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Are Exceptional EPM Systems the Exception?

By Gary Cokins, Founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC

Last time out I set a challenge for readers of this blog to question the performance management strategies and practices of their own organizations and executive teams. I hope you found this to be a useful and interesting exercise.

Quite naturally, many organizations over-rate the quality of their enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM / CPM) practices and systems. In reality they lack in in terms of how comprehensive and how integrated they are. For example, when you ask executives how well they measure and report either costs or non-financial performance measures, most proudly boast that they are very good. Again, this is inconsistent and conflicts with surveys where anonymous replies from mid-level managers candidly score them as “needs much improvement.”

Every organization cannot be above average!

What makes exceptionally good EPM systems exceptional?

Let’s not attempt to be a sociologist or psychologist and explain the incongruities between executives boasting superiority while anonymously answered surveys reveal inferiority. Rather let’s simply describe the full vision of an effective EPM system that organizations should aspire to.

First, we need to clarify some terminology and related confusion. EPM is neither solely a system nor solely a process. It is instead the integration of multiple managerial methods – and most of them have been around for decades arguably even before there were computers. EPM is also not just a CFO initiative with a bunch of scorecard and dashboard dials. It is much broader. Its purpose is not about monitoring the dials but rather moving the dials.

What makes for exceptionally good EPM is when multiple managerial methods are not only individually effective but also are seamlessly integrated and enhanced through embedded analytics of all flavors. Examples for using analytics to enhance EPM are to perform data segmentation, clustering, regression, and correlation analysis.

Winds section in orchestra

EPM is like musical instruments in an orchestra

I like to think of the various EPM methods as an analogy of musical instruments in an orchestra. An orchestra’s conductor does not raise their baton to the strings, woodwinds, percussion, and brass and say, “Now everyone play loud.” They seek balance and guide the symphony composer’s fluctuations in harmony, rhythm and tone.

Here are my six main groupings of the EPM methods – its musical instrument sections:

  1. Strategic planning and execution – This is where a strategy map and its associated balanced scorecard fits in. Together they serve to translate the executive team’s strategy into navigation aids necessary for the organization to fulfill its vision and mission. The executives’ role is to set the strategic direction to answer the question “Where do we want to go?” Through use of correctly defined key performance indicators (KPIs) with targets, then the employees’ priorities, actions, projects, and processes are aligned with the executives’ formulated strategy.
  2. Cost visibility and driver behavior – For commercial companies this is where profitability analysis fits in for products, standard services, channels, and customers. For public sector government organizations this is where understanding how processes consume resource expense in the delivery of services and report the costs, including the per-unit cost, of their services. Activity-based costing (ABC) principles model cause-and-effect relationships based on business and cost drivers. This involves progressive, not traditional, managerial accounting, such as ABC rather than broadly averaged cost factors applied without consideration of any causal relationships.
  3. Customer Performance – This is where powerful marketing and sales methods are applied to retain, grow, win-back, and acquire profitable, not unprofitable, customers. The tools are often referenced as customer relationship management (CRM) software applications. But the CRM data is merely a foundation. Analytical tools supported by software, that leverage CRM data can further identify actions that will create more profit lift from customers. These actions simultaneously shift customers from not only being satisfied to being loyal supporters.
  4. Forecasting, planning, and predictive analytics – Data mining typically examines historical data “through the rear-view mirror.” Then using hindsight directs attention forward to look “through the windshield”. The benefit of more accurate forecasts is to reduce uncertainty. Forecasted sales volume and mix of products and service are core independent variables. Based on these forecasts, process costs can be calculated from the required resource usage. CFOs increasingly look to driver-based budgeting and rolling financial forecasts grounded in ABC principles to determine future requirements of other dependent variables such as headcount and related spending.
  5. Enterprise risk management (ERM) – This cannot be overlooked when discussing EPM. ERM serves as a brake to the potentially unbridled gas pedal that EPM methods are designed to step on. Risk mitigation projects and insurance requires spending, therefore somewhat reducing resources that could otherwise be directed towards revenue generating activities. Many executives are resistant to anything that impacts profits – and bonuses. So it takes discipline to ensure adequate attention is placed on appropriate risk management practices.
  6. Process improvement – This is where lean management and Six Sigma quality initiatives fit in. Their purpose is to remove waste and streamline processes to accelerate and reduce cycle-times. They create productivity and efficiency improvements.

EPM as integrated suite of improvement methods

CFOs often view financial planning and analysis (FP&A) as synonymous with EPM. It is better to view FP&A as a subset. And although better cost management and process improvements are noble goals, an organization cannot reduce its costs forever to achieve long term prosperity.

The important message here is that EPM is not just about the CFO’s organization; but it is also the integration of all the often silo-ed functions like marketing, operations, sales, and strategy. Look again at the six main EPM groups I listed above. Imagine if the information produced and analyzed in each of them were to be seamlessly integrated. Imagine if they are each embedded with analytics – especially predictive analytics. Then powerful decision support is provided for insight, foresight, and actions. That is the full vision of EPM to which we should aim to aspire in order to achieve the best possible performance.

Today exceptional EPM systems are an exception despite what many executives proclaim. If we all work hard and are smart enough, in the future they will be standard practices. Then what would be next? Automated decision management systems relying on business rules and algorithms? But that is an article I will write about some other day.

In my next blog I shall change focus slightly, to look a little more deeply at the budgeting process, the challenges many organizations face in producing budgets and the possibilities for taking different approaches.

 

About the Author: Gary Cokins, CPIM

Gary_Cokins

Gary Cokins (Cornell University BS IE/OR, 1971; Northwestern University Kellogg MBA 1974) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in enterprise and corporate performance management (EPM/CPM) systems. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC www.garycokins.com . He began his career in industry with a Fortune 100 company in CFO and operations roles. Then 15 years in consulting with Deloitte, KPMG, and EDS (now part of HP). From 1997 until 2013 Gary was a Principal Consultant with SAS, a business analytics software vendor. His most recent books are Performance Management: Integrating Strategy Execution, Methodologies, Risk, and Analytics and Predictive Business Analytics.

gcokins@garycokins.com; phone +919 720 2718

http://www.garycokins.com

Linkedin.com contact: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/gary-cokins/0/15a/949.

Hear Gary share some of his thoughts concerning EPM innovations and best practices at the SAP Conference for EPM in Chicago, October 13/14, 2014