In their drive for more seats and a larger share of IT budgets, ambitious vendors of business intelligence, business process management and other enterprise applications are less shy about trespassing technology barriers. Aiming to redefine their specialties, marketers and industry analysts invent buzzwords that leave users in a fog. Suites only know expansion; fundamental architectural shifts, such as ERP's move toward service-oriented architecture, seem to leave plenty of room to incorporate all those pesky tools into one holistic entity that rules them all--someday, that is.
Confronted by his tragic incompleteness, Drake McHugh, immortalized by Ronald Reagan in the 1942 movie King's Row, cries out, "Where's the rest of me?" Faced with business challenges to connect disparate processes and align enterprise decision-making with strategic goals, companies may wonder the same thing when they try to match the buzz with the reality of their supersized BPM, BI or ERP systems. Core competencies start to matter.
To succeed, vendors and technology thought leaders must show how different kinds of solutions fit together, rather than use marketing to scramble identities for competitive purposes. In our cover story, contributing editor Bruce Silver untangles the confusion that arises when organizations try to employ business rules management and BPM (page 24). Rules management is rising in importance; companies are discovering that having rules buried in disparate applications is a drag on business agility and productivity, and a costly mess when regulators come to call. It's imperative for organizations to find the best balance between rules and process management systems so that their complementary potential isn't lost in a maze of technology turf battles.
Rules and processes must also co-exist with--and benefit from--BI. However, BI is itself in the midst of an identity expansion. Performance management is hot. Also sizzling is "operational" BI, which is about serving the needs of frontline employees, factory floor managers and others who need information to carry out actions and make immediate decisions on loan approvals and inventory, for example. Operational BI starts to blur the line between information access and analysis--and just automating decisions based on rules and predetermined thresholds.
Efforts to deploy operational BI to standardize decision-making across an enterprise could push the software beyond its core purpose of informing to managing the actions themselves. "It took us about 20 years to figure out how to separate BI and analytics from transaction systems, and now we're trying to put it all back together," says Frank Buytendijk, VP of corporate strategy at Hyperion and formerly a research VP focused on performance management at Gartner.
Buytendijk, however, doesn't believe BI should step out of its core identity. "You need information and analysis not to control the organization but to determine how you and your colleagues can execute better and develop strategy to differentiate your organization from the competition," he says. "BI gives you critical insight, but there will never be a button that says, 'save cost' and you will have saved $10 million, just like that. I find that idea dangerous; it leads to the dysfunctional behavior of running the numbers instead of running the business."
Innovation and agility depend on different software systems complementing each other. Just as the human body is composed of connected but distinct systems with different purposes, so is an enterprise's software ecosystem. In the rush to consolidate, don't leave out what might be vital.
David Stodder is the editorial director and editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise. Write to him at [email protected].