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Brains of business

Brains of business

Enterprises find business performance management applications are key to gain efficiencies, improve decision-making and retain their competitive edge.

An enterprise is defined by its unique business processes that also provide it with competitive advantage. These processes can give firms the ability to satisfy and retain customers and retain customers, maximise partnerships with other businesses and out-execute competitors. Business performance management (BPM) is the automation and coordination of the countless assets and tasks that make up an organisation's business processes. These assets and tasks can be internal or external to organisations.

Effective BPM requires the coordination of people and information technology assets both inside businesses and within its network of customers and partners.

The related business intelligence is either a set of business processes, or a technology used in these processes, aiming to help a business gain competitive advantage through better marketing, decision-making or some other core competency.

Persons involved in BI processes may use application software to gather, store and analyse such data to help the firm make better business decisions by making accurate, current and relevant information available.

Similarly, business performance management offers software-orientated business intelligence systems that some see as a new generation of business intelligence, though most people use these terms interchangeably.

IDC forecasts a 17 per cent compounded annual growth until 2009 for the BI/BPM market in the Asia-Pacific region. Major vendors include Microsoft, Hyperion Solutions, Cognos, Business Objects, SAP and Oracle.

Gartner Research says the global BI market is worth more than US$2 billion, with growth fuelled by SMBs also automating their processes. Further growth is also expected but traditional BI vendors like Business Objects will face competition from non-traditional vendors like Microsoft and SAP.

Management dashboards

For the Port of Napier, the management dashboards provided by its BPM system are crucial for its operations which handle more than 125,000 containers a year.

The company began using Crystal Reports in the late 90s, before upgrading to Business Objects X1, following the latter's takeover of Crystal in 2003.

"We have moved from pure reporting, through the sharing of information throughout our organisation, to the deployment of external portals and complex management dashboards that let us operate the port to maximum efficiency and to make the best use of our assets," says Steve Johansen, CIO, Port of Napier. Shipping operator P&O recently audited the port and found its systems error-free.

Two years ago, Johansen says the port decided to stay with Business Objects after assessing rival systems. As well as providing the port with management and organisational tools such as daily container stock and operational reports, the Business Objects deployment enables customers to log in and track shipments as they progress through the port.

"Business Objects X1 also allows us to take data from third parties and our customers incorporate it with our trans-actional data and deliver a more detailed and accurate picture of our customers' business back to them," says Johansen.

The software lets customers gain access to competitive data such as their market share of freight through the port and ship turnaround times, and acts as an automatic auditing tool for the port, tracking containers and ensuring that any required actions are carried out. Thus, if a container of meat needs constant freezing, an electrician will be alerted about this.

Johansen says the system has returned its original investment "many times over", including delaying a much heralded port expansion for several years as BI enabled the operation to run more efficiently.

Now, the $20 million port expansion is going ahead, and Business Objects will also be used in that project to monitor its KPIs and as a governance tool to ensure processes remain on track and on budget.

Johansen adds Business Objects is simply evolving "a great product" that is used across his business and with hindsight, he doubts anything would have been done differently.

"We specifically went out of our way to ensure that we would not have to build any data warehouses to implement the solution. This sped the process of actual implementation up immensely and ensured our data is reasonably clean at source."

Streamlining processes

New Zealand Crane Hire and parent company New Zealand Group Holdings (NZGH) this year adopted SAP Business One to streamline business processes related to financial, asset and customer management across the group.

NZGH, which employs 60 staff and has over 250 cranes and similar heavy equipment, overhauled its current processes to gain visibility into real-time business performance, improve operational efficiency and establish financial controls.

With implementation partner Enprise, a customised job-costing module was also created for quotes, contracts and time management and scheduling company resources.

Director Deane Manley says the new system has 25 users (including accounts staff, salespeople, purchasers and mechanics) for all company functions ranging from CRM to finance and HR.

Previously, NZGH had diverse systems, such as ACT! for CRM, Accredo for accounting and many in-house systems. SAP replaced these independent systems, and was able to pull the data together for the different functions across the group.

NZGH chose SAP in February this year when the company had decided it wanted a new system and liked what it saw at an SAP presentation.

"I like that we are working with a huge organisation that continues to invest in its product. We needed a basic all round system that does all the general things well and won't blow up when we push it and add users," explains Manley.

NZGH believes that with the system reflecting its processes, the business can spend more time with customers. This is aided by SAP tagging data all the way through, avoiding repetitive data input.

"It also gives you a more visible picture of customers and business suppliers across the whole group. It enables you to see what you've spent across the whole group - instead of having to look at five different systems," continues Manley.

The implementation is ongoing, and NZGH is working with staff regarding the shift to the new systems. He likens the project to buying a crane, saying it too, must deliver a business return.

Now halfway through the implementation, NZGH believes it should have put more resources into the implementation to enjoy quicker benefits. Thus it now has a full-time staff member involved to speed up the process.

Manley advises people not to under-estimate the planning process but accept their business processes won't be too different from other firms and they won't have to re-invent the wheel.

"When you make such a dramatic change in your business systems, you have the opportunity to change people's behaviours and you can do it a lot faster. If you try to change behaviours with existing systems, people can go back to the security blanket of the old system. With a new system, people have to accept it's changed and get on with it - that follows through to customers and suppliers as well as staff."

The depth to deliver

The New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) recently rolled out SMART reporting from Cognos to all its stations and business users. The project aimed to bring together data from various systems for monthly HR, finance, incidents, training and reports. Previously, these data were extracted from spreadsheets and integrated into a final report. But with the shift to SMART, the data collection and integration are now automated.

NZFS manager Malcolm McFarlane says the company liked Cognos' metrics/ scorecarding ability, its reporting framework and exception reporting. For instance, an annual statistics book which took four to six months to compile has been supplemented by an online nightly report, which now details individual transactions rather than national totals.

Gas and electricity distributor Vector this year has also rolled out Gentrack for Networks software package to handle billing and reconciliation for its 725,000 electricity and gas customers.

Developed by Auckland-based Talgentra, the software assesses charges for residential connections, plus Vector's commercial and industry customers.

Previously, Vector used several disparate systems developed in-house but the company lacked the support skills to upgrade them. Thus, Vector documented its needs, went through an RFP process and made a decision based on requirements fit, credibility of vendor and best value proposal.

Vector information services manager Nigel Bonser says Talgentra's software fit the company's processes and any differences were easily addressed by Talgentra. The implementation was smooth and regular face-to-face meetings between Vector and Talgentra nipped any problems in the bud.

Now, Vector says it is satisfied with the single system for automating the high level of data exchange between all of its retailer customers that include Mercury, Contact and Genesis.

Bonser advises: "Pick a vendor who really knows its business and has the depth to deliver. You too, also need to know your business. Your chosen vendor/business partner cannot reasonably hope to please you if you don't know what you want!"

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