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True Tales Of Performance Management 2

Public and private enterprises no longer have time to wade through cumbersome spreadsheets. Discussions with users reveal that performance management dashboards offer more than just a pretty face: They form a better context for running the business.
The heart of PM is superior decision-making, which has brought an urgent business context to BI and data integration implementation. BI, like all enterprise application software industries, has its dirty little "shelfware" secret. Too much of the stuff was bought on promise and hype and never deployed fully - or at all, in some cases. Web-based PM dashboards and portals, giving a broader group of users the right level of access and analysis capabilities, have brought renewed life to long-standing infrastructure efforts to upgrade data-driven decision-making.

"Basically, we use the notion of Web services and service-oriented architecture to give users what they need," said Danny Siegel, senior manager of Business Technology at Pfizer. "We separate business logic and the data and can propagate to any consumer system that requires either." Siegel's goal has been to move as much as possible out of the world of SQL syntax and materialized views to "let people come, in a parameterized fashion, and say I need this, that, and the other thing, and here's my user ID and security profile. With XML, we can send back to them documents that they can parse and load."

Data integration and mapping the metrics properly is where most of the complexity lies, Siegel said. Pfizer is a customer of Ascential Software's integration products. The new approach to the front end, however, has given users greater flexibility to modify their business logic, while relying on "a single place that houses key data assumptions," Siegel said. "If you want to create a spreadsheet, that's fine, but don't bake your assumptions into the spreadsheet! The assumptions will be baked into the data and uniformly accessible by your peers."

Many organizations are looking at PM as a way to improve decision-making in their networks of partners and suppliers. CSK Auto, an enormous U.S. retailer of automotive parts and accessories, uses MicroStrategy tools to manage the performance of its vendors and stores. "Visibility is crucial," said David Waxberg, director of BI at CSK Auto. "If we see that products are coming into our stores late, we can discover the reason. It may not be the vendor's fault. And then we can see how the scorecard looks after we've done something to remedy the situation."

Sharing the Wealth

For many organizations, PM is simply about unleashing the power of information resources, which have heretofore been locked up in proprietary systems with few eyes able to view them. La Suisse Insurance, part of the mammoth Suisse Life, chose to move away from an Excel spreadsheet-based system and instead use Spotfire's DecisionSite software to bring data from mainframe operational systems into a graphical interface that has proven popular with sales representatives and branch office users. An urgent need to control and cut costs motivated the change and is the main objective behind the PM interface and metrics.

"I can tell you that when I came here, I found 23 different definitions of a premium," said Gabriel Fuchs, leader of La Suisse's project. "Nobody could explain what eight of them meant. Now, through a standard interface, everyone, not just power users, gets the same view of the data, the definitions, and the KPIs. Reports that used to take three months to produce now take 10 minutes." Figure 1 shows an example of La Suisse's dashboard.

As PM reaches the mainstream in organizations, analysis will grow more sophisticated, drawing from a wider array of information resources. New and unusual observations will bubble up through the dashboards. Fuchs, for example, discovered that Switzerland's German-speaking customers "are very good at paying their life insurance premiums every year." French-speaking customers, on the other hand, "are much better at paying their car insurance. One gets the impression that life is more important in the German-speaking areas, while cars more important in French-speaking areas."

Without doubt, upon the wings of such observations, new business opportunities will emerge.

Editor's Choice
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing