The Vision Performance Management module (a.k.a. VPM) is a pay module for your Vision system that allows you to deploy visually appealing Dashboards to quickly analyze and drill into your company’s project and financial metrics. The module comes with a number of pre-built dashboards to get you up and running but you can also build your own using the Tableau BI software (Tableau is one of the leading BI software tools on the market) supplied with the module.
Recently one of my long term clients purchased the VPM module and asked me to help them get it installed and get them up and running with some dashboards. I have only had a couple of opportunities to work with Tableau in the past so I jumped at the chance to get involved and so this article will explore what the installation involves and some of the things you can watch out for if you want your VPM roll out to be a success. This is not intended as a step by step how-to as the entire installation and configuration process is much more involved than can be squeezed into one blog post.
By far the most important thing to understand about VPM before installing, but more importantly, before purchasing the module, is that there are some significant limitations of the VPM module if you do not own SQL Server Enterprise. Most if not all of my clients only own SQL Server Standard and given the price difference (more than 4x the cost per core), it’s obvious why most Vision users settle on Standard.
Without SQL Server Enterprise, many of the Dimensions, Measures and KPIs users are looking for with this module are NOT available. This also means that many of the “canned” dashboards that come with the product are not available either – most notably the ones that relate to DSO (Day Sales Outstanding) and AR Trending.
I don’t necessarily see this as a deal breaker if you’re considering the module but it certainly will have an impact on your decision since it may limit your use of it or require advanced development to overcome these hurdles other ways.
The first thing to be aware of with the VPM module is that it pulls its data from the Vision Analysis Cubes and they must be installed first. I won’t go into the details of what the Analysis Cubes are or how to install them here but be sure to read the installation documentation thoroughly and then read it again! Also be aware that you must rebuild your Analysis Cubes any time you install a major release upgrade (e.g. 7.4 to 7.5).
VPM is a separate installation file which must be run after any Vision core installation, upgrade or Cumulative Update. The actual installation doesn’t take very long but it is broken into 2 parts, first the VPM components in Vision are installed and then it will automatically begin installing the Tableau server software which will require some consideration around security so be sure to read the documentation! Once the install is complete you will likely want to install the Tableau Desktop software in order to edit and build your own dashboards however, it doesn’t necessarily need to be installed on the server. You can install the desktop software this on your local machine if this is where you will be doing your development work.
Throughout the process of installing, configuring and development with VPM and Tableau I discovered a number of issues that were either poorly documented or not documented at all. Here are just a few things to watch out for:
- VPM and Tableau are not tools that you just install and 10 minutes later you have a fancy dashboard. You need to understand your needs – what metrics are important and why. But knowing your needs alone will not be enough – you need to understand MS SQL databases, queries and data cubes and you also need to understand how Deltek stores data in the database as well as in the cubes. This is not something your average user or even power user of Vision will know and its a steep learning curve for the uninitiated.
- As noted above one of the biggest caveats is that unless you own SQL Server Enterprise, you will be immediately limited in what you can do with VPM out of the box. SQL Server Enterprise is a large investment which most firms would likely not make simply for the sake of using all of the VPM tools. Make sure you know what KPIs and measures you’re most interested in before you buy.
- Something that you will not find documented anywhere is that the version of Tableau that comes with the VPM installation is NOT a full version of Tableau Server. It has been restricted to disable specific functionality that doesn’t conform to the Deltek Analysis Cubes data model. One specific example of this is ability to use some of the standard Tableau Quick Table Calculations such as “YTD Growth” or “Year over Year Growth”.
- If you build your own dashboard comprised of multiple Tableau worksheets you have to be careful to hide all worksheets and only leave your dashboard page visible before you load the Workbook in Vision, otherwise all of the individual worksheets become available for selection when adding to the Vision Dashboard. This could become very confusing to the end users.
- Security – VPM and the Analysis Cubes are not tied to the Vision security model. That is to say you cannot control security for VPM dashboards from Vision. Both the Analysis Cubes and VPM can be secured using Windows Authentication however, even if a user has no access to them, in Vision they can still see the Vision Performance Management dashboard names and may try to load them. The only way to prevent this is to restrict access to “Add Web Dashparts” and restrict access to Reports–>Performance Management through Vision security roles.
The First VPM Project:
The real power of VPM/Tableau is in simple visual representations of your data – bar charts, graphs, trending lines, etc. This is really what VPM/Tableau are intended for and does well. However, my client wanted to dip their toes so to speak by first trying to replicate an existing Excel spreadsheet they used that contained numerous metrics and their management team had been accustomed to. The big problem was that it was stitched together every month manually from various Deltek Vision reports. This was not only time consuming but error prone, not to mention the data was static.
Tableau can represent your data in text table form but it should be noted that it’s not like Excel – you can’t simply insert data or extraneous rows/columns. You have to work from the data source (in this case Vision Analysis Cubes), using the underlying data structures and aggregations at your disposal. That said you can certainly make a fine looking text table that is not only sort-able but represents live data (up to the last cube refresh). You can also add slicers do quickly flip between years. Below are a couple of screenshots of the table.
All of the metrics above are pulled out the General Ledger Cube and special grouping was done to represent things the way the client wanted to see it displayed. In the next screenshot many of the metrics required data to be pulled from both the Project and General Ledger cubes as well as blended with direct queries from Vision. Some metrics such as “No. of Employees” were pulled from custom fields which can then populate the cubes. Because these metrics are blended they cannot be part of a single table but instead are essentially their own worksheets but stacked on a dashboard for display purposes.
Many of the above metrics are “calculated members” or “calculated fields”. For instance, Professional Fees/Employee is not something the Vision data cube calculates for you but a calculated field was created by dividing Professional Fees / the FTE count (which is also a calculation).
What About Visual Charts
As mentioned previously VPM/Tableau is all about making visually appealing and easy to read charts and graphs. What if you wanted to measure something like Billed Fees but compare Year over Year. You may recall that some of the true Tableau functionality has been pulled from the Deltek version, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be accomplished using some behind the scenes work. Below is a Year over Year comparison of Billed Fees in a nice bar chart by month.
VPM and Tableau are extremely powerful BI tools that bring complex, interactive dashboards to your Vision system. Yes there are many caveats and it is not a tool that most users will be able to pick up quickly. You really do need a technical background in database programming coupled with a strong understanding of the Vision data/cube structure and the Vision accounting system to harness it’s power. You also really need to know what metrics it is you’re looking to understand to run your business. This is an often overlooked important first step!
Or, you can hire someone like me to work with you and your team to help leverage your investment in this great tool! For more info contact me at [email protected].