The just released IBM Cognos TM1 9.4 financial performance management (FPM) tool aims at large and middle-market companies and covers a range of FPM solutions–from basic planning and reporting to advanced forecasting and analysis. Described by some as Excel on steroids, key strengths— according to the company–include the ability to leverage end-users' spreadsheet skills to create budgeting/forecasting models and analytical applications; a flexible multi-cube architecture that allows users to distribute information easily; and an in-memory "calc-on-demand" engine for storage and speed.

An early adopter of the TM1 technology, Checker's Drive-In Restaurants, a $225 million company with 800 restaurants nationwide (including franchise locations) faced gyrating commodity prices. "Our input costs had reached record changes," says Joe Furmanek, Checker's director of finances. "Being able to measure that at a unit level and at a location level and estimate that as quickly as possible was of paramount consideration."

Finance was also able to dig deeper into labor planning and budgeting. And by generating Excel spreadsheets out of TM1 with sales forecast numbers and variances, finance has achieved efficiencies for location managers. "That's not necessarily a cost savings," says Furmanek, "but that's four to five hours where [managers] don't have to stay up doing administrative stuff." That helps a lot since Checker's restaurants are open until 1 a.m. Next up: better granularity and understanding of Checker's food costs.

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