Oracle: Collaboration and value realisation - Mandeep Hansra

In a digital world populated by the next generation of consumers and market entrants, and governed by new regulations, CFOs need agile, responsive and predictive enterprise-performance-management solutions for effective guidance and cross-functional collaboration. Oracle's Mandeep Hansra speaks about how the company's cloud-based EPM solutions are in tune with modern finance needs.

It has been over two decades since Don Tapscott coined the phrase the 'digital economy' and set out his vision of a global network. In 2009, analyst firm IDC came up with the 'third platform' to describe the interdependent technology of social media, mobile computing, analytics (big data) and cloud computing that defined digital. SMAC (social, mobile, analytics cloud), should, however, really be SMACIAB to include IoT (the internet of things), AI (artificial intelligence) and Blockchain.

To Mandeep Hansra, Oracle's EPM business development director in the UK, the essence of digital is collaboration, speed and value. "Digital can be many things to many people," Hansra says. "I describe it as connectivity that enables collaboration and organisational agility, an enabler for modernisation. It aligns business domains such as operations, HR, finance, sales and strategy, and generates value."

According to Hansra, the degree to which digital has become embedded in business operations has traditionally varied between the front and back office. While the consumer-facing organisation has been well serviced, core financial processes behind the scene, such as planning, forecasting, strategic management and financial consolidation, have been neglected with technology often being a barrier to change.

"Digital provides reliability and trust. The finance function often spends a lot of effort finding or correcting data rather than using it effectively," Hansra says. From an EPM perspective, the finance office has historically tended to focus more on core financial processes, bog-standard data, control frameworks and the mechanics of reporting, and less on adding value throughout the business. CFOs and finance leaders are at the forefront of business transformation design and delivery and, therefore, require agile and predictable technology solutions. Digital finance transformations create a distinct competitive advantage by enabling the office of finance to act as an informed partner for business value creation."

EPM as a service

Hansra says that digital technology will help to align the finance office with the front office by moving to a cloud-based or EPM-as-a-service environment. This transformation is not restricted to EPM. Close alignment to ERP cloud helps to extract greater value from the business and the data that it generates.

"Cloud is a must-have and it is already here," Hansra says. "The IT industry, in all guises and sectors, including the finance arena, is moving to cloud. Cloud gives a certainty of operation, cost and outcome. CFOs are buying into this certainty and consuming it as an 'always-on' service, not as a collection of technologies, upgrade projects, data-point failures and capex black-holes. You know that the platform is going to be there 24/7. As the leading EPM and ERP cloud service provider, Oracle is responsible for delivering the platform, up-to-date environments (which have been the bête noire of many transformation programmes), the upgrades, backups and availability, which are all part of the service offering."

The pro-cloud position that Hansra takes is compelling, but there are many finance organisations that have already committed capex to building on-premise capability. The question is why should they ditch this to move to the cloud?

"With cloud, the cost of operation is more predictable because this is handled on a subscription basis, as opposed to just throwing in millions of pounds of capex for assets that will be replaced or upgraded. With non-cloud solutions, you will need to upgrade hardware every three or four years, and software more frequently. The capex cost is significant, in terms of technology and disruption to the business. Traditionally, transformation programmes take some time to deliver (in some cases two to four years), which means that the original solution is often not in alignment with what the business needs at the time of use. Cloud takes all of this away and Oracle works with its clients to exploit the investment to date, which means CFOs and the business community can focus on what they do best - executing plans, operating efficiently, increasing productivity and delivering business value to maintain a competitive edge."

Understanding buyers when they're evaluating a new cloud-based EPM solution has been useful to Hansra now that the investment focus for EPM has shifted from capex to opex.

"I think many technologists from software organisations tend to forget that the buyer is not just procuring a piece of software," Hansra says. "With the advent of the cloud, they are buying a service and a capability. We work closely with our customers to understand what they are trying to achieve as a business and how our solutions will help them to succeed. This is particularly applicable where planning, forecasting, monitoring, managing and reporting corporate performance is so fundamental. Our customers want the security and comfort that they are working with a partner who not only understands and supports their ambitions, but also has a proven ability to offer solutions that deliver competitively."

Integrated EPM

Oracle's flagship EPM brand, with its Hyperion lineage, dates back to the early 1980s when Marco Arese and Bob Thompson established International Management Reporting Services, which became Hyperion in 1995.

It has since evolved into the market-leading integrated EPM solution, that is integrated with Oracle's other cloud capabilities such as ERP and reporting, which are all a result of a multibillion-dollar commitment to deliver cloud.

"Hyperion is a well-known brand with an excellent reputation in the finance community. It has matured from a consolidation and planning environment to a much more integrated set of Oracle EPM applications. For example, you could put some plans together that are financial, but you can also dovetail capex planning, workforce planning, project and programme planning to the same data, as opposed to a financial plan being done in isolation, and capex and workflow planning being done in HR or in operations on the spreadsheets."

Consumer-grade EPM

The millennial generation expects a simple app-based mobile and social solution in the business world. Hansra says: "From a user interface experience, I think the look and feel of our new cloud-based solution is intuitive to emerging finance and business professionals. It's not so much about rows and columns, as apps and easy use. There is a social feel and it's collaborative, therefore, user adoption is quick. Our products are mobility enabled and standardised across platforms and devices, so the user experience is the same. This collaboration creates a professional community, which itself is a catalyst for process agility and transparency, and frees up resources for analysis and adding value. There is a distinct demand for financial applications in the cloud: the case for this transformational technology is compelling."

This new working environment allows additional non-finance data to be easily integrated, thereby adding to significant insight and value to key indicators, and enabling increased performance management maturity.

Rationale for cloud

Hansra says, "In a typical on-premise EPM implementation, you would buy servers and hardware, which you would have either in your own hosted environment or hosted somewhere with a partner. Platforms and environments have to be maintained.

The server platform fills up with data, ages and performance deteriorates. There are connectivity issues. Additional investment is made for software: version X of an EPM or an ERP will need to be upgraded as functionality, market models, governance structures and regulations change.

"Every few years, a major software upgrade will be required, adding costs, including implementation resources, and of course there will be changes and disruptions to business. With cloud on the other hand, all of this is included as part of the cloud service. You always have the latest version and, more importantly, you are not spending millions in capex. You're spending smaller sums of opex in a more predictable way. Over the next two to three years, modern finance solutions in the cloud will relegate highly customised systems to legacy status."

Oracle's EPM roadmap

"This year is exciting for us in EPM cloud. We already have our industry-leading enterprise-planning suite in cloud. We have our next-generation reporting, which brings narrative and financial reporting together, on cloud. Our financial close and accounts-reconciliation cloud products are strong capabilities for the core finance community," Hansra continues.

Oracle has a series of upcoming launches that include profitability management, financial consolidation suites and data-management cloud.

Hansra says: "They are fully integrated and have the same look and feel, as they are built on underlying technologies based on the Hyperion lineage, which is integrated to provide a complete EPM cloud solution for finance and business communities."

A cloud-based EPM system is the solution to modern finance needs.