Corporate performance management tomorrow, Data Shadow Systems today

Earlier this year, at the

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2006 Gartner Business Intelligence Conference, I heard a market prediction that made me wonder if industry-watchers are focusing too far into the future at the expense of solving real problems today. It went something like this:

Corporate performance management (CPM) will become pervasive in companies by 2012.

On one hand, this is a positive sign. Our industry has finally progressed to the point where it's apparent that data warehousing and business intelligence must merge to become corporate management's "killer app." Measuring the performance of the enterprise expeditiously and acting intelligently on that information is exactly what our DW/BI efforts have been trying to accomplish for years. CPM is going to be the umbrella application that enables it.

On the other hand, there's a downside to this prediction. The consultant in me has to ask the obvious question: "What about now? What do I tell my business customers to do until 2012?"

There's a natural tendency for people to believe that the "next big thing," in this case CPM, will solve their data-integration challenges without requiring them to make any other fundamental changes. But this is naïve, and assumes that companies' data landscapes are a lot simpler than they really are. While CPM will likely provide the business intelligence and analytic capabilities enterprises need, it's not a magic fix for underlying data integration that supports those capabilities.

So why are companies pinning their hopes on CPM if it won't be pervasive for several years? Some think that business users are still waiting for their IT departments to give them the technology they need to measure business performance and make business decisions.

Earth to IT: your business users are already measuring performance and making business decisions. They are not waiting for CPM to debut. Business people have heard promises about the "single version of the truth" for years. Sure, they want to achieve it. But the reality is that in the meantime they have to do the best they can with what they have.

So they are building Data Shadow SystemsSM, which are groups of spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel) and local databases (Microsoft Access or Microsoft SQL Server) that gather and transform data into relevant business information that can be analyzed, reported on and used to make decisions. As these systems grow to encompass dozens or hundreds of spreadsheets and local databases, users become more dependent on them.

They may not compare in depth of functionality or sophistication when stacked against enterprise data warehouses, but data shadow systems do provide immediate and significant business benefits. And despite IT's common perception that spreadsheets are evil, they need to be incorporated into the business intelligence and CPM landscape.

2012 is pretty far into the future. Meanwhile, there's an opportunity for IT to partner with business groups today to leverage their expertise and experience with data shadow systems.

My advice: Think strategically, knowing that CPM is the future. But act tactically, realizing that the business needs to analyze and act on relevant business information today.

About the author
Rick Sherman is the founder of Athena IT Solutions, a Boston-based consulting firm that provides data warehouse and business intelligence consulting, training and vendor services. In addition to over 20 years in the business, Sherman is also a published author of more than 50 articles, an industry speaker, a DM Review World Class Solution Awards judge and a data management expert at SearchDataManagement.com. Sherman can be found blogging at The Data Doghouse and can be reached at rsherman@athena-solutions.com.

This was first published in June 2006

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