Lets cut to the chase: The business intelligence we rely on as enterprises to perform better can suck at times. I remember a famous dot com era business systems accomplishment that was touted up and down silicon valley. I paraphrase but it went something like this: “Cisco has the ability to do a virtual close on its books every night. That’s real time IT enabled management”. Well, fat lot of good that did with respect to anticipating the coming economic nosedive and preparing accordingly. Just like everyone else, Cisco stock fell from a high of about $80/share to under 20 bucks. This isn’t a ding against Cisco. Many organizations did the best they could to be operationally efficient with the tools and process thinking available at the time.
Our ability to track, forecast, measure, analyze and then tune or change course has been a wild west effort for a long time. For a number of primary reasons:
1. The intelligence we need is often in the wrong hands. By being top loaded primarily for the management ranks, we still faced the same down stream do-something-about-it execution risk.
2. Rolex watch style exclusivity for the chosen few that monitor as opposed to those that have the skill and responsibility to act and course-correct.
3. Almost zero ability to federate tough problems and let the best minds even get wind of the problem, let alone contribute to solving it.
4. And finally, business at the speed of PC access that just doesn’t cut it, especially today.
It’s as much a people and a design problem as it is a technology feat. But as I’ve said numerous times, it’s a hellava lot easier when the technology plays nice. Last week I had the opportunity to see some new enterprise performance management technology from TideMark that brings a fresh approach to an age old business problem: Really complex and expensive technology that produces reports and charts that few and sometimes the wrong people inside organizations read and react to.
Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz (investors in TideMark) characterizes the problem in a different way but it captures the essence of the fundamental change in how we need to look at the health of our businesses:
“Beyond these platform advantages, Tidemark changes the nature of data analytics by ditching the two fundamental and problematic questions on which the existing industry is based:
- What data do I have?
- What reports do I want?
The trouble with these questions is that a) it is highly unlikely that you’ve gathered all of the relevant data in the right schema and format prior to needing it, b) businesses are not best represented in reports and c) the reports generally say very little that’s interesting about the future. “
I dont cover software releases often here but this one is different. Why? Because it speaks to what you’ve read here since 2009: How performance acceleration comes from leveraging the best of structured data and insight on one had, and manipulation smarts of our employees, our customers and our partners. All in the context of a business problem or an opportunity. TideMark strives to do just this. By leveraging the efficiency and agility of the cloud and contextual collaboration, and in harmony with more current data sets that include not just critical internal data in your business systems but also pubic and public social data, they want to give you a more holistic answer to critical business questions. Not after the fact but when there is time to course correct.
TideMark seems to come at the problem with very promising elements. See what Dennis Howlett has to say about the state of financial insight, and Larry Dignan‘s take on the intricacies of Enterprise Performance Management. I distill down the value that TideMark brings, to three big elements:
1. Analytics in the hands of those that can DO something about the insight.
TideMark is designed as much for mahogany row as it is for those on the line managing critical execution and decision-making tasks. A huge distinction as compared to traditional reporting and metrics data which is limited to more senior people. Ultimately, its the store manager at Starbucks, the Factory Planner in the warehouse, and the UPS driver that can tell you how likely you are to meeting business objectives. And more important, fix the problems that can derail a business plan.
2. Collaboration at the point of context.
It fascinates me how we’ve lived such unnecessarily risky lives as business managers by limiting entire processes to a few chosen few that we think are the best people for the job, from concept to finish. The marketing expert can’t easily reach out to a product manager, the sales rep doesn’t even know who designed the products they sell. By enabling collaboration between anointed experts and the rest of the organization, we can plan and predict far more effectively. To do that we need to enable collaboration at the right points in our data consoles and our workflows. Its early days and TideMark has ways to go to enable silo-free collaboration but what is important is that they recognize the pivotal role of collaboration, enough to include it in version one. This how enterprise systems need to be built in my opinion and they have so, from the get go.
3. Designing for today’s dataset.
The public web gives you more unfiltered data on what your customers really think than we’ve ever had in the history of marketing. But to date, our collection and understanding of this data has been through brokers and manipulators of this information, and at latency levels that would just never work today (e.g. 4 months for a competitive assessment from your favorite management consultancy). Any business intelligence and performance management tool today needs to be able to take in first hand data and create insight that sits alongside what our ERP applications can tell us. That’s a true amalgamation of not just what we think about our businesses but what our customers and partners objectively think as well. Tidemark proposes to account for this holistic view.
Beyond this, they have the other elements of what makes a 21st century business application relevant, let alone useful. Device-first design to get you analytics and performance data that cannot wait till you get back to your desktop. And native integration into existing systems such as SAP and Oracle that house underlying data.
The devil is in the details but this is clear: This fight is going to be one that’s fought with knuckle-dusters. Incumbent providers such as SAP, Oracle and others have cloud based BI and EPM solutions, complete with tablet consumption abilities and an established distribution channel to boot. And we’ve already seen cloud based BI such as Lucid Era fail to get off the ground indicating that this isn’t simple. But TideMark seems to have thought through the simple elements of what makes performance management well…perform: be available where decisions need to be optimized and committed, understand the needs of public and private raw intelligence, and finally – democratize collaborative decision facilitation to get the best possible insight.
Dennis has this right. It’s early days but TideMark has the opportunity to fill the glaring void in the emerging ‘Cloud Cabal’. Salesforce.com offers CRM, the underlying force.com platform and the social layer in Chatter; Workday currently offers HCM and Financials and pipes data into and out of Chatter; Kenandy brings Supply Chain/MRP to Force.com subscribers. And now TideMark offers EPM with ready hooks into Workday.
This is one to watch.