Today's global economy places high demands on an organization's technology strategy. At one time, businesses were at the mercy of the technology they employed. In today's marketplace, economic success depends on the alignment of an organization's business strategy and the technology driving it. In light of this reality, IT governance has moved to the top of the chief information officer (CIO) agenda. In addition, the explosion of the Internet age and web technology during the last ten years has made project portfolio management (PPM) an effective methodology for aligning IT with business goals. The cumbersome pre-Internet process of consolidating silos of information from disparate IT projects for analysis has evolved to today's PPM solution of providing real-time access to multiple sets of project information from a central repository. In response to the demand for IT governance, Business Engine launched the Business Engine Network (BEN), its web-based PPM solution, in 2000.
Originally selling its program management solution to the aerospace and defense sector, Business Engine has a twenty-year history in the software industry. Entering the enterprise project management space in 1995 with the first client/server version of its solution, today's Business Engine Network solution provides a competitive PPM offering to organizations in the financial services, health care, government, manufacturing, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and retail vertical markets. Business Engine has its strongest presence in financial services, with approximately 30 percent of its customer base in this vertical market. In terms of horizontal markets, Business Engine focuses primarily on internal IT departments and is making inroads in the new product development market as well. In addition to its core product, it has developed strategic technology partnerships with Microsoft Project and Cognos, leveraging their project management and business intelligence capabilities, respectively.
Although a mid-market offering is available, Business Engine's typical clients are internal IT departments in the enterprise market, servicing clients such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer and Tesco. With respect to market strategy, Business Engine aims to remain a pure play PPM vendor and does not plan to move into the professional services automation (PSA) space. In addition to its primary market strategy of bringing financial governance to project-driven organizations, Business Engine plans to intensify its presence in the product portfolio management arena, offering unique workflow and phase review functionality.
Business Engine Components
BEN provides clients with a PPM solution focused on IT investments and financial governance. The solution is comprised of the following components:
BEN Method Engine allows organizations to configure customizable workflow or phase review processes to facilitate implementation of an IT governance framework, such as CoBit or Prince2 (to learn more about IT governance, please refer to the article IT Governance: Maximizing the Business Investment). Furthermore, organizations can also set up phase review methodologies (such as Stage-Gate) for new product development portfolios. In terms of workflow capabilities, Business Engine provides above-average functionality. In fact, Business Engine is unique in developing a separate module solely dedicated to business process management and workflow creation that can be configured to provide critical phase review functionality for organizations seeking product portfolio management solutions for new product development.
BEN Alignment Engine allows an organization to define IT portfolios and associated scoring models. This module provides management with the ability to assign weighting capabilities and measurements to ideas and portfolios for strategic IT decision-making. An embedded scoring model and easy-to-use analytics allow for the creation and evaluation of alternative portfolio scenarios against risk, return on investment and strategic contribution. The alignment engine allows portfolio managers to evaluate and gauge the risk of portfolios, and integrates with BEN workflows for IT governance. The alignment engine is diverse in its application and strong in the area of financial governance.
BEN Financial Engine allows organizations to track budgets against projects and portfolios. All budget information, such as expenses, billable and non-billable details, is monitored in the financial engine. In addition, the engine has rate management capabilities and can integrate with third-party general ledger (GL) systems. The financial engine allows for the configuration of financial dashboards to align the financials of IT and business with anticipated expenditures and to validate actual spending. The BEN financial engine provides competitive functionality in tracking financial and budget data.
BEN Delivery Engine provides an organization with a single record of portfolio and project details. This module provides resource management, issue management, risk management, portfolio management, and project management functionality. Furthermore, an above-average bi-directional integration with Microsoft Project and Microsoft Project Server provides end users with complete PPM functionality for internal IT departments.
BEN Business Intelligence leverages Cognos to provide more in-depth analysis for portfolio management with both ad hoc and professional reporting capabilities. Cognos' technology also allows for complex custom reporting, and for meeting the unique compliance and reporting demands of different organizations. Business Engine's original equipment manufacturer OEM relationship with Cognos provides dashboard capabilities enhancing those of the core product.
BEN Platform provides knowledge management and workflow functionality to its users. Unique in the PPM space, Business Engine provides complete document management capabilities with version control, templates and check-in/check-out functionality. The BEN platform also provides role-based user support allowing for the configuration of multiple levels of access to application components, based on defined user roles.
Business Engine Architecture
Business Engine has adopted a Microsoft.NET technology road map and an open architecture allowing the integration and customization of solutions. Although it does not provide a software development kit as a part of its offering, its support of extensible markup language (XML) allows for integration with alternate systems. Furthermore, its multitiered architecture ensures scalability and supports both Oracle and Microsoft SQL databases.
To enhance its offering, Business Engine has also built strategic technology partnerships with Microsoft Project and Cognos. Using Query Studio for ad hoc reporting and Report Studio for customized reports, BEN Business Intelligence allows organizations to access Cognos' complete business intelligence functionality and provides stronger dashboard capabilities for strategic decision making. In terms of its integration with Microsoft Project, Business Engine offers above-average capabilities with extensive field mapping and bi-directional transfer of data between both applications. Furthermore, Microsoft Project Server is fully embedded in the Business Engine solution for additional resource-planning capabilities.
Business Engine Network's Method Engine and Alignment Engine offer flexibility to IT organizations in incorporating numerous best practice methodologies and customizable scoring models relevant to an organization's needs. Consequently, for organizations seeking highly configurable capabilities for portfolio definition, scoring, and workflows, Business Engine is worth exploring. In addition, for organizations that heavily rely on Microsoft Project as their project management tool of choice, Business Engine's comprehensive integration with Microsoft Project and Project Server sets it apart from its competition.
For organizations seeking strong knowledge management capabilities, Business Engine also provides complete document management functionality as part of its offering. In addition, Business Engine's recent technology partnership with Cognos, dating from December 2005, allows its clients to have the option of leveraging leading industry business intelligence capabilities.
For organizations seeking professional automation functionality, Business Engine does not provide back-office functionality, or strong timesheet and expense-reporting functionality critical to professional services organizations. Business Engine is a pure play PPM solution designed specifically for the managing of internal non-billable IT projects. Consequently, Business Engine does not have any future plans to develop functionality to handle billable projects and portfolios for organizations seeking to purchase a fully integrated PPM solution for the services industry.
The ease of access to information is a critical factor in the effectiveness of a PPM solution. Business Engine can improve in its dashboard capabilities and user access (as in the case of the Alignment Engine).
For organizations seeking a best-of-breed PPM solution that leverages Microsoft Project and .NET technology, Business Engine is worth exploring. As with most PPM tools, it is important for software buyers to include vertical market penetration or industry experience as part of the software evaluation equation. The experience of Business Engine is worth noting, especially in the financial services market space containing 30 percent of its customers. A big part of implementing a PPM solution is the configuration of the various modules to reflect the client's current business model so that the tools facilitate the strategic decision-making process of aligning business with IT. With this in mind, end users must look beyond strict functionality and seriously consider a PPM vendor's industry experience and knowledge.
It is also important to note that although Business Engine does not have a real presence in the product portfolio management space, it has compelling functionality with its BEN Method Engine. This component provides customizable workflows and business process mapping capabilities allowing for the implementation of phase review functionality for new product development (NPD) portfolios. Organizations seeking a PPM solution for NPD projects should keep their eyes open, as Business Engine plans to focus more attention on this functionality in the near future.