Tag Archives: cognos insight

Lessons from the discovery-driven planning approach

Discovery-driven planning

A few weeks ago I researched ideas for improving current planning and forecasting approaches. I stumbled upon a methodology that I had long forgotten. It is called ‘Discovery-driven planning’ and it was developed by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian C. MacMillan. The idea was first published in the July 1995 issue of the Harvard Business Review. While I do not want to go into any details of this approach, I do highly recommend reading the original article. It is very inspiring and thought-provoking. Today, I want to look at some lessons that we can apply to our forecasting and planning processes. However,

The basic idea

Discovery-driven planning is a multi-step planning approach designed for new ventures. It encourages planners to move away from the traditional process of just creating financial projections. One of the core idea of the discovery-driven planning methodology is to develop a set of detailed assumptions around the projections. They should also be quantified and tested against the plan. What it does is the following: Rather than just saying “These are the results we are expecting” you now have a platform for answering a critical question “What has to prove true for our plan/ forecast to work?”. You should rank the assumptions by importance and/ or the level of uncertainty. The process of developing this should be quite valuable itself and one should be in a position to identify critical problems or opportunities. Once the assumptions have been created and tested, they should be assessed on an on-going basis.

Enhance your processes

It’s difficult to disagree with this idea. It’s not rocket-science but it makes perfect sense. Yet, we hardly ever use this approach. Our plans and forecasts are developed as if we could predict the future. Yet, we all know that this is not the case. Various studies, for example, have shown that over 60% of all annual budgets are outdated within the first fiscal quarter. I therefore believe we can significantly improve our processes by incorporating critical assumptions. Not just at the top level but also at the individual contributor level. The resulting process could look like this, for example:

Discovery-driven planning

The development, testing and discussion of assumptions is now a critical part of the process.

An example

Let’s assume we are a sales manager. We have to develop a sales forecast for the next quarter. Following a best practices approach, we only look at our best customers in detail. We spend time developing the forecast – revenue numbers by customer, by product family, by month. Perfect. The numbers look great when we compare them against budget. And our boss is happy with the look of the forecast.

Discovery-driven planning

The traditional approach. This looks great, doesn’t it? But are the numbers realistic?

Most processes stop right there. A good manager would probably ask a few tough questions here and there. But developing assumptions allows us to go further than that. Incorporating this into the process as a step could help us identify risks and opportunities. Below is a simplified example:

AssumptionsNow we can easily see that there is significant risk. And we now have to ability to act on this. The sales manager, for example, could sit down with product management to validate product release dates.

Next steps

Discovery-driven planning represents a very interesting and pragmatic approach. I highly recommend that you read more about this topic. The idea of incorporating assumptions and their test into our daily planning and forecasting exercises could be quite powerful. It’s not rocket-science. Some companies already do this. However, it is usually done at a high level (GDP growth above 2.5%). Managers at all levels can benefit from this idea.

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Updates, updates, updates

Busy times

Wow. It’s been a busy but exciting week. There is a lot going on in the business analytics space these days. Here are some updates that you might find interesting.

Analyticszone.com

  • On Tuesday, IBM launched a revolutionary new solution that combines. IBM Decision Management combines business rules, optimization and predictive analytics to embed intelligence into the fabric of organizations’ decision making. Along with that IBM also launched various new versions of other products like SPSS Modeler, Cognos Express etc.. You can watch a replay of the launch event.

That’s it for today. Short and sweet. Have a great weekend!

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TM1 – The swiss army knife for the finance department?

IBM Cognos TM1

No doubt, IBM Cognos TM1 is a unique solution. I have never met so many loyal and enthusiastic long-term customers than for any other finance-related software solution. TM1 is special indeed. There is a lot to like: it is lightening fast (64-bit in memory), configuration does not require rocket-science, it supports Excel, there is a great-looking web interface etc.. But one of the biggest benefits is that TM1 is very flexible. You can do many things with this solution. Usage is not limited to just planning and forecasting. It is not limited to the finance department but it can be leveraged across the enterprise for a plethora of business problems. And that is why many people say that TM1 is as versatile as a Swiss Army Knife.

What can you do?

What can you do with IBM Cognos TM1? A good colleague of mine recently put an interesting slide together. It shows various applications that European customers have built. This is not an exhaustive list but just a snapshot of what is possible.

TM1 Usage

Much more…

Does this inspire you? Find out more about TM1 by reading my interviews with the author of the IBM Cognos TM1 The Official Guide. And if you haven’t bough the book itself, make sure to pick up a copy sooner than later.

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Part 2 – Interview with the TM1 book author. More about TM1

Last Thursday, I posted an interview with the author of the new TM1 book Karsten Oehler. Here is the continuation of the conversation. This part of the interview focuses on the new IBM Cognos TM1 10.1 release.

Christoph Papenfuss: IBM Cognos TM1 10.1 was released in February of 2012. What is so special about this release?

Karsten Oehler: One of the central components of version 10.1 is a new modeling environment. It is called Performance Modeler. It really encourages finance and business professionals to develop their own models. Performance Modeler allows them to develop complex rules and links. You can also easily import data into applications. None of this requires deep technical knowledge.

Christoph Papenfuss: Does Performance Modeler replace Architect?

Karsten Oehler: Performance Modeler is an enhancement. The user can choose which tool to use. Architect is closer to Excel and has some features which are currently not supported by Performance Modeler. This includes dynamic subsets and report generation of Excel sheets from the cube viewer.

Christoph Papenfuss: There is a new desktop tool call Cognos Insight. It looks similar to TM1. Is there a relationship or connection between the products.

Karsten Oehler: Cognos Insight is a very powerful desktop tool that allows business people to conduct analysis, explore data and to develop prototypes. TM1 and Cognos Insight are closely connected – a local TM1 engine is part of Cognos Insight. It uses the same rule syntax and a simplified Turbo-Integrator version for data import. You can also import Cognos Insight models into Performance Modeler and refine them further.

Christoph Papenfuss: What is the advantage of using Cognos Insight in the planning process along with TM1

Karsten Oehler: There are two aspects: Planning applications are often created by prototyping. Cognos Insight is a great tool to express ideas and to develop prototypes. Secondly Cognos Insight can be used an additional front-end for contributors to the planning, budgeting and forecasting process.

TM1 Book

The TM1 book was the big star at the Budapest Finance Forum on May 9th

Christoph Papenfuss: Who should use Cognos Insight as a client for planning and forecasting models?

Karsten Oehler: TM1 has strong tools to support a highly decentralized planning and forecasting process. I recommend to use the IBM Cognos Contributor front-end because it is easy to distribute (non-local installation). With TM1 10.1 you can also integrate web sheets created via the Excel add in. However if somebody is using Insight for data discovery it is very interesting to contribute to the planning process directly within Cognos Insight. Another advantage is the scalability: With Insight it is possible to let the local insight engine do all the calculation which is needed for the planning slice assigned to the user.

Christoph Papenfuss: What do you like best about TM1?

Karsten Oehler: It is definitely the rule language. It is the most compact way to formulate all kinds of calculations to solve all kinds of business problems. The most complex cost and profitability calculations often look pretty easy after modeling them with TM1 rules.

Christoph Papenfuss: Thank you so much, Karsten!

You can purchase the TM1 book on Amazon.com: IBM Cognos TM1 – The Official Guide

About Dr. Karsten Oehler (author of the TM1 book):

Karsten is head of the Performance Management Client Technical Professionals at IBM Germany. Prior to joining IBM, he spent more than 15 years with several international software companies as a product manager, marketing executive, and consultant for financial accounting and business intelligence software. He has published several books and well over 130 articles about business analytics.

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The other side of Cognos Insight – A powerful planning client for TM1 (Guestpost)

Cognos Insight and TM1

There is a lot of buzz about Cognos Insight. It is a great tool for analyzing and discovering data. There is also the ability to perform powerful what-if analysis through the use of write-back capabilities. But Cognos Insight is actually more than just a personal desktop analytics tool. You can use it to create visually appealing planning applications for IBM Cognos TM1.

An awesome planning client

Many business users literally hate the mandatory planning, budgeting and forecasting processes. Part of the issue are the cumbersome spreadsheet templates. Cognos Insight provides a radically new approach. You can develop visually appealing applications that connect directly to your TM1 model. Here are some of the great things you can do with Cognos Insight:

  • Create detailed instructions for the planning or forecasting process
  • Instructions can include images and hyperlinks
  • Automate process steps by including action buttons
  • Provide additional planning context by including dashboards that connect to your Cognos 10 models

To do that, you simply have to connect Cognos Insight to the workflow of a specific TM1 planning application.

Cognos Insight and TM1

Let’s take a look at a simple example – a sales forecasting model. It is a well-known best practice to include specific instructions in a planning template. That helps the business understand the model and to identify specific tasks that they need to focus on. Cognos Insight allows you to insert text boxes, images and hyperlinks. Action buttons make it easy for casual users to jump between different planning pages and cubes. The result is a clean-looking set of pages.

Cognos Insight TM1

Planning and forecasting should go hand-in-hand with analysis. Cognos Insight allows you to include dashboards and reports from your Cognos 10 or TM1 environment. This makes it very easy and pleasant for the business people:

Cognos Insight Dashboard

You can finally also include traffic lights and real-time charts right in your actual planning application. This provides users with instantaneous & visual feedback. We all know that a picture says more than a thousand words, right?

Cognos Insight TM1

Last but not least, you can also leverage great short-cuts for entering data.

Cognos Insight & TM1

Cognos Insight is much more than just a personal analytics tool. Using it as a client for TM1-based planning or forecasting models offers up some fantastic opportunities. Business users love the visual and interactive applications you can build. Is it hard to create these applications? No, not really. All it takes is drag and drop.

Paul BremhorstAbout our guest blogger – Paul Bremhorst

Paul is currently working as a Solution Architect for the IBM Business Analytics Product Marketing team. He joined Cognos as a BI Consultant in 2007 from a background of developing sales reports in the banking and finance sector. He lives in beautiful Stuttgart, Germany and loves to ride his motorcycle.

 

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Why stacked line charts are useful

Stacked line charts

Stacked line charts are a great and yet simple tool. Here is why. We often run into a situation where we need to analyze data with different units of measure. Think about  a classic but yet simple situation: Vital company data such as revenue, margin % and expenses is used to obtain insights about the past and current performance . One could dismiss this as an easy task and simply review a standard table. But raw data is really tough to analyze. Detecting trends and patterns quickly is almost impossible. Especially with regular data sets that span multiple organizational units

Analysis

Raw data is hard to analyze. Even simple data sets as this one here.

The other option would be to stick the data into a traditional line chart. But this won’t work in many cases for two obvious reasons:

  • The units of measure are different (Revenue ($), Margin (%), Headcount (#), Volume (#), etc..)
  • The units of measure have large differences (example: Revenue is measured in millions, travel cost in thousands)

Both cases result in a pretty much useless chart. You can see a fine example right below:

bad line chart

An almost useless chart - What are the margins again?

For data sets containing just two different units of measure, we could alternatively consider a dual axis graph. But I personally find them distracting and many casual users get confused. This is where stacked line charts come in handy.

The power of stacked line charts

Stacked line charts are basically a bunch of line charts that we stack. Why is that useful? Well, take a look:

Stacked line chart

A stacked line chart - A better option

The stacked line charts allows us to easily identify and compare the trends and patterns in our data. Using this stack is fairly easy. We just have to keep in mind that the units of measure or the scale is different in each one of the line charts. But that should be obvious.

Your analysis

Generating these stacked line charts is really easy with personal analytics tools like Cognos Insight. Spreadsheets typically required us to generate various different charts and to align them manually.

If you haven’t use them before, get started today! Stacked line charts are very powerful, yet easy to use.

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Watch that chart aspect ratio!

The chart aspect ratio

The other day I reviewed a dashboard. It looked great. But there was a chart on the bottom that just did not make any sense. It was way too long and stretched out. As a result, it was very difficult to use it appropriately. And that reminded me: We have to watch out for the chart aspect ratio.

The basic idea

Wikipedia defines the aspect ratio as follows: “The aspect ratio of an image describes the proportional relationship between its width and its height.” It’s as simple as that. We get confronted with the aspect ration when we purchase a TV or computer monitor or when we work with photographs. Does the aspect ratio matter? Oh, yeah it does! Take a look at the two photographs below. The first one uses the common HD 16:9 ratio. I cropped the second one down to a square format (1:1). Do you see the difference in the overall impression of the photo?

Square Aspect Ratio

16:9 (HD) Aspect Ratio: Can you feel the wide and open ocean?

16:9 Aspect Ratio

Square Aspect Ratio: Not that great. The boat has too much visual weight and the ocean does not seem vast and wide.

 Your charts

The aspect ratio does matter for charts as well. We have to watch out for that when we create reports and dashboards or when we perform ad-hoc analysis. Not every chart aspect ratio works equally well. Take a look at the two examples below. Both of these charts have problems:

It is difficult to make sense of the data. It is too flat.

Chart Aspect Ratio

The peaks are very pronounced.

The first chart is definitely too flat – it is very difficult to analyze it. The second one is probably a bit too dense. The peaks are extremely pronounced and it would be easy to come to wrong conclusions.

A better approach

What is the idea aspect ratio then? Hard to say. It is typically a good idea to use a ratio that is wider than it is tall (2:1 or something like that). But it depends on what you want to show. From my point of view, it makes sense to experiment a little bit. I have noticed that some visualization experts have issues advice but I have found it to be very academic and hard to implement. To stick with the example from above, I did re-size the graph a bit and finally settled on this chart aspect ratio:

Better Aspect Ratio

This aspect ratio seems to work best for this data

Your dashboards & reports

Pay attention to the chart aspect ratio. Only because there is some space left in a dashboard does not mean we can or should stick a certain graph in there. The chart aspect ratio does matter quite a bit as we have just seen in these simple examples. Also, try experimenting with different chart aspect ratios when you perform analysis. Resizing charts with personal analytics tools such as Cognos Insight is really simple.

 

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The Cognos Blueprints are back – for Cognos Insight

IBM Cognos Blueprints

Have you heard of the Cognos Blueprints? They are pre-configured planing and forecasting templates. You can download them from the IBM Cognos Innovation Center website. Each blueprint comes with a fully functional set of model definition files, model and business best practices documentation. There are over 50 different Cognos Blueprints available for functional and industry-specific processes. In the past, most models were available for either IBM Cognos TM1 or IBM Cognos Planning. Today, you can also download a few of the most popular Cognos Blueprints for the new Cognos Insight product. But let’s back up for a second.

Cognos Blueprint

A Cognos Blueprint

Ideas and inspiration

What’s the purpose of the Cognos Blueprints and how can you use them? Let me quickly tell you a story to highlight the value. A few years ago, my family and I moved to Europe. We rented a house that did not have a kitchen installed. Given that my wife and I love to cook, I thought it would be easy to walk over to the next kitchen store to pick something that we liked. Our enthusiasm quickly died. The available options were overwhelming. To make things worse, the first sales person immediately asked us for details that we were not prepared or qualified to answer (“Do you want the AW3-x series or the BT-4?”). It  quickly became obvious that we had no clue how to best go about ordering a kitchen – despite our love for cooking. (Stop here for a second – think about your business analytics implementations!). The initial “requirements gathering session” was a disaster and waste of time. But a sales guy in another store recognized our problem. He asked us to read a few brochures and wonder around the store to look at various different model kitchens before sitting down with us. And that’s what we did. Reading about configuration options and touching sample kitchens helped us understand. The meeting with the advisor went well. We were able to ask the right questions and provide important input. The brochures and model kitchens were our proverbial blueprints. They helped us gain knowledge and they helped us with visualizing the future state.

Your projects

Think about your business analytics implementations? When you first sit down with users, they have a hard time articulating their requirements. It is also very difficult for them to visualize how their planning process could look like in the new system. This is where the Cognos Blueprints help. They are a fantastic tool for learning about common business issues, best practices and modeling techniques. Use them to either educate yourself or to help your customers in the business. But be careful, blueprints are not necessarily intended to be implemented. Most organizations use them to get ideas and to learn more about a particular process. And they do a great job with that. I have used them in many projects.

Analyticszone.com

A small library of Cognos Blueprints is now available for Cognos Insight. You can download them on analyticszone.com. You will get the cdd file and simply need to open it in Cognos Insight. I have not had time to play with them, yet. But they look very similar to the original ones. There is even a task bar that guides you through the process. So, take a look at the Cognos Blueprints today!

Cognos Blueprint

A sample dashboard from the Expense Planning blueprint

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Why you should add prototyping to your toolbox

The value of prototyping

Last week, I came across an excellent post by the Truly Deeply blog. It was titled ‘Brands need to Innovate or they will fade‘. The author of the blog argues that brands are under pressure to innovate their products and services. But innovating becomes harder and harder as the “future is less and less an extrapolation of the past“. While this is nothing new and surprising, the post provides an idea of how companies can stay innovative. The writer describes a technique that business analytics professionals need to be familiar with: prototyping.

Prototyping boosts thinking

Dubai Marina

Prototyping helps you explore ideas

The author(s) of the Truly Deeply blog describe how the famous design firm IDEO leverages prototyping to rapidly innovate. Rather than sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and waiting for inspiration, IDEO typically get immersed in a new topic that they are working on. Not only that: they jump right in the water and start prototyping new ideas very early during any given project.

“They refer to it as ‘building to think’ instead of thinking about what to build.”, The Truly Deeply Blog

But why does prototyping work for them? It kick-starts the learning process (see quote above). Prototyping allows them to play with their ideas and to expand their thinking. Let’s keep in mind: theories on a piece of paper rarely inspire. And once you have a prototype, you can start making sound decisions that are based on direct and hard evidence. This in turn can help you with obtaining commitment. This is especially important when people are risk-averse or lack understanding.

“The power of prototyping or pilot testing is you fast track moving to evidence based decision making.”, The Truly Deeply Blog

Prototyping and Business Analytics

I couldn’t agree more with the Truly Deeply blog. Prototyping is an extremely valuable technique. Every business analytics professional should add it to the toolbox. Traditional IT project management taught us that we had to write lengthy requirements and design documents. But the problem with that approach is that business and IT have a very hard time figuring out and agreeing on what is really required. I wrote about those problems a while ago. Prototyping on the other hand allows the analytics professional to rapidly understand the true requirements. At the same time, the business person can quickly identify how the new solution can add value.

Prototyping in Action

Prototyping doesn’t have to be difficult and time-consuming. The new Cognos Insight solution, for example, allows business users to do prototyping by themselves. With Cognos Insight you can not only explore data but also develop small models on the fly. Take a look at the picture below. I started with an empty workspace and developed a prototype for an initiative-based view of my budget. This took a few clicks and some minimal typing. All that in under 2 minutes. And now I can go ahead and play with prototype and test drive it. Contrast that to a dry requirements or design document.

Prototyping with Cognos Insight

Prototyping under 2 minutes

Prototyping creates value

Make sure to add prototyping to your toolbox. It is tremendously helpful and valuable. I argue that proper prototyping significantly increases your success rate. Cognos Insight especially allows you do develop neat prototypes for dashboards, reports, plans, budgets and forecasts. But keep in mind: prototyping should never violate good solid project management processes. You can read more about that in a prior post.

How can you leverage prototyping to advance your thinking or that of your users? What are your experiences with prototyping?

 

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Business Analytics news for the week

Business Analytics news

This has been an extremely busy but exciting week. It seems like the whole world is full of energy. Here are a few things you might want to be aware of.

CFO.com Webinar Forecasting

If you are interested in forecasting, make sure to register for the upcoming CFO.com webinar ‘Forecasting in turbulent times‘. Together with Tom Willman (Principle, The Hackett Group), I will discuss trends and best practices for improving your forecasting processes. The webinar is scheduled for Thursday, March 15th.

cfo.com

Cognos Insight & TM1 10.1 launch

Yesterday was the official launch event for Cognos Insight and TM1 10.1. I was blown away by how many people participated. As a track host, I was especially excited to see so many questions coming through. In case you missed it, you can still watch most of the sessions on demand. I highly recommend the keynote. Robby Meyers from DirecTV gave a fantastic demo of Cognos Insight. Make sure to watch that one. It’s great to see how a successful company like DirecTV leverages Cognos Insight.

Analyticszone.com

There is a great new website and community entirely dedicated to Cognos Insight. Make sure to check it out. The new site provides you with a bunch of great stuff: sample Insight models, tutorials, discussion forums etc.. You can also download a revised version of the famous IBM Cognos Blueprints. Yes, they have been redesigned to work in Cognos Insight. Make sure to also upload your files and share your experiences!

Analyticszone.com

Updated iPad app

There is an updated version of the Cognos iPad app. You can downloaded it directly from the iTunes store. The latest version has a slightly different look and feel. It also feels snappier. There are also a bunch of other enhancements under the hood. And there is also additional demo content in there. The upgrade takes about a minute. And….can you imagine how awesome all your Cognos report will look on the new resolutionary iPad?

Harriet & Christoph – the story continues

Want to see me as a bobble head? Some of you may have watched the Cognos Insight demo at the IBM BA Forum in October 2011. My colleague Harriet Fryman and I demonstrated how the business and IT can get along using Cognos Insight. Our creative team took that story and has created a series of hilarious bobble head movies. The latest edition was released last night. In the prior video, Harriet put Sleep-eeze into my coffee. Time to get even! The other parts are also available on You Tube.

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