As 2009 unfolds, with markets in flux and many budgets tight, the pressure is on to solve the most challenging
corporate performance management problems: how to really get information from data to improve business performance, and get that information into the hands of the people who need it faster.
Is there any relief in sight?
A range of new product offerings will help, experts say. So will efforts to extend corporate performance management (CPM) functionality to more departmental functions, as well as mobile devices. Technology is also advancing to enable the combination of structured and unstructured data. Meanwhile, a recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation that dictates more transparency into budgeting may drive more companies to adopt CPM software, particularly if they are still spreadsheet users.
"We are seeing a whole range of performance management emerge beyond just CPM, like sales, marketing, supply change and operations performance management," said Nigel Rayner, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.
Within CPM, budgeting, planning and forecasting are still front and center, but other features are of growing importance. These include financial consolidation, statutory management of financial information, profitability monitoring and optimization and strategy management, he said.
The major corporate performance management software vendors, such as SAP AG, IBM and Oracle Corp., are broadening their performance applications beyond budgets and forecasts for C-level executives to applications designed for the head of marketing or sales, Rayner said.
Yet transparency of departmental metrics is a touchy subject. Departmental managers feed their numbers into the central system but want to control what upper management sees.
"The department heads want to be the gatekeepers of their information and pass on what they want management to see," Rayner said. "So there is resistance to common budgeting systems in BI and CPM systems."
As more companies attempt to bring department heads and everyday workers into the CPM fold, they need to consider factors such as mobile employees and the interfaces employees are most comfortable using. Some are integrating their CPM tools with devices such as iPhones and BlackBerrys. Others plan to create more collaborative environments that many younger workers are used to, such as support for LinkedIn and Facebook, said Mark Smith, CEO and executive vice president of research at Ventana Research Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif.
Anyone in charge of any aspect of performance measurements may have little choice as far as transparency into their operations since the SEC kicked off the 21st Century Disclosure Initiative this past summer. The initiative involves doing away with traditional forms such as 10-Ks used to gather information from corporations and would replace them with a software format that uses eXtensible Business Reporting Language. In this new format, the financial information can be moved around and viewed by investors in a way they prefer.
"Budgeting and forecasting isn't something that companies enjoy sharing with shareholders and regulators, and doing this through a spreadsheet is not how to go about it," Rayner said. "The new corporate disclosure initiative could have a big impact on BI and CPM adoption."
CPM initiatives can have a significant impact as far as cost savings and resource reduction, but the more prized benefits aren't as tangible.
A series of case studies by Gartner of 16 organizations that have corporate performance management software installed showed a reduction in the number of reports -- in some cases from 1,500 to 100 and in other cases a $2.5 million cost savings realized from days reduced in the planning and reporting cycle.
The study found intangible benefits topped cost savings, though, in such areas as improved CPM processes and forecasting accuracy, as well as better decision making through use of analyses vs. a gut feel.
To improve data analyses, United Behavioral Health, a division of San Francisco-based UnitedHealth Group Inc., is starting discussions around process, technology standardization and consolidation to figure out what data lends itself to improved business performance. "Name a [corporate performance management] tool, and we probably have it," said James Ronald, manager of information services at United Behavioral Health. "Now we need to figure out how to apply [those tools] and figure out how to get the information we need out of all the data we have."
Structured vs. unstructured data
Also on the horizon, companies are looking at ways of using enterprise search capabilities to tap unstructured data in Web pages or email, for example, and incorporate it with structured data such as that in financial systems. These technologies are able to crawl any type of data and merge, for example, budget projections with customer complaints received in an email, so a manager can see if the company should budget more or less for customer service. Vendors in this space include Endeca Technologies Inc., Attivio Inc. and Microsoft, with the Fast Search & Transfer technology it acquired last year.
"With existing business intelligence and corporate performance management tools, you have to turn unstructured data into structured data, but these [newer] companies have a nonrelational database as their engine, and under that is an inverted index or database that is agnostic to where the data comes from," said Boris Evelson, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
Still, experts agree that most enterprises are at the early stages of adopting more advanced corporate performance management technology. For now, many are just trying to get a handle on how to measure corporate performance and what the right tools are for their organization.
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, Senior News Writer