About the Client
Russian state-owned atomic energy corporation Rosatom combines more than 250 enterprises and scientific institutions, including all civil companies belonging to the Russian atomic energy sector, enterprises belonging to the nuclear arms manufacturing sector, research institutions, and a unique atomic icebreaking ship fleet which is the only one in the world. Rosatom is a largest power generating company in the Russian Federation. It produces more than 40 percent of the electric energy produced in the European part of the country. Rosatom occupies the leadership position in the global market of nuclear power systems. It is number one in the w
orld by the number of concurrently constructed nuclear power plants in other countries; it holds the second place in the world by the wealth of uranium deposits, the fifth place in the world by uranium production; and the fourth place by production of atomic energy. It supplies 40 percent of the global demand of uranium enrichment services and 17 percent of global consumption of nuclear fuel.
A Rosatom's investment program includes a few hundred projects at a few dozen branches engaged in coordinated work (atomic power stations and engineering companies). The processes of planning, monitoring, and analysis of the Rosatom's investment program were initially based on the use of Microsoft Office Excel as the main tool. Each branch prepared its requests and reports related to the investment program as MS Excel files. All collected Excel files were processed in the head office. Summary reports were produced after manual checks of compliance and correctness. The flow of reports was growing, and so did the detailed elaboration of the reports and the amount of data. The reports produced by different branches were barely standardized, which resulted in lengthy and laborious processes of consolidation of the reports. In so doing, many indicators in different reports were conditional on one another, which required considerable routine work for comparing and checking the data. As the used methods of investment planning were developing, the volume of the summary report grew to exceed the capacity of Microsoft Excel 2007 software, and the number of forms to process surpassed 10,000 per year. In addition, new requirements for prompt generation of analytical notes and reports arose, including the requirement to obtain information snapshot of the investment program instantly, and to have the analytical report generated within 2 hours.
As a result of an analysis of the existing situation, a number of critical issues were determined that required an urgent resolution.
The first, and the most urgent issue, was the need to automate the process of collection and consolidation of reports produced by remote branch offices, and to ensure control of the request preparation and request approval processes in the investment program.
The second issue was connected with monitoring the implementation of the investment program, as the use of Excel files as main data sources did not permit to make comparative analysis of the indicators as required.
The third issue was the user's ability to produce ad-hoc reports for the purposes of monitoring and analysis of indicators of the investment program.
Accessibility and consistency of information, building the single information space and providing the single source of information to all users of the system was the fourth objective. There was a need to make it possible to operate the system remotely. In so doing, the system had to operate over an intranet with extremely complex security policies.
The speed of reporting and data consolidation processes was the fifth issue.
Development of the Investment Program Management System (IPMS) was the objective of the project. The Investment Program Management System would encompass all participants of investment planning and enable them to perform the planning activities and collect performance reports from the remote branch offices, consolidate the data, and perform extended multidimensional analysis.
The complex security policies existing in the local intranet determined the architecture of the system as a WEB portal that would ensure maintenance of the common regulatory and reference information (Management of the master data in the framework of MDS Master Data Services), processing the requests and reports coming to the portal as structured Excel files, direct data input from the portal if necessary, control of document flow and compliance with the document flow rules, automatic consolidation, and extended analysis of indicators of the investment program.
The Investment Program Management System (IPMS) includes tools for administration of metadata (forms, reports, the portal) and management of data security policies at the user level and the role level. These tools enable the users to develop the system by themselves. Additional services for system adaptation and development by the users were designed, which can be used by the users who are not familiar with the programming and development process.
The requirement for instant analytical data processing and data analysis determined the implementation of the core system based on the OLAP technologies. The leading BI platform Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services (SSAS) was chosen for development of the system. All input data were transferred to OLAP cubes. The multidimensional storage became a single source for data storage and retrieval.
The requirement for access to information at all times by all users determined the use of Web technologies, particularly, Microsoft Internet Information Services. Thus, the solution ensures constant and reliable scalable access to the information from any location at any time while maintaining the necessary level of security.
Choice of Ranet OLAP
An SSAS server was chosen as the main storage for the system, with access through an Internet portal. In so doing, it was necessary to ensure both multidimensional data analysis in the portal and multidimensional data entry mode and data simulation mode.
The dynamic summary table and other visual elements provided by Ranet OLAP were used extensively in the course of design of the user interface of Galaktika BI. Visual elements of Ranet OLAP permit creating a dynamic, ergonomic and full-featured user interface. They received very high praise and good feedback from users of the Galaktika BI product. Having such positive experience, we decided to use Ranet OLAP for development of the Investment Program Management System, rather than reinventing the wheel. In addition, Ranet OLAP was the only component available at the time, capable of supporting the modification of multidimensional data in the SSAS using a web browser (the write-back technology).
Benefits of using Ranet OLAP
Visual elements of Ranet OLAP provide the end user with powerful and ergonomic analytical tools. Intuitive, easy to master, and easy to use tools can meet analytical requirements of the most demanding users. More important, it does not require that the user has technical knowledge or skills.
Interactive designer for summary tables
The matter of building arbitrary reports by the users is solved very efficiently by the pivot grid designer in Ranet OLAP. The interactive pivot grid designer permits the user to create his custom reports by simply dragging visual elements into special areas. The user who knows all nuances of the investment program planning and monitoring can create more advanced reports. This increases efficiency of the analysis and eventually results in making better substantiated decisions. In so doing, the user does not have to request help from the IT department of the company. The feature of data export from the designed report into a Microsoft Excel file opens additional possibilities for doing high quality analysis.
In addition, all report settings can be saved, and it is easy to retrieve them from the history later. The settings of summary tables and filters are stored at the server, not in the user's local workstation, therefore they are accessible when working outside the office. The settings of summary tables and filters can be exported to or imported from XML files. They can be local, intended for use by one user, or global. This functionality of the Ranet OLAP pivot grid is especially helpful, as all users can benefit from the settings of summary tables configured by the most experienced and skillful users or analysts. In other words, there is a transition path from the personal analysis and consumption of information (as, for example, when working with local Microsoft Excel files) to the collective analysis and use of information. It promises additional benefits to the business.
Support of the Drill Down, Drill Up, and Drill Through functions
The users of the Investment Program Management System have to process large amounts of information that is why it was very important to have services that simplify end user's work with data. Services Drill Down, Drill Up, and Drill Through are available with the Ranet OLAP pivot grid.
- The Drill Down service enables the user to navigate between various levels of data, from the summary level to detailed levels. The hierarchy of the dimension determines the drill down paths. In so doing, the user can go one level deeper into the data either directly (Drill down) or by expanding the hierarchy level (Expand).
- The Drill Up service operates in the opposite direction compared to the Drill Down. It permits the user to come back from the detailed data to the summary data.
- The Drill Through enables the user to see, which actual data were used for calculating the indicator. In other words, it permits to switch from the aggregate analysis of indicator values to analysis of the individual records from which the indicator value was calculated.
Flexible search settings and filters
Nevertheless, the user often has to search for data or filter data manually. Visual elements of Ranet OLAP have services that simplify these procedures. Filters give access to a search function, where you can define the conditions by specifying the field, the type of check, and the value. Using AND / OR operators, it is possible to define various groups of conditions. Types of check ("Includes", "Equals", "Starts with") and values can be used to specify the search conditions. The list of fields available for search is generated from the list of properties of the dimension. In is possible to search either the entire dimension hierarchy or the specified hierarchy level.
When analyzing investment program indicators, it is often necessary to highlight the cells or ranges of cells of interest, atypical values, etc., with color, font, or icons. This simplifies user's work with data by making easier to locate certain cells or indicators. The Ranet OLAP pivot grid permits conditional display of the values based on the cell display formats determined in the cube or in the MDX-query (FORMAT_STRING, BACK_COLOR, FORE_COLOR, FONT, etc.). For example, the data imported from reports, and the data edited by the user were separated into the different elements (members) of the dimension in the cube settings. This permitted to highlight the changes with color, which helped to find the changes in the form quickly.
Nevertheless, the user can open the cell style designer and set the format conditions based on his preferences, if necessary. Style settings can be stored in the server and retrieved from the server for reuse as necessary.
In the course of the investment program planning, the users often have to create indicators and data sets that could not be foreseen at the time of cube setup. There can be calculations for alignment of data for the reports, calculations of models, planning for future periods, etc.
The Ranet OLAP pivot grid has a built-in customer calculation editor, enabling the user to create his own calculated members and calculated data sets. All features provided by the MDX language (for example, MDX language functions) are available to the user when creating customer calculations. Creating calculated data sets can substantially simplify reports, as it is possible to create data sets matching the specifics of the report (it can be complex filters or data selection algorithms), save the settings, and use them when designing the report.
It is possible to enable user formats for calculated indicators: displayed value format, background color, font color, etc. There are special convenient forms for setting the format properties.
Editing data in the cube (Writeback)
The possibility to edit cube data (the measure groups have a write-back partition) and the Ranet OLAP pivot grid were used for direct input of data to the Investment Program Management System by the user. Thus, the users were able to enter the changes directly into the cube, bypassing the import of data from reports.
The table area accessible for editing is highlighted with yellow background color. It is determined based on the cube security settings, the indicator type (calculated indicators are not accessible for editing), etc. It is possible to enter an arithmetical expression using the syntax and functions of the MDX language into the edited cell. This feature permits calculation of the indicator based on the current context (the server does it in the course of recalculation). The table cells modified by the user are highlighted with background color (blue cell background) and font color (blue color bold text in the cell). Visual rendition of the cell value depends on the mode of data synchronization with the server.
There are two possible modes of synchronizing the changes with the data stored in the server:
- Automatic update: any modification of the cell value results in sending the changes to the server and recalculation of the data. The calculated results are sent back to the client.
- Working with cache memory: the changes are accumulated in the cache memory in the local computer. The changes are sent to the servers as a result of a user's command [Save changes] (Recalculate, Recalculate table data with current changes). This mode decreases traffic and ensures prompt response.
In so doing, the modified cells that have not been updated in the server are highlighted with blue background color, and the cells updated in the server are displayed with blue bold font. When working with cache memory, the user can send data to the server for recalculation when necessary. In the pivot grid, it is possible to undo the changes that are stored in the cache memory since the last recalculation (save operation) or singe the start of editing. In order to cancel the recalculated changes, the user has to undo the entire transaction.
It is possible to enter the data both to list members and to aggregates. When editing aggregates, allocation mechanisms can be applied automatically, depending on the number of subordinated list members.
All changes are isolated within the user session, and they are not accessible by other users until the transaction is fixed.
In order to enable offline work, it is possible to save the result of the initial query and the changes as XML files in the local computer and can be imported from the XML file.
The introduction and use of the system confirmed our correct choice of tools and architecture of the system. Over a number of years of operation of the system, we managed to successfully adapt it to new emerging requirements following the development of the investment planning method and investment monitoring method used in Rosatom, by modifying the system settings only, without reworking the software code. In so doing, the quality of output data was improved, and the cost of preparation and approval of plans and reports were substantially decreased by means of automation of data collection and data verification processes. The essential requirements of the project connected with speed of workflows were successfully met. With the number of planned and controlled indicators around 300, and the annual number of processed forms around 20,000, the time of collection and consolidation of the reports was shortened to 3 days, and the time of preparation of analytical reports and information sheets was decreased to few minutes.
In addition, the managers were given a personal workplace (the Dashboard) featuring interactive maps for analysis and monitoring of the main indicators of the investment program. Effectively, the manager can perform quick analysis of the status of the company investment program at any time. It helped to speed up the decision making and improve analysis of complex conditions when there is a deviation.
As the investment program indicator data are stored in the OLAP cube, a number of interactive reports for comparison of the planned and actual indicators, and reports intended for the plan vs. actual analysis of the investment program were designed using the Ranet OLAP pivot grid:
- Report on the use and financing of capital investment and commissioning of fixed assets on account of all sources of finance
- Main indicators of performance of the capital investment plan for the year
- Calculation of the unused limits of financing capital investment
- Report on adherence to the capital investment use time schedule, with breakdown by projects and the structure of capital investment
- Report on adherence to the investment program financing time schedule
- Report on the use of capital investment with breakdown by the structure of capital investment and sources of financing
- Report on the use and financing of the capital investment with breakdown by projects.
Now the users of the system working in different departments or branch offices can perform comparative cross-analysis of the data concurrently. This would be extremely difficult to achieve using MS Excel. For example, the data supplied by the Monitoring Department arrive monthly as cumulative totals for the month, while the data supplied by the Planning Department are adjusted once in 6 month in the form of monthly increase. The difficult thing is that the employees working in different departments want to see the data concurrently and exactly the same data types as the data was delivered into the system. Comparison forms help in designing the analytical reports in accordance with the client's requirements, with various options.
The comparative data analysis features implemented using the Ranet OLAP functionality provided the main advantage and created a strong alternative to using other tools for these purposes. The data access functionality based on the use of Microsoft Office Excel and the Reporting Services is also integrated into the system as tools for multidimensional data visualization and reporting. However, these tools proved barely usable for complex multidimensional queries and interactive data analysis.
The users of the Investment Program Management System can enter indicator values using the capability of the Ranet OLAP grid table to edit the cube data. The following standardized data entry forms for entering indicators are implemented in the system:
- Use of capital investment
- Increase of non-financial assets
- Commissioning of fixed assets
- Use of sources of finance.
The data entry forms help to decrease human work for preparation of reports, due to ability to make changes or show the made changes as necessary (for example, if errors, discrepancies were found) etc.
Forms helping to detect errors or discrepancies in the indicators of the investment program were designed using the Ranet OLAP pivot grid, for solving the problems connected with consolidation of the data imported from reports:
- Comparison of advance payments (4 options with different breakdown)
- Comparison of increase of non-financial assets (3 options with different breakdown)
- Planned vs. actual analysis (3 options with different breakdown).
By implementing an investment program management system, the companies can substantially diminish the risks associated with collection and consolidation of reports from remote branch offices, as well as the risks resulting from static functionality of the reporting and data analysis systems. Actually, the users can setup Excel file templates to be used for import, documents processing procedures, rules for comparison on indicators and error detection.
The functionality of the solution is easily adaptable to the specifics of the company's business processes; it can be easily extended or integrated with the legacy systems or information systems from other vendors.
When choosing the architecture for the Investment Program Management System and when implementing the system, we aimed at creating a prototype solution, so that we could efficiently reuse it for development of similar type projects connected with consolidated reporting and subsequent analysis of indicators. The practice of implementation of other projects has demonstrated that we made right decisions.
We will continue using Ranet OLAP as the basis for development of the Investment Program Management System, implementing other planning, budgeting projects and BI projects, and we highly recommend the use of Ranet OLAP to anyone who is interested in development of high quality full-featured information systems or user interfaces.