Monday, August 6, 2007

On PerformancePoint Server 2007 Planning Features (Part 6)

Part 6 - Implementing Process Management

Once we have defined and designed business models as well as our input forms, the next step towards implementing a budget cycle is to get our analysts and contributors involved. This post provides an overview of how we use PPS Planning Business Modeler (PBM) to implement workflows relevant to budgeting.

Table 6.1 – Aligning Budget Activities to PerformancePoint Planning Tasks

A budgeting period is defined in PBM Process Management with cycles (of assignments) and jobs. In PBM terms, a cycle is basically a scheduled time frame which contains one or more tasks. An assignment involves the association of a user (which we have configured to a specific role) to a given input form (itself associated to one or more business models), to perform a required data-entry or review task. A PBM job is a system-oriented task for updating data within a model, or moving data between models. Jobs become especially useful if we need to centralize approved data from a number of models before running consolidated financial reports (budgeted financial performance, budgeted financial position, budgeted cash flow, etc.).

Figure 6.1 – Accessing the Process Management Workspace in PBM

6.1 Cycles

In order to setup one or more assignments for a user, we need to first define a cycle. Figure 6.2 illustrates the Create a Cycle wizard that launches from the hyperlink shown to the right in Figure 6.1.

Figure 6.2 –PBM Create a Cycle Wizard

The wizard requires an owner, with the appropriate authority (as defined in PBM), a specific business model, as well as a data entry scope for the cycle. Data entry scope is an important feature in PBM which allows us to control the range of time in the business model (delineated by a time/date/calendar dimension) in which budget contributions (and subsequent reviews) can be made. We also have the ability to define our data entry scope in terms of a current period reference relative to the current period (here, we focus on the level in the time dimension, such as a month or quarter) with an additional offset that adds equivalent blocks of time to the current period. For example, if our business policy is to prepare budgets three months in advance, then we can specify an offset of 1 month to a current period of September 2006 which results in an October 2006 starting range for data entry in the model. We can use the offset to define the ending range as well-- an offset of 3 months from the current period results in a three-month period ending in December 2006. The key benefit to using ranges based on a current period (which we define in our time dimension) and offsets is that the current period can be dynamic. Thus, if our cycle is recurring, the data entry scope becomes a sliding window for budget contributions.

Figures 6.3 through 6.5 illustrate how we arrive at the dialog that specifies a current period reference for data entry, from the Create a Cycle Wizard.

Figure 6.3 – Editing the Starting Data Period

Figure 6.4 – Adding a Current Period Reference

Figure 6.5 – Specifying the level and offset for a Current Period

It is important to note that data entry scope and scheduled time frames for a cycle are not the same: we may, for example choose to schedule a cycle for just the first week of our current period (August 2007), wherein we submit data for the quarter starting in October 2007. Also, when we define out time (date/calendar) dimension, we may also specify that the current period for the dimension may be dynamically derived, thereby helping us to implement a rolling period for budgeting.

The wizard also requires that we specify a member of our Scenario dimension for budgeting. For some, budgeting may require multiple passes within a given time frame in the model; ensuring your Scenario dimension has additional budget “pass” members affords greater flexibility in modelling for a variety of circumstances.

After we specify our scheduled time frame for the cycle, we are prompted by the wizard to specify whether notifications to users with assignments within the cycle are made. You may recall from our coverage of the Planning Administration Console that we configured a master list of users. Entries in this list optionally include email addresses which PPS Plan uses to issue messages to contributors when a new assignment is created or, to reviewers when budget data has been submitted.

Figure 6.6 – The New Cycle in the Process Management Workspace

In Figure 6.6 we can see our defined cycle in the Process Management workspace. Note that the Status of the cycle is set to ‘Running’. If you don’t see this state of the cycle after finishing the Create a Cycle wizard, either hit F5 or refresh the PBM workspace browser. We can also use PBM’s ‘Available Actions’ Process Scheduling Task menu item to start and stop cycles, as well as completely purge a cycle and any assignments it contains from the Planning Server

6.2 Assignments

Once a cycle is defined, the owner of the cycle can create assignments specifying:
  • users who will enter and submit budget data
  • users who will review and/or approve data entry
  • deadlines for submissions and approvals
The key to cycles and assignments is the workflow running behind the scenes. An assignment to a user for data entry, for example, has a different state depending on whether the user has submitted data via a given input form. Once a user submits an assignment, the process scheduler changes the state of the assignment and evaluates the next portion of the defined workflow; as we just covered, if notifications are enabled, then the next person in the workflow will receive a message to either contribute their own data, or review data that someone else entered.

Selecting the ‘Forms Assignment’ tab of the Process Management workspace for our newly created cycle, and clicking the ‘Assign Forms’ hyperlink button in the right-hand Workspace task pane (shown in Figure 6.7) reveals the ‘Assignment Definition Creation Wizard’ (Figure 6.8).

Figure 6.7 –Creating a Forms Assignment for the Cycle

Figure 6.8 –The Assignment Definition Creation Wizard

The Assignment Definition Wizard helps us to identify either one or more contributors on a given assignment, or, a group of contributors arranged in a submission hierarchy. A submission hierarchy represents a collection of contributors and approvers which can be defined to match approval processes among a larger number of users. Here, matching a submission hierarchy to a subset of your company’s organisation chart (for example, within a finance department where managers approve senior analyst contributions, who in turn approve junior analyst contributions) is a convenient way to delineate start-dates and deadlines according to the hierarchy itself. Using the submission hierarchy, you can specify the number days required, at a given level, to complete an assignment (the duration of the assignment), then stagger the start times according to the budgeting period-- this creates a critical path of sorts between the earliest start-time (at the lowest level of the hierarchy of contributors), the delta of durations from level to level, up to the topmost approver.

After selecting our approval chain for an assignment, we can include the input form template we configured and published to the PPS Planning Server. Clicking on the ellipses button in the ‘Form’ region of the wizard’s Data Submission page exposes a dialog box (Figure 6.9) where we can select the appropriate form for the assignment. Although the documentation indicates that more than one form may be used for an assignment, I tend to believe that keeping a 1:1 ratio between assignments and forms may well be simpler and easier to manage.

Figure 6.9 –Selecting an Input Form Template for the Assignment

After selecting the form and defining the starting- and ending-dates for the assignment, we then indicate whether our workflow will include reviews, approvals, reviews and approvals, or, alternately neither reviews nor approvals. Selecting the lattermost option brings us to the end of the wizard, while any of the other options prompt us to specify PBM-defined users to participate in the desired capacity. Reviewers and approvers may, at our discretion, edit submissions from contributors, and we can also specify deadlines for reviews and approvals (see Figure 6.10); this is necessary if we choose not to use a submission hierarchy but still wish to set deadlines for non-contributors.

Figure 6.10 –Specifying Review Conditions for the Assignment

Finally, with our assignment defined, we need to save changes to our model site before starting our assignment. Although we have defined the start-time, in CTP2 the assignment definition still needs to be instantiated (the instance itself started) in order for users to contribute/review/approve as well as for the workflow to perform its magic. For the BI practitioners out there, this is analogous to enabling a SQL Server 2005 job to automatically start at a specific time.

Figure 6.11 – Getting Ready to Enable the Assignment

As shown in Figure 6.11, highlighting the assignment and clicking ‘Available Actions’ in the workspace task pane opens a dialog box, allowing us to start the assignment instance (Figure 6.12).

Figure 6.12 – Starting (Enabling) the Assignment Instance

As we covered earlier in this post, once the assignment is up and running, the lead-off contributor may be notified of their assignment via email-- provided this was previously configured in the PAC Master User List. Furthermore, you can supply a link to the assignment (which automatically opens Excel to display it) in an email, or, you can use the link in a SharePoint web part that can be seen on a personalised MOSS site or WSS 3.0 page.

With the assignment enabled, we may proceed to enter our budgetary information. In Part 7 of this series, we will return to the PPS Add-in for Excel for data entry as well as review our options for managing assignments via PBM.

- Adrian Downes

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