SAP announced the release of version 10 of its SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) Solutions suite, an enhanced and updated set of applications and capabilities for executives and managers. In our Value Index assessment of financial performance management suites and my analysis of it last year, Ventana Research gave SAP’s offering the highest score, and this new release builds on that solid foundation that I already assessed in my blog. It has been several years since SAP began acquiring and assembling its performance management and analytical software assets, and the company has progressed to the point where discussing the integration efforts is becoming irrelevant. This release revamps the user interface of the different components to provide a more consistent look and feel – a crucial factor in facilitating training and improving user productivity. Outside of the suite itself, the current release is designed to integrate better with ERP, SAP NetWeaver BW, risk management and BI. In facts it establishes a foundation for finance analytics that I have researched and is essential for doing what I call and have written about in putting the “A” back in FP&A.
EPM incorporates a range of financial and performance management functionality, including strategy management, planning, sales and operations planning (S&OP), financial information management, profitability and cost management, spend management and supply chain performance management, as well as finance department process management software for financial consolidation, intercompany reconciliations and disclosure management. These components now have a more consistent user interface and all have been given some enhancements to their functionality especially in the path to supporting the need for I call integrated business planning that SAP has indicated is strategic to its future and use of its in-memory computing technology called HANA.
SAP also has improved integration of EPM with mobile devices like Apple iPad, which allows executives and managers who spend a large portion of their time away from their desks to have access to the information they need in a timely and contextual fashion, and lets them interact with the data to gain deeper understanding of underlying causes and potential outcomes. (My colleague Mark Smith covered mobile business intelligence in this blog.)
Release 10.0 includes the Disclosure Management application, which enables companies to automate the process of preparing external financial reports and regulatory disclosures. This capability will aid the increasing number of public companies in the U.S. that need to file their financial statements with a more complete set of eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) tags that I already assessed on the importance of automating. Companies can save considerable time using the software by systematizing their data collection, using workflows for managing the assembly of the text that goes into these filings, applying tags to text and data (if necessary) and automating the assembly of text and numbers in the exact format required. Automating this process gives executives more time to review filings and lessens the risk of reporting errors by changing mainly manual processes into a more systematized one. Performing this work in-house rather than outsourcing it gives companies greater control over the process and likely will save them a considerable amount of time following a relatively short learning curve. I provided some insight on this advancement when SAP acquired software assets for this new offering that has now come to market.
The current release builds enhanced enterprise risk management procedures into the overall performance management process. Outside of financial services, few companies explicitly quantify risk in their planning and performance assessment processes. Too often, managers are evaluated solely on productivity measures and therefore can be given disincentives to weigh risk factors. These risks may be well understood by business unit and divisional managers but are almost never communicated to senior executives. As I noted in a previous blog, this gives rise to agency risk within a company.
Although almost every company is mindful of achieving its profitability objectives, many fall short in coordinating the actions of their various silos and operating units to optimize the trade-offs they must make, especially as events unfold after the annual planning process. Profitability management enables senior executives to analyze and assess alternatives and optimize these trade-offs.
EPM 10 continues the necessary evolution of the financial performance management suite. It’s not necessary for finance organizations to manage performance and core finance operations using software from a single vendor (and most don’t). However, suites give companies the option of doing so, which can be a less costly way of buying and maintaining this functionality. Finance organizations looking at a consistent user experience and technology for GRC will find SAP BusinessObjects GRC 10 is empowered by SAP EPM 10 capabilities.
Today, technology is pushing a fundamental shift in how companies use financial performance management software. The increasing availability of in-memory computing (HANA in SAP’s case, which my colleague David Menninger discussed in his blog), cloud computing and mobile devices enables a fundamental shift from today’s once-a-month, accounting-based rear-view-mirror approach to assessing performance via an anywhere, anytime interactive view that blends financial and operating results and provides a richer, more accurate measure of results. In fact my colleague at SAPPHIRE NOW 2011 user conference has already seen how SAP was demonstrating a new dynamic cash flow management on SAP HANA to help advance the efficiency of accounting and financial operations.
I recommend that organizations considering any component of a financial performance management suite should include SAP BusinessObjects EPM 10 in their list of products to investigate. This application suite can clearly help finance and is a better path than doing what I call the ERP forklift migration
Robert Kugel – SVP Research