Craig would like to thank Lew Walker of BPM Partners for his assistance in the preparation of this column.

What do otherwise well-prepared organizations embarking upon a business performance management (BPM) initiative often overlook? They have probably established executive sponsorship, an appropriate level of funding and a good understanding of their business requirements. What's often missing is a proper assessment of IT people, processes, infrastructure and systems as it relates to BPM. Skipping this assessment can cause significant problems down the road if the examination of the IT area is limited to merely checking technology compatibility requirements and/or constraints.

Performance management systems often sit on top of a variety of legacy systems. The BPM system's dashboards or reports tend to become the most common way that users across the company access corporate data. There are several IT readiness issues here, beginning with whether the BPM system needs to interact directly with existing systems or access data in a data warehouse. If your company already has a data warehouse, it is ahead of the curve. If not, most BPM systems have the tools to help create a data mart.

A second issue, however, is whether the existing systems already provide the data the BPM system will require. Once key performance indicators (KPIs) have been chosen for display on the BPM dashboard, it often is the case that no source systems track and accumulate the detailed data to derive those KPIs. For example, if sales win rate is a chosen KPI, does the company already have a customer relationship management (CRM) or sales force automation system that tracks active sales prospects and decisions made? If not, that data may not be available.

Assuming the data is available, how is it accessed and/or moved into the data mart? Companies need to determine how reliable and clean their data is and whether its format is consistent with other data (i.e., currency, scale). Do these systems utilize the same meta data? In other words, does "Cost of Sales" mean the same thing across all source systems? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is often that the underlying systems are not consistent and synchronized. This data needs to be normalized - made consistent - before your organization can obtain the full benefits of BPM.

A well-designed performance management system will be used in some way by many kinds of employees. With a high volume of users, response time can become an issue. Also, the nature of the data in the system can create a sense of urgency for the user. If people are trying to see if they made their revenue goals for the month and, therefore, get to keep their jobs, a few seconds delay for a report to refresh can be an eternity. The added complexity with BPM systems relates to usage patterns. Due to the particular business processes being automated, there will be very large usage spikes. Budgeting, in particular, can lead to hundreds, if not thousands, of users updating the database almost simultaneously. When the budget is due, almost everyone will be on the system submitting the budget they just completed. This can be a challenge for the selected software, but also places a burden on the corporate network. All of these users will be accessing the system and database concurrently. Similarly, BPM systems facilitate the month-end close through their consolidation module. Once that is done, everyone is anxious to review their performance for the past month. Another peak usage spike occurs, this time relating to data access. Lastly, some forward-thinking organizations actually have their board members sign in to the system to view the key metrics live during a board meeting. While this is not a volume issue, it is a high visibility situation where you do not want the network to be sluggish or crash. The challenge is to make sure the network, server and communications infrastructure is robust enough to support the type of usage that is common with BPM. This may require additional investment in redundant hardware.

We have also seen organizations that analyze and adjust the infrastructure at headquarters, but completely neglect testing performance at field locations or even other buildings in a campus environment. Be thorough. Poor performance can reduce active usage of a BPM system and, therefore, its ultimate benefit and value to the organization.

Most BPM systems today are designed to be maintained and expanded by the business end user. This is great for the end users, and also ultimately for the IT group that is no longer required to program a custom report every time a new need is identified. Marketing hype aside, the end user will need some level of expert support from IT, particularly if the new report requires changes to the underlying meta data (chart of accounts, organization chart, data categories, etc.). Here is where potential problems can arise. Many IT groups are staffed with developers/programmers who excel at building solutions from existing BI tools or custom programming an application from scratch. Implementing one of today's BPM packaged applications requires a different set of skills. The end user support team in IT needs to be trained on the syntax of the product being implemented. From a process perspective, there needs to be some sort of central help desk/support line that can support a large number of business users on the application. Many IT groups already have help desks in place for other software. With BPM, many support requests will require some understanding of the business use of the product, not just the underlying technology. This is an area where the typical IT group tends to be weaker. Whereas typical support calls usually sound something like: "Windows crashed, my machine is frozen ..." a BPM call is more along the lines of "My budget is due today, I just entered some new numbers, and now the balance sheet won't balance - something must be wrong with the chart of accounts." IT may need to partner with finance on problems of this type - but these issues will arise, they will be time-critical, and IT needs to be prepared.

While readying the IT organization for a BPM initiative can pose significant challenges, the many benefits justify the effort. The benefits are a key reason our recent BPM Pulse 2004 Survey found that nearly 75 percent of organizations have recently completed a BPM project, are in progress or have plans to move forward in the near term. If you are ready to start a BPM project, take advantage of the proven methodologies available to help IT properly prepare for this major initiative.

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