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Project Analytics – Help At Last

Why do I need Project Analytics?

How many of you have been through an Oracle Projects implementation either as a client or functional consultant and can recognise this situation? You have worked through fact finding interviews, discussions and CRPs, you now have a configured Oracle Projects system to meet the detailed transactional needs and then somewhere along in all this process you come to look at reporting. The conversation is then a little tense as Oracle Projects is really good at getting data in and not always so nice at helping you get it out again, especially not in aggregate.

In other words, it is exactly at the sort of level that directors, financial controllers and senior project managers may wish to see useful information that Oracle Projects is probably at its least amenable. For functional consultants, such as me, this has always been an uncomfortable area, despite significant improvements delivered in the application over the years and the power of tools such as Discoverer. Now at last some welcome help is coming our way through the recently released (May 2009) Project Analytics, part of Oracle BI Applications 7.9.6.

The difficulty of deriving real insight and intelligence from detailed transactions is of course not restricted to Oracle Projects, it affects all systems built using the relational data model. As a chartered accountant and non-technical functional consultant I have to tread carefully here as I am not a technical consultant but in essence relational systems such as Oracle EBS are terrific at getting data in as they avoid duplication and provide all sorts of relationship and integrity controls between related pieces of data.

However, because of these very same relationships within such Transactional (OLTP) systems, pulling data out again requires considerable skill (understanding the complex relationships) and computing power (potentially large data volumes and much joining together of data separated in the relational design.) Over years there has therefore grown up a range of Business Intelligence (BI) tools designed to help aggregate, collate and provide real insight into the detail so assiduously collected by OLTP systems such as Oracle EBS.

Project Analytics is a new Business Intelligence solution from Oracle, the technical details of which have appeared in Antony Heljula’s guest article Review of Oracle BI Applications 7.9.6 and Project Analytics and Andy Coates’ Oracle BI Applications 7.9.6 – Project Analytics Screenshots. I hop that this short article will  give something of a user eye view of the benefits of Project Analytics and how much help it can be.

What Does Project Analytics Give You?

Project Analytics has four main components:

  1. Pre-built warehouse
  2. Prebuilt Extract Transform and Load (ETL) process. The Analytics tools can gather data from all manner of places through “adapters”, one of which is for Oracle EBS
  3. Pre-mapped Meta data including over 350 pre-built calculations and metrics
  4. Best practice library of over 120 reports.

From a user perspective, and I include myself here, the important thing about the warehouse and the associated ETL process is that if what interests you is in there then it is pretty easy for you to get it out and there is (happily) a good chance that most of what interests you will actually be in there. On top of that many of the calculations you may need are also done for you and you have a large starter set of useful reports in the library. You can see how these reports have been built and from what sources very quickly. I am sure you will agree that this is rather a long way away from specifying a report or defining an end user layer from scratch.

The data available to you and the associated dashboards are grouped into seven “subject areas”. These are funding, budgets, forecast, cost, revenue, billing and performance. Project Analytics lets you see what data is available through what it calls “dimensions” and “facts”, in other words the star schemas. Finding what you need in the dimensions and facts is a whole lot easier than sitting down with a technical reference manual, as anyone who has tried both can testify.

So, How Does Project Analytics Help?

First of all Project Analytics is a strong well thought out tool to use. Even my manuscript “specification” like this:

…can result very rapidly in this:

…a meaningful presentation of aggregated data and one which moreover allows drill downs all the way to the project details. Project Analytics’ power to report aggregates like this means that it is now far more straightforward to uncover trends and see the “bigger picture” in Projects data. What is more you can do this without causing grief to your transaction processing.

You may also find, as did I when creating some test data for our Projects Analytics instance, is that you can spot unexplained or unexpected correlations. In my case I had tried to create a range of projects to illustrate the analytics challenges facing a construction firm. What I did not realise until I used my new dashboard was that I had unconsciously structured the data as though all my projects started at roughly the same time, 2008 Q1. This was a mistake and is clearly shown here by a rather smart piece of dashboard analysis:

“Preliminaries” in E & C somewhat oddly can and do occur all through the life of a project but are more likely early on in a project’s life. Now as you can see a disproportionate amount of “preliminaries” has dropped into 2008 Q1. These costs should really have been more or less evenly spread across the time periods to reflect the continuous creation of projects and incurring of preliminaries costs. With the new dashboard this anomaly stood out at once.

So It’s All Good News Then?

Well yes and no.

There is very little to dislike about what is there now, especially when you realise that the dashboards are role based and that Oracle’s “single sign on” can sit across the top of Project Analytics and Oracle Projects making security very sound and enhancing ease of use.

Of course Project Analytics cannot report on everything you could wish for straight “out-of-the-box”. You must therefore consider what additional areas you need to report on and how you can get to them. For example, a lot of Oracle Project Management data is not yet in the Project Analytics’ star schemas and neither are project commitments, although commitments are in Supply Chain Analytics. With help from Antony Heljula at Peak Indicators we have now found how to get data into a projects dashboard from a different subject area, project commitments being a case in point.

Our next target is to get data in from outside EBS altogether and in particular to gather schedule performance data from Primavera or equivalent. Primavera is a good target as so many project-centric businesses already use it but in principle the dashboards could use data originally from any outside system, through the adapters and correct ETL processing. Other examples might be details of aircraft landings and take offs, passenger or vehicle numbers and so on.

So you could not simply give Project Analytics to some key users and think that all your reporting needs in Projects were covered. Once you need to look outside the pre-built schemas you will need help from people such as Antony. All the same this is a big step forward and Project Analytics looks like becoming a desirable addition to many Oracle Projects sites.

16 Sep, 2009 by

E-Business Suite

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