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What is Essbase?

Essbase is a business intelligence technology with an eco-system of tools that is aimed at solving decision support needs of organizations. The name “Essbase”  derives from Extended Spreadsheet Database. As the name implies, Essbase was developed as a solution to solve important limitations of spreadsheets and the complexity of managing relationship databases:

  • Each spreadsheet is limited by the amount of data it can store. As the spreadsheet contains more data, aggregation and calculations starts to cause performance (calculation speed), and interpretation issues (human errors, size of data becomes overwhelming);
  • Each spreadsheet is limited by how the data could be shared. Typically the same dataset could only be operated by one person at any one time.
  • Building of relational databases requires tremendous technical knowledge and is usually out of reach for most non-technical financial analysts.

Hyperion Essbase and Oracle Essbase

The Essbase technology was first developed by Arbor Software based on Sunnyvale, California. Essbase was the name of the product. Arbor Software subsequently merged with Hyperion Software in 1998 and Hyperion Essbase was named. In 2007, Oracle acquired Hyperion Software and Essbase is now called Oracle Essbase.

Essbase Defined

From a financial analysis perspective, Excel is a tool of choice than the more traditional use of ERP reports because data could be further manipulated and formatted. ERP reports are often static, containing raw data instead of real analysis. By using Essbase, users can retrieve data directly into Excel and create actionable analytic at speed of thought. Therefore, Essbase re-defined the landscape for both reporting and analysis because it brought the data from traditional ERP systems into the Excel spreadsheet without having the users doing heavy lifting such as importing and re-formatting of the raw data.

Unlike traditional relational database such as Oracle 11g, Oracle Essbase is a multi-dimensional database platform. Traditional ERP system is normally referred to as on-line transaction processing (OLTP) while Essbase uses a different model called on-line analytical processing (OLAP). OLAP tools open up the door to allow users to analyze data interactively from a multidimensional perspectives, namely consolidation (rolling up numbers), drill-down, and slicing and dicing from within Excel.

  • Consolidation refers to aggregation of numbers from the lowest children level up to the top (across multiple dimensions). In a business, this means aggregating sales data at the parts level, up to product groups, and then up to product family and eventually all products.
  • Drill-down is the process of narrowing down information into finer details in a hierarchy, but with the purpose of resolving to an analytical answer. An example maybe where a user starts from the top of a hierarchy such as “All Region” and navigate down to the children (e.g. USA) and the children’s children level (e.g. California).
  • Slicing and Dicing refers to the ability for the user break information down into smaller parts or from different viewpoints so that it can be interpreted better. This can also mean presenting the information in a variety of useful ways. An example maybe where a financial analyst produces a Profit and Loss statement by Months for the entire Company, he/she can change the point of view to produce a Profit and Loss statement by Business Units for the entire year, or maybe to change it to become a Profit and Loss statement by Product for one Business Unit for January. This can be accomplished within Essbase within a matter of seconds or minutes.

Essbase Add In

Using Oracle Essbase, complex business queries can produce answers in less than 1% of the time required for the ERP counterpart. The ability to get instant response (seconds and not minutes or hours) allows ‘Speed of Thought‘ analytics. This is quite amazing for people who first seen what the technology can do. The most important aspect that allows it to achieve such quick performance is its aggregation technology. In relational database, answers requires grouping of transactional data during run-time. In Essbase, aggregation for every possible combination is pre-computed (either partially or completely).

Oracle Smartview for Office, when installed into Excel, is an Essbase addin/plugin software that allows analyst to interact directly with the data by doing i.e. drill-down and slicing-and-dicing the data. This is often called Ad-hoc analysis. The interaction, which is simply to select or type in the names from each dimensions and click refresh, is also known as a retrieve. When a retrieval is initiated, data is transferred from the original Essbase application into the user’s spreadsheet. As you can see, users can interact with data seamlessly without any technical or programming knowledge. Analysts can add-value to the business by providing management reports and analytics extremely quickly because they can be self-sufficient. As a result, you will also hear people calling Essbase as “Excel on Steroid“.

Want to know more about how this tool can be used in your business, talk to us about Essbase.

Daniel Poon
Daniel is currently working as a lead business intelligence consultant. He has over 17 years of BI and IT experience. He currently focuses on Oracle / Hyperion tools, Custom Web/Mobile Applications, and Master Data Management processes. This includes vast experience with Data Warehousing, Data Integration Development, and Performance Tuning. The views and opinions on this blog are my own. They do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Oracle or Key Performance Ideas Inc.
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