How does a product from a medium sized cloud vendor that assists in a budgeting and planning implementation, compare to those offered by larger vendors such as Oracle? Is the technology comparable, does the product offer all the expected functionality to meet all the required business functionality for Corporate Performance Management including: reliability, accountability, informed business decisions, automated collaborative process, version control and consistency to name a few.
Oracle vs Vena?
When I started working with Vena I must admit I was a little skeptical and reserved. Coming from an Oracle background and having used a number of Oracle products including Hyperion and Essbase, I wondered how Vena, a product from a medium sized cloud vendor would compare. I was totally amazed and impressed. Vena meets all my expectations and more. Vena offers a unified platform that will manage and streamline the budgeting, planning and forecasting process, offering a standard but flexible solution.
Excel as a front-end
First off, the routine checks on the Vena website, reading the sales and marketing information, allayed some of my reservations. Excel as a front end can only be a positive in a financial / business environment. Finance departments really like Excel and in many companies Excel is the product of choice for multiple financial functions, which can lead to a host of problems such as a lack of standards, version control, limited or manual process management and ineffective security. Vena on the other hand provides a central repository and database to keep budgets consistent across the entire business ensuring data integrity. Businesses can create and use Excel based templates and reports from a centralised database. Using Excel as part of Vena means there is little change management as most of the budgeting and planning users within the organisation would be acquainted with Excel.
After a training course, I was all set to put Vena through its paces. I began in earnest when I started work on a budgeting and rolling forecast project for a diversified industrial group. Throughout my career implementing and developing software systems I have always been of the belief that the best way to learn a product and test its capabilities is through an implementation.
After a few weeks acquainting myself with the customer, the requirements and some initial project work, it was full steam ahead as the lead project consultant and a deadline to meet the company’s budgeting process. First off, I needed to sharpen my Excel skills, which had become a bit rusty. Oracle tended to avoid anything to do with Excel until its purchase of Hyperion with its Excel Add-in and later Smart View. However, one tended to use Smart View capabilities in Excel on a Hyperion Project rather that Excel capabilities. Then using all the Vena functionality as required. This included defining an extensive budgeting and forecast process. The budgeting process included several tasks – sales budget, capex budget, expense budget, payroll / salaries HR budget (per employee), intercompany, balance sheet and reporting tasks and each task included up to 50 or more activities and reviews. Although the process mapping can be a little tedious it works well and more than adequately enabled the processes for budgeting and forecasting and it met the customer requirement. Features including status tracker, emailing users, exporting tasks to CSV and the process audit which provide good checks and balances allowing business owners to track progress and identify bottlenecks. The budgeting process provides functionality to automate budget activities, tasks, reviews and approvals to shorten the budget cycle.
All customer requirements and specifications were met with product functionality and Excel, with a combination of using Excel functionality in reports and templates and product functionality with hierarchies and alternate rollups, attributes and calculation scripts. There was nothing that was required in the project functional specification that could not be fulfilled in Vena.
Definition of the model
One of the most important aspects of a budget and forecasting project is the definition of the model. The model definition will provide the basis for how the budget can be viewed across different dimensions and how it will be aggregated. Vena provides an easy to use interface for model definition and multiple tools for defining and maintaining hierarchies, and even the mass import of data through file uploads and data integrity checks though download capability – ETL templates and export. With Vena one can use query expressions to filter data, Hibernate Query Language (HQL) and Model Slice Query Language (MQL). These are easy to learn and use and provide powerful data query.
Cloud based advantages
One of the best advantages of using Vena is that it is cloud based. With tight project timescales for delivery this meant that the application could be accessed at anytime from anywhere. This ease of use may seem trivial but it is a leap forward compared to previous projects that required VPN connections being set-up or even staying on a company’s network to access the application on premise servers. As a project lead and as users were added to the application and started using the application to input data or view reports, one did not have to worry about server availability, application availability, processor assignment, speed or backups. This is all transparent in a cloud environment. It truly allows one to focus on the project per say and leave the environment to the vendor. During the project we experienced some data issues and needed to re-instate some data after an erroneous data upload. No problem. Historical data can be accessed via an export at any time for a given date and time within 5-minute intervals – truly remarkable. No need to contact IT and request a backup (which may not have run for whatever reason). All historical data can be exported to a CSV file and uploaded as required when required by anyone with administration rights on the project.
Cloud based environments provide businesses with many benefits including:
- Reduction in IT costs and overheads by not having to manage and maintain IT infrastructure
- Scalability in that the business only pays for the services it requires (Subscription based)
- These services can be extended as and when the business requires. (Elastic)
- The vendor will manage server allocation for optimum performance and 100% availability
- The vendor will manage the environment including automatic backups patching and upgrades
- Strict controls and policies and enhanced security ensure data protection
- The business can focus on the high value activities such as planning and budgeting, reporting and analysis.
Overall Project Summary and Business Benefits:
- Comprehensive process definition and control, result in a reduction of the budget cycle and forces accountability.
- Excel input templates and reports provide a familiar tool with the benefits of control, standardisation, consistency in calculations, formulas and methods.
- Data integrity provides consistency in business decisions.
- Easy to use model, hierarchy and attribute definition and maintenance. Scripts for calculating data. Super users can easily maintain the models and modify them as the business needs change or as the business requires. Business can respond quickly to a changing business environment and assess new opportunities. Corporate Performance Management allows a business to set goals and targets in line with strategy and ensures the right focus and direction for the organisation.
- Consolidate data in the budget model such as actual, budget and forecast to provide complete sustainable reporting and comparisons to improve insights and the financial impact of initiatives. This is achieved via ETL functionality or integration channels and can be scheduled to run in the background.
- Dashboards provide quick views for management, ease of use, analytics and insights.
- Super users have access to functionality that helps maintain, monitor, and control the environment without having to involve IT. For example, full history of jobs run, versioning to create a backup of data, the base for a new “What-if” Scenario or to clear data, process variables or global variables to reduce template script maintenance.
- Audit trails of user access and snapshots of data inputs and data saved enforcing full accountability for the numbers, allowing budget owners to keep track of the budget process.
My project experience with Vena was one of complete satisfaction. Vena meets all the requirements for an advanced Corporate Performance Management System.
I used to love Hyperion Planning but now I love Vena even more.
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