Business analytics and big data are common topics of conversation in the business and information technology markets, but these technologies are only building blocks to help businesses manage performance.

Entering the conversation is Actuate, which for years has had a performance management division that provides software for managing progress toward objectives through a variety of analytic and action-focused techniques. The company has announced the release of a promising new generation of its enterprise software, Actuate BIRT Performance Analytics.

Using its longstanding business intelligence (BI) technology based on the open source BIRT, Actuate packaged an offering called ActuateOne that I assessed over a year ago. ActuateOne helped the company retrofit the core of its software for performance management by embedding and building on top of the underlying analytics and BI functionality. This is a good step forward, as our business analytics benchmark research found that only 15 percent of organizations are innovative in using business analytics. Such companies can access, collect and review performance based on analytics and metrics faster, better and more cost-effectively than others.

Now Actuate has shifted its attention from performance management to performance analytics, which helps broaden the relevance of its offering. The software goes well beyond traditional dashboards to provide the ability to assess gaps toward goals and direct action. Actuate has not gotten enough credit for depth in the analytics and discovery elements of its software for optimizing and managing performance. In this release it is clearer how it can cover the basics and get organizations to focus on supporting actions that require commentary and review cycles. Actuate has improved the ability to make observations and notation directly on the analytic information from within the software, eliminating the need to attach comments from a Word document or electronic mail.

One of the key capabilities Actuate shares with other vendors of software designed for managing performance through analytics is to easily collect the data necessary for integrating with the performance indicators. For example, to examine key customer indicators on satisfaction, you might have a summary number of customer complaints by region and month to be used in a calculation. These types of data points can come from customer feedback management (CFM) software and reports, but the process of integrating them with your analytics data model can be cumbersome, and it might not even be necessary to assess the impact of complaints on customer satisfaction.

Our benchmark research in business analytics found that collecting data is hard for 51 percent of organizations and inhibits them in getting full value from analytics. Actuate has been expanding its software portfolio to support more customer-related information, which my colleague Richard Snow has assessed. It can now demonstrate how it helps organizations focus on their customers, which many desperately need to do.
Of course speed is critical for businesses in building key indicators from measures and metrics. Results must be recalculated as the underlying data and measures change daily or weekly. By using Actuate BIRT, organizations can use 64-bit in-memory processing for query, reporting, analysis and publishing of their performance analytics. This also helps organizations do what-if scenario planning, and they can access the metrics and analytics using Microsoft Excel as a front end to their application-specific information.
ActuateOne can help organizations focus more on the application level and less on the underlying analytics and BI infrastructure. Indeed, our business analytics research found that organizations dealing with analytics spend 69 percent of their time on data-related activities compared to analytic ones, partly because their analytic and BI technology has trouble directly accessing and integrating data.

Actuate makes its offering available via the cloud computing model. You can sign up and rent the software, then configure and load data, eliminating the need for IT cycles to tailor the in-house hardware and computing environment for the software. The trend toward using cloud computing to rent and access software continues to grow; our business analytics research found that 27 percent of organizations now prefer this approach.
Actuate BIRT Performance Analytics provides a foundation to choose and integrate pre-existing key indicators. It has more than 12,000 measures to select from including business and financial, operational and customer-centric ones. If you are trying to manage goals, objectives, activities, initiatives and business processes, the Actuate approach gives you a method for reaching the outcome you desire.

Actuate’s visual capabilities make it easy for managers to review performance-related analytics, including briefing books that organize collections of reviews not just in pages but also subpages. This approach eliminates the laborious process of creating presentation decks and sending them around for review. Such presentations are static and inevitably out of date by the time the real decisions must be made. Actuate’s key indicator visualizations, which come from its roots in delivering balanced scorecards, are some of the best to engage business people’s attention and complement the traditional pie and bar charts to represent the relevant impact of its performance. And the product still has strategy maps and methodical scorecards.

Actuate has an opportunity to spread performance management to a much broader audience. The new software may help customers see the limitations of analytics that allow you to understand but not optimize and align performance. Actuate’s approach to the full management cycle is an example of what my colleague Robert Kugel calls action-oriented information technology systems. It can help mitigate risk in business through risk analytics. Beyond risk, to get full value from Actuate BIRT Performance Analytics, organizations should not just focus on key performance indicators but also track people, process, customer and other types of analytic-generated metrics and indicators that focus on causes and conditions rather than just outcomes.

If Actuate wants to take its technology to the next level and get more management interest, it should make its Performance Analytics accessible on tablets like Apple iPad, as that is the perfect platform to allow management to check on business and operational performance anywhere at any time. While Actuate has mobile capabilities today, running natively on smartphones and tablets and allowing users to review most of the analytics, the unique visualization style of Performance Analytics has not been engineered to work on Apple’s proprietary technology framework.

With the new release of BIRT Performance Analytics, Actuate makes performance management simpler to get up and running and to use. Its refreshed marketing to address its product’s capabilities was needed. Actuate now can educate businesses about why taking action on analytics can make a difference in business.
Ventana Research has spent a decade insisting that performance management be treated as a key business process with unique needs and significant benefits to organizations. Assessing and adopting dedicated applications designed for a particular business process helps reduce costs, time and risk and gain the outcomes sought. In the context of our analytics research finding that only 41 percent of organizations are satisfied with and one-third are looking to make changes in their approach in 2012, Actuate has an opportunity to advance its market position.

This blog originally appeared at Ventana Research.