Research@DBTA: The Challenge to Delivering a Complete Picture of the Business

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Many organizations now have, in their possession, the sophisticated analysis tools and dashboards that connect to back-end systems and enable them to peer deeply into their businesses to assess progress on all fronts-from revenues to stock outs to employee performance. However, a recent survey of 279 Oracle applications managers reveals that when it comes to decision making, simple spreadsheets still remain the tool of choice. And business users still wait days, weeks, and months for their IT departments to deliver reports, despite significant investments in performance management systems.

Why? Because, executives and managers state, the analysis tools that are chosen by their IT departments are reportedly too hard to use and, despite their vaunted back-end connectivity, still won't give them a complete picture of their business from a myriad of data sources. Spreadsheets are still seen as a quick way to circumvent the heavy-duty analysis systems that are under the domain of IT departments.

Add to this the continued cautious IT spending that has resulted in a mixed picture for performance management analytics. Some organizations are ramping up performance management efforts to meet increased competitive challenges; others face budget issues. In close to one-third of the respondents' companies (32%), there has been increased demand for better tracking of business intelligence (BI) and performance analytics. About the same percentage report decreased corporate support for such efforts. Of course, any economic downturn that organiztions may have felt has not provided relief from growing issues with the timeliness of information. Many decision makers also continue to face problems with the completeness of their information.

To track the adoption of performance management, the survey was conducted this spring among members of the Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG) by Unisphere Research, a division of Information Today, Inc. The study, the third in a series, was conducted in partnership with IBM Cognos.

Performance management-also often referred to as "corporate performance management"-leverages BI, enterprise planning, and analytic application software and services to help companies plan, understand, and manage financial and operational performance. The approach links business strategy to metrics, analytics, and reporting options and typically provides validated and weighted information to decision makers through dashboards or portals.

Overall, the survey finds rising interest in performance management approaches since the previous survey was conducted in early 2009, but many obstacles still impede progress.

For example, the difficulties and time lags in securing the right information helps perpetuate a spreadsheet analysis culture. Spreadsheets even dominate decision making at companies with relatively robust performance management systems within Oracle applications sites.

While decision makers are being inundated with information, and having a difficult time sifting through data to find the right nuggets of information relevant to the state of their business, their business intelligence and analytics systems sit on the sidelines. At this time, in fact, a spreadsheet culture still dominates, the survey finds. Currently, among more than two out of three of the Oracle applications users surveyed, employees rely on spreadsheets "almost all of the time" or "most of the time" to conduct analyses on their businesses.

In many cases, spreadsheets are still regarded as an important tool for enabling end users to slice and dice and dissect corporate data. At least 42% of the respondents say spreadsheets provide a great deal of functionality that is required for developing data for decision making. Plus, pointed out by more than one-third of respondents, spreadsheets don't require as much training as more robust enterprise BI or performance management tools.

About a quarter of respondents say that spreadsheets help end users quickly get at specific data sources that may or may not be accessible via an enterprise tool.

Barely a handful of organizations in the survey have attained robust "performance management-driven cultures" at this time, defined as having tools and solutions widely available across their organizations. Organizations that have taken the lead with self-service and accessibility of performance management data have fewer issues with IT report burdens than the overall survey group of Oracle enterprise applications sites.

However, even for the more than nine out of 10 companies that have robust enterprise performance management or BI interfaces, spreadsheets still play a supporting role. In fact, in two out of three cases, users access the performance management system for the right data, and then dump the data into spreadsheets to conduct further analysis.

There are positive glimmers coming out of the survey data, however. For example, support is growing toward enabling end users to build their own interfaces to performance management information.Greater end user self-service is also seen as the best way to proliferate and promote these solutions among Oracle applications users.   

For more information about this OAUG ResearchLine study, visit the OAUG website.