Applix Overhauls TM1

Updated OLAP engine outfitted with new enterprise planning, reporting features

At its annual user conference, held last week in Orlando, Fla., Applix Inc. announced TM1 8.3, an updated version of its in-memory OLAP engine that features a number of usability improvements—particularly with respect to the venerable Excel spreadsheet.

Also last week, Applix announced a new planning module and beefed up reporting features for TM1.

Applix has long standardized on Excel as its user interface of choice, and in previous releases of TM1 has tackled many of the security, data management, and collaboration problems associated with the vanilla Excel spreadsheet.

In this respect, TM1 8.3 features several new tweaks designed to round out the Excel experience for many different kinds of users, says Dave Menninger, vice-president of worldwide marketing with Applix.

Many of the improvements Applix has made are part-and-parcel of traditional BI products, Menninger acknowledges, but, then, such products are typically based on proprietary solutions. “For instance, [customers] now can navigate data directly in Excel without having to bring up pop-up menus. If you think about some more traditional BI products, that’s embedded, but when you think about the fact that we’re operating in Excel, that’s not something that traditionally happens in Excel,” he explains.

Another new feature is “zero suppression,” says Menninger, which pretty much does what its name implies. “If you’re looking at sales data, due to the [sparseness] and the notion that you don’t sell every product in every market in every time period, there might be large regions that are in effect empty, so zero suppression means that we’ll look across the entire row and if we don’t’ see any data, we’ll remove the row,” he comments.

Other additions include Excel HTTP support, which lets traveling users who’d rather use Excel more easily traverse corporate firewalls. Applix has for some time supported a TM1 Web feature, Menninger says, but a lot of users are most at home in Excel. “The group of users that would use TM1 Web typically are what I would call more end users than power users, and the power users want to have all the functionality that they would normally have in the office, but to be able to do it anywhere in the world,” he explains. “So if they want to do it on the road or at home, they can still use Excel and have the same power user features.”

Sounds elementary, right? Perhaps so, agrees Menninger, but—once again—Applix has had to code support for all of these features into the Excel user interface. “The value here is that we’ve done all of this in Excel. Because these are not necessarily unique features in a Windows GUI environment, we’re trying to bring all of those same features into Excel,” he notes.

Other additions include an application organizer feature, letting users organize Excel documents in an Explorer-like view. In this model, says Menninger, users can create folders in TM1—exactly like they’d create folders on a file server—and associate cubes, dimensions, calculation rules, and Excel files for a linked trail of information. TM1 8.3 ships with a new toolbar in Excel that facilitates access to planning and reporting functions.

Finally, the revamped TM1 features support for ODBO—OLE DB for OLAP—that Menninger says helps to improve integration between TM1 and third-party data sources, such as Microsoft’s Analysis Services and SAP’s Business Warehouse. In addition, the ODBO interface can tie TM1 into Microsoft's SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, he confirms.

New Planning Module

Early next month, Applix plans to ship TM1 Planning Manager, a new module that’s expected to be the first of several targeted TM1-based applications. TM1 Planning Manager supports role-based security, along with e-mail alerts for task status changes, planning templates for developing different budgets, and out-of-the-box reports on the statuses of plans, says Menninger.

“TM1 traditionally has focused on the data in the planning process, and Planning Manager as the name implies focuses on the process of planning. You use TM1, you build some models, you have a bunch of calculations, and Planning Manager adds workflow to the planning process,” he explains.

Menninger says Applix developed Planning Manager largely as a result of feedback from customers.

“Clearly, the reason for putting this product together was to address some of our customers’ requirements in the compliance area,” he comments. “We have always in TM1 had the ability to audit the numbers, … but in addition to auditing the changes to the data, the other aspect to compliance is knowing who was involved reviewing the numbers. Now we can record and capture and document the different people that were involved in the review cycle.”

TM1 8.3 is available immediately; TM1 Planning Manager is expected to ship in early June.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.