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Doing one’s homework is vital in buying business software. However, unless you’re replacing a relatively simple application, it’s hard to know exactly what to evaluate. Indeed, if people in a company given this task don’t have experience in using a specific type of business application or don’t understand how new or improved functionality will help execute business processes better, they may do a poor job of assessing the available alternatives. Third-party consultants may be helpful, but their prejudices and familiarity with a vendor’s products may cloud their objectivity. In the end, a buyer might agree with their point of view, but this agreement should be an informed decision.

Smart organizations turn to the Web to do their initial investigation before talking to consultants or vendors. They can benefit from a wealth of free white papers, webinars, blogs and other sources that lay out specific points to consider, descriptions and evaluations of vendors, consultants’ viewpoints and other helpful facts and opinions.

There’s another source I found in my research into business software and the business issues that surround its use. Although patent office documents may look like bedtime reading for insomniacs, there are times when they are a surprisingly good source of information and insight. For example, here are three that I recommend for prospective buyers of price and revenue optimization (PRO) software:

Check out the description sections of the patents filed in this area because they provide a concise summary of what the software does and how it does it. Software patents do not necessarily indicate that a vendor has an absolute advantage or a better product than other software vendors. Moreover, as PRO software vendor PROS Pricing’s latest 10-K filing states in its risks section, “The patent position of technology-oriented companies, including ours, is generally uncertain and involves complex legal and factual considerations.”

Nevertheless, the patent descriptions and accompanying figures provide a good high-level summary of the basics of price optimization software and the process it’s designed to support. I don’t want to suggest that each document is comprehensive or that subject-matter experts would agree with every assertion. Still, some statements – such as “in B2B markets, reliable price control and management systems may be significantly more complex and more important than price optimization modules” – are on the mark and provide readers with useful perspective on the scope of the solution required and the business processes necessary to achieve the desired results.

In addition to the three vendors mentioned above, other suppliers of price optimization software include Model NNavettiNomis SolutionsOracleServigisticsSignal DemandVistaar Technologies and Zilliant.

For those who wish to dig deeper, I recommend Robert Phillips’ Pricing and Revenue Optimization, which provides an introduction to the theory and application of pricing and revenue optimization as well as its conceptual framework.

Price optimization is a potentially powerful tool for many companies in many industries, yet it is has not been widely adopted. One reason may be that it requires a concerted, strategic effort as I discussed in an earlier blog. Yet especially when it is linked with the appropriate sales incentives, I believe it can deliver a sustainable competitive advantage for companies in a variety of retail, industrial and financial services businesses. Senior executives – CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and heads of sales – should familiarize themselves with PRO, both the business discipline and the information technology that supports it. More powerful technology and the declining cost of business computing are making PRO solutions more available to a wider set of organizations. It could be a big help for your company.

Best regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research

I believe that one of the more important analytical applications that a company can implement is profitability management. IBM Cognos offers Profitability Modeling and Optimization as part of its Cognos 10 offering that my colleague has assessed. As I’ve noted, most people in a corporation are focused on profitability, but not necessarily in a way that optimizes results across the organization in a day-to-day, consistent fashion. Those responsible for each component piece that contributes to profitability (such as departments, product lines or divisions) have objectives, but in pursuing these individual objectives they may make decisions that degrade the overall profitability of the corporation. Moreover, companies rarely seek to maximize short-term profits. They routinely make decisions that diminish their bottom line, such as promotional pricing, warranties or services included at no additional cost, with the aim of achieving strategic objectives. The question they must answer in making these decisions is whether these moves are justified. Similarly, they also must ask what they are including in their offer that they might be able to charge more for, such as shipping or warranties.

The IBM Profitability Modeling and Optimization analytical application gives companies the ability to accurately model the dimensions of profitability (by product, customer or channel, for example) in a consistent fashion. They can model the business to be able to reflect its true economic costs and see how changes in offer structure, pricing or cost components can affect profitability. The application’s in-memory processing gives users the ability to explore scenarios in an interactive fashion, encouraging more productive decision-making sessions. Executives and managers can brainstorm and then see the impact of various strategies. Properly constructed, the models will enable decision-makers to see all of the operational and financial consequences of a set of activities. They can easily integrate IBM’s SPSS analytics to do sophisticated historical analyses to determine if there are relevant patterns, correlations or market segmentation opportunities that they should consider.

The Profitability Modeling and Optimization application is aimed at a broad set of industries, but it has a solid base of customers in banking and financial services and includes specialized capabilities for these types of users. For example, the software can calculate retail and commercial bank customer profitability or branch performance. It can determine profitability by account and aggregate these across customer, household, branch, region and channel. It incorporates predictive analytics to segment customers with the objective of improving retention of valued customers and increasing customer satisfaction. And it can support pricing decisions for credit or noncredit products on a daily basis.

Of course, software is only one part of the effort required to manage profitability. The people dimension can be difficult to handle if the organization does not explicitly vest responsibility for managing enterprise profitability at a senior level. The company also must have people with the analytical capacity to create and maintain accurate models. Since business is not static, any profitability management process must be ongoing and performed in an interactive fashion – hence the need for an analytics tool that offers this capability and scales to a company’s requirements. And accurate and timely data must be readily available for analysis.

Profitability management with the objective of optimizing profitability is a discipline that few companies employ well. I think one reason has been the difficulty of executing the process in a way that conforms to how businesses operate. If the cycles of model, analyze and review take too long (which they are likely to if they’re not interactive), results can be difficult to justify. Today’s business environments are dynamic, so the value of decisions related to pricing, promotions and offers can severely diminish if it takes weeks or even days to explore scenarios, assess options and decide on a course of action. I assert that corporations should make profitability management a core competence and devote the resources necessary to master it. I recommend that companies looking for a tool to support a profitability management effort should consider IBM Cognos 10 for this as well as other performance management requirements.

Best regards,

Robert Kugel – SVP Research

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