Business Performance Management (BPM): The missing link between IT projects and business strategy?

This column describes how the implementation of Business Performance Management (BPM) brings technology and business strategy together. IT provides decision-makers with the tools they need to access the most current enterprise data for analysis, forecasting, and informed business decisions.

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IT directors love technology projects; business analysts love strategy. But in between the two a great gulf may be fixed: Relationships between these departments are often strained, and sometimes acrimonious.

Business planning has historically been a bastion of the finance department with strategists using the now ubiquitous Microsoft Excel to store, manipulate and forecast business performance data. It's not that there is anything fundamentally wrong with this approach—it has served banks around the world very well for many years—it's just that in today's on-demand, data driven, real-time commerce, it's knowing where a business is, where it was, and where it is heading that is driving competitive advantage.

This same commercial landscape is increasing the requirement for banks to make split-second decisions that will often directly impact their financial and operational success. It requires the ability to store and compare huge amounts of data. That data must be accessible so that it can be used to derive forecasts and other custom metrics and make informed decisions based on the latest facts.

Don't get me wrong, Excel is a great tool for data management, as thousands of financial departments around the world would lay testament to. Moreover, people are comfortable with it. Excel is however, a static, single-dimensional application that was never designed to deliver this volume of information, so that it could be shared or evaluated in the way that strategists are now demanding.

So if not Excel alone, what is the answer? An increasing number of companies are turning to BPM software in order to manage the increasing amount of data available to them. It enables multiple users to get answers to many performance questions from a single data store.

Many of the leading BPM solutions, from companies such as Applix and Hyperion, actively embrace Excel, but deliver increased functionality. Using Excel as the user interface ensures that any BPM software will be more readily adopted than a completely new solution.

Moreover, BPM software has been around for longer than you might think; Applix, for example, has been around since 1983 and the solutions have evolved over a period of time to deliver tangible benefits to thousands of businesses globally.

"[Applix] allows us to analyse past performance, anticipate future needs, and provide consistent reporting across the organization," says Michael Dinsmore, CFO, Bank Services, First National Bank of Lexington. "We are now able to review data on a daily basis that up until now was difficult. With its ease-of-use and ability to distribute across the organization quickly, it will become even more valuable as we expand its use in the near future to include both budgeting and forecasting."

The other important advantage of BPM software is in bringing together IT departments and business strategists in order to drive success. Business Performance Management software that embraces Excel delivers tangible business benefits by ensuring that IT acts as a value added service to the business, using technology to drive the strategist's vision by providing business critical data. It is neither technology for technology's sake, nor a way to develop strategies that are not practical to implement.

BPM is helping to align the goals of IT with those of the business strategists. For banks, this rejuvenated cooperation will reap greater benefits than simply successful BPM projects alone. It may even be heralding a new maturity in the application of IT as a driver for businesses, integrating it into the very heart of business performance.

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