Thursday, June 28, 2018

Implementing PBCS at ODTUG

As a Director on the ODTUG Board, I have the privilege of serving as the organization's Treasurer.  Some of my duties include overseeing the organization's financial reporting as well as budgeting and forecasts.  When I took over the role two years ago I did an assessment of our reporting capabilities and I was unhappy about our dependency on Excel as our primary reporting and analysis tool.  Our controller did a fantastic job of pulling the data each month for our close and finance review, but we were limited to the reports that were created and any follow up questions or curiosities that required digging deeper posed a challenge and required someone to go off and manually work on it.

As an EPM professional, I knew there were better tools out there and my colleagues on the board agreed.  Of course this wasn't news, previous boards had also thought about this, but they were impaired by infrastructure requirements.  As a not-for-profit organization ODTUG runs on tight margins; an investment in servers to support an on-premise implementation of EPM software was not practical.  However, our board now had something our predecessors did not have, we had access to EPM in the Cloud.  Running a SaaS application in the cloud would eliminate all the obstacles such as not having a data center or hardware.  We also would not have to carry assets on our balance sheet; with a subscription service, EPM cloud would be a monthly operating expense.

About a year ago we began discussing this during a board meeting, we wanted to take our FP&A activities into PBCS and we put a plan in place.  Working with our partners at Oracle we obtained a small lot of PBCS licenses to build out our application.  I knew there would be a number of benefits if we could successfully implement PBCS at ODTUG.  We would be able to run the organization better, and we could share the experience with our members as a training opportunity.

My role on the board, along with the other board members, is a volunteer position; pretty much everyone at ODTUG is a volunteer, so embarking on a full scale implementation did make me a little nervous.  "Would I have enough time to work on this?", "Am I biting off more than I can chew?" were a couple of the thoughts that went through my head, but having prior experience with PBCS I had some confidence that it could be done in a reasonable amount of time.  So with the help of our controller from our management company, YCC, and some advice from fellow board member Jake Turrel, I jumped into the project.

I've been in EPM for a long time, and I have implemented a number of Hyperion Planning applications.  While PBCS may be considered by some to be "Hyperion Planning in the cloud", it's really so much more.  I was able to have the basic construct of the application up in a couple of hours and was already beginning to load some test data.  When I look at the length of the implementation, which lasted a couple of months in total (working part time on weekends and evenings), the least amount of time was spent on PBCS activities.  It was really all the pre-work at the ledger that took the bulk of the time.  Early on in the process I discovered I was going to have some issues loading data because our ledger, which is managed in Quickbooks, did not have rigid rules around master data.  I quickly found multiple accounts with similar or same name and I knew this was going to be an issue that would haunt us if we didn't deal with it.  I discussed with Jake and we agreed the first step to making the project a success was to clean up the ledger and implement a real chart of accounts.  I brought it up to the finance committee and we voted unanimously to approve the project.  A couple of weeks later I was on a plane to Wilmington, NC for a two day workout with our controller, Nancy.  We spent two days recoding the chart, extracting the data, and loading it into PBCS.  By the time we were done we had an enterprise class COA in place and all of our history was tied out in PBCS.

Over the next couple of weeks I continued to work with the data and took full advantage of what PBCS has to offer, most notably the dashboards.  As the Treasurer it is my job to report to the board each month how we are doing financially.  Prior to the board meeting the finance sub-committee meets to review the financials.  Both of these meetings would take a considerable amount of time as we combed through Excel reports; if we had any questions we would sometimes have to adjourn and reconvene at a later date after the information was collected.  With the PBCS implementation underway, I was able to create various dashboards to show quickly and clearly the financial health of the organization.  The dashboards showed more content than we had available in the past and with features like drill down enabled, we are able to explore the data more fluidly.  Finance reviews now take about 5-10 minutes each month and board members have the ability to login and look at the data anytime they want.

In addition to making life easier for the board and other ODTUG leaders and volunteers, we have also tried to identify where this project benefits our members.  One thing the board has discussed is how can we be more transparent with the inner workings of ODTUG.  We have discussed what financial information is appropriate for us to disclose to our members.  In the past this would have incurred additional cost to ODTUG to prepare the information, but now that we have PBCS we can easily add some reports with various metrics for external consumption.  This is an enhancement I am currently working on and will be disclosing in the near future.

Overall our PBCS implementation has been a huge success and I am happy to be able to share this information with you.  As mentioned above, I want to seize this moment and turn it into a learning opportunity for the EPM community.  Since the implementation, I have shared this information at a few events and I plan to continue doing so in various formats.

Back in May I did a presentation at a NYC meet-up on PBCS that focused on many of the learnings from the ODTUG implementation.  At this year's Kscope I did a presentation: Happily Ever After: ODTUG and Oracle Enterprise Planning and Budgeting Cloud Solution (EPBCS).  If you were unable to attend Kscope, the presentation was recorded and is available to ODTUG members.  I will also be doing a webinar on Aug 21 at 12pm EDT; you can register here.  I am also presenting this topic at OOW in October.

For those of you who prefer to get your content from a blog, I am planning a multi-part blog series on the ODTUG PBCS implementation.  I plan to write about the technical approach to building the PBCS app and touch on various topics such as:
  • How to create a new EPBCS application
  • How to customize PBCS settings to personalize the look and feel of the application
  • How to build and update dimensions using both the web interface and Smart View
  • How to import data
  • How to build forms, dashboard, and financial reports

I hope you will follow this series to see all the interesting content, you can follow this blog to get notifications when the posts are added.

Thanks for reading and please check back soon.

P.S. - here are a couple of other references on this subject to take a look at if you are interested.

ODTUG PBCS press release
DevLive interview with me discussing ODTUG implementation of EPBCS