Business Intelligence Vendors
Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: July 14 2005
The demand for accurate, timely information across disparate systems in an enterprise has been answered by vendors touting some or near total corporate performance management (CPM) capabilities. Yet, while there are plenty of vendors to choose from, there is no overall CPM market leader. Attempting to gain a competitive advantage in the crowded business intelligence (BI) and CPM market, some enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors are resorting to prudent BI and enterprise process management (EPM) acquisitions.
Geac Goes the Acquisition Route
Geac Computers' 2003 acquisition of former financial analytics provider Comshare has resulted in Geac MPC. Geac MPC is a single, integrated CPM offering that supports dynamic planning and analysis for CFOs, and improves visibility throughout the organization with the aim of a single version of the truth, and no surprises. Although Hyperion and Cognos are the undisputed leaders in financial planning and budgeting, with Oracle (including the former PeopleSoft Enterprise Performance Management product) and SAP also having a sizeable market share, Geac, is still worth mentioning. While not a market leader per se, it is still notable because it has been reinventing itself within the realm of BI.
Part Five of the Business Intelligence Report Status Quo series.
Geac MPC is a centrally-maintained, Web-based application that provides the enterprise's strategy formulation, planning, budgeting, forecasting, financial consolidation, and reporting and analysis functionality that users need to run their business efficiently and effectively. It is a unified, comprehensive solution that enables management to set strategic goals and translate them into action plans, track results, and take corrective action as needed—all based on a continuous flow of near real-time performance data. In other words, with the solution, organizations should be able to model business plans to develop effective strategies, link these strategies to budgets for better resource allocation, automate global financial consolidation to see accurate results faster, generate statistically accurate budgets and plans, and report and analyze data in the most meaningful ways. All this should reduce the time spent performing manual tasks, and free managers to spend more time analyzing results, evaluating alternatives, and implementing business decisions.
Although integration should be one of the cornerstones of CPM offerings, unfortunately, solutions offered by most vendors are not often integrated. Instead, the solutions are made up of multiple diverse (acquired) applications and administration tools that focus on making interfaces, audits, and reconciliations more efficient. This requires companies to have separate IT and finance department support for each of these applications, with the result being that both the financial and IT staff spend most of their time trying to ensure that each system has the same data, and that the users are accessing the correct, most recent data. Needless to say, these types of solutions could be unnecessarily expensive, may require multiple implementations, and are difficult to administer and maintain, and as a result, they struggle to promote collaboration and do not maximize return on investment (ROI).
To remedy this problem, Geac MPC stores business information on a single platform, using a single business model. Data is contributed only once, which eliminates the need to re-key or link data, copy and distribute templates, and guess which version of the data is correct, as is often the case with error-prone spreadsheet-based management systems. Enterprises should benefit from data integrity, one version of the truth creating confidence in the produced numbers and figures, and a clearer line of sight into operational performance. Furthermore, business professionals, with proper user security, can access data immediately via a Web browser, MS Excel, and a personal digital assistant (PDA), which all should in turn lead to improved productivity. When modifications to structures, business rules, calculations, or the application are necessary, they need to only be made once and are automatically reflected throughout the application. Geac MPC can do this all by leveraging the data stored in existing underlying transactional systems which will allow everyone across the enterprise to work with the same version of accurate, up-to-date information.
In May, Geac launched a major new release, Geac MPC 7, which should offer Global 2000 companies multiple benefits, including improved enterprise-wide planning and alignment, streamlined reporting, and simplified compliance. The product, which has already been delivered to early adopter customers, will be generally available worldwide this summer, and should further advance how enterprise-wide strategic and operational business planning is done. Rather than just periodically updating a scorecard with operational results, Geac MPC 7 will help organizations transform and communicate their strategic plans into quantifiable objectives, tactics, and supporting activities with assigned ownership at the correct responsibility level throughout the enterprise. Consequently, the result will be a collaborative environment for planning, tracking, and predicting progress toward key management objectives.
To that end, Geac Planning is an enhanced planning application that is geared toward making the planning process easier, from a single planner creating "what-if" operational plans to multiple teams of collaborative planners around the world. The application is driven through a fairly easy-to-use Excel interface, whereby a planner may, for example, set a high-level target needed to achieve a desired profitability percentage and then let the system adjust ("spread") the values of the chosen plan variables to achieve the goal. Planners may also add, delete, or change business assumptions and structures at will and in near real time, leveraging Excel's strong and flexible data gathering, reporting, and formatting capabilities. This should create a much more nimble planning environment that should also drive changes in operational plans and budgets for the enterprise. As a result, alignment throughout the organization should occur more quickly and efficiently, and communication should be quite enhanced. Because the application is built with centralized controls on the Geac MPC financial application foundation, business users can collaborate on the same plan without having to keep track of how the changes made through the planning process will be driven into the "system of record". Geac Planning also organizes and manages the sharing of structures and data across the planning environment, allowing the information to be used to seed the budget, measure operational plans, or build long-range strategic planning models.
Further, meeting the need for sophisticated formalized reporting, Geac MPC 7 offers a new management reporting capability featuring a creation wizard, which streamlines initial report design and shortens the time to create and deliver critical enterprise reporting. Excel power users often want to do highly personalized analysis and reporting from their performance management systems, and, to that end, the product extends the current Excel Services functionality to deliver Excel cell-based reporting capabilities. Users can leverage the data in the centralized application without giving up any of the flexibility they need and can create virtually any layout they choose without the need for pre-built views, templates, or formatting requirements. In addition, Geac offers a production reporting module that integrates Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, broadening the range of reporting options available to Geac MPC customers.
Last but not least, Geac MPC OpenLink is a Web-based mapping tool that simplifies the process of accurately moving data from multiple ERP and other transactional source systems to the Geac MPC application. The tool helps to relatively quickly define the mapping profile using either a basic or advanced pattern-matching syntax for one or more data sources; processes the mapping profile, loads the information into the application, and provides an audit trail of the mapping process. OpenLink is designed to work with the most popular and widely deployed ERP and general ledgers on the market. Along these lines, Geac MPC Fast-Track is a set of packaged application integrations between the Geac MPC performance management software and several Geac ERP offerings, such as Geac E Series, Geac M Series, Geac SmartStream, and Geac System21.
Yet, as seen with Geac MPC, financial reporting, budgeting, forecasting, and planning are at the heart of a CPM solution, however, without these features, true CPM cannot be achieved (see Financial Reporting, Planning, and Budgeting as Necessary Pieces of EPM). Moreover, although CPM starts with strong financial management, it will eventually extend beyond financial planning to almost all areas of corporate activity. Therefore, organizations choosing BI suites should consider both their financial management tools and future integration with key business-area solutions, such as, product lifecycle management (PLM), customer resource management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), etc. Thus, eventually, more organizations will turn away from best-of-breed BI point solutions to pursue integrated CPM suites, possibly with the idea of having a corporate-wide BI/CPM standard, as they seek to source components from a single vendor rather than integrate disparate product sets themselves.
Geac and Microsoft
Earlier, in April, Geac launched a new production reporting module that integrates Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services into the Geac MPC performance management application suite, thereby allowing Geac customers that use Microsoft SQL Server to leverage these increasingly powerful BI and reporting capabilities to refine their business insight. The new offering has thus also broadened the range of reporting options available to Geac MPC customers. The module was developed in part in response to the findings of independent research conducted with Geac customers worldwide and with senior finance executives outside Geac's customer base. These participants identified reporting—in addition to Geac's budgeting, forecasting, and strategy management suite—as a critical area of focus. Geac's new Production Reporting with Reporting Services module, which is based on Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, produces auto-generated reports which are customizable for multiple end user communities, such as analysts, auditors, board committees, and executive management.
Reporting Services is an open and extensible platform supporting the authoring, management, and delivery of rich, interactive reports to enterprise users. Presented in the Microsoft Windows environment, the platform delivers near real-time BI to support daily operations and decisions. The integration with Geac MPC provides Reporting Services with direct, intuitive connectivity to budgeting, planning, consolidation, and forecasting data within the Geac performance management suite. This brings us to Microsoft and its curious position within the BI market. It is both a prominent player and a partner-competitor, given its BI plumbing underpinnings, such as its relational database (SQL Server), online analytical processing (OLAP) database ( Analysis Services), extract/transfer/load (ETL) tool ( Integration Services, formerly Data Transformation Services or DTS), metadata repository, data mining, and so on. These tools have even increased many small and medium (SMB) business users' interest in BI. Needless to say that IBM plays a similar role in the upper-end of the market, whereby both vendors have to walk a tightrope of partnering and competing with independent software vendors (ISV).
This may especially be the case with Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services 2.0, which inherited its predecessor report life cycle management capabilities and report development environment (Visual Studio .NET), but also adds a user self-service reporting front-end. To that end, Microsoft is delivering a new end user-oriented reporting and development tool, called Report Builder, that for the first time might place Reporting Services on the same footing as products from Actuate, Business Objects, Cognos, and other who's-who of reporting. The product is based on technology Microsoft acquired from ActiveViews in mid-2004, which enables a point-and-click, drag-and-drop environment, suitable for business users. It facilitates report design and customization with the advantage empowering workers with knowledge so he or she need less assistance from the IT department.
Point Solutions Safe for Now
Still, point solutions might be safe for some time to come, due to the fickle nature of BI users' brand loyalty and their reluctance to swap an installed product, due to the intellectual investment they have made in writing reports and queries, and in developing guided, contextual analytics. Analytic technology has good staying power among satisfied users, such as CIOs and CEOs, and thus some specialized products like financial, budgeting, and forecasting reporting will not be that easily displaced.
Also, BI vendors often seem content to leave fragmented data models of the applications, often treating them as a "pet project" to be enhanced in the future. Vendors often tackle the decision layer, leaving master data management (MDM), which is rationalization of supplier, customer, item, etc.; master data; bidirectional integration; or process management, such as forecasting or sales planning, to enterprise vendors or their system integrators.
Conversely, users want functional performance management systems, and not a bunch of data marts, as they strive to conduct business analysis in a single analytic environment and use data from many sources, rather than regard reporting, planning, budgeting, profit analysis, etc. as separate components. While users also want scorecards and dashboards where target values can be entered and tracked, most BI products do not yet provide forms management and data entry to easily track this. Given a big emphasis on data integration products within SAP NetWeaver, Oracle Data Integration Hubs, and Actuate's acquisition of former enterprise information integration (EII) provider Nimble Technology, it appears that many BI vendors have been getting the federated data hints of EII. As a result, any holistic approach to BI information architecture has to include data integration as a key component.
As usual, the large ERP vendors will bet on leveraging existing customers who have deeply invested in their solutions, and have even reorganized operations around their ERP systems. However, the BI vendors' daily grind has always been working with information from heterogeneous sources, an order du jour within many large organizations—which often have more than one ERP system or have various legacy systems. This is analogous to the enterprise application integration (EAI) market, since larger corporations may prefer integration vendors with renowned product strength, vertical expertise, financial viability, and savvy in extensible markup language-based (XML) business-to-business (B2B) integration, multi-platform integration, and workflow management.
Current pure-play BI leaders also offer the advantage of superior analytics and planning capability. However, as was the case of vendor specialists in the once prosperous SCM and CRM markets, these advantages will diminish. ERP vendors are continuing to improve their analytic capabilities and accessibility and add universal interfaces, including the new Web service standards to facilitate data access and integration from other environments. Despite BI's proven staying power within IT departments, BI vendors need to establish as strong a hold on the market as possible before enterprise and platform vendors catch up. Vendors like Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle have already begun to embed BI within their relational databases, , Further, BI vendors have earned the reputation of selling big BI infrastructure deals without defining the scope of the project, instead leaving it to the user enterprise's IT departments to figure out.
Given that the technical capabilities of current BI leaders (in terms of size) are not much more comprehensive than those of the followers or niche players, the winners will in the long term be those vendors that possess a strong market presence and share. They will also need to have strong partner programs, such as strong channel relationships with small value added resellers (VAR) and major system integrators; a great savvy of functional business areas and processes (ideally with a vertical focus); and associated capabilities to integrate various data sources. The future will require continued advancements in BI architectures and more intimate integration with ubiquitous products like Microsoft Office. Savvy BI vendors will try to tackle line of business (LOB) operations to further prove the value and impact of this software category.
As will be explained in a forthcoming series, Vanguard Solutions Group, Inc., a Chicago (US)-based and privately-held company, has also been successful developing new strategic partnerships. Consequently, it has reported major successes in 2004 developing innovative technology solutions and delivering measurable business value to customers.
This concludes Part Five of a seven-part note.
Part One detailed history and current status.
Part Two looked at contemporary BI tools.
Part Three described what is available.
Part Four discuss the BI/CPM market landscape.
Part Six will compare direct access to a data warehouse for the mid-market.
Part Seven will make recommendations.
About the Authors
Olin Thompson is a principal of Process ERP Partners. He has over twenty-five years experience as an executive in the software industry. Thompson has been called "the Father of Process ERP." He is a frequent author and an award-winning speaker on topics of gaining value from ERP, SCP, e-commerce, and the impact of technology on industry.
He can be reached at Olin@ProcessERP.com
Predrag Jakovljevic is a research director with TechnologyEvaluation.com (TEC), with a focus on the enterprise applications market. He has nearly twenty years of manufacturing industry experience, including several years as a power user of IT/ERP, as well as being a consultant/implementer and market analyst. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and he has also been certified in production and inventory management (CPIM) and in integrated resources management (CIRM) by APICS.