The Insight Game

by Aaron Lazenby, November 2011

Traveling to Cleveland, Ohio, on magazine business recently, I stumbled upon the World Checkers and Draughts Federation’s World Three-Move Championship Match of checkers. I don’t normally follow competitive checkers, but it was late in the afternoon and I had some time to kill. So I dropped in on the action.

I found myself in the special collections room of the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library, watching Alex Moiseyev (Dublin, Ohio) and Michele Borghetti (Italy) at the end of a particularly heated match. I could tell it was heated, because each player spent as much as five minutes studying the board before making a move. The competition was fierce, and two of the three spectators were totally engrossed. The other, however, was asleep in a chair.

In the silent moments between moves (and before my cell phone rang and I was chased from the room), I wondered what these checkers masters were thinking about. All I could imagine was that they were modeling each of the remaining moves and trying to predict their opponent’s counter. With only 10 checkers on the board, that shouldn’t take too long. But if you change the scope of the prediction (from just anticipating the next move to anticipating the next five moves), even a late-in-the-game modeling of a checkers match gets pretty complex.

Back on the street (with a now-silenced phone in my pocket), it occurred to me that the checkers players were doing a board game version of forecasting and predictive modeling—some of the key capabilities of Oracle Hyperion enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions. The best checkers players in the world were taking eons (in computing time) to run very basic predictive models of a very simple universe of data.

This unusual and spontaneous moment in Cleveland gave me a new appreciation for the massive scale and power of EPM solutions—millions of data points, thousands of external variables, time frames that range from next quarter to next decade. And with a lot more at stake than (with all due respect) the world checkers crown.

So this Hyperion special issue is Profit’s attempt to do justice to the customers, partners, and Oracle developers who work with EPM systems to wring insight from complicated data sets every day. We’re talking about serious business information—the profitability of a product line or customer demographic, budget planning under extreme margin pressure, forecasting the sales results for a new market.

All of this at a time when, as mentioned by many of the sources we spoke to for this issue, the volatility of the global economy makes these kinds of insights more crucial than ever. That’s no game of checkers.

Aaron Lazenby
Editor in chief, Profit