Even after years of consolidation, there are still many viable solutions available to the business performance management (BPM) buyer. Certain software categories have become richer and deeper because of the merger and acquisition activity.

As always, it is imperative to understand your business requirements first before you look at any technology solutions. Unfortunately, many companies still jump into technology selection without fully understanding and documenting their business requirements. When dealing with BPM, this can be disastrous. The IT team must make sure the finance and business unit needs are met, or the system will be underutilized. Once detailed requirements are in place, the first technology choice relates to the type of BPM vendor to be considered. Today there are four major types of vendors offering performance management software: enterprise resource planning (ERP)/transactional systems, business intelligence (BI) tools, BPM applications and BI+BPM suites. Your requirements, IT staff availability, background of project leader, existing enterprise applications, IT infrastructure and even company size will play a role in deciding which category of vendor is the best match for your company.

BI+BPM Suites

In our annual BPM Pulse survey, vendors that provide both BPM applications and BI tools top the list of buyers' preferences. There are several reasons for this. First, these vendors offer prepackaged applications that address the major areas of BPM, such as planning, budgeting, forecasting and financial consolidations. Many of these prepackaged applications have built-in best practices that can save time and money during deployment. In addition, they provide tools to build customized performance dashboards and to expand into areas of next-generation performance management (BPM 2.0) not yet well served by packages such as operational analytics. Also, by utilizing BPM and BI from the same vendor, companies can begin to reduce the number of vendors they rely on for performance analysis and meet the goals of their standardization initiatives. These solutions are transactionally vendor independent so they will work well with most of the leading ERP solutions available. With Hyperion folded into the transactional camp due to their recent acquisition by Oracle, the big four of BI+BPM has been reduced to three: Business Objects, Cognos and SAS. Each of these vendors has a fairly complete suite of modules and tools for performance management. For the midsized enterprise market or for departmental point solutions of larger companies, there are several additional vendors. Applix is at the forefront of BPM 2.0, offering a BI+BPM suite that always scores at or near the top of our annual BPM Pulse customer satisfaction ratings. Bitam, a relatively new entry in the U.S. market, has launched BPM applications to complement its BI foundation. Satori Group offers tools and applications, all targeted at a specific vertical: professional services. Regardless of company size, there are many options to meet your needs.

BPM Applications

Running a close second in our BPM Pulse survey to vendors of both BI+BPM, the BPM application vendors offer a rich array of choices. Vendors such as OutlookSoft and Clarity offer unified, easy-to-use solutions that leverage the familiar Microsoft Office interfaces. Longview, KCI and Cartesis also offer unified solutions, but with a focus on handling complexity. The midmarket is also well served by BPM application vendors. Centage offers solutions designed to grow with your company. Adaptive Planning provides a range of delivery options, from open source to hosted to on site. Prophix offers one of the more feature-rich solutions in this market segment. Alight Planning, a newer vendor, goes beyond spreadsheets with a purpose-built interface and provides solutions that are designed around rate, unit and volume models. ISIS Solutions has developed easy-to-use predictive capabilities that can help improve your ongoing forecasting processes. Varicent extends their clients' abilities in the area of sales performance management, an important component of BPM 2.0. Clearly, there is something here for everyone.

ERP/Transactional Vendors

The ERP vendors have been a logical starting point for IT-led BPM projects for some time. However, if the finance department had a major voice in the decision, the ERP vendor typically did not win the deal. IT favors going with their ERP vendor for BPM because of the obvious reduction in potential data integration issues and to leverage sunk costs in staffing and training. The business users have had two primary sets of issues: the BPM applications from best-of-breed vendors tend to be more robust and fully fleshed out and the ERP solutions for BPM often require a continued dependence on IT for basic tasks. However, change is the air. The recent acquisition of Hyperion by Oracle brings together a set of transactional solutions and best-of-breed BPM solutions, addressing one of the concerns of finance. Similarly, the Geac/Comshare BPM applications being merged with the transactional systems of Infor creates another ERP vendor that has rich BPM offerings. The question arises, though: if Oracle or Infor is not your transactional system vendor, would you buy BPM applications from them? Lawson has its own BPM applications, acquired from a company called ClosedLoop Solutions several years ago. SAP has enhanced its internally developed performance applications over the years so that they now can meet many of the BPM needs of SAP customers. This area is gaining momentum. However, for organizations that have not standardized on a single ERP system company-wide or for BPM projects being led by the finance department, ERP vendors are not at the top of the list.

BI Tools

This is the incredible shrinking category. As performance management has gained momentum and brought BI along with it, very few vendors want to be known primarily as a BI tools vendor. Some companies, such as Business Objects and Cognos, acquired their way out of this category. Others, such as Applix, developed their own applications leveraging their BI platforms. Microsoft has provided the underlying tools for several BPM application vendors but soon will be offering its own applications with the release of PerformancePoint. The few vendors remaining in the BI tools group include MicroStrategy (although they have partnered with BPM vendors), Informatica with an extract, transform and load (ETL) focus and Actuate with an emphasis on financial reporting. With the sophistication of BPM applications today, the need to custom code a solution is disappearing.

The downside to all of these choices is that it is easy to pick the wrong solution. While they all may use the same marketing phrases and appear the same on the surface, they are ultimately very different solutions with different strengths and weaknesses when you dig deeper. Finding the right one involves understanding your unique requirements and investing in an appropriate level of due diligence to make sure you can determine which vendor best meets your business needs.  

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