If the recent scenes of CEOs and CFOs being led into court in handcuffs hasn't made management more cognizant of their fiscal responsibilities, then business intelligence and business performance management (BI/BPM) vendors are definitely going to champion that set of self-serving images. It's hard to argue that access to data that can provide information about key performance indicators (KPIs) for an enterprise is a bad thing. The combination of requirements demanding higher accountability standards and the need for increased competitive advantage are definitely driving businesses to look at the latest and greatest BI/BPM toolsets, regardless of the costs.

With the increased movement toward these toolsets, prospective clients should be aware of some of the basic definitions for these items. There are many half-formed ideas and misconceptions about exactly what these things are. While vendors want you to believe that these items are products, the truth is that what you are really talking about is a set of business rules, practices, processes and philosophies that are tightly coupled and supported by underlying technology products. No salesman can sell you five units of BPM or 10 BI CDs. Instead, the vendors are selling toolsets, or the technology layer, that enable individuals to build applications that use, interpret and manipulate existing data to produce information in a usable format. That format might be a spreadsheet that allows you to manipulate pre-aggregated information based on how you the user needs to see it; or, alternatively, that format may be a dedicated data repository built to support online analytical processing (OLAP) activities.

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