The foundation upon which TM1 was built more than 30 years ago is the reason it still maintains a performance advantage today.
In early 1980, Manny Perez (now Technical Executive at Cubewise) had been working at Exxon Corporation for ten years and went to work at the Supply and Transportation department of Exxon International Company in New York. This department was in charge of moving all Exxon oil supplies around the world. Operations were executed and controlled through an interactive system based on IBM’s IMS that kept track of ships and cargoes. As an adjunct, a planning system had been installed to help the planning groups develop their monthly and quarterly supply plans. This system was very limited in functionality and very expensive to run.
The original spark for TM1 came not from Manny, but from a person in the IT department, Lilly Whaley, who suggested developing a planning system using the IBM mainframe time sharing option (TSO) to replace the IMS system and thereby significantly reduce running costs. Manny, who had been in IT for most of his career and was a hacker at heart, took it upon himself to develop a prototype. Right away he realized that in order to provide the multidimensionality and interactivity necessary it would be necessary to keep the data structures in computer memory rather than on disk.
This gave rise to the polemic that would surround TM1 for years to come. Lilly and the IT department insisted that the system should be developed using a disk-based database system. Fortunately, Manny’s management supported his recommendation. The new system was installed and went into successful operation in 1981.
The business potential of the planning system he had developed became apparent to Manny and he began to explore the possibilities of commercializing it. Back in early 1981, the IBM personal computer had not yet been announced and the Apple II® was not in significant use at corporations, so initially, Manny looked to implement on a public mainframe timesharing system. Just in time, the IBM personal computer was announced. It provided a low cost development environment which Manny was quick to take advantage of.
Shortly after, he saw the electronic spreadsheet VisiCalc® and became convinced that it was the ideal user interface for his visionary product: the Functional Database. Manny’s idea was to integrate a multidimensional database into a spreadsheet, essentially individually connecting the cells in the database to the cells in the spreadsheet, creating a powerfully high-performance, scalable and intuitive user experience that far exceeded what a spreadsheet could do by itself for financial reporting, budgeting and forecasting.
Manny bought himself an IBM PC with 256k of memory and two floppy drives, parked it in his attic, and began feverishly developing his vision after hours. By the summer of 1983 he had a working prototype and decided to leave Exxon and devote himself full time to developing the Functional Database business.
He and his former colleague and friend, Jose Sinai, raised money through a private placement and formed Sinper Corporation in early 1983. That summer, TM1 – the first ever Functional Database – was announced at the PC Expo conference in New York.
The original product consisted of a database of multidimensional cubes and a proprietary spreadsheet as the user interface, as well as tools to construct dimensions and cubes. The name “TM/1” was adopted in panic mode as the date of PC Expo approached. TM stood for “Table Manager.” At the time the notion of relational tables did not exist and Manny, being a bit of a pedantic mathematician, resisted using the term “cube” because it implied a limit of three dimensions.
As with most entrepreneurs, Manny’s expectations were that TM1 would become an instant success and the main fear was one of competition from larger players. The reality was very different. The general public received TM1 with an overwhelming yawn of disinterest. The main hurdles were that the concept itself was far from obvious, and that it used a proprietary spreadsheet different from the “standard” which by that time was Lotus® 1-2-3. The encouraging element was that the small minority that grasped the concept became instant fanatics. This included a number of individuals at significantly high levels in some large companies who became champions. These champions typically were in finance or other user departments and quickly encountered the same resistance from IT that Manny had experienced at Exxon.
The level of business however was low and growing glacially until a client/server version of TM1 was developed. This allowed using Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel® as clients and as a result of this the growth rate increased significantly, but still remained for years at a fairly low level. In the meantime, many potential competitors came, but just as quickly went.
During the years of slow growth and absence of significant competition, the incredibly loyal user base continued to expand the use and stretch the limits of the product. Most if not all major and minor improvements in the product such as server architecture, rules, Turbo Integrator, security, hyper sparsity, etc., came as a result of this user experience and demand. From this experience, Manny presents the secret of TM1 in the form of a cycle:
Envision a reasonably simple but highly functional product.
Incorporate current state-of-the-art computing technologies
Let users put the product to use and push the limits of applicability
Listen to users’ new needs. Extrapolate and anticipate future requirements.
Incorporate additional features that are elegantly simple & complete
Go to step 2 and repeat cycle for 30+ years.
This approach is what has made TM1 such a pragmatic, valuable tool to this day – continuing to inspire new product champions and fanatics around the world.
In 1996, Sinper (by then calling itself TM1 Software) was purchased by Applix. During the Applix years, TM1 saw continued organic growth despite Applix itself having a quite turbulent time. New features such as TM1 Web were added that allowed business users to easily create applications in spreadsheets, but now deploy them to a broader set of users via the web.
Starting in the early 2000s, 64-bit computing started to become mainstream, making TM1 vastly more scalable and the price of memory plummeted making TM1 way more affordable to run. Suddenly the technical limits of disk-reliant solutions such as Cognos Planning and Hyperion Essbase were badly exposed and TM1 was able to outperform and outscale them by orders of magnitude, while still maintaining its advantage of great flexibility.
This ushered in a golden era of growth for TM1 across the world, which spiked particularly in North America, the United Kingdom, Germany and especially Australia. However, TM1 still remained one of the industry’s best kept secrets – never getting the level of publicity or attention heaped on better branded, but vastly more limited technologies. TM1 was a true grassroots movement – rather than being trumpeted by industry analysts and mainstream industry publications, it continued to be championed loudly by the channel partners and end users themselves – in other words, those who had experienced the light bulb moment that turns people into instant TM1 fanatics.
However, in late 2007 Cognos purchased Applix and IBM subsequently purchased Cognos four months later. Manny liked to say that the major limitation of TM1 was size – not the size of the cubes, dimensions or the applications it could implement, but the size of the company that sold it. This limitation disappeared overnight. For the first time, TM1 had one of the top international brands associated with it and a global network through which to distribute. Further, IBM recognized the asset they had purchased in TM1 and got to work with their large R&D team adding massive scalability improvements including Parallel Interaction and Multi-threaded Query mode, which have allowed TM1 models to scale to use by thousands of users and stay a generation ahead of its competitors.
Needless to say, TM1 has continued to grow and thrive under IBM and create a new generation of TM1 fanatics. Especially with IBM’s release in 2014 of the cloud-enabling TM1 REST API, TM1 is finally in position to realize Manny’s original vision: for the Functional Database to take its rightful place as the foundation and strategic backbone of the world’s reporting, forecasting and budgeting applications.