ACG Business Analytics Blog

Working with Virtual Dimensions in IBM Planning Analytics 2.0.

Posted by Theo Chen on Mon, Apr, 23, 2018 @ 02:01 PM

Ability to create virtual dimensions from attribute-based hierarchies is a key update in IBM Planning Analytics 2.0 and a huge source of value. This is a major differentiation for IBM PA compared to other similar platforms. It provides even greater flexibility to the user to analyze data using user-defined parameters on the fly. With virtual hierarchies, companies have much greater flexibility in designing solutions that will provide greater efficiency yet maintain the flexibility to include attributes for thorough analysis.

What are Virtual Dimensions

Virtual dimensions are dimensions that are created in an existing IBM Planning Analytics system on demand by selected end users (system administrators). These dimensions are not part of the core system structure / design, but rather are created ad-hoc as needed based on attributes of individual existing dimension elements. Attributes can be created as and when needed while the system is in use and there are no practical limitations to how many attributes can be created for every single member.

Once a virtual dimension is created, it can be used just like any other dimension. It can be selected for reporting, it can be brought into a cross-tab view for analysis or used as a target for input for (plan, forecast) data.

What Virtual Dimensions are NOT

Virtual dimensions in IBM PA are NOT the same as the ability to create alternate rollups / hierarchies or sorting / filtering by attributes. We find that the concept is a bit hard to understand initially and people default to the capabilities they know. Unlike filtering and alternate hierarchies, virtual dimensions go deeper and provide a more thorough way to analyze the data.


We have a sales reporting application with Customer and Business Unit being the two key dimensions. Other dimensions include Account, Time etc. The Customer dimension is organized by Industry – so Customers rolling up to Sectors rolling up to Industries that roll up to Total Customer.

Let’s say I want to understand my sales by size of company (Enterprise vs Mid-Market vs Small and Medium Enterprise, or SME) in addition to the industry rollup. I do not have “Company Size” defined as a dimension so under previous rules I would have the following options:

  • Redesign the cube to include “Size” as a dimension – depending on the size of the overall model that could be a significant undertaking and could take a lot of time
  • Build an alternate rollup of Customer by size – in this case I would have to choose the Industry or Size rollup for reporting and analysis but I could not use both and would still not get the desired cross-view
  • Embed “Size” inside the existing “Industry” rollup – this would be extremely inefficient as I would have to include multiple rollups within each Industry / Segment for Size and repeat them for each Industry / Segment and deal with conflicting element values – not desirable from maintenance perspective and yet I would still not get the same flexibility for analysis

Enter “Virtual Hierarchies” – with IBM Planning Analytics 2.0 I can simply create a new “Attribute” and label each Customer an Enterprise, Mid-Market firm or SME. Once that is done, I would turn this Attribute into a Virtual Hierarchy and it would show up in my “Set” menu. Once there, I can simply drag the “Size” Hierarchy into the cross-tab view and see the breakdown of customer by size and industry in a simple cross tab view. I am able to drill down or pivot to analyze the data and even input into the virtual intersections to post adjustments or forecast sales. And of course element security still works at the leaf level. Extremely powerful…

Key Benefits

The key benefit implication from this capability include the following:

  • Savings in (RAM) memory due to less number of core dimensions required and thus the size of the core model
  • Better overall performance and usability of the model with less clutter / complexity
  • Much greater flexibility to adjust existing models and get deeper insight
  • Ability to conform with model standards with any customization done locally

What to Look Out For

Some points to be aware of when working with virtual hierarchies include the fact that they can currently only be built with 2 levels – TurboIntegrator scripting is required for deeper hierarchies with more levels. Also, elements in virtual hierarchy are not elements in main itself – each element in virtual has to be unique from every element in dimension. There is no security (yet) for 'virtual' elements, although that should be addressed soon.

The impact of Virtual Hierarchies will be different for existing vs net new applications. For existing models, it will add flexibility through the ability to expand structures without going through a potentially substantial application redesign. For new solutions, it creates an opportunity to design models with more simplicity and rely on Virtual Dimensions to provide scalability and flexibility in the future.

Give us a call to discuss how this great new capability can add value to your platform and review options to provide more insight and analytical power.

Topics: TM1 Technology, IBM Cognos TM1, Performance Management, Financial Planning and Analysis, IBM Planning Analytics

Trends in Enterprise Performance Management...

Posted by Rob Harag on Sun, Jun, 07, 2015 @ 06:13 PM

Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) systems are becoming more powerful, user friendly and more accessible - that is the core theme of an article published recently by CFO Magazine. Advances in technology allow EPM systems to process larger quantity of data on-demand and thus increase their analytical capabilities. Wider choice of specialized products and new features such as compatibility with Excel, predictive analytics, cloud computing or mobile access are transforming the way users interact with the applications and thus help advance many traditional functions and business processes.

While IBM, SAP and Oracle command about 70% of the market, there are plenty of sophisticated systems to choose from in the remaining 30%. Reversing a prior trend of industry consolidation, more companies are entering the market and provide interesting capabilities that are often tailored to a specific market or industry segment. Examples of such focus areas include budgeting, forecasting, profitability optimization or scenario modeling.

Gartner categorizes EPM solutions into two main buckets: Office of Finance Processes and Strategy Processes. Most of today's solutions, however, aim to combine financial and operational data across the company and provide a fully integrated view of the company's performance. Such increased transparency and insight into underlying trends and drivers facilitates a higher focus on key factors affecting financial performance. This in turn helps to more effectively execute a company's business strategy.

There are three primary drivers that are currently changing the way people and companies interact with and deploy EPM solutions:

Speed – with the increased use of in-memory computing, systems are more nimble and flexible to complete calculations in real time and are able to handle the ever increasing quantity of data. The improved performance facilitates a number of benefits such as usability, collaboration, integration and others. These capabilities are further changing the role of Finance and help it to be a more effective facilitator of change, trusted advisor to the business and a driver of value.

Usability – there have been great advances in user friendliness and usability of the tools as vendors continue to make significant investments into more intuitive and easier to understand user interfaces. Dashboarding, visualization, integration with Excel, web-based capabilities and templates are some of the key focus areas. Cloud computing plays an important part in increasing adoption through better flexibility of use. Finally, mobile computing facilitates more distributed data collection and reporting with the ability to drill down directly on the mobile device, typically an iPad.

Integration – EPM systems are becoming increasingly more integrated with solutions expanding far beyond the traditional financial planning and reporting. Operational planning, sales performance management, strategic planning are only a few examples of such new use cases. Integration of these systems and processes provides a higher quality output and facilitates collaboration across groups and departments, which yields more efficiency and improves performance. Predictive Analytics, while still in early stages, is further pushing the frontier on the type of insight and depth included in financial information involved in decision-making.

Topics: Business Forecasting, Performance Management, Financial Planning and Analysis

The Future of IBM Cognos TM1

Posted by Jim Wood on Wed, May, 13, 2015 @ 09:46 AM

IBM Cognos TM1 version 10 has now been around for a good while and has already gone through several minor and major updates. The move from version 10.1 to 10.2 itself was a significant change, even though it was within the same release stream. The key updates included the move from .Net to Java as the main platform and support for multi-threading queries.

Despite all these changes and updates, the underlying framework and structures remained the same. Despite the addition of CAFÉ, which delivered significant optimization of performance and flexibility for users over a wide area network, most interfaces have not changed for a number of years.

So the question has to be: What’s next for TM1?

IBM have been aware of some customer frustrations with the TM1 interfaces for quite some time. Performance Modeler and Application Web server were a step in the right direction but they were more aimed at the Cognos Enterprise Planning market for ease of transition. Interfaces such as Architect, which are still heavily relied upon, haven’t seen a major update since the start of version 9.

It seems that IBM plans to address these issues in the next release through a tool called “Prism”, which is currently in Alpha phase. It is not entirely clear and known what the new interface will look like as IBM is playing their cards close to their chest, however rumors have it that it will be a significant upgrade and will close the gap to some of the other analytics and visualization platforms. What has been confirmed thus far is that Prism will replace Architect and Perspectives.

IBM provided an overview of Prism at their IBM Vision 2015 conference in Orlando in May 2015

Is Prism going to be massive leap forward for TM1?

Hopefully yes. Even though only a small amount of information is available, it is clear that IBM is making a heavy push to further enhance the system and is determined to strengthen its position on the market by committing resources. This enhancement to the front-end of the tool would be a welcome and refreshing improvement that will go a long way in streamlining the overall usability. Time will tell if Prism will live up to its promise but the development seems to be moving in the right direction.

What do I need to do to make sure I’m aware of Prism will bring?

With the demonstration at IBM Vision 2015 in May, chances are a lot more information will be available in the near term as to the scope and look / feel of the system. You can always contact your IBM account representative / business partner and ask to be included on communication as new information becomes available. For those that want to be really close to the updates, you can sign up as Beta tester and gain a better understanding of what is coming and if / how it will impact your application and vision for the system.

Topics: TM1 Technology, IBM Cognos, IBM Cognos TM1, Performance Management

How Do TM1 Financial Systems Ensure Clean Data?

Posted by Peter Edwards on Wed, Jan, 08, 2014 @ 03:44 PM


Almost half of new business initiatives fail because of poor data, according to a recent article on the EPM Channel website. While manual processes can temporarily fix issues, The IBM TM1 technology uses a series of checks and balances to ensure that businesses can build a database on clean data, saving employees time and avoiding costly mistakes.

How Do TM1 Financial Systems Ensure Clean Data?

Almost half of new business initiatives fail because of poor data, according to a recent article on the EPM Channel website. This trend fuels mistakes in everything from bill payments to shipping, and often means that your best employees spend more time organizing data instead of analyzing it.

ibm_cognos_tm1This is a long-standing pain a lot of businesses incur with dirty data. With Big Data, businesses have large amounts of data, so the quality of that comes into question. Organizations often are looking at ways to improve their data because they have too many manual processes in place or their data is being cleaned in a non-automated fashion. If your data is clean and organized, you’ll streamline processes and align the organization on a set of numbers. As the EPM Channel article points out, it’s best to do this at the start, saving employee resources and avoiding costly problems.

There are systems that can help. TM1 financial solutions enforce what’s called referential integrity in data. Many times, when pulling data to put into TM1, there are problems in supporting systems that must be fixed. For instance, if you’re pulling data from a financial system that’s doing consolidations, there could be numbers at an account level that do not necessarily total to the parent account that they should roll up into. That’s because the system allows users to store two different numbers. This means there are a number of child accounts that fail to add up to the appropriate total because the database doesn’t enforce referential integrity.

Most relational databases or ERP applications don’t necessarily enforce these rules. They try to put business rules in place, but fundamentally the technology allows users to enter data in different places, creating conflicting information. When pulling data into the TM1 financial systems software, the detail-level account data rolls up into the parent account, creating that figure. This method ensures that the parent figure isn’t entered separately and avoids any situations where the child accounts don’t add up to the parent number. Therefore, users who leverage TM1 as there database are much more likely to have quality, clean data.

To learn more about TM1 financial solutions or see a TM1 demo contact ACG.

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Topics: TM1 Technology, IBM Cognos TM1, Business Forecasting, Clean Data, Performance Management

4 Ways IBM Cognos TM1 BI Solution Can Cure Forecasting Problems

Posted by Peter Edwards on Mon, Nov, 18, 2013 @ 03:45 PM

IBM business cognos tm1 forecasting rf


Does your company suffer from common forecasting problems? In a white paper on the subject, the IBM Beyond Budgeting Round Table illustrates how the IBM Cognos TM1 business intelligence solution can help finance managers identify common symptoms and implement solutions that lead to a healthier organization.

Whether companies realize it or not, they likely suffer from at least one symptom of forecasting illness. Misconceptions and antiquated forecasting processes lead to decreased accuracy, quality and profitability for businesses. To successfully treat these forecasting illnesses, finance managers must identify common symptoms and implement solutions that lead to a healthier organization.

In a white paper titled “Seven Symptoms of Forecasting Illness” the IBM Beyond Budgeting Round Table illustrates how the IBM Cognos TM1 business intelligence solution can help identify and cure these pervasive ailments. Here are three of the top forecasting issues with a bonus issue that the ACGI experts often see.

1) Semantic confusion: A company might show signs of semantic confusion if the organization finds it difficult to deal with unexpected or undesirable forecasts. This symptom can manifest as a blurred line between the forecast and the company’s goal.
Cure: To address this symptom, companies can use the IBM Cognos TM1 business intelligence solution to allow managers to create, maintain, and reference multiple forecast scenarios easily and efficiently.

2)  Visual impairment: A company may suffer from visual impairment if it is obsessed with the year-end forecast numbers, or if it is surprised by new developments at the beginning of the fiscal year.
Cure: Companies should focus on building a comprehensive company forecast strategy. BP is a great example of the power of combined forecasting. BP brought all of the company’s stakeholders together in a large auditorium and efficiently completed a comprehensive company forecast.

In some companies, salespeople are either pushing their numbers to count toward next year’s sales goals or holding their numbers to this year to benefit themselves under their compensation plans. You really need to separate compensation from the forecasting process to take this manipulation out of the process and get truer information.

3) Lack of coordination: If an organization has multiple sources, or silos, of data, it can’t create reliable, consistent forecasts.
Cure: In order to have a good forecasting process, you also need good data organization in the company. This can be achieved by adopting a single forecasting system throughout the entire organization and feeding data into the forecasting system from other enterprise systems like the General Ledger or the Human Resource Management systems.

4)  Lack of executive sponsorship: If individual departments are attempting to improve the forecasting process, but others are split over the importance of the task, an organization may suffer from a lack of executive sponsorship.
Cure: In order for a company to be successful in their financial planning and reporting efforts, it has to come from the top down. These processes will touch multiple parts of the organization and must be designated a key strategic initiative of the entire company in order for it to be successful.

All companies suffer from at least one type of forecasting illness. These factors are a reminder that every business needs to constantly examine its core process and culture to ensure they’re using the most accurate forecasting process and tools. By implementing a data analysis tool like the IBM Cognos TM1 business intelligence solution, organizations can achieve a high level of efficiency and promote healthier forecasting.

To learn more about these and other key forecasting issues companies are facing, download the white paper, “Seven Symptoms of Forecasting Illness.”


Free Whitepaper: 7 Symptoms of  Forecasting Illness

Topics: IBM Cognos TM1, Business Forecasting, Performance Management

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