Sales Forecasting with Prophecy - FAQ
Our FAQ is divided into 4 sections. Click the section you want
to jump to it in this document:
If there's a question we haven't answered here, please contact
us, either by telephone or our web contact
Please click on the
icons below to view the answer to each FAQ, and
to hide the answer.
Q: Can Prophecy export to an Excel spreadsheet?
Yes, Prophecy can create an Excel spreadsheet from any Prophecy report.
All formatting in the original Prophecy report is exported to the Excel
spreadsheet. Each Prophecy report page is written to a separate
Excel workbook tab.
In addition, you can copy and paste data through the Windows clipboard.
Prophecy lets you copy non-contiguous cell selections from the Prophecy
report into the target Excel or other application, passing only the
cells and labels which apply to the original selection.
Q: How many statistical forecasting algorithms
does Prophecy support?
Prophecy supports the following statistical forecasting algorithms:
- linear regression, with and without seasonality
- exponential regression, with and without seasonality
- last year + previous year over year percent
They are made available in several different ways within Prophecy:
- Batch mode: apply statistical forecasting to a large number
of product/customer combinations. (This mode is closest to
what the majority of specialist statistical forecasting tools offer.)
- Wizard mode: select the target range of cells in your Prophecy
report, choose a method from a simple dialog box and either paste
the forecasts in individually or to all target cells with a single
- On demand view: generates a new statistical forecast view for
the product, customer and measure at the current cell position in
your Prophecy report. The view shows the time series as an
interactive table, a graph, and also generates a commented description
of the statistical control information from the forecast.
Remember that Prophecy aims to provide an awful lot more than just statistical
forecasting, due to the limitations of short/medium term statistical
forecasting by individual product and customer. However, statistics
can at least form a base-line forecast where there is no previous forecast,
or it can provide a 'sanity check' to the forecaster.
Q: Is there a difference
between 'forecasting software' and 'business forecasting
Definitely! Forecasting in a business context is more often a
process that involves multiple individual forecasters, management
review steps, sign off and publication. As well as generating
a volume forecast it is often integrated into the overall planning and
budgeting process. Therefore there is a definite functional divide
between software for forecasting and software to support your sales
Business forecasting software should have the following properties:
By contrast, forecasting software has the following characteristics:
- It must support multi-user sales forecasting
because business forecasting is a multi-user activity.
- It must enable a proper forecast/reforecast process.
That is, it must support the ability to review / change an existing
forecast in the light of the latest period's actuals.
It must support forecast versioning through time so that you can
track changes made.
- It must extend through to money as well as
quantities, so that it can be integrated into the overall process
of business planning and budgeting. 'Money', meaning
sales revenue, gross margin etc..
- It must allow you to generate budgets by product,
customer and time and to compare the progress of
the current sales plan (actuals to date plus forecasts thereafter)
versus the budget, as well as previous year(s) at all the varying
levels of product, customer and time detail.
- Accuracy analysis. It must be simple
for forecasters to analyse their forecast accuracy. If they
cannot identify their mistakes they cannot learn from them and therefore
improve next time! The start point for a forecasting cycle
should be an analysis of the previous period's forecast accuracy.
How well did the forecaster use the information they had to make
the forecast and what can be learned from the forecast errors?
- The data must be viewable and capable of being forecasted across
varying levels of product, customer and time detail.
Bottom-up forecasting is generally the starting point, but top-down
helps to give an overall perspective and 'sanity check'
on the overall numbers, and allows review by exception.
- Business forecasting software must support a review
and sign-off process. Therefore the forecaster must
be able to submit his/her forecasts for review. A reviewer
must then review and either request/make changes or approve.
Multiple review levels may be necessary - e.g. sales manager to
regional manager to sales director etc.. This feature ensures
forecasts have ownership and visibility.
- Software for business sales forecasting must be easy
to use, because business forecasters are not necessarily
IT or statistics gurus.
Prophecy's feature set very definitely places it into the first
category (business forecasting software).
- Mainly concerned with generating a forecast mathematically,
given a time series history.
- Not multi-user.
- Forecasts the measure you provide it with, but does not (automatically)
extend to revenue, margin etc..
- Limited ability to analyse or report on the data it generates.
- Limited or no ability to compare forecasts with budgets.
- Limited or no accuracy analysis on previous forecasts.
- Does not support a forecast review workflow process.
- Limited or no ability to report on or forecast at varying levels
of product or customer detail.
- Offers numerous statistical options, which operate in a 'black
- Not necessarily easy for non-statisticians to use or understand.
Q: Will Prophecy
automatically adjust next month's sales or future sales based on
the latest actual for last month/the last x months?
It would be fantastic if it could! However, does an oversale last
month mean the start of an increasing rate of sale or merely business
brought forward from the next month? Does an undersale last month
mean the start of a decline, or merely that the stock pipeline was reduced
and that actually there will be larger than expected orders this month?
Basically, it is impossible for the software to know.
Therefore Prophecy will never change the forecasts without the forecaster's
active participation. That way the forecaster is always responsible
and has ownership of all their numbers. Though we accept that
it would be marvellous if the software could somehow know these things!
Q: Can Prophecy
help me with sales analysis and reporting too?
Yes! Prophecy's forecast and report screens are the exactly the
same - you update your forecasts in Prophecy reports. Prophecy
reports let you display just the products, customers, measures, time
periods and comparisons you require and replay instantly, always pulling
in the latest data from the Prophecy database.
You can display any dimension (i.e. product, customers, periods, years,
measures or versions) on any report axis, just like (but better than!)
an Excel pivot table.
You can drill up and down through the product and customer hierarchies.
You can conditionally format cells based on their numeric contents,
to highlight particular conditions.
You can create your own, user-defined subtotals of products, customers
or time period.
The data from any Prophecy report can be graphed and the graph always
updates in real time as you change the forecasts or navigate the hierarchies.
All this functionality is implemented in a very visual way that non-technical
users will find easy to use productively.
We have found that a lot of Prophecy users get a substantial part of
their sales reporting from Prophecy. Sales managers in particular
like the fact that all their data is in one place, is instantly available
and that they only have one system to master.
Click here for a self-running demo of some of the features of Prophecy
reports (opens in a new window).
Q: How can I get a demonstration
If you are based in the UK, please call 01494 785574. Outside the UK,
please either download an evaluation version of the Prophecy Client
application here, or
run a zero-install self-running demos in your web browser
Q: Please tell me about
The Prophecy licence is a perpetual, non-expiring licence, which comes
with 60 days of free support and maintenance.
Prophecy is licenced
on a per-named-user basis. Therefore any individual, whether as
a forecaster or a viewer, who uses the Prophecy client application is
deemed a named user. Volume discounts apply from 5 users upwards.
Please contact us for a detailed pricing
Q: On what basis
is Prophecy licensed - concurrent / named user or either?
Prophecy is priced on a named-user basis because named-user is simpler
to apply to the type of system Prophecy is. We can spend lots
of time 'dancing round the houses' on concurrency versus named
users but ultimately what's important is agreeing a price that both
parties find acceptable. Whether we talk concurrency or named
users, you have a price in mind and we have a price in mind. Hopefully
they will be similar!
Having said that, Data Perceptions would like to be 100% customer-focussed
in all areas of our business. If you absolutely have to have a
concurrent licensing model then we can discuss!
Q: You are UK based.
How do you support your non-UK users?
We currently have Prophecy users in a variety of countries and time
zones. We provide support by telephone, Skype and email.
Where possible we work with you on your support issue using our
secure remote desktop support server.
In addition, Prophecy databases typically compress quite well so you
can email your database to us in a zip file if required. Time
zone differences can work to our advantage too - we fix while you sleep!
Overall, Data Perceptions takes support very seriously indeed.
If you pay us the compliment of using our software to help run your
business we feel you are entitled to the very best quality of support
that we can provide. We know that our existing customers speak
very highly indeed of the quality of support they receive.
Technical Questions for IT Managers
Q: What database does
Prophecy supports two different database formats:
- 'Native mode' databases are proprietary,
file-based databases. They can be stored on any operating
system that supports simple file sharing. Any Windows server
or Novell server will be fine. Prophecy handles all contention
issues associated with shared files via protected rights, queues
etc.. The advantage of 'native mode' is simplicity.
All the database files are held in a single folder, which can be
backed up or zipped easily and there are no third party software
dependencies. 'Native mode' is also more suitable
for standalone use - e.g. on laptops.
- SQL Server hosted databases store their data
in a Microsoft SQL Server database. The advantages of SQL
Server databases are scalability and the ability to access Prophecy
data in any SQL reporting tool. Performance is more variable
than with native mode, but can actually be better in some scenarios
(because sparse data is handled more efficiently).
A 'native-mode' database can easily be migrated to SQL Server
at any time by running a Prophecy database maintenance script in our
Prophecy Database Manager application.
Both formats share the same ability to dynamically consolidate all forecasts
in real time and to allow multiple users to concurrently 'hit'
Q: How do I
import my data into Prophecy?
You import data into Prophecy either using embedded SQL queries against
your host database or by reading in flat files (i.e. comma or tab delimited).
You only need to import data at the base level of the product and customer
hierarchies as Prophecy will aggregate it over products and customers
within the same script.
- A Prophecy datalink object stores the (ODBC/OLEDB) database
connection string and SQL query required to pull the data from your
- A Prophecy import filter either uses the datalink object or
loads a delimited text file directly, and stores the connections
between fields in the source data and fields in Prophecy.
- A Prophecy script executes the import filter to import the data.
Similarly, the Prophecy script can solve the 'missing' measures
in the source data. For example, you can read in quantity and
sales revenue and have Prophecy calculate sales price.
You can view a no-install self-running demo of this process in a new
clicking this link.
Q: Can I export data
out of Prophecy into my planning systems?
Yes! The export is scripted using a 'write once / use many times'
Prophecy script. You can export either a fixed time range or a
specified time horizon of future periods. You can export either
to a text delimited file (e.g. csv or tab) or write to any ODBC/OLEDB
target, such as Sql Server, Access, Oracle etc.. Also, you can
choose the product and customer levels in the export. So, for
instance, to export the forecasts into a production planning system
you would export the base level from products (i.e. skus) and the top
level from customers (i.e. Total Customers). You can either use
period/year fields in the export, or your own, custom-defined time labels
which the export script extracts from a lookup table in the Prophecy
Q: How does Prophecy
work with home based forecasters?
Prophecy provides an exceptionally rich user experience - which we feel
is required to productively assist sales forecasters develop and understand
their forecasts more effectively.
Think of Prophecy as (aspiring to be) the forecasting application within
Microsoft Office! Therefore the best way to deploy Prophecy to
remote users is via
Windows Terminal Server. This enables remote and office based
Prophecy users to share the same database concurrently, with no additional
consolidation or administration. The Terminal Server cost per
remote user is very low these days.
Naturally, Prophecy supports data exchange between databases.
Therefore it is possible to provide databases to each remote user that
they can run locally. However, the extra administration that this
requires together with the latency it introduces into the process through
the need for distributions and consolidations makes it much less attractive
than the Terminal Server route.
There is still a deprecated web server component available that works
with Microsoft Internet Information Server to allow the Prophecy client
application to run over the web. However, on a cost/complexity/reliability
equation the Terminal Server route still wins! Currently the web
server component supports 'native mode' databases only.
What language is Prophecy written in?
Prophecy is written in 100% C++. We use Microsoft Visual Studio 2008
and the latest version of the Microsoft Foundation Class framework.
The learning curve of C++ is steep, but it's still the language
of choice for professional, top performance application development.
There are currently over 130,000 lines of hand-crafted C++ code in Prophecy.
That's code written by Data Perceptions, and excludes comment lines
(we have them!), blank lines and code in the Microsoft class libraries
that we use. It's tough, but we remain committed to C++ because
it provides the best performance for our users.
Q: How easy will
Prophecy be to implement?
It should be easy and quick, providing you can efficiently source sales
data and product/customer hierarchy data from your business systems.
In time terms, that means weeks or days, not months or years!
Getting data into Prophecy is simple, as described elsewhere.
However, it's worth bearing in mind that Prophecy is not just a
simple spreadsheet, it's a multi-user business system. Therefore
it should be implemented with the structures and disciplines you would
apply to any other implementation. The hierarchies, data and database
management processes must be robust and properly validated before users
are allowed to start using the system.
Please contact us for more information
on the implementation process. We are happy to send you additional
documentation on implementation and the data import/export processes.
Q: How easy
is Prophecy to manage, once it's up and running?
Once the import filters and database management scripts have been prepared
(during your implementation) a normal database refresh consists of:
All these steps are encapsulated in a Prophecy script. Therefore,
if the data sourcing is automated and robust, and the maintenance scripts
are developed and tested during the implementation then the whole process
will be straightforward, fast and require little manual effort.
- Reading in the latest product file (to add new products to the
- Reading in the latest customer file (to add new customers to
- Reading in the latest sales actuals and (if included) cost etc.
files to the database.
- Aggregating the new data over products and customers.
Typically, database management is performed by a person from "the
business" who has good administrative skills but is not necessarily
an IT 'guru'. Refreshing the database each period should
take a lot less than an hour each time.
Q: What are the system
requirements / recommended hardware requirements for Prophecy?
Client: The Prophecy applications run on any 32 bit
and 64 versions of Windows from Windows XP upwards (including Vista
and Windows 7). Any relatively modern PC will run Prophecy very
Server: If you intend to use Prophecy's 'native
mode' (proprietary) database (which fully supports multi-user concurrent
access) you can host the database files on any server which supports
simple file-based sharing - i.e. Window / Novell / Linux (with Samba).
This format of database is optimised for speed over database size, so
databases can get quite large. The maximum database size is 2Gb.
Data Perceptions can specify the exact database size, given the number
of products, customers, measures, time periods and versions you require.
If you wish to host your Prophecy data in Microsoft SQL Server then
you will need any version from SQL Server 2005 onwards.
Questions about forecasting techniques
Q: Why do you recommend
a cautious approach towards statistical forecasts?
We don't know your business and have not put your data to the test.
However, our experience in implementing forecasting software in a wide
range of markets is that the accuracy of statistical forecasts by product
by time period tends to be unacceptable due to the high variability
of promotions, competitor activity, marketing campaigns, customer logistics
etc.. These factors generally do not happen at the same time each
year and it requires judgement and interpretation to quantify their
effects on sales. It is therefore very hard for a statistical
algorithm to forecast them.
If forecasting the monthly peaks and troughs is the required output
of your forecasting process then it is likely that statistics is going
to be of limited use, other than possibly as a baseline forecast or
a sanity check.
We believe in empowering your business managers
to become better forecasters. These are the people who are most
qualified to know and understand the effects of promotions, competitor
activity etc. and when these factors are likely to apply. Prophecy
is designed from the ground upwards to help business managers forecast
productively and effectively by providing them with the flexible tools
and graphical options which support 'judgemental' forecasting.
It has statistical forecasting too, of course. Used carefully
Prophecy's statistical forecasting algorithms can provide a start point
or act as a sanity check on a forecast.
We believe that the forecaster should 'own' the sales forecast.
This ownership comes from having carefully and objectively prepared
it. Getting the overall (smoothed) medium or long term sales trend
right is relatively easy - a year on year percent is likely to be virtually
as accurate as a statistical forecast. What is hard, but extremely
valuable to the business (and often the primary reason for forecasting),
is predicting the individual peaks and troughs in product sales which
is frequently typically very 'spiky'. That's where 'judgemental
forecasting' and having the right people and tools to support 'judgemental
forecasting' is key. Data Perceptions has the software and
your business will have the right people!
One additional important point to underline. In the business process
of sales forecasting the starting point for this month's forecast
is normally last month's forecast for the out periods, updated with
last month's actual sale. The process is then one of modifying
the existing future forecasts in the light of the latest sale plus new
information about promotional plans, competitor activity etc..
You will very rarely need to generate a completely new forecast from
scratch, because this will overwrite all the promotional and other peaks
or troughs that (should) have been crafted into the forecast.
Therefore, again, sales forecasting software for business needs to offer
features that help forecasters track and understand the patterns of
sales and identify which forecasts they need to review rather than continually
overwriting existing forecasts with new statistical ones.
At the very least, if you feel you want to use statistical forecasting,
make sure the statisticians prove to you that their algorithms work
on your data! We realise that there will be markets where statistical
forecasts can be used - we just haven't found any yet! (Note:
Prophecy does have statistical forecasting options!
See above for more information.)
Please see our whitepapers section
for more information about the thinking behind Prophecy's approach
to business forecasting and the role of statistical algorithms.
Speak to an
expert now. Call : +44 (0)1494 785574