In a ritual that parallels the professional golf season, the end of January marks the beginning of the tech industry conference circuit, and February finds analysts, consultants and reporters back on the road. Unlike Tiger Woods, I’m filtering events against my budget, though I was able to attend two very good shows in the last two weeks: IDS-Scheer’s ProcessWorld in Orlando and The Data Warehouse Institute’s (TDWI’s) first in a series of annual conferences, this one in Las Vegas. I’ll cover the first event in this newsletter and the second in the next.

 

My primary goal at events is to meet end users rather than vendors, and while I was successful at this, both events were interesting from a vendor and marketplace perspective, for different reasons. The executive summary for these columns is this: despite those three big BI-related acquisitions last year, we’re going to have a lot to write about in the coming year.

 

Let’s start with IDS-Scheer’s ProcessWorld, an event I’ve attended six years running. It’s always an interesting break from the database and integration events at which I spend more time. But this year really caught my eye because the theme at ProcessWorld was “Performance-Driven Business.”

 

That’s right, the business process management world has discovered key performance indicators (KPIs).

 

Actually there’s no doubt the process side has long been aware of performance management but it does take time for boundaries to crack and for ideas and products to reach the market. Call it a metric-driven leap from process management to process optimization. For our BI-focused readers, it’s wise to pick up on some generalities of how metrics are viewed by process legends like IDS founder Dr. August-Wilhelm Scheer.

 

Scheer pointed out that traditionally, BI-focused analysts tend to focus more on financial metrics, while process-oriented analysts tend to focus more on operational measures of quantities, qualities and so forth. And while IDS-Scheer is more associated with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing related processes, I could see exactly where finance and operations are meeting up in the reports, dashboards and even data mashups Scheer presented - at a conference that was all about business process management.

 

It’s called, oh yes, operational BI, where reporting -- or rather performance management -- has grown more qualitative and function-oriented. As soon as you make this connection, you immediately see that most of what we call operational BI is absolutely process-oriented. And while I may be over-generalizing, in the same way, no discussion of business rules or decision automation makes a great deal of sense outside a business process context.

 

Call it chicken or egg, but I’d contend that most metrics have little value without contextual meaning -- meaning that process ought to come first. That is not the way most companies operate. Process usually doesn’t come first because it’s much tougher to link departments and compartments -- and shake up ways of working -- than it is to summon data from corresponding silos.

 

In other words, if my department is running well, why should I worry about yours? This is sadly reflected in the attention most companies pay to business process. Even if technology is only a part of process management, spending in that category is positively dwarfed by what corporations spend on business intelligence.

 

I immediately hit it off with Dr. Helge Hess, the director at IDS-Scheer who heads up most of the performance management work underway at the company. Hess talks about the convergence of process intelligence and event monitoring. There’s also talk of to-be versus as-is process states, which hints at enterprise architecture. But the root of it lies in correlating business performance with process defects, identified as bottlenecks. It’s a more contextual way of measuring the performance of managers than the perfunctory BI metrics that are usually applied (and something we began writing about in BI Review three years ago).

 

A measurement of sales (or order management) in the process context allows for better root-cause analysis of a problem than BI, which more often explains a problem only by its outcome. I didn’t agree with Dr. Scheer’s conclusion that BI-style performance management doesn’t provide remediation or root cause analysis, because necessarily it must. But I did find transparency in documented processes in a vertical hierarchy that extends from management with its dashboards, down to process owners (versus the usual mix of VPs) with performance management tools, and finally to process staff who address events.

 

In a parochial way, process-centric and BI-centric advocates view each other warily as either metric or control-obsessed. Neither view is correct of course, so it’s good to see the BI and process worlds intersecting in reality. Scheer himself is an abstract thinker who opens all his conferences fronting a jazz quartet on baritone sax and sees processes as ensembles with harmonies and flexibility for each member’s performance.

 

What’s happening now in service-oriented architecture and master data management will only add visibility to the nature of compartmentalized working silos. The only way to fix the inefficiencies of fragmented organizations is to actually address the business processes by which they operate. It’s a watershed all successful businesses of size will need to reach, by will or by force.

 

Next time I’ll have a look at the dynamics at play at TDWI’s well-attended Las Vegas event. In the meantime, have a look at the presentations from ProcessWorld, particularly those of Dr. Scheer and Dr. Hess, and see if your BI brain doesn’t find some interesting developments.

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