Management Ledger applications:

  1. Select a valid Point Of View (POV). The POV must contain data in order to display any traceability results.
  2. Choose a prebuilt Model View – example: IT Support Activities.
  3. Select a tracing dimension which will represent the detail that is the focus of your analysis (Accounts, Departments, Entities, Business Units, Segments, etc). The selected tracing dimension determines the focus or scope of your analysis and will be the one dimension that is displayed at base level detail or any other generation within the hierarchy.
  4. Trace Forward and Use Generation Selection boxes are selected by default.  Not selecting “Trace Forward” allows users to perform a “Trace Backward” action; in other words, figure out how the model arrived at a data value for a selected intersection, rather than how a data value was allocated out from that intersection to other recipienAlex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 3

A report with the “Use Generation Selection” filter disabled will display the data at the base level for the Trace Dimension (in this example, Entity).

Note: If a message is received indicating the Flash Player version is not up-to-date, check that pop-ups are enabled on the page to allow the download of the required update.

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 4

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 5

If the traceability report does not generate any results, check that the allocation rules were successfully completed for the referenced POV. Alternatively, if the POV calculated is successful, but data is not displaying on the Trace Screen, check that the application variables are correctly setup for Current Year, Period, and Scenario. Also ensure the Account dimension maps are specified in the Dimension Settings screen.

Traceability – Display Options and Filters

Traceability screens have 5 display options:

  1. Vertical (Top Down)
  2. Horizontal (Left to Right)
  3. Tree
  4. Radial
  5. Circle

Within the traceability analysis, users can focus on a single rule. The tracing dimension in the previous example is Entity. The tracing dimension is the focus of the traceability reports – following how data was allocated into or out of a base level Entity.

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 6

To isolate a specific rule and separate it in a standalone diagram, click Shift+Enter or select the graphical option on the top of the Rule ID box.

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 7

End users have the choice of displaying the aliases/descriptions of the Entities rather than the code member names. If aliases have not been uploaded in the metadata of the application, then the report will still reference the member name codes, regardless of this choice.

The following traceability report will display how operating expenses are reallocated /redistributed from each support entity (like IT, Facilities, IT, etc.) to the production entities using predefined driver configurations referenced in the Rule box.

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 8

Select the “Trace Forward” filter and keep constant all other prior selections in the initial traceability screen to display IT Support Activity charge out.

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 9

The “forward tracing” of IT allocations represents how data is allocated out to consuming departments such as Finance, Marketing, Outside Sales, Assembly, etc.  Remember the focus of the trace screen depends on the “Tracing dimension” selected. In this example, Entity was the tracing dimension.

The top box, R0009, shows us the Rule Name relevant for IT allocations, the ruleset reference, the Driver used to allocate data to Targets – in this case : Desktop Laptop Users, regardless of Activity performed (NoActivity reference) as well as the amount / dollar value of the allocation : Allocation Out 1.338.000.

Users have the flexibility to allocate data partially (to allocate only a % of the total value instead of 100%). That is what the Contribution % reference in the R0009 box represents. In this rule, the administrator/rule designer decided to fully allocate the IT cost to the consuming department instead of allocating it partially. Therefore, the 100% reference is displayed.

In the case of the Bikes ML (Management Ledger) application, the Entity dimension has 4 generations. When talking about generations, the larger number, in this case number 4, represents the lowest level of detail. Generation 0 represents the Dimension name; Generation 1 represents the first set of children; Generation 2 represents the Children of Children, etc.

Below is a radial display of the contribution charge out at base Entity level when no generation selection was made prior to launching the traceability report:

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 10

We can see in this diagram how much each Target Department was charged for their IT bill.  The contribution from the IT department to each target is displayed as a %.

Change the generation reference from 4 to 3. The higher the number of the generation, the more summarized the detail. The change of Generation reference will result in a summarization of the members of the Entity dimension to one level higher than seen previously.

Alex Mlynarzek - Traceability - 5-21-19 - Image 11

Notice how there is no longer an Entity breakdown at base level as we had in the previous screen when Generation 4 was selected, and the contribution percentages have been summarized to display the contribution % at a node level.

In situations where a dimension has many levels within the hierarchies or an increased volume of base level members, the generation selection proves useful as it allows users to group data sets and display them in the same diagram without compromising the level of detail.

Traceability – Customization

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, PCMCS comes with several features to support traceability and troubleshooting, one of these features being the Rule Balancing report. In situations where the traceability maps are insufficient to support a meaningful conversation regarding bill out values, and a deeper dive into an individual rule is necessary, the Rule Balancing report covers such a request.

While the traceability report has evolved in comparison to the Standard Profitability model, its usage is limited to situations where there is a need to troubleshoot specific data points while also having a visual representation as support.

The most common alternative to graphical traceability reports are ad hoc reports in Smart View, either built from scratch or launched via the Rule Balancing report (described in detail in a previous post).

Conclusion on OOTB features: Traceability

Business segment profitability analysis represents the analysis of operations and profitability of individual segments (e.g. Lines of Business, Products, Channels, Customers, Services) within a company. Business segment reporting requires all costs to be divided into one of the two categories:  direct /traceable costs or indirect/nontraceable costs.

In PCMCS, all costs are transparent and fully traceable. An indirect cost value can easily be traced throughout the flow of the allocation model all the way down to the business segment being analyzed. The indirect allocated volume can be explained through step-by-step analysis, high level traceability maps, and OOTB reports listing out the rules impacting the distribution of such cost.

Using a combination of Model Views, Rule Balancing reports combined with Traceability analysis and Smart View ad hoc retrievals, there should be no doubt regarding the source of a data value within PCMCS. Metric data validation – situations where the intersections for each metric are customized to such extent that building a Rule Balancing report or an individual Model View is not efficient nor effective – is mostly performed via Smart View.

In a nutshell, traceability provides significant benefits:

  • users can trace both revenue and cost based on predefined model views.
  • traceability can flow forward or backward from a starting point.
  • users can review the final contribution % (driver details are not displayed on this screen).
  • users can toggle between different display options and focus on specific rules for focused analysis.

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Is there a PCMCS-related topic that you would like to see covered in more depth?  Email us at infoSolutions@alithya.com.

Using Data Visualization and Usability to enhance end user reporting – Part 4: Tying it all together

Now that the foundations have been set in my last three posts, in this final post I’ll share how we can create reports, leveraging:

• Standard definitions and metrics
• The understanding of how users  will consume data and interact with the system

To effectively create reports, make sure to follow these key best practices:

1. Reduce the data presented by focusing on the important information. For example, rather than showing two lines for revenue actuals and revenue budget, try showing one for the difference. Users can identify trends much more quickly when there are fewer objects to focus on.

2. Concentrate on important data and consolidate it into chunks. If you have two charts, use the same color for revenue on both of them. This makes it easier to interpret and see trends between them

3. Remove non-data items, especially the images, unnecessary lines and graphics. This helps the user focus on the actual data, so they can see trends and information rather than clutter.

Here is an example of two reports with the same data. The first provides a table with various colors, bold fonts and line. The second report highlights the important areas/regions. Your eyes are immediately drawn to those areas needing attention. Table two allows the user to draw accurate conclusions more effectively and in a much shorter timeframe.

These are some general practices which can be applied in most cases and will give users a much more positive experience with your reporting system. If you need help making sense of your reporting requirements, creating a coherent reporting strategy or implementing enterprise reporting, please contact us at info@ranzal.com.

Using Data Visualization and Usability to Enhance End User Reporting – Part 3: The Balance between Data and Visual Appeal

In part three of my blog series, I’ll provide an overview of the important balance between data and visual appeal when creating reports, including some of the latest research and findings.

Many users believe that once you have the metrics in place and understand what data users want, the next step is to create the reports.

In reality, a lot of thought and a careful eye are required when making design considerations to create charts, grids and tables that convey the details in the simplest terms for user understanding. The right design choices enable users to see easily the trend, outliers, or items needing attention.

Many people think that the more data they can cram in, the better. However, studies have shown that the average person can only store 6 chunks of information at a time.  Depending on how flashy and distracting your graphics and marketing logos are, you may have already used up half of your brain’s capacity, without getting to any reports or dashboards.

Graphic overload may make one consider removing all distracting graphics, highlights, bolds and visual clutter to show the data – novel concept right?

But this is not the solution. There has been lots of visualization studies and research done over the past century that have uncovered that eliminating graphics altogether is not the solution to this dilemma.

In fact, there are several leading experts on this topic, including three key people, who are leading the charge against clutter and visual distraction, cheering for more measured and thoughtful chart and dashboard visual design. These individuals are:

·         Edward R. Tufte

·         Colin Ware

·         Stephen Few

All three have published several books explaining how we interpret visual data, including what makes our eyes drawn to color and form, and what aids understanding. It also explains “chart junk” – a term first coined by Tufte in 1983. Tufte defines “chart junk” as simply:

Conventional graphic paraphernalia routinely added to every display that passes by: over-busy grid lines and excess ticks, redundant representations of the simplest data, the debris of computer plotting, and many of the devices generating design variation.”

The key concept of “chart junk” leads into another of Tufte’s mantras called the “Data Ink” ratio. The idea here is that by minimizing the non-data ink you are maximizing the data ink.  In other words,  that you can achieve the ideal balance of data and design by removing borders, underlines, shading and other ink elements which don’t convey any messages

There are a lot of available resources out there on this topic by these authors and others.

Stay tuned for my final blog post, in which I will demonstrate how to effectively put these concepts  into practice when creating reports.

Using Data Visualization and Usability to Enhance End User Reporting – Part 2: Usability

In this second part of my blog series, I’ll be looking at usability and what it really means for report design.

Usability takes a step back and looks at the interactions users have with reports. This includes how users actually use the reports, what they do next, and where they go. If users refer to another report to compare values or look at trends, they should think about condensing these reports into a single report or even create a dashboard report with key metrics. This way, users have a clear vision of what they need or what Oracle calls “actionable insight”. From there, users can provide other users with guided navigation paths based on where they actually go today.

With improved usability, users can review an initial report and easily pull up additional reports, possibly from a different system or by logging into the general ledger/order entry system to find the detail behind the values/volumes. With careful design, this functionality can be built into reporting and planning applications, to provide a single interface and simplify the user interactions.

Here is a real world example of how improved usability can benefit users on a daily basis: Often a user will open a web browser and an item is highlighted as a clickable link. Normally if you click on the link, it will open up in the same window, causing you to lose the original site that you visited. By clicking the back button, you can also lose the first site that you visited. With improved usability, clicking on a link would result in a new pop-up window, so when finished users are able to choose which windows to close and return to the original window.

The challenge with achieving improved usability, is that many organizations lack visibility into how users actually use reports, especially with users spread all over the world. One possible solution is for organizations to ask users about their daily activities. The issue here is that often users are uncomfortable discussing what they do and where they go online. Companies can overcome this challenge by enforcing sessions where they can ask leading questions including why users feel uncomfortable sharing their daily activities. These types of sessions can help organizations uncover the root causes/issues, giving them the insight to delve deeper to understand what lies behind the report request.

One common scenario where you could apply this approach is when users ask for a full P&L for their business units, so they can compare and ring anyone over budget.  By having a session to understand the users’ specific needs/daily activities, organizations can instead produce a dashboard that highlights the discrepancies by region. With this dashboard, there is no need to compare and analyze; users can open the dashboard and see the indicators with a click of a button. Users can drill down for more information while placing that call!

In conclusion, improved usability means helping users get to the answer quicker, without having to do a lot of unnecessary steps. The old adage is true – KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid!

Using Data Visualization and Usability to Enhance End User Reporting – Part 1: Introduction

Throughout my experience on client engagements, I’ve encountered a common issue: reports. In Part 1 of my blog I will address the reporting challenge, highlight some key benefits of standardized reporting, and outline an approach for implementing a standard enterprise reporting system.

On some engagements, clients want to reproduce the same old reports they had in the previous system, assuming that if users were complacent before, they would be happy with the same reports going forward. This is not the case. On a recent project, the client was in the midst of replacing a 10 year old system. Several business users were not happy at the prospect of continuing with reports that were created a decade ago!   Other clients think that because the finance team has been getting the same reports for the past few years, that’s all they need.  This is another incorrect assumption. In many cases these reports are not being utilized and users may even be using Excel to manipulate and turn the reports into something more useful.  So why would you give users the same old reports, when, with a bit of foresight and planning, you can give them reports which enhance the way they do business and actually make it easier for them?

Some of the key benefits of an enterprise reporting system are:

  • Single version of the truth – everyone has the same revenue /cogs/opex numbers
  • Analysts have more time to analyze data and trends rather than consolidate data to make reports

And how do you enhance reporting and deliver added value to users?

To provide users with the necessary reports, it actually takes a multi-disciplined approach, focusing on usability and data visualization.  This assumes you have created the back end databases with appropriate structures to support your reporting needs.   It’s also critical to have a single definition for accounts and key metrics. This makes a big difference in reporting and getting everyone aligned to the single version of the truth you are about to create.

In Part 2 of my blog, I’ll look at usability and what it actually means for report design.