The following is a posting by Todd Binenstock, an Essbase expert who currently lives and works in St Louis.
What’s a business user to do when he outgrows Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3?
That’s when Essbase shows its muscle. Essbase, a product of Hyperion Solutions, Inc., originally stood for Extended Spread Sheet Database. We who work with it often refer to it as a spreadsheet on steroids. To understand what all of this means, you need to know a little bit about what spreadsheets mean to business users.
Compared to Java, SQL, CORBA and C++, spreadsheets are pretty low tech. They’re like an accountant’s ledger sheet, brought to life on a computer, with columns and rows for text and data with the ability to enter formulae to reflect needed business calculations, such as sums, price times quantity, year over year growth, percent of total, etc. This may sound pretty ho-hum to the technically proficient, but accountants and financial professionals get pretty excited about this capability. They can produce balance sheets, income statements, sales reports, inventory analyses, etc. – all without any programming.
So why the need for steroids? Well, spreadsheets have their limitations. They’re really two-dimensional representations of a multi-dimensional world. For instance you can use a spreadsheet’s rows and columns to represent financial accounts and time periods, respectively. Those two dimensions describe the data on the sheet. But what about other important dimensions such as department, business unit, customer, product, etc? For larger businesses it is important to add such additional dimensionality for finer detail of analysis of the business. And once you have this detail, you have a lot of information to deal with. Users have typically linked multiple spreadsheets together in delicate and complex web that quickly becomes hard to work with and harder to maintain. That’s when your spreadsheet starts to look like the 98 pound weakling and Essbase looks all pumped up. That’s because Essbase has everything needed to handle all that data.
You want summary levels and calculations on any dimension? Essbase has them. You want the ability to define and maintain these by clicking and dragging a mouse? Yup, it does that too. How about extremely fast retrieval, usually in less than a second? You bet! How does Essbase do that? By pre-calculating summary amounts and formulas and storing those results. Doesn’t that get pretty big, with all those combinations of members from all those different dimensions? Oh boy does it! But Essbase uses patented storage and an optimized calculation engine to minimize storage size and calculation times. It also allows certain calculations to occur during retrieval to minimize loading and calculation times. And Essbase is server based, so that client machines don’t need to be beefed up to hold the multiple gigabytes of information in a database. That way, users can share databases live, unlike a spreadsheet which can’t be accessed by more than one user at a time. So of course, Essbase needs to have powerful and sophisticated security to limit users to reading and writing just the data they should be able to. With the right hardware, Essbase can scale up to handle thousands of users. And logical concepts, such as parents, children, siblings and descendants allow easy administration of hierarchical dimension structures, as well as calculations and security.
So where does all this data come from. Well just about anywhere. User input, internal data feeds, SQL queries, external sources, etc. And Essbase can load dimensional information as well. Of course Essbase is for comparative analysis of summary data, so you won’t be storing textual information such as client address, invoice # or other detailed information. Essbase does have an optional feature, called Essbase Integration Services, which allows it to integrate with a Data Warehouse and also allows users to use Essbase views as a jumping off point to get detailed info from the Data Warehouse.
Of course you probably want to know how users can access all this great data in Essbase. Well there are a myriad of ways. The all time favorite is, of course, our old friend the spreadsheet. Essbase comes with a Spreadsheet add-in that allows live access to Essbase data directly from Excel or Lotus1-2-3.
Users can obtain views or “slices” of the database, displayed as spreadsheet views. Users can perform basic operations such as zoom in, zoom out, cascade and pivot. Zooming in is the process by which users see the details behind summary dimension members. They can do this simply by double clicking the mouse on the chosen member(s). Zooming out is the opposite, done by double clicking the right button. Cascading allows the users to expand a dimension into multiple identical spreadsheets, one for each member of the dimension. And a pivot allows the user to change dimensions from defining the rows to defining the columns of the view, by dragging and dropping with the mouse. With these capabilities, a user with very little technical savvy can produce any required view of the data in just a few seconds.
Spreadsheets are but one way that users interface with Essbase. Essbase has C, VB and Java APIs (Application Programmer Interface) which allow programmers to develop custom applications that utilize the power of Essbase for analysis. There are many commercially available products built on the API, for applications such as Financial Consolidation and Reporting, Budgeting and Planning, Balanced Scorecards, Shareholder Value Add and Key Performance Indicators. Many such products are made by Hyperion Solutions, the makers of Essbase.
Essbase is used in all industries where business users wrestle with large quantities of data, such as Retailing, Manufacturing, Energy Production and Distribution, Consumer Packaged Goods, Finance and Insurance, etc. You may have heard of some large local users, such as Express Scripts, MasterCard, SBC, May Department Stores, Nestle – Purina, and Anheuser Busch, just to drop a few names.
So next time you hear a user talking about how they wish they could pump up their spreadsheets, let them know that Essbase might be right to do their heavy lifting.
Questions about Hyperion Essbase? Are you looking to hire or find referrals for Hyperion? Do you want to talk to Todd? E-mail me at email@example.com and I'll pass on your request.