PBCS vs. On-Premise Hyperion Planning: New Features
As we all know, Oracle has put virtually all of their development efforts into the cloud. This is especially true for the EPM Suite of products (PBCS, FCCS, ARCS, etc.). As a result, PBCS keeps getting great new features that we may never see in on-premise Hyperion Planning. I was talking to Jake Turrell today and we were comparing notes on the new functionality that we have used in PBCS on projects recently. That conversation devolved into us making a rather long list of new features. Special thanks to Jake for helping me make this list, as I wouldn’t have thought of a good portion of the things on it without his help. So what new functionality has been added to PBCS that will likey never make it to on-premise Hyperion Planning?
Hyperion Planning has existed for over 15 years now, so you might think that the form design capabilities would be fully-baked by now. For the most part, this is a true statement. But, there have been some pretty big holes that PBCS has finally filled. Two new additions in particular make for a better form design experience for developers: Exclusions and Ranges.
In Planning, when we attempt to select members, that’s the only option…select members. In PBCS, they have added the ability to edit the selection (our old select members option) and the ability to add exclusions. Exclusions give us an easy way to take, for example, inclusive descendants of our entity dimension while excluding a specific list. This is particularly useful when we are referencing a substitution variable or a user variable. We don’t know the full extent of what could be returns, but we do know what we definitely don’t want.
When you do monthly forecasting, nothing has been more annoying in form design than the inability to easy specify a range of members. In Planning, I can’t just ask the form to give me Jan through &CurrentMonth in one column and &CurrentMonth through Dec in another column. This means to really make my forms dynamic, I need more substitution variables than I’m comfortable with and a form that has a ton of columns with the combinations. In PBCS, I now have four new member selection functions that allow me to put together a range:
- Left Siblings
- Left Sibling (inc)
- Right Siblings
- Right Siblings (inc)
Finally! I can do a range of members with just two columns and a single substitution variable!
We can now format our forms! You can change colors, font styles, add lines, along with other formatting options. These options will show up in Excel and in the Simplified Interface. This does not work in Workspace…but who cares, it’s officially dead in PBCS anyway as of the February release coming out shortly.
Not to be confused with regular forms…we have Smart Forms. This is an exciting new feature that allows you to take an ad hoc form, add formulas, and save them to the actual form! While this is cool for a demo, I’m not necessarily a fan in practice. While it is much better than building formulas in an actual form, which is painful, it still presents a problem. Why are you doing form math? In general I try to put math back in the Essbase model rather than having formulas on multiple forms.
In Planning, if I want to add periods to just a single plan type, I’m totally out of luck. The boxes are all grey and there’s no way around it. In PBCS, I can now simply un-check the plan types from which I would like to exclude the member. This is a simple feature, but makes a massive difference in the flexibility in our designs.
For literally years I’ve helped companies add and delete years from Planning applications. There are a few ways to do this, but none of them are supported or in the interface. In PBCS, if I want to delete a year, I simply select the year and click the delete button. Again, this is super-simple, but so very nice to have. Additionally, if I want to add years in the past, I can now do this in the interface! Simply add the number of years you wish to add, and when PBCS asks if you would like to add them to the end, click no. Now you have years years in the past. This feature is a little more obfuscated, but still pretty simple.
On-Premise planning does have the idea of a reporting cube and it does give you the ability to create some level of mapping. But it definitely doesn’t do what PBCS does. PBCS has the ability to map and move data on the fly and then it takes it a step further: Smart Push. Smart Push is one of the most amazing features that they have added to PBCS. For many applications, it gives us the ability to have an ASO cube with live data from our BSO cube with no crazy partitions or really any work at all beyond the mapping. So as long as we input to our BSO cube and report from our ASO cube, I may never need to aggregate my BSO cube again.
It is fair to mention that while this functionality is not baked into Planning, if you really need it, you can build it from the ground up with some fancy scripting on the back end. Even still, it doesn’t hold a candle to the ease of use and stability of Smart Push.
I’ve been demoing Planning and Essbase for a very long time. When people ask what benefit Essbase might have over Planning, there are very few good answers. One of those answers however has always been that Essbase can support what we call matrix security. This is essentially the ability to allow a user to have write access to a cross dimensional set of intersections. For instance, for Entity A I can modify Account 1000 while for Entity B I can modify Account 2000. Planning simply doesn’t support that. I have to give a user Entity A, Entity B, Account 1000 and Account 2000. That user will be able to modify all combinations.
PBCS fixes this. With valid intersections, I can create a set of intersections as defined above and limit the user’s ability to write back to invalid intersections. From a security perspective, they still have access, but with valid intersections, they lose it. Many people wanted valid intersections to give us the ability to cascade member selections across dimensions, which would be cool, but this functionality is just as useful.
I know what you’re thinking, Planning has SmartLists. But PBCS has SmartLists that can be dynamically created directly from a dimension. This means that I can provide the user with a list of accounts. Big deal…who cares, right? I care if I add an account. With this new functionality, when an account is added, the SmartList is updated automagically. Ok…that is a big deal. Not content with this already amazing feature, Oracle took it a step further. You can also reference the value of a SmartList in a calculation. This means that I can use the selection in a SmartList to truly manipulate data. Basically a new alias is created that references the OBJECT_ID. That OBJECT_ID is also used as the value stored in Essbase for the SmartList selection. Combined, I can easily reference the member that the SmartList is linked to. Like I said…big deal. Huuuuuge even.
This is another item that has some support in Planning, but missed the point. I can technically add attribute dimensions to a Planning application and I can use them in a variety of ways. But the two ways I need to be able to use them are missing. They can’t be used in a form. They can’t be used in Smart View. I can technically use an Essbase connection directly and use them for analysis, but that only works on BSO and doesn’t work at all on ASO Plan Types.
PBCS fixes both of these issues. I can layer in attribute dimensions easily on forms. It also fixes the Smart View issues by allowing for attribute dimension selection in the Planning Ad Hoc connector. We’ve only been asking for this in Planning for a decade. The chances seem so very slim that we actually ever see it given the list ten years.
Technically speaking, the simplified interface is available in 188.8.131.52. But I don’t think it could possibly be any worse than it is. It’s essentially there for dashboards and everything partially works. The simplified interface in PBCS on the other hand is pretty great. It may require 100 extra clicks for a variety of administrative functions, but for end-users, I would consider it an upgrade.
One of the reasons I believe this is the addition of navigation flows. I can create my own customized tile interface for my application and assign it to a user. This means I can really create a user-specific interface tailored for a specific set of business processes. This helps me put together a pretty awesome demo and makes end-users feel like it is a more truly customized application.
But wait, there is a downside. I love navigation flows. And if your users are primarily in the web-based interface, they are amazing. If the majority of your users are in Excel however…they will totally be out of luck. Navigation flows haven’t made it over there yet. I’m not even sure if they can without a major interface overhaul.
While we are on the topic of the simplified interface, let’s discuss dashboards. They do exist, like the simplified interface, in 184.108.40.206. But, much like the entire simplified interface in 220.127.116.11, they aren’t great. PBCS has also added a variety of new visualization types:
- Combination Graphs (seriously, how is this not in on-premise)
While I believe PBCS dashboards are fantastic, they do have at least one major downside. Again, they don’t work in Smart View. But, it’s a dashboard, so I’ll give Oracle a free pass.
Browser Support and Mobile Support
For a very long time, Internet Explorer was it with Hyperion. Finally, Oracle finally brought Firefox into the fold. Now, with PBCS, it really doesn’t matter what platform you work on. The simplified interface is fully compatible with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. This is of particular importance given how easily I can access PBCS from my phone or tablet. The interface is great on mobile devices. This is an area where dashboards can really shine. To get mobile access in Planning, I have to bribe somebody in IT to open ports on the firewall. And frankly, I don’t think any of us have enough money to afford the bribe necessary for that to happen.
If you haven’t done a lot of international applications, you probably don’t care about this at all. But companies with users all over the world, PBCS has made life much, much better. First is the ability for PBCS to automatically detect your language settings in your browser and to automatically translate everything that’s built in. Oracle has taken this a giant leap further and added something called Artifact Labels. Essentially I can add languages and labels to all of my objects now. Instead of a form being Revenue Input for all of my languages, I can now label that form in any language. This is pretty impressive compared to Planning.
No, not financial reports, but reports about the application. Planning essentially provide nothing in the way of reporting. You can get a variety of information out of the repository, but that’s just painful. PBCS has added a wealth of reporting options. Here’s a quick list:
- User Login Report – When and how often are users in the system?
- Form Definition Report – Great for documentation, this produces a PDF of selected forms with the entire definition in a nice set of tables. Rows, column, POV, page, business rules, etc.
- Approval Status Report – How can I tell where everyone is on their approvals? This will produce a report providing just that in a variety of formats including XLSX and HTML.
- Access Control Report – See how everyone is provisioned. It will show either explicitly assigned rights or effective rights. Pretty convenient.
- Activity Reports – Check out what your users are up to.
- Access Logs – Get the full picture of everything that happened.
- Audit Report – Finally, I don’t have to query the HSP_AUDIT_RECORDS table. I also don’t have to go to the specific cell. I can run a quick export to Excel. Not perfect, but I’ll take it.
Groovy Business Rules
With EPBCS, I can now write business rules in Groovy. These rules can go far beyond the simple bounds of Essbase data. They can pull context from the application itself. I am sad that this feature has not yet and will likely not ever make it into regular PBCS. Here’s hoping.
I’ve been using LCM for a long, long time. I can’t point to specific things in LCM that are better, but I can describe LCM in PBCS as more “mature.” It just feels more stable and seems to work better. This could just be in my head (and Jake’s)…
I know, on-premise applications have a ton of documentation. But, there’s something to be said for easy access to what I’m looking for. There is a ton of content on the Academy and much if it is especially useful for new users. Planning for new users are basically on their own.
No Infrastructure Needs
For those of you that do infrastructure, this is not a plus. But for the rest of us, not needing to install and configure the system is just easy. I don’t have to worry about something in IT getting messed up. I don’t have to worry about applying patches. Having said that, you do lose control of your infrastructure. But hey, it’s the cloud.
No VPN Necessary
I mentioned earlier that I can finally access my PBCS application with my mobile devices. The cloud makes this so much easier. Not only that, but if you need to give your consultant access to the system, it takes 5 minutes and doesn’t require hours of paperwork and begging of IT. I love not needing yet another VPN connection just to modify a form.
Okay, so it isn’t FDMEE. But for most client, it does more than enough. And again…it is free. So stop complaining that it only loads text files.
Having said all of that, and it was a lot, PBCS still isn’t for everyone. But as time passes and development continues for PBCS while it stands still for Planning, it is becoming more and more difficult to ask the question why PBCS? Instead we really have to ask why NOT PBCS?