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Monday, December 28, 2009

Experiences with Hyperion Budgeting Applications

Boy, do I miss the annual budgeting process. Who can argue with long hours, strict deadlines, and countless iterations?! Ok, I may be stretching it a bit here, but I certainly have had plenty of experience with the corporate planning process in many shapes, forms, and flavors. Following is a recount of my experiences with the growth and evolution of the Hyperion planning tools.

As a corporate financial analyst in the early ‘90s, the company I worked for performed the annual budget, quarterly forecasts, and monthly reporting using Excel spreadsheets – a practice that was commonplace back then, and still is today, to a large degree. As we all know, Excel is a fantastic tool that serves many purposes. But, as part of the budgeting process, it definitely presents many challenges and leaves a lot to be desired.

Some difficulties I’ve experienced when using Excel for planning include:
• Having to consolidate a multitude of linked spreadsheets on a regular basis.
• Many sources of data.
• Time spent having to repair or update faulty links.
• A confusing maze of cell formulas.
• Trying to determine which file is the most current version.

In the mid-90s, we purchased a tool called Hyperion Pillar to facilitate the budgeting cycle. Pillar was a very good planning tool that was at the top of its class in its heyday. As a side note, the one distinct thing I remember about Pillar when I was first introduced to it was that administrator users were called Motherships and planner users were called Satellites. I think this set the product apart all by itself.

For all the things that were faulty about the naming conventions, the tool itself was very strong. You had a centralized place for standardized calculations (globals). Data was neatly categorized into different modules (expense, revenue, asset, etc.). Financial reports were built by default. There was a single, master file that consolidated in each planner’s file (yea, no more spreadsheet links!). And, it had built-in security down to the dimension level (depts, accts, etc.).

Pillar was a great tool (and still is), which aptly served its purpose for many organizations. But, like other financial applications, it also had its limitations and weaknesses. For example, the reporting aspect did not allow any real formatting or customization. The distribution and consolidation process (sending files to and collecting files from end users) was cumbersome and often resulted in mismatched data. There were limitations in dimensions, line items, and other application objects that made it unusable or inefficient for larger organizations.

I spent many years supporting Pillar while I worked in Hyperion Technical Support and one of the most frequent requests we heard went as follows:

Client: “Hi, can you please have the developers implement Print Preview”.
Me: “Um, yeah, we’ll get right on that….”

If you ever used Pillar, this was one of the biggest complaints about the product. “Every application has a Print Preview!!” For various reasons, Hyperion was not able to implement this functionality into Pillar until the latest releases. And, at that point, Pillar was in its twilight. But, again, for the few faults it had, I would still be the first to say, “I Loved Hyperion Pillar!”

Around the year 2000, Hyperion developed a new budgeting tool that was supposed to be the next generation version of Pillar. I was lucky enough to support the beta and 1.0 versions of Hyperion Planning. Now you want to talk about fun – this was fun! Well, not really…. Challenging might be a more appropriate word. As you can imagine, supporting any 1.0 version of a product is difficult. After supporting a stable, well-liked product like Pillar for many years, trying to support this new brain-child called Planning was downright impossible. We went from a propriety, self-contained program to an application that incorporated relational databases, web application servers, an OLAP engine (what the?!), separate reporting tools, calculation scripting, batching, scheduling, etc. All I could think was, “I want my mothership back!!”

But, as with most successful programs, things always get better. Having been a part of that initial release, I’ve been able to experience Planning’s tremendous growth and stability. You have a web-enabled tool that allows end users to enter their budgets over the web. No more spreadsheets, no more files - the only footprint an end user needs is a web browser. The tool incorporates built-in process management, through both the budgeting and approval process. Hyperion Planning is well integrated with its OLAP engine Essbase and we finally see the ability to perform most of the administrative functions in the web interface. And, for those who still love their spreadsheets (and I know there are many who do!) Planning and Essbase are fully incorporated with the Microsoft Office suite, using a tool called Smart View. This tool allows you to keep a dynamic link into the Hyperion database while working from the familiar Office environment.

Today, with the acquisition by Oracle, Hyperion Planning’s capabilities have expanded farther than ever before. Take reporting, for example. You have the use of the native tools, Financial Reporting Studio and Web Analysis. Or, you can take advantage of the Oracle Business Intelligence (OBIEE) suite of products. You also have more flexibility in data integration. Oracle has the tools that allow you to automate the loading of source data or metadata from your ERP, synchronize your headcount information from your HR system, or drill-down to detailed data in a data warehouse.

Going forward, I believe the Oracle acquisition will be good for Hyperion Planning as integration with other products and interfaces will become more seamless and user friendly. Who knows maybe the budgeting process can actually become pleasant? Ok, maybe the holiday punch I had was a little “strong”, but certainly the current release of Planning should be a tool that allows analysts to do more analyzing (what a concept!) and less number crunching.


Russ Story said...

We evaluated Hyperion Planning version 1.0 and it was a complete failure. For our final product POC we selected Planning 1.0 and Comshare MPC. The Hyperion Planning team was still working on the POC the morning of the presentation. Comshare (now Infor after a brief stint at Geac) but on a much better show and their product seemed much more mature and robuts. Now five years later we're back at the table and strongly considering Hyperion Planning as a replacement for MPC. MPC never gained wide adoption and it's performance is okay at best. We have always been an Essbase shop so it just makes sense to go back to the Hyperion well and give them another chance. I hope the latest Planning version can make our annual planning process (or any other process we choose to use it for) more efficient.

Dave Hong said...


I feel your pain... As mentioned in the blog, supporting the initial release was difficult, to put it mildly. If you do re-visit Planning, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. The product is very stable and feature rich and the interface with Essbase has become essentially seamless. Plus, you add in all the other Oracle tools for data integration, metadata maintenance, predictive forecasting, reporting, etc. and you have a very complete and well-rounded product suite.

If you have any questions around Planning or the EPM suite of products, please feel free to ask.

Anonymous said...


In addition to Hyperion Planning, you may also want to look at combination of Essbase + Dodeca. It is a very good alternative for companies that already have existing Essbase licenses.