OutlookSoft's Everest 4.2 climbs beyond budgeting

Pure-Microsoft BPM play makes good use of budgeting roots

Whereas the largest BPM players cobble together acquisitions to create a more complete offering built of separate modules, OutlookSoft aims to deliver a more focused, unified approach. OutlookSoft's history of budgeting strength provides solid roots for Everest Version 4.2, a single BPM solution that integrates budgeting and planning with financial monitoring and reporting.

The product is built around collaborative gathering and consolidation of financial planning and budgeting data. Everest connects to a back end that requires Microsoft SQL Server, IIS, Analysis Services for the OLAP pipeline, and Excel. Once it's loaded, users select and view consolidations, massage and rework the numbers, and post forecasts dynamically, as well as generating reports using the most up-to-date numbers.

Everest sports simple, highly functional graphics to complement those numbers. These include a visual scorecard model and an uncluttered report presentation that makes spotting the KPIs (key performance indicators) easy. Everest also provides dashboards for indicators supporting the executive information system concept and a radar display tool that I suspect will appeal to academics more than real users.

New Additions

Everest 4.2, released in January, sports some new features, mostly in the area of offline data work and collaboration, a hot topic for all the leading BPM vendors.

Everest's “Park & Go” feature brings the back-end data to the local user's hard drive in the form of reports or input schedules. Users work with it in standard Excel and later upload the changes, freeing them from the network while maintaining continuity and accountability.

There are some modest but highly practical additions for collaboration. You can now create and print audit reports to specifically track changes people have made, as well as schedule distribution of reports or of books of reports.

Everest 4.2's main interface remains either Web Excel or a browser. With Web Excel, the back end connects to the networked data so you can update the worksheet's numbers on demand. Everest uses the browser for applications such as Collaboration Forum, a page where managers meet and outline their planning and delivery process, and My Everest, a layered portal with role-based views for the entire organization, one division or region, or a single user.

One of a Kind

A unified application built on a pure Microsoft foundation is an alluring idea, but in my years of reviewing products, this is the first I've seen that delivers the benefits of “a pure Microsoft play” in the product and not just in the marketing materials.

The advantages of Everest 4.2's all-Microsoft base accrue in three areas, each for a different stakeholder: purchasing, setup and administration, and front-line usability.

The purchasing advantage comes from being able to easily decode configuration. Because Everest is a single product, not a set of separate products and add-on modules, it makes the buying decision much easier and simpler. You won't spend cycles figuring out which modules to buy and install and whether they'll work with your other enterprise software.

Administratively, the Microsoft-centric approach also works well for Everest shops. For those that have already committed to a lot of Microsoft infrastructure, integration effort is minimal. Further, OutlookSoft has broken the mold of administration consoles. Rather than making the administrator deal with the classic Windows NT administrator-interface model (which is boring and minimally informative, potentially increasing operator error), Everest's admin functions are controlled from Excel. Because the admin interface is manipulated using Excel worksheets, data jockeys can take on some of the administration and app dev load and apply their better knowledge of Excel domains -- something they couldn't do in the NT admin model.

OutlookSoft breaks away from the BI pack with a query model that doesn't hinge on pivot tables. All the competitive products, to some degree, presume that users are comfortable with pivot tables. But pivot tables are hard to teach; and even though they are now an intrinsic feature of Excel, the pivot-table UI and model of interaction are incongruous with the rest of the product.

Instead of using pivot tables, Everest models primarily use hierarchical tree structures to choose dimensions and drill-down choices and classic Excel tools such as automatically applying color-coded backgrounds to highlight exceptions. The product also taps into Office concepts such as templates and template libraries, most notably for quickly creating new reports.

Summing It All Up

The interfaces to Everest's various parts are quite smooth. Administratively, it's a clear win. I found the end-user design visually consistent, and once I learned where to find the different pieces for building, distributing, consuming, and sharing reports, it was quick work to corral and personalize the data and analyses.

The collaborative features, I suspect, will undergo some evolution; all of the BPM vendors are feeling their way around this vital, but not yet mastered, model. Everest has a good chance of getting to a rational model first because it has already made those collaborative features look and feel like the rest of the product.

Everest 4.2's noteworthy shortcoming is its lack of printed documentation. Online help is thorough and well-rendered, but it should support, not replace, written documentation. Thankfully, the professional-quality online training is well-designed and well-executed. OutlookSoft promotes both live, interactive sessions and recorded sessions.

Organizations satisfied with their existing BPM infrastructure won't throw it away to jump on Everest's bandwagon. But shops that need help, especially in budgeting tasks, will find strong advantages in both the smooth interface and the simple administration the product delivers.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Scalability (10.0%)
Suitability (20.0%)
Interoperability (20.0%)
Ease of use (20.0%)
Reporting (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
OutlookSoft Everest 4.2 9.0 8.0 6.0 9.0 8.0 7.0 7.8