Introducing the Flow TM1 Rule Editor by Ricky Marwan.

RuleEditorIcon2We’re proud to announce the Flow TM1 Rule Editor, written and maintained by Ricky Marwan.

The TM1 Rule Editor allows you to edit and save your TM1 rules in an innovative and convenient IDE.

  • Formatting and coloured syntax highlighting make reading and organizing your rules easy.
  • Drag and drop cubes to create DB formulae, or just drag single dimensions to get the bang syntax string.
  • The tool also includes a complete palette of valid TM1 rule functions. Simply drag the function to the rule editor and you’ll get the function string along with parameter hints.

Go here for the download and try it out!

.NET C# TM1API starter kit.

Introduction

One of the most powerful (and possibly overlooked) features of TM1 is that it supports a fully-featured programming API (Application Programming Interface).

This means that virtually any function supported by the server is exposed to external programming environments. Or, put more simply: you can write your own TM1 application, and your imagination is the limit!

Working with the TM1 API in Visual Basic is pretty easy, as the functions are available anytime the TM1 add-in is loaded. This is why a lot of developers gravitate toward working this way, as it is familiar and quick to get started.

Unfortunately, it also comes with the limitation of being hosted in the Excel environment, and cannot produce a stand-alone Windows or Web application.

Recent versions of TM1 include a .NET API that you can use in your applications, but this API does not support all the functions of the native COM API. It was initially developed to support the requirements of TM1Web and supports mainly read-only operations.

Microsoft’s .NET framework software development platform has grown the past decade to become one of the most comprehensive framework libraries out there. It’s free to use, supported by Microsoft, and is a great choice for quickly creating native Windows applications.

But how can we get the best of both worlds?

Note: this article assumes a basic level of C# programming capability and access to a 2010 version of Microsoft Visual Studio.

The TM1 COM API in .NET

It’s well-known that you can call COM dynamic link libraries from .NET. However, the protocol for doing so can be quite difficult to implement, especially when the DLL in question is not documented in an easy-to-translate way.

In .NET you need to know the underlying names and entry points of every single function call, and then map the COM data types to equivalent .NET data types.

You can analyze the tm1api.dll file using a tool like Dependency Walker, which gives you information about each function contained in the DLL. By default, the parameter and return types are not listed in any useful form, but if you right click in the window and select “Undecorate C++ Functions”, you’ll see that the output becomes a whole lot more interesting.

Here is an example output from Dependency Walker:

As you can see, all the functions are listed out with their associated function names and signatures. However, there are a lot of functions, so typing each one out would take a long time.

TM1 includes a full list of function signatures, but this is either a BAS file or a C header file. Those don’t help us with C#, but it turns out it’s pretty easy to convert this BAS to C# — I used an online VB.NET->C# converter, changed the longs to ints and switch any function with a _VB suffix to the C version. Since I’ve already gone through the process, you can use the one included in the sample package.

Disclaimer: I make no warranty or guarantee that the included code is complete, correct or bug free. Use it at your own risk.

Loading the TM1API DLL in .NET

Once you have the function signatures listed in a .NET class, you’re about halfway there. You still need to make your program load the TM1API DLL at runtime.

When I first started with the TM1 API, I used the pInvoke windows function “LoadLibrary” to load the TM1 DLLs. This was painful, as I had to load each DLL individually, including every library the TM1API was dependent on. As TM1 versions progresses, this list grew, and backward compatibility with previous version of TM1 became more difficult, as the list of required DLLs was different for each.

When I started working on the Flow Model Packager, I revised this approach and found a better way. Now I simply pInvoke the “SetDllPath” windows function, which adds the TM1API folder to the search path. This way, the program locates all dependent DLLs automatically, irrespective of how many dependent libraries there are.

Using the sample code

Loading the DLL and defining the API function calls is all taken care of in the Flow.TM1.API class provided in the sample code. To use it take the following steps.

1) Connect to TM1:

TM1API.TM1DLLPath = "[tm1 api path]";
TM1API.TM1APIInitialize();

// Initialize the user session and create a value pool
int hUser = TM1API.TM1SystemOpen();
int hPool = TM1API.TM1ValPoolCreate(hUser);

// Set the admin host to the value in the text box
TM1API.TM1SystemAdminHostSet(hUser, "[admin host]");

Log in to a given server:

int hServer = 
    TM1API.TM1SystemServerConnect(
        hPool, 
        TM1API.TM1ValString(hPool, "[server name]", 0), 
        TM1API.TM1ValString(hPool, "[username]", 0), 
        TM1API.TM1ValString(hPool, "[password]", 0)
    );

Once you have finished all your TM1 operations, you need to close the session:

TM1API.TM1SystemServerDisconnect(hPool, hServer);
TM1API.TM1ValPoolDestroy(hPool);
TM1API.TM1SystemClose(hUser);
TM1API.TM1APIFinalize();

You can look through the sample project to get a very simple example of a C# application working with the TM1 API.

Make sure you update the app.config file to include the path to your own installation of TM1.

 

Conclusion

The main barrier to entry to programming with the TM1 API is the initial set up of the API function calls, and I think this has been a limiting factor in the proliferation of custom TM1 applications.

Hopefully this sample code will get some creative developers pointed in the right direction so we can see some innovative new TM1 applications out in the wild!

You can download the sample here. If you have any issues or questions, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at team[at]flowolap.com, or make a post in the comments section below.

Back to the Future, Part II

Introduction

Most financial models are based on the fiscal year, rather than aligning with the calendar year.

In many countries, these two calendars align, but in some it does not. In Australia, for instance (my home country), we have a Jul – Jun financial year, and both New Zealand and Japan have their own, too.

Propel Planning, Flow’s budgeting and planning application, always supported the idea of changing the starting month of the fiscal year, but we made some recent improvements which led to a better date lookup cube.

I thought I’d spend some time discussing it and provide a download link for those that are interested.

What was wrong with the old one?

Admittedly, there was not much wrong with the original date lookup cube, and it could still be used for most purposes.

However, there was often a necessity to map from Fiscal Year to Calendar Year and back again to do simple lookups, and we decided we it was worth finding a more efficient way to do this since it’s so core to the Propel Planning system.

To be honest, the former date lookup cube was something I built years ago, for us in consulting where the fiscal year period would be known well in advance of starting the job. And since I started working abroad, I don’t think I ever had a single implementation where the fiscal year was not aligned with the calendar year, and never really had to consider it.

However, Propel Planning is a dynamic, generic budgeting and planning system that can be sold world-wide, so it was time to face the music!

The Approach

A fresh look

I took a different approach this time, in several ways.

Instead of creating all the data in Excel and importing it into a TM1 cube, I created all the data in TM1 rules. The logic behind this was that we can easily export the rule-based calculations, delete the rules, then import the data as static numbers, so this technique just gives us an option to keep a rule-based lookup if we ever want to.

In the previous version of Propel, changing the start month was quite a significant effort. We had a Turbo Integrator function to do all the hard work, of course, but it had quite a lot to do – updating attributes, shifting data around in the date lookup, reordering elements. We even had a hidden cube that would provide data to the final date lookup when the TI process was run.

We realized this time round the designing a smarter, more flexible date lookup cube, along with the Month and Year Period dimension would make this configuration much simpler, and render most of the tomfoolery in the TI process unnecessary.

Here is the new data structure:

Generic Month & Year Period Elements

The most important part of designing this cube was avoiding the need to rename elements in the Month and Year Period dimensions. Instead of using “Jan”, “Feb”, “Mar” for the Month element names, we instead used “M01”, “M02”, “M03”, etc. Likewise, the Year Period dimension contains the elements “Y01”, “Y02”, “Y03”, etc.

This gives us freedom to interpret each month element as a particular named month, based on the Fiscal Year. So, in Australia, we would simply set the “Display Name” attribute on “M01” to “Jul”, and similarly for subsequent months.

Now we can always assume the element name “M01” is the first month in the fiscal year.

But it’s not quite that easy. We still need to make sure our date lookup cube calculates the correct calendar month for each Fiscal month.

Fiscal Month Offset

In order to do this, we use a simple attribute in the Month dimension called “Fiscal Month Offset”. This value is referenced by the date lookup cube when calculating the calendar month. The numeric value represents the number of months to “shift” the calendar month from the fiscal month.

For instance, if our fiscal year starts in July, we need to put a 6 in this value. The date lookup rules will then equate “M01” to “M07”, which is calendar month Jul.

This way, we can still look up calendar dates if need be.

Calendar vs Fiscal Date Measures

Hence, the date lookup cube supports two sets of measures, one for lookups that occur within the fiscal year, and another for lookups to calendar years. The simplest lookup is now to the fiscal year, with no requirement to translate to calendar month and back again to do a simple lookup.

Other Improvements

To reduce the number of measures, we also removed the “Backward” and “Forward” measures. This is now done using the “Offset Month” and “Offset Year” dimensions, which now include negative numbers.

This is more articulate, and simplifies rules which rely on numeric calculations to determine the number of months to search forward or backwards in time.

Example Usage

 

To lookup 3 months in the past from a fiscal-based cube:

# Lookup the year

DB('SYS Fiscal Date Lookup',

	!GBL Year, !GBL Year Period, !GBL Month,

	'0','-3',

	'Target Fiscal Year');

# Lookup the month

DB('SYS Fiscal Date Lookup',

	!GBL Year, !GBL Year Period, !GBL Month,

	'0','-3',

	'Target Fiscal Month');

Conclusion

With the new cube structure, it is much easier to lookup months and years in the past and future in fiscal-based cubes. Concordantly, it is no more difficult to use the cube in a calendar-based design.

Now where we’re going, we… er… don’t need roads… Sorry, I know it doesn’t really fit, I just wanted to say it.

TM1 Development Methodologies & Tools

Introduction

The classical way of developing a TM1 Server seems to be to go in person to a customer site and develop on their infrastructure.

There are often many good reasons for this, mainly involving security and availability, but I have not worked this way for a long time.

I thought I’d post about my personal development methodologies and tools, and how they might help other developers in their work.

Local and Off-site Development

It’s first worth mentioning that I come from a software development background and have worked in various projects with different software development life-cycles, including structured Microsoft Consulting approach, “agile” development, and many variants in between.

This heavily affects my view of TM1 development, because I sometimes see practices that terrify me as a disciplined programmer.

I’ve seen teams of TM1 consultants developing individual models on their personal laptops, then trying to merge them together and integrated them in a completely unstructured way.

After seeing this, I certainly understand the appeal of the centralized dev server model.

However, I prefer a localized and often off-site development model for various reasons. It allows me to work on many projects simultaneously, stops frequent travel from interfering with productivity, can keep me free of untimely distractions, and just generally suits my way of working.

I won’t attempt to sell the approach here, as my focus is on tools and methods you can use if you happen to share my view.

My Process

Overview

Usually, the first thing I do when I start the development phase of a project is to find out whether it’s possible to work at least partially off-line.

If I find there’s a problem with sensitive data, I’ll just invent some test data in the initial development stages.

This also helps by providing independent, repeatable test cases that can be utilized for unit testing and possibly later for UAT.

I then work on a local TM1 instance on my laptop, whether on-site or not, which I have set up with all my standard tools and applications.

If data ever gets too big for the RAM on my machine, I’ll just scale back the data volumes.

Merging Changes

When the time comes, I’ll update the development server on the client site. I do this by performing an automated file compare and deciding which objects are new and should be included, and which objects should be left alone.

It’s easy to make this decision, as the file compare tool shows you exactly what has changed and which version is more recent. Most even allow you to do a visual comparison of text files, which is very handy for RUX and PRO files.

The tool I use for this is an open source one called “WinMerge”. You can check it out here.

Working in a Team

So, you might be thinking, this is all well and good if you’re working alone or on a very small team, but what about large collaborative projects?

Certainly, larger teams provide a challenge, but nothing that can’t be overcome.

Often in this case, it’s useful to “stub” the design. This involves creating all the cubes and dimensions first, and leaving out the attributes, rules, and TI processes. That way each team member knows what other cubes will be called and won’t make the mistake of creating any objects with the same name.

Naming conventions often come into play here, too. I will often turn up to a project and make it my first order of business to distribute a standard naming convention document I have been using for years. You might prefer a different convention, or the customer might mandate one, but the important part is everyone understands it and sticks to it.

I’ve attached a sample document I used on a project years ago.

Revision Control

One concept I find useful for projects with larger teams is revision control.

This is a discipline well known to computer programmers that not only allows your team to keep a centralized copy development files (in this case TM1 server files from your data folder), but keeps track of all previous versions, who changed them and why.

The Basics

The idea is to keep a central repository of all files in the project and allow developers to “check out” the files to their local computer and work locally.

Once they have made changes, they can choose to “commit” their files to the repository, or to “revert” the changes they have made. If other developers are also making changes, developers perform an “update” to ensure they have the latest committed files.

It has other benefits, such as allowing the team to “tag” releases, so they can always get back to a particular version of the project, and for an individual developer to “branch” development (split it), for experimentation or creating an alternate version.

There are many other features and benefits to using revision control, which you can find by doing a Google search on the topic.

If a revision control system detects that two users have changed the same file, it does not allow one user to overwrite another’s work. It gives a “conflict” notification and allows the users to deal with that conflict.

For text files, you can often “merge” the changes made to both files, or, since revision control tells you who made the conflicting change, you can simply get in contact with the other developer and negotiate which file is correct.

But for TM1?

It may seem counter-intuitive to use a revision control system for TM1, as many of the files are not text-based, but I have found it very useful. Sure, you lose the merge functionality for non-text files, but you can still often perform a Winmerge “diff” and get enough information to work out what has changed and how to resolve it.

When dealing with TM1, you can exclude the TM1 control files from the revision control repository, as most have an “ignore” feature. This is important, because TM1 updates these files each time the server is started up, so they will always register as modified.

The main drawback I have found is getting team members to adopt it, as it does require some process and training to be used effectively.

Software Options

The tool we also use for Flow development is called Subversion, with the Visual SVN Server front-end. It is an open-source version control system that supports all the features thus described, and a nice MMC snap-in interface for configuring the server and permissions.

There are also various front-ends for Subversion. The one we use is Tortoise SVN, which integrates with the Windows shell and provides icon overlays to indicate if a file is up-to-date or has modifications.

Conclusion

Using some of these techniques, processes and tools provides a more flexible project environment by making it easier for developers to work on local copies of their models and providing a framework to merge the changes back to the central server.

Of course, many of the free tools in the Flow Toolbox Suite have the same goal and can automate some of these concepts even further, to make TM1 development even easier!

If you haven’t checked out the tools yet, you can get them here.

I hope it has been an interesting and useful discussion. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

TM1 Naming Convention Sample.pdf (105.55 kb)

An Item-based Approach – Quick Update

Working on the Flow Model Packager, I often have to make random changes to a model so I can test the model compare and deploy functionality.

Yesterday, I was using the item-based approach sample server as my test case, and decided to try to implement a more real-world change than I usually do (most of the time, I just add and delete things randomly for testing purposes).

This led to the idea of creating a new reporting cube that would ignore Category and Subcategory, but organize payments by “Payment Range”.

Using the item-based approach proved very flexible in this case, as I was able to add a quick rule and feeder to the input cube and create an entirely new cube which would report on information that wasn’t previously captured.

It also brought up some issues regarding re-triggering numeric feeders in TM1 10, which I will cover in an upcoming article.

For now, I thought I’d share the results for comparison — the model is attached. Happy modelling!

StringFeederSampleRange.zip (2.92 mb)