Monday, January 31, 2011

Automating Oracle Hyperion Financial Management (HFM) Tasks

In the previous posts, Star Finance Command Center (SFCC) was introduced as an alternative to scripting and manual processes. In this post we discuss the automation of Oracle Hyperion Financial Management (HFM) Tasks.

Since SFCC was launched over 18 months ago, Star Analytics has focused on the need to automate a complete finance systems environment. One of the key areas that our early adopters asked us to focus on was automation of the HFM environment. Simply put, there was no real way to automate the updating, calculating, consolidating, and exporting of an HFM application. All this required “all or nothing” access by an HFM administrator to go into the HFM console and manually run processes. The alternative was to whip out some Visual Basic code and perhaps tie it into a Windows scheduler or use the rudimentary capabilities of HFM Task Scheduler. Either way, a costly and/or inflexible, and un-scalable approach for business users at any HFM installation of significant size.

In fact, in showing SFCC to the HFM product team, they seemed to be impressed enough with the product’s capabilities to drive us to release our first SFCC Automation Task Pack for HFM. With that, some long time Hyperion luminaries like John O’Rourke saw the tremendous value-add for their customers and have spoken on the product’s behalf on numerous occasions:

“We are pleased that Star Analytics is leveraging Oracle’s open application framework with the Star Finance Command Center,” said John O’Rourke, vice president of product marketing at Oracle. “This helps makes it easy for Oracle Hyperion Financial Management customers to automate their financial processes across multiple applications and systems.”

Since introducing the HFM Automation Task Pack, we have had some of the world’s most prominent HFM shops, like Pfizer, embrace SFCC to connect, automate, and eliminate manual processes in their finance systems environment. As the buzz for SFCC has grown at various user groups, and the list of customer success stories has grown, John recently co-presented with EDMC at a recent Star Analytics webinar and provided some additional thoughts:

“Organizations are always looking for ways to speed close cycle times while improving the integrity of their financial data,” said John O’Rourke, vice president of product marketing at Oracle. “The combination of Oracle’s market-leading financial close and reporting applications and the Star Finance Command Center is a powerful one-two punch that helps achieve that goal by streamlining systems for more consistent, timely, transparent and accurate financial data and processes.”

A replay of the webinar is available by clicking here.

In recent times, we have also been asked by perspective customers to compare and contrast SFCC to the newly released Financial Close Manager (FCM). Having seen previews before its commercial release, we were pleased to see its workgroup oriented features to manage the “to do” tasks of the financial close process. We were even more pleased to see that FCM and SFCC were designed to address different sides of “automation”. While FCM is inwardly focused on the HFM close environment, SFCC is all about the connection, automation, and monitoring of HFM in conjunction with the whole ecosystem of application processes that surround it.

Samples of how our SFCC HFM Task Pack works are explored in this PDF file:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Automating Oracle Essbase Tasks

In the previous posts, Star Finance Command Center (SFCC) was introduced as an alternative to scripting and manual processes. In this post we discuss the automation of Essbase Tasks.

Since the early 1990s, Essbase has been the market leading multidimensional database solution for planning, reporting, and analysis. Despite its popularity, and strategic importance in serving the needs of large user communities, the product relies heavily on scripting and custom coding to work in non-trivial customer environments. The lack of better tools to orchestrate, automate, and monitor the Essbase environment creates a significant cost for the initial implementation, and ongoing maintenance of the system.

A bit of history…Back in 1992, initial Essbase customers asked for some way to automate the loading and updating of Essbase cubes. At that time, the Essbase roadmap was full of more important features to improve usability, scalability, etc. However, lurking in a back-cubicle of Arbor Software, the Essbase QA Manager, Ron Cho, had built his own Essbase command line interface using the Essbase API; he called it ESSCMD. Despite the fact that it was built for internal QA use, the utility was put in a few customer’s hands, and it did the trick. As the early Essbase installed base quickly grew, more customers ended up with the utility in hand, so basic documentation was provided.

Fast forward to 1999, the Essbase install base was large, and despite its many shortcomings, ESSCMD had become part of the product family. As the demands for more enterprise class deployability continued to grow, it was clear that ESSCMD was not up to the challenge. MaxL was born to provide a more programmatic language based interface that could be more easily used with Perl, Python, or other scripting languages.

The basic idea however, was still to provide the rudimentary command line interface, and let the more technically oriented administrators fend for themselves with scripting languages and scheduling tools. While the Essbase command line interfaces make automation possible, they were never designed to or actually perform the automation of tasks. That is where SFCC comes into the picture. Over the past 18 months the product has been used by a number of long time, and not so long time, Essbase shops to automate and interconnect their ESSCMD and MaxL processes with a whole ecosystem of applications that surround Essbase.

Interestingly enough, one of the frequent requests that we receive from Essbase customers is for pre-defined Tasks in SFCC to perform all the update and maintenance operations on Essbase; without having to resort to ESSCMD or MaxL. Many of them would rather eliminate their scripts, and other code, altogether with out-of-the-box features that are provided by SFCC.

In response to our Essbase customer demand, a library of over 20 Essbase specific tasks is now available for SFCC. Samples of how this works are explored in this PDF file:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Automating Oracle Hyperion FDM Tasks

Oracle's Financial Data Quality Management (FDM) is heavily relied upon as a preprocessor of data in advance of loading into Oracle's Hyperion Financial Management (HFM), Hyperion Planning and occasionally into Oracle Essbase. The product does an excellent job validating, parsing, merging data based upon rules that ensures the output data is correct for loading into the target system. This summary does not nearly give the product justice and more information can be found at:

Despite all the benefits that FDM brings to enhancing data quality, it lacks significant ability to automate the various tasks that are necessary to keep the application running across an ecosystem of applications, servers and processes that typical finance administrators need to interact with. FDM does have a built-in “localized” scheduler but it is difficult to job chain FDM processes with other running processes outside of the control of FDM. As a result, clients who depend upon FDM often rely upon manual processes to do such tasks such as running custom file splitters, loading data to various applications via the “4 Fish Process” and generating and emailing reconciliation reports in PDF or XLS formats. In the typical environment, where there is a heterogenous mix of applications and computing environments, each step along a job chain typically requires human intervention which is time consuming, error prone and ultimately undermines SOX compliance.

In the previous post, Star Finance Command Center (SFCC) was introduced as an alternative to manual processes and how a current Command Center customer helped educate their team about the product's capabilities through a comparison of current processes and those under the control of SFCC. In this post, the following three main FDM tasks will be highlighed and how SFCC automates them:
  • Running a FDM Custom Script
  • Running the “4–Fish” Process (Import, Validate, Export & Load)
  • Running the FDM report engine
Details of how Star Finance Command Center interacts with FDM will be explored in this PDF file: