TotalCIO

Aug 15 2008   7:11AM GMT

Will an alphabet stew of BI, EPM and GRC hit the spot?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

When SAP’s Business Objects announced this week that it was adding a dash of enterprise performance management to its business intelligence platform, my ears perked up.

We don’t often cover product releases from the Big 4, leaving that to our knowledgeable colleagues at sites like SearchSAP.com, SearchOracle.com and SearchCRM.com. But I recently had an exchange with my editor about EPM that begged for enlightenment.

Actually the question at hand was what did I know about BPM? Well, I knew I had written about it ad nauseum a few months ago. Did she not remember the packet of stories on business process management from the Gartner conference in Vegas? No, no, not that BPM, silly prolific reporter. What did I know about BPM, as in business performance management? Ummmm, was BPM like BI? Nope, not according to the vendor/expert breathing down my editor’s neck that day. BPM, we learned, was also known as CPM, corporate performance management, or EPM or PM, for short (shortest?) and it had to do with monitoring financial data. Well, then was it akin to BAM, business activity monitoring? Or CEP, complex event processing? Or BLAH, blah blah? The alphabet soup was making me queasy. Let’s just say, we were none the wiser that day for reciting the IT alphabet.

So! when the team from SAP’s recently acquired Business Objects sent over their big  news this week –“Company Welcomes New  Era of Convergence Between Enterprise Performance Management, Business Intelligence, and Governance, Risk and Compliance Solutions” — I happily signed on for a briefing. You can read the press release yourself for details on all this New Age convergence stuff, but the point is… I was right. BI and EPM and (bonus!) GRC are related. No less than world’s largest business software company said so:

“Traditionally distinct disciplines, the combination of EPM, GRC and BI enables deeper visibility into unified information, greater context for collaborative decision making and better organizational alignment. For example, without a foundation of trustworthy and accurate business data, companies cannot effectively manage EPM processes such as financial consolidation. Similarly, the combination of GRC and EPM is critical to helping customers clearly understand potential risks to their business strategy.”

Moreover, Business Objects, the company bragged, was the only vendor to “offer both the vision and the products to unite EPM,  GRC and BI.”

Proud as I was to have any thoughts in common with those incredibly smart computer engineers at SAP/Business Objects, I wisely  took the opportunity to be schooled on EPM by Sanjay Poonen, general manager for performance optimization applications for Business Objects.

EPM, he patiently explained, is a market term used to describe a collection of technologies that help people strategize about business. EPM helps people plan and execute and understand their businesses overall. And it traditionally is used by finance departments. “It contains a set of products that allows CFOs, for instance, to start with a balanced scorecard, get a view of all their different businesses and then to do anything from budgeting and planning to consolidation  and analyzing their profitability at a fairly sophisticated level,” Poonen said.

SAP’s Business Objects likes to use the term enterprise performance management, as opposed to CPM  or BPM because “a big part of our vision is to move beyond a line of business, such as finance, and make this an enterprise wide offering,” Poonan said. Indeed, the new “spend analytics” component of the EPM suite provides visibility into purchasing-automatically aggregating, cleansing and analyzing procurement data from across the corporate systems, as well as from third part vendors.

The good news for the CIO, who is perpetually balancing the desire of  business for the best of the best-of-breed applications with the economies of standardizing around a single vendor, is that the EPM products from Business Objects now go well beyond finance, Poonan reminded, to include supply chain, procurement and now also governance, risk and compliance-all from one vendor!

Now, just to be clear about the difference between EPM and BI, I was told by Poonen to think of BI as the infrastructure tools (dashboards, Crystal Reports, master data management) to build a good house of data for the business. A financial performance management suite of products — an EPM solution– will have these BI tools embedded in it and a complete suite of applications targeted to the financial organization. “So it is not just the tools and pieces to build the house, but the fully built house itself.” So there you have it, from acronym soup to nuts to the five-star restaurant.

Let me know how you think of BI – and what this set of technologies says about the relation between IT and the business.

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