Marcel Vlug, is CEO of CXO-Solutions, the authors of the popular CXO-Cockpit dashboard solution. The company was formed in 2007 by a team of Hyperion Professionals with a vision to provide enhanced performance management reporting from widely deployed consolidation systems such as Hyperion Enterprise, Hyperion Financial Management(HFM) and SAP BPC. Since then, this energetic company has attracted large customers around the world, is supporting more platforms and has expanded into the mobile delivery of information. In this interview Marcel Vlug explains to Gary Simon, FSN’s managing editor, how the company successfully fills the void between consolidation systems and financial reporting.
The motivation for setting up the company was straightforward. MarcelVlug explains that after 15 years in EPM consultancy he noticed that client companies were still heavily reliant on spreadsheets for their management reporting.
“The data was multidimensional but clients were still trying to work around it with static two dimensional spreadsheets. Even though clients had very similar requirements for a balance sheet, P & L and Cash FlowI found myself constantly re-inventing the wheel. So I decided to form a company that could provide an out-of-the-box dashboard that linked directly to the customer’s consolidation package,” he comments.
But Marcel was keen to change the status quo. He felt there was huge scope to show companies how they could present financial information more effectively and imaginatively. “Businesses need reports and graphs at the same time and nowadays they want it delivered to their iPad or mobile,” adds Marcel.
However, it also has to be easy to use. Busy executives want to review their financial information without having to understand the underlying data structures or having to rely on IT specialists.
“All of the big vendors such as SAP and Oracle offer dashboards but they are much more suited to reporting from large relational databases than the multidimensional databases which are commonly found in a finance setting. Existing solutions aretoo complex and inflexible. Even where the larger vendors have solutions designed to work with OLAP (multidimensional databases) they are starting to phase them out. They all seem to be more interested in ‘Big Data’ rather than OLAP technology,” adds Marcel.
So what does CXO-Cockpit bring to the party? “Our speciality is allowing customers to view data from an end-user perspective rather than a process perspective. We have deep financial skills and using our experience we have developed best practice templates that allow our customers to implement dashboards quickly and present information more appealingly and effectively without having to re-invent the wheel.”
According to Marcel, the main drawback of many of the established consolidation systems is that the structure of the business model is optimised for the benefit of the consolidation process rather than end-user reporting. “The dimensional structure may be logical for holding and processing data but is often unwieldy for reporting,” adds Marcel.
“Take for example the ‘Time’ dimension is SAP BPC which replicates periods for each year, making it difficult to report across years in a dashboard. Or consider ‘Custom’ dimensions in HFM which combinespecifications that would normallybe reported separately. In addition intermediary nodes in the hierarchies often get in the way of reporting as well. Our experience allows end-users to transcend these dimensional structures by ‘cleaning’ the application to make it much more accessible for reporting.”
Commenting on trends, Marcel Vlug says that customer attention is already turning to the mobile delivery of information. “It is a very definite trend and it’s coming right from the very top of the organisation. It’s probably the first time that technology has been pushed from the top down. The CEO has an iPad and suddenly everybody wants to review their management information on a tablet. But the first thing that customers realise when they get an iPad is that it is not well suited to columnar spreadsheet reporting. It is this that is propelling demand for CXO-Cockpit dashboards on mobile devices,”adds Marcel.
A welcome side-effect of the mobile revolution is that it is much easier for customers to accept change, e.g. that they cannot have 40 columns of Excel information in the way that they have been accustomed to receiving it in the past.
“The downside is that customers expect mobile apps to cost 99 cents and cannot understand why they cannot see their own data almost immediately,” add Marcel. But the rapid growth of mobile fits CXO-Cockpit’s subscription model and track record for fast implementations. However, Marcel cautions that customers have to be willing to embrace change if they are really to succeed in leveraging mobile technology.
The other trend is the broadening of information requirements and the growing need for dashboards to accommodate more data sources “Customers want more data from non-EPM systems, i.e. operational systems. This inevitably means that CXO-cockpit is increasingly working with larger data sets.”
90 percent of the company’s solutions are based around the finance function but this is changing and Marcel expects to see this fall to 70 percent in the foreseeable future as the company sets its sites on drawing information directly from ERP systems.
In the meantime, companies are seeking to squeeze more advantage from their existing systems. This suits niche players such as CXO-Solutions very well. “We can extend the life of organisations’ investments in consolidation systems, provide enhanced management information and the opportunity to leverage other operational information, as well as taking them into the new era of mobile information,” Marcel concludes.