"The average Fortune 1000 company and certainly a lot of the smaller ones have realized a lot of operational efficiencies through the implementation of ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems," says Bart Foster, President and Chief Executive Officer of DecisionPoint Software, "but the traditional decision-makers - the people who are the consumers of financial or management reporting information - still don't have easy access to the data they need. I always start every meeting asking the customer to talk to me about the problems they have getting access to information. Not surprisingly, this is an hour-long conversation at any company. This is a pervasive problem in business today, but I know it can be fixed at a fundamental, ground-up level, and it can happen in months, not years."
Regardless of industry, location or size of the company, the ability to meet business objectives and comply with regulatory mandates depends upon accurate and complete financial metrics for reporting business results. DecisionPoint Software provides Financial Performance Management software that helps companies consistently monitor, analyze and report on the financial results of operational activities across the enterprise. DecisionPoint previously marketed a packaged approach to data warehousing, but under Foster's leadership, the company has capitalized on the fact that they provide a unique solution and have no direct competitor - an integrated, packaged solution for extracting, modeling and delivering finance-centric data to the enterprise. Foster explains, "What we've done in the last 2 1/2 years is broaden our footprint so we can source from Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP as well as legacy systems and then focused our value proposition on Financial Performance Management. Let's be very clear that what we do is help finance organizations that supply data both to the government and to the rest of the enterprise do their jobs better. We provide finance, HR and operational data to help those people put in place a performance management system that combines financially focused analytic applications with business intelligence and dashboards or scorecarding."
Consistency of Data
"The reality is that the biggest challenge in enterprises today is consistency," says Foster. "How can consistency be imposed across business units, across time, across product lines and across customers? Compounding the problem is that multiple individuals within an organization move and manipulate the data they have in spreadsheets, OLAP cubes or data marts. The traditional structure of each person in the organization trying to solve his or her own specific narrow need has resulted in a proliferation of individually derived data," remarks Foster. "We've all been to meetings where half of the time is spent trying to determine where the numbers came from and why the numbers do not match. Realizing that some of the key data used across an enterprise is actually manually derived is an eye-opening experience for most management teams," notes Foster.
Foster identifies DecisionPoint customers as progressive organizations that have complex reporting and regulatory compliance requirements. "With the advent of legislation such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, companies now acknowledge that consistency of data is a critical requirement. I think the result of seeing the process, or frankly the lack of process, that goes into the numbers a company relies on to make decisions has caused companies to focus on a real reengineering of the people, processes and data architecture that underlie financial reporting," he states. "A great deal of what our products do is to help our customers get their core sources of data to be accurate and consistent over time. When our customers ask us for advice - and they often do - we explain that one of the most important first steps they can take is to identify the key performance metrics so that they can judge the success of their business consistently. Once those metrics are defined, then they need technology to help them track those metrics. When you bring those worlds together so that you have the data you need and the right kind of technology, and you have clear leadership from the top regarding the key metrics, you can take those metrics and put them into the compensation systems, the management systems and more. That's a very powerful combination that yields incremental benefit to the business," says Foster. "We provide an end-to-end offering including sourcing from the major ERP systems, pre-built analytical data models and a front end for powerful analysis on finance-centric data. The worlds of data warehousing and ERP are now coming together, and that has important ramifications. It helps an organization gain control of information and obtain the value of all of the insight that can be derived."
To understand the challenges many companies are facing, Foster offers an example. "One of our customers was going down a path of having a finance data warehouse and a separate HR data warehouse, with Oracle for financials and PeopleSoft for HR. They started scoping out how many interfaces they would need between the data warehouses, and they learned that in addition to the operational integration, there were 47 interfaces that would be required just between the data warehouses. Contrast that with the DecisionPoint solution of having a unified set of models and the ability to start with HR and add finance later, or start with finance and later add HR, and you realize the value we provide," he says.
Financial Performance Management
"Our fundamental value proposition is to get all of the data required to manage your enterprise in one place, and starting with finance data is the best way to do that," emphasizes Foster. "We take the set of data that has all the rigor of the finance organization and accounting rules applied to it, all the ERP investment, and leverage that as the centerpiece of a corporate performance management system. Our customers have figured out that they can get a two-for-one deal - satisfy the government reporting requirements and satisfy the management team."
Foster further explains that Financial Performance Management should be an organization's first step on the road to corporate performance management. Recognizing the substantial investment that companies have made in ERP systems, the complexity of moving the wealth of information out of these systems for complex analysis and the capabilities of data warehousing, DecisionPoint focuses on helping companies get all the financial data out of their major ERP and legacy systems and into a format that users throughout the enterprise can access. "We are specialists at this," emphasizes Foster. "We enable our customers to quickly extract data from their PeopleSoft, Oracle Applications and SAP systems. With DecisionPoint, this data is automatically loaded into a data warehouse so that our customers can access the data either using third-party BI [business intelligence] tools or our own BI tools," says Foster.
"For example, we worked very closely with one of our customers, a specialty construction business for the telecom industry, to reengineer not just the financial reporting processes, but also the management reporting process. The company is a very complex business with a complex reporting environment, and we were able to help them with both their statutory and financial reporting. At the same time and with the same infrastructure, we were able to help them with their core management reporting needs," says Foster.
A Unique Solution
"We are focused on delivering a solution that no one else provides. We use industry standard technology - our products run on Oracle or Teradata - and we use star schema or third normal form designs right out of the box so that our customers do not have to spend months on requirements gathering, data modeling and application development. Our infrastructure on the business intelligence side is .NET. We can seamlessly take data out of any major ERP system, put it in a form so it can be used, and take responsibility for the accuracy and lineage of that data all the way to the end user," comments Foster. "Our solution automatically identifies the modifications that have been made, reads the chart of account structures and understands the financial statement logic inherent in those. We bring that data into a pre-built data warehouse that reconfigures itself and its names to mirror what is in the ERP systems. And," Foster emphasizes, "we do that in projects that typically require two to four months with one or two of our people, not the two to three years required for traditional data warehouse projects. Our structure is such that our customers can begin with just accounts receivable, or accounts payable, or general ledger or human resources. As they add more areas, everything that should be linked together is linked together. You never fall off the edge of our model," he adds.
"We help companies at a very fundamental level," says Foster. "This is not a technology that can help one guy deep within an IT organization manage the CPUs on one box five percent more efficiently. With DecisionPoint, companies gain a capability that has a positive impact on revenue, on cost of goods, on overhead expenses or on inventory turns. It is truly a business-level value proposition."
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