Any vendor-ranking list is going to end up being subjective, controversial and open to debate. However, the benefit to end users of having a core list outweighs the pain of the arrows that I am sure will come my way from those not included.

The business performance management (BPM) vendor marketplace has, by my count, approximately 90+ vendors, and it is continuing to grow. Recently, a number of vendors entered the market with a very narrow but deep focus on one aspect of BPM. This list is not about them. The Top 10 reflects those I see as the core, established vendors in the space.

The primary criteria for inclusion in the list are: 1) a fairly comprehensive offering, covering most if not all areas of BPM, 2) a focus on the BPM market (which leaves out the ERP vendors because BPM is just one small component of their offerings), 3) a significant track record of success in the field, 4) demonstrated company viability and growth, and 5) continued innovation. There was another criterion that I had in the back of my mind as well: is the vendor's marketing and sales pitch in line with the product's reality? There were some otherwise capable vendors who insisted they did a lot more than I could find in their actual products.

The Top Ten

Now on to the list, which is in alphabetical order. The list of 10 is intended as a starting point for those considering BPM — nothing more, nothing less.

Applix: This vendor, building on its high-performance TM1 OLAP engine, has added a planning manager, a consolidation framework and a financial reporting solution to round out its BPM offering. At this point in time, Applix provides the necessary BI, budgeting, consolidation and dashboard tools to cover the core BPM bases. In addition, thanks in large part to their core engine, Applix is well positioned to address the burgeoning operational performance management area of BPM. Applix's highly satisfied clients often place it at the top of BPM satisfaction surveys. The categories that customers highlight as being most impressive are ease of implementation, ease of use and performance.

Business Objects: A strong vendor in the BI space for years, Business Objects' primary BPM capabilities were based on dashboards. While dashboards (and the scorecards they display) are a key component of BPM, this is not enough for a full BPM initiative. The wise souls at Business Objects realized this and acquired SRC, a small but successful budgeting and consolidation vendor. In addition, SRC filled out some vertical BPM offerings for financial services and health care. More recently, the combined company focused its vertical energies on the retail market. Its clients give it high marks for product quality. With its size and breadth of offering, Business Objects can be one of the leaders in the space.

Cartesis: Strong in Europe, particularly on its home turf of France, Cartesis' North American operations had lagged behind until recently, when the firm shuffled its North American management team and sales force. The result has been a significant uptick in number and size of U.S. deals. The core product was always strong in complex financial consolidation. Cartesis had some basic budgeting capabilities but greatly enhanced the offering with the acquisition of a company called INEA that focused on BPM for financial services companies. In addition, Cartesis picked up a consulting company that had developed strong capabilities around information delivery. The recent announcements about XBRL access to benchmark data and expanded vertical focus begin to differentiate Cartesis from some of the competition. The end result is a re-energized North American team, with a product set that addresses all the core BPM application modules.

Clarity Systems: While probably not as well known as some of the other vendors on this list, Clarity does have a fairly complete BPM suite and a satisfied client base. Clarity started life as a consulting company, and this background serves them well in a continued focus on meeting customer needs. Clarity's Web-enabled solutions make extensive use of Excel, which allows users to leverage existing models they have built. An open architecture supports multiple database choices. Within its applications, Clarity uses both relational and multidimensional data structures. The current product set addresses budgeting, consolidation and dashboards.

Cognos: This vendor is one that appears on almost everyone's BPM shortlist. There is good reason for this: they have a fairly complete offering and a highly satisfied customer base. In particular, their clients point to product functionality, quality and ease of use as areas where Cognos excels. Cognos enhanced its suite significantly in the past year with its strategic initiative and long-range planning blueprint models and the release of Cognos 8. This release provides a single BI solution with robust reporting and analysis integrated with Cognos' sophisticated planning, budgeting and consolidation solutions. The recent addition of their GO! Search service that finds relevant BI content as part of enterprise search results only serves to strengthen their offering.

Extensity: Formerly known as Geac, and Comshare before that, this vendor has a strong financial performance management product set. Recent enhancements to their strategic planning and modeling capabilities complement their leading planning, budgeting and consolidation solutions. The addition of smart consolidation capabilities focusing only on impacted data improves application performance response and analysis times. At press time, Extensity announced that it will acquire Systems Union. While this will add more BI capabilities to their offering and broaden their geographic reach, it also introduces significant product overlap and organization integration challenges. Take this into account when considering this vendor.

Hyperion: With a comprehensive and strong BPM offering, Hyperion is usually near the top of the list of vendors to be considered. Customers cite Hyperion's depth and breadth of product functionality as one of the things they like best. Hyperion has made major advances in the past year. With the release of System 9, the company now provides a unified front end to its deep portfolio of BPM tools and applications. In addition, the purchase of Razza Solutions has enhanced Hyperion's ability to synchronize metadata across multiple products. The introduction of its Workforce Planning module has streamlined the headcount and salary-planning process. The recently announced acquisition of Upstream Software enables Hyperion to focus on the movement and quality of financial data.

Longview Solutions: Longview's BPM solution includes comprehensive planning, budgeting, consolidation and reporting capabilities. Customers give their highest ratings to Longview's product functionality and price/value equation. This vendor expanded its software with the release of its Strategic Tax tool, which facilitates tax data collection, planning and compliance reporting. As one of the few truly unified solutions, Longview's robust product competes effectively with the biggest vendors in the BPM market.

OutlookSoft: This vendor has a lot going for it. They have fully integrated Excel (and other elements of Office) into their offering, reducing the learning curve and resulting in high ease-of-use ratings from their clients. In addition, they were the first to offer a truly unified, fully Web-based solution. More recently they introduced predictive analytics capabilities, which the BPM Pulse survey indicates is high on the list of next-generation capabilities BPM prospects are seeking. Since its introduction in 2000, the OutlookSoft product has been entirely and exclusively Microsoft based. They just announced full support for Oracle 10g, which now gives their clients and prospects a choice.

SAS:  Well-known in the BI/data mining arena, SAS has been playing catch-up in the BPM space. It's not because of their product set. Their offerings touch all areas of BPM, including some specialized areas that not all vendors address, such as activity-based costing. They also offer deep verticalized solutions that are not just window dressing for the sales cycle; rather, they are industry-specific modules that supplement and expand their cross-industry BPM products. With all of this and a new marketing focus on performance management, I expect to see them show up in more and more BPM deals.

A number of other vendors just below the Top 10 are worth noting. KCI addresses financial and operational BPM with a focus on performance and scalability. ALG Software comes at BPM with an activity-based costing and profitability optimization approach. Hosted solutions are starting to gain traction in the space, and both Host Analytics and Adaptive Planning offer components of performance management delivered as a service. For the mid-market, FRx and Prophix offer robust solutions at a reasonable cost, and Satori Group provides both BPM applications and tools with a vertical focus.

Clearly, there are many good solutions to choose from. The key is picking the right one for your organization. In the end, that comes down to having a razor-sharp focus on your requirements and evaluating how each vendor stacks up when it comes to your specific needs. Investing in a comprehensive due diligence process up front will provide significant payback down the road.

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