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Organizations succeed through continuous planning to achieve high levels of performance. For most organizations planning is not an easy process to conduct. Planning software is typically designed for only a few people in the process, such as analysts, or organizations might use spreadsheets, which are not designed for business planning across an organization. Most technologies only allow you to examine the past and not plan for the future. For decades organizations have tried to focus planning on driving better results through higher participation, but they have usually failed, as technology has not advanced enough to support this business need.

Tidemark has been working to help organizations plan and perform more VR_2012_TechAward_Winner_Logoeffectively across business, including finance and operational areas. My colleague Robert Kugel a year ago analyzed the launch of the company. Last fall it came to market with generally available applications that operate across the web and mobile technology. They are designed for business but also illustrate my point about business leading the way to cloud computing. Ventana Research awarded Tidemark our 2012 Technology Innovation Award for Finance, as the company’s efforts make finance more effective and smarter in business planning operations. Tidemark’s focus on the user experience engages users with easy–to-read metrics. The software’s ability to update the plan and let users collaborate has gained it attention from organizations looking for a better approach to planning. Early customers such as Acosta, Chuck E. Cheese’s and G&K have validated its premise of a smarter way for organizations to manage performance through analytics and planning designed for everyone in business.

Using dedicated applications to support a business process like planning is a smart idea. Our recent research into business planning vr_bti_br_whats_important_in_choosing_technologyfound that organizations that use dedicated applications report a level of accuracy of 86 percent, compared to those using spreadsheets at 60 percent. Increasing the accuracy of the plan was the top item (47%) where change could improve the value of the financial and business planning process. More importantly, 82 percent of organizations using dedicated applications indicate they have all or most of the numbers for aligning performance through planning, compared with 39 percent of those using spreadsheets. Businesses struggle to blend planning and business analytics. Integrated business planning that encompasses every department should be available for any range of customer, operational, financial, HR, sales and revenue-related needs.

Tidemark focuses on usability, which our research into business technology innovation found to be very important in 64 percent of organizations, higher than any other evaluation criteria. Its metrics and planning processes are easy for people to read, view and understand, unlike today’s typical mashup of email messages, presentations and spreadsheets, or attempts to push a set of standard charts into a dashboard view, which I have already said to be pathetic.

The new Spring 2013 release is the company’s next major product milestone. It introduces the ability to present analytics and metrics in what the company calls Tidemark Storylines – visual business-focused infographics that are dynamically created to interpret and present information about the business in a past, present and future approach that I have not seen in a product to date. Beyond this tool to help inform business and provide better methods to interpret the data, Tidemark has enhanced the business modeling capabilities that make this all possible, and this is what business analysts will love about the product. By using driver-based planning and other important approaches, the application can help provide a unified view of actual and plan data along with business charts to let users examine what changes are needed or envision what-if scenarios. Addressing one of my personal rants over the last decade, the software’s English statements on the analysis and analytic computations (metric or key indicator) make it easier to understand what you are examining, and you can change a statement to drive the presentation of the analytics. Tidemark’s focus on the visual presentation of business analytics goes well beyond that of the majority of technology suppliers in the market today. It takes only a couple of minutes of seeing the application to understand how the intuitive and interactive charts tell the business story and don’t just present the numbers.

This new release provides advancements in collaboration, vr_ngbi_br_benefits_realized_from_collaborative_biwith annotation and collaborative methods built in as part of the application. For years IT analysts have failed to understand that collaboration is the essence of what people do every day to drive improvement, and what those held accountable for business actually need. Our technology innovation research found collaboration to be the second most important priority after analytics, and having collaboration embedded within applications was the preferred method in 43 percent of organizations, over use of Microsoft Office or standalone tools. Tidemark provides collaboration within the context of the analytics and plan. It is able to integrate a range of comments or a document relevant to the analytics. It can securely store content to help with the need for disclosures, or any level of secured document storage, through a partnership with Box. Our recent research into next-generation business intelligence found that by using collaborative methods, organizations improve decision-making and have better communications than those that do not. I would assume that every organization would like these types of benefits for their business.

The next largest advancement is in how Tidemark allows for rapid configuration to make the application quick to deploy and use for a wide range of analytics and planning needs, no matter how strategic or operational they might be for an organization. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach; the Tidemark application can be adapted easily for any business process or planning needs.

vr_bti_br_technology_innovation_prioritiesAs organizations begin to realize the drawbacks of using spreadsheets and legacy applications not designed for the planning and performance processes, they will find that almost half (47%) can get to the details faster with dedicated applications compared to those that use spreadsheets alone (21%) or those that use spreadsheets with other applications (16%).  Respondents in our recent benchmark research in business technology innovation ranked business analytics their top priority (39%), in part for their importance in business planning. As organizations look at how to get better at strategic and long-range planning, they need to ensure they spend the right amount of time, as my colleague eloquently points out.

Tidemark partners with Workday to provide its products integrated with Workday’s HR and accounting applications that operate in the cloud, which are rapidly replacing on-premises ERP implementations. Tidemark also takes advantage of big data related to unstructured content using new technologies like its partner Cloudera.

Just investing in business analytics to analyze the past is not sufficient for achieving higher levels of performance. Without planning it is hard to determine what business should do to improve. Tidemark uses cloud computing and mobile technology in a unique way to advance business planning across the enterprise, and is worth your time to evaluate. Tidemark provides a strong foundation, but it should provide easier access for people to try the application for a short period of time, as I believe that once organizations try it, many will become customers. Tidemark can help meet organizations’ planning and performance needs and determine how a business can reach its full potential with its new and innovative release.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

The recent buzz around business analytics has generated resurgent conversation about what businesses need from their data to optimize business processes and make better decisions. Our benchmark research on business analytics in more than 2,500 organizations produced unprecedented information about business and IT usage and competency with analytics. It confirmed that effective use of business analytics requires a balance of people and skills, processes, information and technology not just to provide capabilities but also to engage business analysts and users across the organization. The research also identified significant challenges facing organizations in terms of inefficient analytics processes and ineffective technology. 

Making the most of business analytics means enabling the business analysts who support the departments and processes of the line of business. These individuals and teams may be found in finance, operations, the supply chain, sales, customer service, marketing and other areas; in each they are the ones accountable for using analytics to determine the metrics and key indicators that they need to present to management and collaborate closer together. These individuals usually work with their IT organizations for data access, but in some larger organizations they work with line-of-business technology groups. In recent years businesses have hired data-focused analysts to support their thirst for analytics across a range of data and sources.  

Unfortunately, many IT departments are unable to provide automated data feeds fast enough to support the analysts, and that creates gaps in the analytic process. Our research found this to be a serious issue, as people spend 69 percent of their analytics time in data-related tasks, not only preparing data and reviewing it for quality and consistency but also just waiting for the data. This leaves too little time for analytic tasks such as determining root causes of issues, assembling scenarios for analysis and determining the impact to business from planned changes. The best path forward is to ensure that these data-related activities are automated or streamlined to meet the business analytic needs. In addition, IT should spend less time trying to dumb down and standardize delivery of data through business intelligence and spend more cycles helping business analysts get the data at the frequency they need. In other words, IT needs more focus on data governance, which our benchmark found to be critical to bring data integration, data quality and master data management into a single, standard process. 

Beyond the data gap in business analytics, the analysts have to deal with the issue of what technology they use to conduct analytics. As technology spending has gotten more controlled, centralized and standardized in IT organizations, fewer organizations have purchased specifically tailored analytics tools. Instead, our research shows more use of spreadsheets; they’re the most often used technology in 60 percent of organizations, followed by business intelligence in 49 percent. Line of business or analyst-specific software is used in less than 20 percent of organizations. It is clear that this has to change, as more than half (55%) of organizations are dissatisfied with their analytics process, saying it is hard to build and maintain and too slow. Well, that is what you get with spreadsheets, along with disorganized business processes.  

What do business analysts need from their analytics technologies? Our benchmark research found the top request was access to source data for analytics (52%), followed closely by the ability to take action on the outcome of analytics (47%), the ability to design and maintain the business model (42%) and to quickly generate presentations and other analytics reports (41%). These might sound straightforward, but it’s not if you are using Microsoft Excel, and it’s even worse in a shared work environment. A growing base is looking for analytics to be delivered in an on-demand, software-as-a-service mode (27%), though more than half (52%) of organizations still prefer the status quo of buying and installing software on-premises.  

All of this leads me to urge analysts to stand up and demand the tools they need to be more efficient in their analytic modeling and planning. Ask yourself how easily can you make changes to your analytics model and recalculate a forecast that links to the integrated business plan? Can you adjust and decrease a metric such as days sales outstanding (DSO) by one day to see the impact on cash flow in the business? Can you adjust the sales and operational plan by adjusting the forecast by one day? You should be able to make these and other model and variable updates in minutes, not days, and be able to share the results with others to determine actions and outcomes. Knowing that you can do the what-if and planning based analytics should be easy and straight forward. 

At the same time, the speed at which analytics get computed and information generated needs to improve, and the assembly and deployment to business users must be made more efficient. Our research found that businesses want the basics; searching for specific answers was the top priority of 83 percent, who deemed it important or very important. Also important is exploring the data underlying analytics through drilling and navigation, cited by 78 percent of organizations. These are not standard functionality in spreadsheets, presentations and documents, and not what you get in reports or most dashboards.  

Our research indicates that the more innovative the organization, the more sophisticated the results. We performed our own root-cause diagnostic on these mature organizations and found that they have automated the data aspects of business analytics from data access to data quality. They also are able to generate more sophisticated analytics and metrics, and perform more frequent reviews. These organizations also foster great relationships between their analysts and their IT teams, which work collaboratively on business analytics. These organizations are also the ones expanding their deployments to smartphones and tablets, integrating forecasting and planning and using predictive analytics. 

The time has come for business analysts to lead the fight to improve business analytics to ensure their organizations have the information they need. Instead of having silos of reports, dashboards, spreadsheets and other data points, organizations need unified analytics and planning capabilities built into a common set of technology using a sophisticated modeling for representing the business and integrating data efficiently. Our recent business intelligence and performance management benchmark research found that this need to bring analytics and planning together is a top priority in more mature, sophisticated organizations.  

So put the uncontrolled use of spreadsheets into the box it came out of and focus on working together to ensure that business analytics is like any business process – documented and automated to meet the majority of an organization’s needs. Look for simple and sophisticated means for analysts to work together on the business analytics journey and ensure you vocalize your needs for better investments. If you are not sure if you have the business analytics you need, let me know. The self-assessment is easy, but planning to adapt and change, well, that might take some work. 

Regards, 

Mark Smith 

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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