Use AI to transform your spreadsheet into a next level solution with IBM Planning Analytics

In one of our previous blogs, we referred to the new IBM Planning Analytics “On Demand” solution that enables organisations to quickly start using the leading software from IBM for reporting, planning and forecasting, by installing a free trial or paying a small subscription fee of less than 50 euros a month to get started. In case you missed it, you can read our blog here and learn all about it.

This new solution offering has been set up for small and mid-sized organisations that want to evolve from a manual budgeting and forecasting processes to an automated, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered process. IBM Planning Analytics allows you to transform your existing spreadsheets into a professional model, including cubes, dimensions, metadata, data and reports.

Curious to learn more about this? In this blog we will guide you through the first steps.

How to get started? Create your own free trial account!

If you do not have a free trial account already, you can start by creating one and request a trial environment. This by easily click here and choose the button “Start Your Free Trial” to begin.

Once you have created your account, you can login and immediately see the welcome page including tutorials on how to begin. From this page, choose the starting point “Start from a spreadsheet”.

IBM Planning Analytics “On Demand” Welcome Page

Use IBM’s AI power to create your own planning model

Once you have logged into your account, you have two option to get started. You can upload your own Excel file, or if you are just curious about how it works, you can use a sample spreadsheet provided by IBM.

First, the wizard guides you through 3 steps to build your own model:

  1. Import spreadsheet
  2. Analyse spreadsheet using Artificial Intelligence
  3. Create the suggested model

In our case, we use a spreadsheet that includes sales figures per area and product.

IBM Planning Analytics automatically analyses the data structure and provides us the number of tables, populated cells, formulas found, etc… As you can see in the overview below.

IBM Planning Analytics using AI to analyse my spreadsheet

Then, IBM Planning Analytics shows us the suggested model for the application, including the multi-level structures:

  • countries roll up in areas and regions;
  • products are clustered in product segments;
  • product families and revenue are grouped per month and quarter.

Next, we can rename and expand the suggested model as we wish and move forward to the actual creation of our model. The ability of using as much dimensions as desired in our model is one of the key benefits of the powerful OLAP-engine that is included in IBM Planning Analytics. If you are not familiar with OLAP and the benefits for reporting and forecasting, we suggest you read our blog about “The Basics of OLAP data modelling”.

Suggested dimensions

Once the Spreadsheet Transformation Utility has automatically created our model, we see our cube(s) that have been created and can start exploring the data by using filters or slicing and dicing.

Automatically created revenue cube and data exploration

Via the guided wizard – supported by text and video – we can now easily create our own dashboard. As an example below, we see a dashboard which we have created in less than 15 minutes.

Create your own dashboard

To end with a great feature, IBM Planning Analytics provides the ability to not only read data, but also write-back data into the database. When we look at the planning workflow, we can add columns to enter data into the model for example for forecasting, including business rules to calculate KPI’s and grant access to colleagues to the model for collaboration purpose.

How to start with your own spreadsheets?

By walking through these steps, we are very impressed with the features offered and the user friendliness of the application. For us as a business user, it was easy to create a model in less than one hour, including an interactive dashboard to view the data.

This is truly a self-service application to easily build a planning, forecasting and reporting solution.

If you want to learn more about how to get started with your own spreadsheet?

Check out this short YouTube video (3 minutes), immediately start your own free trial or contact Aexis for more information on this topic. We are happy to help our customers benefit from the potential of this solution!

IBM Planning Analytics On-Demand — An introduction to what you can achieve

You may have read about “IBM Planning Analytics On-Demand”. It is the newest offered IBM solution for planning, reporting and forecasting, offered at a subscription starting at less than 50 Euros a month. 

What is included in the offer and what can you realize with the solution? 

IBM Planning Analytics? 

IBM Planning Analytics is the AI infused planning, forecasting and reporting solution offered by IBM. The heart of the solution is the “TM1 server”; the powerful calculation engine which has proven to be capable of working with large data sets and  perform fast real-time calculations. This makes IBM Planning Analytics a perfect tool for forecasting and scenario-analysis. This software has been available as both a SaaS and On-premise offering for years. 

What is Planning Analytics “On-Demand”?

IBM Planning Analytics On-Demand is the easiest way to start  with a  low-cost planning and reporting solution focussed on self-service for one single user of a smaller user group. 

IBM Planning Analytics On-Demand includes:

  • Web-based analysis, planning, reporting and modelling capabilities 
  • Start with one user and one data model; easily add capacity on-demand to support more users and applications
  • Pre-build templates to start and play around. Also, guided tutorials and training contents is included to allow a quick start

IBM Planning Analytics On-Demand overview

From a technical point of view this means you will get a cloud hosted multi-tenant environment with one or multiple containers, each including an individual database of 2 Gigabytes maximum. You can integrate your own data via CSV-files and you can use IBM Planning Analytics Workspace to build planning models, reports and dashboards.

You can create multiple applications by adding databases to your subscription at any time. However, you cannot exceed the 2 GB maximum database size. Very important is that databases cannot be cumulated because they exist in separated containers. Also, you cannot use the Excel Add-in but are restricted to work in the web based interface (IBM Planning Analytics Workspace of  “PAW”).

When would I need to upgrade to the‘full version’?

The IBM Planning Analytics On-Demand version is a great way to start for small user companies, departments or if you are just a single employee and just want to solve a spreadsheet problem.  The software comes with great functionalities, but is of course restricted. While you can invite your colleagues, larger applications and large user groups are not supported. The full version, usually referred to as “Enterprise” for instance allows you to host large planning applications with connections to various data sources.  Features that are included in the full version among others, are:

  • Large databases– e.g. 128 GB or even 2 TB(!)
  • Direct connections to source data via the REST API or ODBC enabling you to connect with multiple cloud and local data sources.
  • Interface to other IBM software products such as IBM Controller and IBM Cognos Analytics.
  • The powerful Excel Add-In to use the data in Planning Analytics directly in Ms Excel.
  • Advanced features to set up security and access control compliant with your organization’s policy

IBM Planning Analytics Enterprise Added value

How can you start?

New to IBM Planning Analytics? You can directly start with your IBM Planning Analytics On-Demand subscription.

If you have already started with a free trial before, you can also directly move forward from here to an On-Demand Subscription.

 

 

 

Want to know more?

Feel free to leave us a message via this website or just email me at cvantklaphek@aexis.com.

Also, make sure to check out our Events page and subscribe to our events and webinars. New webinars about IBM Planning Analytics and the benefits of integrating AI into your forecasting process will be published next week.

Want to start with your IBM Planning Analytics On-Demand right away? Fill in our form and we will help you!

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    Planning and budgeting

    10 Best practices in Planning and Budgeting

    An organization can’t survive without a successful Planning and Budgeting process. In this blog we focus on best practices that will enhance your Planning and Budgeting process. This way you can make more informed decisions and add value to your organization. Let’s take a look at our 10 best practices for your Planning and Budgeting: 

    Budgeting as part of the corporate culture (accountability)

    Budgeting should be adopted as part of the corporate culture and be treated as a strategic management tool instead of a mere financial tool. It should be an exercise where senior management sets realistic targets. Department managers are required to produce their own plans and tie incentive compensations to their ability to manage their business and achieve their goals.

    Collaborative planning

    Budgeting should be a collaborative activity across the various functional departments similar to any other real-time activity where every department coordinates with each other seamlessly to run the business operation.

    Synchronization of the strategic and operating plans

    Both the strategic and operating plans have to be synchronized and related to ensure that the line managers work towards the same goal, set out by the top management.

    Driver based planning

    The planning exercise is all about assumptions. As the exercise is futuristic, the models are created with assumptions that the top management or the line of business managers perceive to achieve the goals. Drivers are nothing but the pillars based on which assumptions are determined. So from a best practice standpoint, it is very important to build a template or planning model that covers all the drivers.

    Both Bottom up and Top down 

    To avoid any unrealistic results derived from the extensive use of either bottom up or top down approach, budgeting done with both scenarios and finally the bottom up plan should be tied to the top down (target) plan, marrying them together.

    Budget material content only

    Maximum budgeting time should be spent on areas that would have significant impact from a revenue, cost or profits. Aiming at this, there should be a reasonable reduction to the planning depth.

    Timely and accurate Budgeting and Planning 

    Budgeting exercise should be carried out in a specific timeframe to ensure it is relevant. The accuracy is also another aspect. Especially for the higher impact elements, it is important that the numbers are accurate. When building a driver based model, the calculations that result from the drivers should be accurately modeled to get the right results.

    Adaptable and continuous planning using rolling forecasts 

    Every plan becomes successful only when it is flexible to change based on the internal and external events and incorporating their impact. Best practices recommend rolling forecasts coupled with annual planning, to ensure the business plans reflect the latest scenarios.

    Use of standardized planning and simulation software tools 

    Planning and Forecasting activities should be combined within a single system that will allow centralized data capture and analysis, as well as modeling, simulation and online analytical processing (OLAP) on a single technological platform.

    Standardization of the planning, budgeting and forecasting process 

    To ensure the simplification and unification of the ratio and key data definitions on Group level, the budgeting tasks should be performed using a consistent planning model for all business units.

    Conclusion

    Your Planning and Budgeting process can cause a lot of stress and frustration. With these best practices in mind, you can optimize your Planning and Budgeting process tailored to your business needs. Save time and make more informed decisions! 

    Do you have question or need more information? Aexis is an expert in Corporate Performance Planning and can help your organization with Planning and Budgeting. Our expert Christian Pauwels is happy to help you with this! Contact Christian for more information. 

    Want to start with defining your Operational Planning? Then we recommend to read our previous blog 5 basic principles of Operational planning

    Fill in the form to receive the pdf with the 10 best practices!

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      budgeting and reporting

      Efficient daily budgeting and reporting at Amrâth Hôtels

      The successful Amrâth Hôtels group stands for comfort, personal service and a unique character. Internally, the group has a small-scale and flat structure organisation. Operations Director David Dreese explains how the organisation manages to always stay innovative and flexible: “We are at the forefront of automation because of our active collaboration with our partners. We are loyal to our partners and these partnerships make it possible for us to come up with innovative and efficient responses to the ever-changing wishes of hotel guests. The Aexis budgeting and reporting solution provides Amrâth Hôtels uniform statements per hotel on a daily basis, while other specific reports of hotels and flexible clusters of hotels can also easily be created by Amrâth Hôtels employees themselves.”

      Time-consuming and error-prone spreadsheets

      The annual budget of the Amrâth Hôtels used to be drawn up by means of a large number of spreadsheets. Because this was always a time-consuming job, the idea of using a professional tool  had been on the table for some time. In addition, it was also necessary to be able to produce automatic, uniform and well-organised operational reports based on multiple source systems. Another requirement was that it had to be fairly easy to make changes directly in consolidated statements.

      Insight in actuals, budget and forecast on a daily basis 

      With the Aexis solution, all relevant data from various systems such as the PMS, POS, HR and financial applications is updated automatically on a daily basis. Financial and operational reports are available and consolidated in the centrally secured environment. The full budgeting process is supported by the central application, while budget holders can enter the figures directly into the Aexis solution. The functional key users are responsible for the functional management of the application and the development of the required reports. David Dreese: “We finally have a budgeting tool that we manage and maintain according to our own wishes and requirements. We are not losing time anymore on various decentralised hotel overviews.”

      Future-proof solution for financial and operational information

      The Aexis solution is scalable and flexible for the required planning, forecasting, reporting and dashboard processes. Due to the modular structure, we can start quickly and easily, while the platform also meets any future requirements. Aexis acts as a facilitator in this process. “Over the past years, Aexis has proven to be a valued and reliable partner. They sold us what we needed, and they will assist us in the further development with how we will use the solution”, according to David Dreese.

      Aexis: management information for your hotel or hotel group

      The Aexis solution integrates with your existing software, collects and combines the required information from it and provides you with integrated management information. You have both consolidated and detailed insight and also unique scenario analysis options. 

      The planning and reporting processes can efficiently be implemented in the Aexis solution based on your current Excel sheets. For more information, go to www.aexis.com or mail us at info@nl.aexis.com.

      operational planning

      5 basic principles of Operational Planning

      Operational planning is common terminology in our sector, but what exactly does it mean? And more importantly, how do you implement it correctly in your organization? Operational planning is a part of your strategic plan. On a day-to-day basis, your operational plan will help you achieve your strategic plan with short-term objectives that support the larger strategic objectives.

      A clear and straightforward operational plan has great advantages for your business. While you’re buried in daily challenges and operational matters, you might lose track of the overall picture. Your operational plan will help you to keep your goals clear and never forget what you are working to with your team. It will help you determine priorities and stay close to your strategy. But there are a few principles you have to keep in mind while designing your operational plan:

      Principle 1: Don’t forget your strategic plan!

      Operational planning and strategic planning go hand in hand. It’s important that you define a strategic plan with a clear vision, direction and objectives for your organization. Let your top management set well-defined goals for your organization. What do they want to achieve, which KPIs are important, how will you achieve these goals…? These are questions that need to be considered in your strategy. Afterwards communicate these goals with every department manager, so that they can work towards the same goal optimization.

      Principle 2: See your operational plan as a part of your corporate culture 

      Most organizations treat their operational plan as a mere financial tool. That’s not the right way! Treat your operational plan as a strategic management tool in which your management can set realistic objectives. Let the department managers make their own plans and tie incentive compensations to their performances (Bottom up approach) in order to achieve the predefined objectives by the top management (Top down approach). This way, all departments will participate in the process and clearly understand common goals. This will increase the accountability and effective information exchange, but also the involvement and commitment of your employees.

      Principle 3: Buckle up for driver based planning

      As management, you can set guidelines for your strategic plan, but it’s important that your whole organization is aware of these guidelines. The driver based planning is a management exercise in which your management lists all kinds of assumptions perceived to achieve the predefined goals. The drivers, your employees, are the pillars based on which assumptions are determined. Build a template or planning model that covers all the drivers of your organization. 

      Principle 4: Spend your time wisely

      Time is money, is a well known phrase that is also applicable in this context. Your operational planning should be in a specific timeframe to ensure its relevance. For large organizations, making an operational plan for every department is a time-consuming task. It is recommended to create an operational plan for departments where your organization benefits from. That means, departments that have a significant impact on revenue, costs or profits. This will help your organization to efficiently get the right results

      Principle 5: Stay up-to-date with all your data 

      A plan is only successful when it’s flexible to change. Therefore, it’s recommended to stay up-to-date with the latest internal and external changes in your environment through rolling forecasts. Check your rolling forecast regularly together with your annual planning to ensure that your plan reflects the latest scenarios. Keep your data and analysis centrally organized on a single platform. This way you don’t lose time searching for the latest information.

      Conclusion 

      The purpose of operational planning is to provide every person in your organization, from directors to managers to employees, with a clear description of their tasks and responsibilities in order to achieve the long-term objectives, set in the strategic plan. These principles will help you define the objectives of your operational plan. 

      Do you have question or need more information? Aexis is an expert in Corporate Performance Planning and can help your organization with making an operational plan. Our expert Christian Pauwels is happy to help you with this! Contact Christian for more information. 

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