Colm Kenneally IBM Planning AnalyticsA regular presenter at our Cognos User Groups, Colm Kenneally always remembers to pack plenty of insider knowledge into his technical demos, to show off the very latest in Planning Analytics technology.

As a technical pre-sales specialist for IBM, Colm spends a great deal of time showing off the powerful capabilities of the software to businesses around the country. And with almost two-decades of service under his belt (he came into IBM via two acquisitions – Frango into Cognos, then Cognos into IBM), there aren’t many who know more about Cognos TM1 and Planning Analytics than Colm.

So when we caught up with him, away from the hustle and bustle of the User Group, to talk trends, top tips and TM1, we thought we should share his insiders perspective on Planning Analytics.

The analytics market is saturated with an increasing number of products that rival Planning Analytics… What, for you, makes Planning Analytics stand out?

For me, it’s that there is something there for all users. Some products focus heavily on modellers and administrators, others on end users. Planning Analytics provides strong functionality for all users.

Whether you’re a user that just needs to type in a few numbers, run a report, or create content for others, or if you’re someone who actually has to build a model – the goal is that everyone is served by the Planning Analytics workspace. We’re not fully there yet, but we’re not far off.

How do you think Planning Analytics has progressed Cognos TM1? Was this progression in response to the market or to anticipate the market needs and to stay ahead of the competition? 

Just look at Planning Analytics Workspace. TM1Web is widely used by customers, but requires a little knowledge of the application for it to be used properly. The Workspace takes that to the next level, by making access to TM1 far more user-friendly, with a modern look and feel, rich functionality and self-service capabilities.

Planning Analytics Workspace

TM1 is used most commonly in the finance office, but we’ve used TM1 across the enterprise – in production planning, workload planning and other functions… What interesting areas have you seen TM1 implemented?   

A lot of the projects I’ve worked on recently have covered things like regression forecasting – in other words generating forecasts from underlying historical trends and seasonality. We’re seeing more interest in integrating plans with decision optimisation – making the best decisions based on available resource and constraints.

I’ve also done quite a bit of work recently with customers who want to integrate their actual data from IBM Cognos Controller and the planning and reporting capabilities of PA.

Enterprise software can be notoriously difficult to work with. How is Planning Analytics getting easier to implement and use?

Planning Analytics has a continuous development cycle – new functionality and improvements are introduced and made available to customers every 3-4 weeks. (For cloud customers, they get the new functionality automatically. On-premise customers get them via fix packs, so you don’t need to rip out the entire old version and put the new version back in…).

Does the lack of fanfare (that comes with major releases) mean that some users don’t benefit from the new functionality because they don’t know what’s available?

A lot of what has been released has been practical, usable functionality in response to what people have been asking for. And if it’s worth having, it’s worth having now, rather than in 4 months time.

At times the release will be minor bug-fixes, but other times it’ll be bigger things, like the ability to add sandboxes and compare them on workspace.

One such requested feature was the ability to download data from the Workspace into Excel. You retain your data in Workspace, but you can take it offline to share with a colleague or turn into a report… that functionality was added in the second last release, for example. Many of the updates are really beneficial to the end users.

What's new in Planning Analytics

Planning Analytics is on version 2.0.28 now… This public portal allows users to see all the releases and introductions historically, and as they happen.

What, in your opinion, are the top three features offered in Planning Analytics?

1. Multiple alternative hierarchies on the same dimension: A lot of TM1 users want to analyse their data in different ways. You might sell products, with products in a different product group. But additionally you may have products that are sold to different customer groups. What people have had to do, up until now, is to maintain multiple data sets, duplicating their data into different cubes for analysis. You can now avoid this duplication, and analyse your data in a more meaningful way.

2. The ability to create and compare sandboxes on the fly: It gives you really powerful ‘what-if’ analysis. What if we increase our prices by 10%, what will that do to our bottom-line? And how much better is that than my “no-change” scenario? Is it worth pursuing that strategy? It offers much faster, easier and more powerful scenario and “what if” modelling of the data.

Planning Analytics Sandbox

3. The drilling capabilities – on a dimension rollup, from a summary cube to a detail cube, or from PA to the underlying source system: This really supports reporting and analysis capabilities. If I’ve been presented a result, my next question is going to be “where did it come from?” or “why did it happen?” I want to get behind that particular number – it could be planning data or actual data – but I want to know why we arrived at this figure. TM1’s drilling capability is very, very strong in supporting this analysis.

We’ve seen a trend in customers now using both Planning Analytics and Cognos Analytics. What other trends should we be looking out for?

I have noticed two trends in the past year. IBM has a suite of decision optimisation products that integrate with TM1, which we’re seeing a lot of interest in. Rather than just asking the business what will happen in terms of sales and resources, decision optimisation gives the option to ask questions like, “what is the best way to support our activity based on the anticipated level of sales, the resources we have and the constraints placed on these resources?” It fuels smarter decisions using technology, rather than just relying on gut feel, intuition and experience.

A lot of the work I’ve done in the past 12 months has also been with new or existing Cognos Controller customers – people who are looking to do better financial consolidation, and extend that into a broader financial performance management concept – tactically getting better reporting on their consolidation, but more strategically integrating that into their FPM and planning processes.

Can you give us an insider steer on the direction/innovation that we can expect from Planning Analytics in the near future?

A lot of work has been done recently to make model-building capabilities available in the workspace – expect more soon!

At the moment, if you’re using Architect or Perspectives in modelling, you’re effectively using a client tool to build a modelling environment. We’re making that capability available through the Workspace – right now you can log-on through your browser and do 90% of the things you can do in Architect through the Workspace environment. But expect even more soon.

What top tip could you share that will help our users get more out of their TM1/Planning Analytics application?

Here’s a really simple one – use buttons to navigate between different sheets and the home page in PA Workspace. There’s an update to the button functionality in this latest release!

If you’re designing a Workspace, and it has a multitude of content (multiple reports, multiple inputs, multiple outputs) – and you want to make it as easy as possible for the user to navigate around, explore data and different scenarios, then quickly jump back to their homepage before doing another task, the button function can be added easily and quickly to provide a much more intuitive, compelling user experience that’s simple to use.

Planning Analytics Button

This short video shows how easy it is to build in buttons to your sheets

Collaboration across teams is vital to gaining and sharing greater insight. How is PA helping to foster a more collaborative environment, yet maintaining the control necessary in financial planning and reporting?

PA has always had strong collaboration capabilities as regards planning workflow. The workspace has added to this by allowing users to collaborate across all relevant content.

Spreadsheets are still the tool of choice for many… What features in PAx help fuel TM1’s Excel integration further?

Planning Analytics for Excel is a fantastic tool for people who prefer the Excel interface. PAx is like a next generation CAFE – an extension to the Excel functionality TM1 already offered. We haven’t thrown CAFE away, but we’ve taken it up a level. It’s a more modern interface. It was designed to work in the cloud and across Wide Area Networks. It also gives users a choice of interfaces. You can write content in Excel – enjoying all the benefits of Excel – but then you have the power of the Planning Analytics engine serving that data up. It shares many components with Workspace – if you’re looking at views you’ve defined in Workspace, you can bring them through into Excel. The integration is very strong. The look and feel is very familiar.

Tell us one feature/tip/trick that we could use on Planning Analytics that might surprise us!

You can create a dashboard similar to this (below), from a blank page, in about 5 minutes! [In fact Colm built us a dashboard in Planning Analytics in under five minutes here.]

5 minute dashboard in Planning Analytics

How far into the future does the road map for TM1/Planning Analytics extend? Is there an end goal or is the development fluid in response to the markets needs?

There are short-term and long-term roadmaps – both are fluid.

If there is a feature that our customers are still waiting on – or one that they would like to see introduced – what is the best way to help ensure that it is added (or, at least, considered) in upcoming releases?

The Request for enhancement page allows users to log on and vote for the enhancement that they would most like to see – or suggest a new enhancement. IBM Regularly reviews these requests and you’ll see many of these enhancements introduced in the new releases. You can vote on RFE here.

Planning Analytics RFE Community

How important is self service in todays business environment? And how does that weigh against the importance of data governance?

Planning tools have traditionally been owned and maintained by finance teams, with fairly rigid requirements from the business in terms of what’s input, and what they get out of it. Because the systems are rigidly design for financial requirements, others don’t buy into them or feel they don’t get value out of them, but by offering more self-service, we allow all users to interrogate and explore their data in a way that’s more meaningful to them. They can get quicker answers, and get the information in a much better way than they ever could historically.

There’s loads of excitement around the cloud. It has its obvious advantages, but many still see hurdles in the way to get there. How is Planning Analytics helping and encouraging this migration?

When I started working on TM1, the cloud was just a distant dream. Now, most of our new sales are to the cloud.

Of course, Planning Analytics is available both on-premise and on the cloud, so there’s a path for everyone, wherever they start. Today, however, new clients starting out are more likely to go on the cloud than on-premise.

In terms of functionality there’s no difference, though. So if you choose to go down one path, and change your mind, you’re not going to lose out… And the Secure Gateway functionality means that customers have a high-speed data bridge for their on-premise data to the cloud.

Is there still a perception amongst large organisations that the cloud isn’t mature enough?

Perhaps, but I would argue that it is mature. Culturally, large organisations have large IT departments. They acquire software, install it and maintain it in-house. Organisations are coming around to the cloud, but not all of them are there. There’s still a certain mistrust – a misconception that once your data is in the public cloud, you lose the some of the security and control that you have on-premise. Companies, like IBM, would argue that it’s perhaps safer.

 

Look back at our Planning Analytics (On-Premise) Webinar:

Webinar – Planning Analytics goes local

Planning Analytics – The new face of TM1

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Posted in Cognos, IBM, Planning Analytics, TM1 On January 30, 2018 By