The significant merger and acquisition activity currently taking place in thebusiness performance management (BPM) space has caused most of the vendors torethink their market positioning and messaging. Vendors who have stayed out ofthe fray are touting their unified product set and independence (read:openness). Interestingly enough, some of the newly merged companies are tryingto claim the unified and independent mantle as well. Let’s take a look at somedefinitions and realities behind the messages, how these capabilities impact BPMusers, prospects and some of the vendors involved.

Unified

The term “unified” can be confusing because it may be applied to multipleaspects of a software product. For example, a product may have a unified frontend, which is essentially a common user interface that may connect to severaldifferent modules. Or, a set of BPM modules may all share a common database,therefore having a unified back end. In some cases, it may mean a single productwith one interface, one database and all BPM functionality in one main module.Each version of being unified has its own benefits. A unified front end is keyto ease of use. The end user does not need to figure out which module he has torun to get what is needed. In addition, the user only has to learn one set ofmenus and navigation terminology. It also makes it easier to roll out newfunctionality/capabilities without having to retrain all the staff that workswith the application.

A unified back end is essential in minimizing data integration challenges.Most performance management systems take data feeds from multiple transactionalsource systems. They store this data in the same database that is alreadyholding the plan data. You end up with a single database holding financial,sales, customer and other key data for the current year, prior years andplan/forecast periods. This is true even if there are separate and distinctmodules that are acting on and creating the data. This is one way BPM is able todeliver a single version of the truth.

The third flavor of unified is a single product that does it all. By default,these products have only one interface and one database, and all of the BPMfunctionality is in one place. This may seem ideal, and for many companies it isthe best choice. However, it may mean buying more capabilities than you need atthe time because all functionality is there day one, versus a more modularapproach of buying just what you need. Of course, you can grow into it overtime, but there may be greater up-front costs and complexity to deal with.

When looking at the current BPM market, there are very few remaining fullyunified products available. Clarity Systems provides a unified BPM solution thataddresses the needs of the upper end of the midmarket as well as the enterprisemarket. In the midmarket you also have Adaptive Planning, PROPHIX, Centage and ahandful of others offering unified solutions. The largest and most well-knownBPM vendors do not currently have fully unified solutions. This is mainly due tothe fact that they have been fleshing out their product set via acquisition.While not offering unified solutions, these vendors have very strong solutionsin each area of BPM. They also have product plans and roadmaps that focus oncreating a unified product set over time. They usually target a common userinterface or at least a common look and feel first. This way the variousacquired products give the appearance of being part of the same BPM solution.During this phase, there are also data movement tools available to provide theability to get data from one product to the next as needed. A single back-enddatabase comes later. Due to the fact that these products were built bydifferent companies with different toolsets and architectures, it is unlikelythat they will evolve into a single fully unified product any time soon. If youare focused on just one aspect of BPM today, these vendors may have the mostrobust versions of what you are looking for. Hopefully, they will complete theirintegration projects before you are ready to move to the next phase of your BPMproject. Most of the major players fall into this category: SAP (withOutlookSoft, Pilot and Business Objects), Cognos (with Celequest and Applix),Microsoft (with FRx and ProClarity), Infor (with Geac, MIS and Systems Union),Oracle (with Hyperion) and Exact Software (with Longview). SAS is another majorplayer that does not have integration issues due to acquisition but hasfunctionally rich, purpose-built applications that are unified with dataintegration tools and similar interfaces.

Independent

Depending on who is using the term, “independent” can mean different things.After the major enterprise resource planning (ERP) companies snapped up some ofthe last few standalone BPM application vendors, the remaining non-ERPperformance management vendors began to use the term. They were essentiallysaying that their BPM solutions could work with any ERP system available. Thismessage would certainly appeal to companies that do not have a standard ERPsystem companywide, or those that didn’t like the BPM offering of their ERPprovider. In addition, these vendors were also trying to imply that the formerlyindependent BPM vendors that were just acquired would now only really work wellwith the products of the ERP vendor that acquired them. This independencemessage was touted by the BPM vendors that also offer business intelligence (BI)tools. The pure BPM application vendors took it a step further, saying theirsystems would work with almost any ERP as well as whatever BI solution youalready had in place, one-upping the BI/BPM vendors. Other vendors refer toindependent as their implementation of relational and multidimensionaltechnology for the data repository within their application. Some vendorssupport multiple multidimensional engines, including Oracle’s Essbase,Microsoft’s Analysis Services and/or Cognos’s Applix TM1. On the relationalside, the vendors would include SQL, Oracle, DB2 and a host of others. In thiscase, the definition of independent is that you can select the internal databasethat best suits your business needs and aligns with your internal staff’sexperience.

In the end, though, I wonder how important this independence and opennessreally is. For the right set of functionality, many companies are willing totake on additional technologies. Or, if they require a system that works withtheir existing systems, they probably don’t care how open or closed the back endis as long as their particular systems are supported.

How important is it that your BPM solution is unified and independent? Itcomes back to the basics: what are the business requirements for your BPMsystem? If ease of use is high on the list, then a single unified product or atleast a unified front end should be a key requirement. Because most systems canshare data via extract, transform and load (ETL) tools, weighting needs to begiven to the importance of supporting your existing database directly versusbringing in a new database and relying on ETL tools because that new systembetter addresses business needs. If supporting your database directly is key,then that would be one of your BPM system requirements. It doesn’t mean you needan independent vendor though. A vendor may only support its own database for allof its products, but if that happens to also be your underlying database, doesindependence matter?

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