Oracle’s Scenario Planning is Early Out of the Gate, but Leaves Ample Room for Competition

Ted Cuzzillo,
Principal Analyst – Data Analytics

Summary Bullets:

• Oracle found the right time to market its scenario planning capabilities. Specialized vendors can also give good support, though few market for this planning method.

• The market for scenario planning support is ripe for new entries in a year of wildly discontinuous change.

Oracle has come out of the gate early with capabilities explicitly aimed at scenario planning — which in Oracle’s rendition of the classic method is at best a lightweight version that gets lost within the vendor’s rich planning ecosystem.

Whatever support Oracle offers for the venerable method is unclear. But at least it picked the right year to revive the name. True scenario planning would be useful to a business world that struggles to see its way past the pandemic. How does any business leader know which path offers the quickest, safest path? What if they bet on the wrong one?

Conventional planning bets on one scenario and one plan. That’s risky in a wildly unpredictable year like 2020. In contract, classic scenario planning prepares an organization for any of several scenarios. Each gets a plan. If fate steers things away from scenario a toward scenario b or c, there’s a plan ready to go.

Modern scenario planning gained notoriety in the ‘70s when Shell Oil famously used it to thrive through the era’s series of crises, such as the early energy crisis and two later oil shocks. Most of its rivals stumbled because, unlike them, Shell had a plan.

Today, scenario planning teams have the new advantage of data analysis to help set starting points for trends, upon which they base scenarios. But that’s where any feeling of certainty ends.

Creating scenarios takes imagination, something akin to group storytelling. That can be supported with collaboration tools. Still, selling this to a business market might be a tough proposition.

Many business people have been reluctant to engage in storytelling or stepping out into the unknown. Whether by training or personal traits, they seem anchored in the concrete reality at hand. They resist imagining how today’s trends could evolve into something else tomorrow, or in ten years.

As you might expect, Oracle weaves scenario planning tightly into its powerful enterprise performance management platform. Scenarios that start as muses on a whiteboard have to be compared with actual events. As they unfold they suggest mid-course corrections on the way to eventual results on the balance sheet.

But as Oracle itself points out, scenario planning can even be supported with Microsoft Excel. Much more substantial, specialized support for scenario planning’s many moving parts can be had in a wide variety of analytics tools. All that’s required of buyers is imagination; few specialized vendors give even one word in their marketing for this method.

SAP also offers scenario planning support, and specialized vendors offer their own, though few market features for this planning method.

Scenario planning is the method of the moment in this wildly unpredictable era as businesses scramble to find their way into feasible if not prosperous post-COVID future.


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