Time to perform

ACN looks at some of the critical process issues enterprises need to be on the lookout for when deploying advanced business intelligence systems.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  October 21, 2007

Business intelligence has had a mixed reputation over the past few years. On one hand, enterprises have seen it as a potentially powerful tool to deliver real value to the business - essentially by making use of the information that's already there.

On the other hand, significant number of IT professionals have been grumbling about the difficulties inherent in BI - its complex deployments, requirements for cleansed data, and so on. Some have questioned whether the results really justify the expense and complexity of implementing BI.

BI and BPM are more like continuous processes. It’s a complete paradigm shift for an organisation – a change in culture.

But for the Middle East the BI market seems to have matured - more and more enterprises are seeing it as a "quick win", and something with an inherent and clear business value. Instead, all the old arguments about business intelligence have moved on - to BI's younger, smarter brother Business (or Enterprise or Corporate) Performance Management.

The first step towards success with performance management is to recognise it is not business intelligence, according to the vendors. Typically most draw a distinction by describing BI as a past-facing analytical tool, whereas performance management is seen as more predictive.

"There are different yardsticks for implementing BI and EPM," explains George Thomas, head of projects at enterprise integrator Imtac. "BI thrives on availability of reliable data from their operational systems. So, a measure of how effectively a CxO's systems cover all aspects of business will tell him how far his organisation is ready to go ahead on a BI implementation. The level of implementation of BI is also dependent on the challenges his organisation faces. These challenges will determine what will be the best architecture to be followed which also has an impact on allocating required budget.

"On the other hand, success of an EPM implementation will be heavily based on the culture of the organisation. More than just looking at a tool, the CxO has to first evaluate his organisation's behaviour in terms of organisational responsibility, structure, matrix of accountability and so on, in order to assess the readiness for going ahead with EPM."

For some, making the move to performance management is actually a crucial step - and one that will form the final plank of a BI project. Dipankar Bhattacharjee is business manager at Seven Seas and Currimjee Informatics, in charge of the Dubai-based firm's tie-up with Currimjee, which deploys BI solutions including Cognos. According to Bhattacharjee, those that do not deploy performance management will lose out.

"Performance management is a very important part of BI - anyone who starts down the BI path has to go to performance management, otherwise he'll only be half-way towards where he set out to be, in terms of vision. Every company likes to know how healthy it is - how it's performing in the market compared to its competitors, where its potential growth areas are," he says.

He does acknowledge that calculating the potential return on performance management systems is not an easy process for a business, and return is not something a vendor can guarantee: "As a vendor, when I go and sell to an end user, I will tell him that I can walk the walk, provided he can provide the right kind of data, quality data - which we will help him structure, if necessary. The end user needs to have identified the key objectives of the company, how the company is planning to move - this I cannot tell him. I will not tell him how to do business - I can tell him how to streamline his business, but what he wants to sell, in which market at what price, that's his call."

"If the end user knows what his KPIs are - for example, every quarter I need a certain value of sales from the UAE, from Oman, from Saudi Arabia, he has to focus on business processes which will have a high impact on these KPIs. The most crucial area is to gain the support of relevant business and technology stakeholders - department heads, vice presidents, general managers on the business side, and CIOs and IT directors on the IT side," Bhattacharjee explains.

The question of organisational readiness for BI or performance management is one that can be a particular concern for Middle East companies. While enterprises elsewhere in the world have benefited from relatively stable and long-term development over many decades - bringing with it vast hives of data over the years - regional firms do not have this same background.

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