Holger Barczaitis
TM1 Freelancer
Senior BI Consultant

What is TM1 actually?

TM1 is a planning, forecasting and reporting tool for all the tasks that are usually done in Excel. The TM1 Excel add-in connects Excel to the TM1 database so you can collaborate with colleagues around the world online in Excel. Everyone works with the same TM1 database, which can be up to several terabytes in size if required. By using TM1 you can combine the advantages of a central database with the full functionality of Excel:
  • You can store calculation formulas directly in the database. This will avoid inconsistent results due to incorrect spreadsheets.
  • You can create web sheets in Excel and upload them to the intranet. So you can also collaborate with non-Excel users.
  • A powerful ETL tool for data exchange with your data warehouse or ERP system is also part of TM1.
  • TM1 supports Single Sign on, SSL and SAP Secure Network Communication.

Typical examples of TM1 applications:
  • Sales planning
  • Integrated business planning
  • Profit and loss statement
  • Balance sheet
  • Cost center / cost type reporting
  • Management dashboards

How everything started

TM1 is an abbreviation for “Table Master One”. It was first developed in the early eighties by a man named Manny Perez, who at that time worked for Exxon in New York as an IT specialist in the Supply department. They used an, of course, row orientated IBM mainframe application which was expensive, slow and not all too functional for its purpose.

The idea which then came up at Exxon to improve the situation consisted of two parts: Firstly, if one could set up a database that would be cell oriented instead of row oriented, one could make much more effective use of the mainframe’s memory resources and gain a lot of performance. And secondly, if one could keep the database structure as well as the data in memory instead of continuously writing to and reading from the hard disk, the application would be even faster.

As said above, this was the mainframe world: All the calculation work took place on a server with workstations merely triggering actions and displaying results. Not too long after the invention of this new multidimensional database architecture however, the IBM announced the personal computer, and developers began to write commercial software for PCs. Planners and controllers soon loved to use local spreadsheet applications for their everyday work because it gave them a wide range of flexible and creative calculation methods.

The problem however was the same as it often still is today: Data were stored inside the spreadsheet file. So, for example when evaluating Sales figures, you can never be sure that you are in possession of the latest version of the fundamental data. You may have experienced those review meetings starting off with a lengthy discussion between Sales, Marketing and Production about which of the last month’s sales figures that everyone brought along actually were the correct ones.

Anyone who has worked as a Business Intelligence consultant for some time can probably confirm that there is an astonishingly large number of medium sized and bigger companies where crucial data is stored in spreadsheets, which may even reside on local computers instead of a central place on the network or in the enterprise cloud where everyone has access to it.

This is where TM1 Perspectives comes in. Looking at the TM1 database from a spreadsheet angle, data in a multidimensional database are not row oriented like in a relational database, but they are cell oriented, actually just like in a spreadsheet. Therefore, what you can do is link the spreadsheet directly to a database with the help of an add-in to the spreadsheet software, and suddenly you need no longer store data inside the spreadsheet file but in a centralized database instead. The spreadsheet rises to be a database browser plus all the wonderful functionality of the calculation software.

Sinper, TM1 Software, Applix, Cognos and IBM

Together with a colleague, Manny Perez founded his own enterprise named Sinper, focusing on the development of TM1. After some time, they understood that instead of using a proprietary TM1 spreadsheet, it would make much more sense to develop an add-in for the most common spreadsheet application at that time, Lotus 1-2-3. Then, technical progress allowed for client-server-architecture, and finally the success of TM1 gained some momentum, although it still remained a niche tool for specialized fanatics mostly in the Finance and Controlling departments. In 1996, Sinper’s follower “TM1 Software” was purchased by Applix, who in 2007 were bought by Cognos who, again, were bought by the IBM only a few months after that.

Therefore, since 2007 the full name of the product today is IBM Cognos TM1. Having IBM in the brand name helped TM1 a lot since especially in major enterprises managers feel much more comfortable when a software product name contains two or three well known characters like MS, SAP or IBM.

What was helpful in terms of marketing was not always equally positive when it comes to product development. It is a long, long way from a small one-man-show by a man with brilliant ideas unto a big Software Group like IBM, and some of these brilliant and charming details are in danger to get lost in the concealed processes of Big Blue. Some competitors have developed beautiful features in the meantime for which TM1 users had to wait for quite some time, and still do sometimes. There are people who strongly vote for TM1 getting off the IBM cruise ship, but I am undecided if this is a good idea.

You can read the whole story on the Cubewise website, which by the way is much worth scanning for both interesting open source tools and commercial software all around TM1. Manny Perez is also around at Cubewise, full of brilliant ideas of how one might still expand the functionality of TM1 after all these years.

Let me emphasize one of the aspects where TM1 is still unbeaten, which is performance, especially with vast data models. I have been working with one of Germany’s biggest TM1 landscapes for a couple of years now. Big means something like 4.7 Terabyte memory in use, including a model of 600 GB RAM, in it a Sales cube with 95 GB RAM and dimensions like 350.000 customers and 640.000 products. Response time in any reasonable view on these data is under half a second.

I keep considering TM1 a brilliant product and so do the roughly 1,400 users we currently support. TM1 is fast, stable and reliable. The Excel Add-In is intuitive and makes a lot of sense. And I keep hoping that in the near future the new generation named Planning Analytics will catch up with the excellent reputation TM1 has had over all these years.

There are already good signs for that.
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