TechnologyIntelligent technology: the next big thing

Intelligent technology: the next big thing

Business performance management is the new buzz word, but what is it and how does it affect you?

This is about a tricky unification. What business performance management does
is bring together two groups of software ­ traditional business intelligence
software and standard financial management software.

The BPM software market is burgeoning ­ analyst Gartner predicts 50% market
growth by 2011.

And the reason is that recent developments in the BPM world give a clear
signal that something quite exciting is happening: the delivery of a truly
integrated management information package ­ one that clearly links strategic
objectives and, crucially, also reports them to operational roles, without the
hassle of re-formatting, re-keying and translating data.

The reason for this long-awaited breakthrough can be summed up in a single
word: consolidation.

Last year enterprise software giants SAP, Oracle and IBM together acquired
five of the biggest BPM players: Business Objects, Hyperion, Cognos, Cartesis
and Outlooksoft. This consolidation clearly has profound implications for the
development of BPM technology but also leaves companies with the tricky task of
deciding if, how, and when to invest. It’s a task further complicated by the
fact that consolidation has led to multiple overlaps in the vendors’ application
suites. These overlaps will oblige vendors to clarify and rationalise their
product portfolios, as well as develop integration tools.

Integration can only be welcomed. Historically, companies have chosen
different software applications for different financial and reporting problems.
This created different user interfaces, security configurations and, most
importantly, data structures. In turn, this led to increasingly complex
reporting and analytical environments, increasing costs and effort with lower
data quality.

Without using Excel, how many companies can claim their budgeting data is
used seamlessly for financial consolidation and management reporting, flowing
directly from their ERP system?

All of this leaves finance executives seeking answers to a number of
challenging questions:

  • What if we have applications from more than one vendor?
  • Is it important to standardise on a single vendor BPM solution?
  • How many different technologies and skills should we support?

Knowing what value you get from your existing financial management
information systems is a fundamental starting point to finding the answers. The
table outlines some of the key benefits an integrated IT offers to finance and
other business functions. However, finance professionals should treat vendor
claims of ‘single vendor: integrated solutions’ cautiously. To be truly
beneficial, vendors must demonstrate not only their individual solutions
strength, but also their added value. They must show their data integration
solutions genuinely reduce costs, and also the skills and effort historically
required to integrate and maintain multiple solutions on multiple platforms.
Until they can do so convincingly, there is still likely to be room for ‘best in
breed’ solutions.

The decision to standardise with a single vendor is complex and will be
influenced by your specific information needs, skill base (both to support and
use the software) and organisation complexity.

In the current environment, key factors to consider are:

  • How consistent (and transparent) is the information I use for financial and
    management reporting?
  • How much time and cost is required to maintain separate systems?
  • Will integration give me better insight into business performance?
  • Will the software deliver the promised improvements?
  • Is the problem really my management information and software, or are my
    processes, governance and capabilities right?

The answer to any of these could signal the need to change. The next question
is ‘when?’ For large, complex organisations, transitioning now to a standard
vendor suite/platform might be of particular benefit, providing a basis to share
common information, enabling consistency and transparency across lines of
business and geographies.

The key benefit here is the ability to leverage the integration capabilities
and standardise ‘master data’; significantly improving quality and consistency
of information used across the business.

Smaller and medium-sized organisations typically have fewer data sources to
integrate and less divergence in their data. As such, they probably have the
luxury of waiting to see how successful vendors are in consolidating their newly
acquired BPM applications.

BPM is evidently about much more than data and systems. The best software in
the world won’t improve decision-making and performance on their own. A
successful implementation must tie in to the organisation’s structure, and link
to effective management processes that fully utilise employees’ capabilities.
Used in this way, BPM offers organisations real potential to harness and exploit
management information for better performance.

There’s probably never been a better time than now for something that can do

Robert Gill is an engagement manager with management
consultancy Ineum Consulting

Intelligence gathering

Independent BI vendor that is strong in corporate environments that have lots of
heterogeneous technologies. Its CFO cockpit product – an analytic and dashboard
suite designed for finance users – is well regarded.

Open-source (the building blocks of the software are available for scrutiny and
development by anyone) software which is powerful and scalable. Well thought of
in financial services and the public sector.

Board International

European business intelligence company, which is particularly strong in the food
and pharmaceutical sectors.

Business Objects
Before being bought by SAP, Business Objects was the largest business
intelligence software company in the world. It has a full suite of BI tools and
is particularly strong in the ‘on-demand’ sector.

Acquired by IBM, it has long been a leader in the BI world and enjoys a
particularly strong enterprise level deployment. Despite this, Gartner views its
predictive analytics as weak.

Information Builders

Extremely scalable software (10,000+ user implementations) which is also sold
through IBM as DB2 Web Query.

While PerformancePoint Server 2007 benefits from tight integration with office
products and SQL Server, its integration within heterogeneous environments is
not as well developed.

Seen as a potential acquisition target of Microsoft, Microstrategy is a
well-regarded BI company which is particularly strong in the governance sector.

Oracle can boast its own well-regarded BI platform as well as that of Hyperion,
which it bought last year. Software can be deployed in non-Oracle environments.

Combined with Business Objects, SAP is the largest BI vendor, more than twice
the size of its nearest competitor. However, implementation difficulties exist,
according to Gartner’s research.


Particularly strong in advanced analytic and predictive software, with offerings
such as fraud detection and prevention – recently announced a collaboration deal
with Teradata.

David Rae is editor of Procurement Leaders

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