Every year, we reach out to vendors of BI, CPM and budgeting systems to see where they are headed. Last year, some of the big trendsetters were big data, mobility, cloud computing and in-memory processing. Those technologies are still very much with us. But this year, we’ll go back to basics and see whether there is a business case to invest in BI and CPM systems in the first place. \n\nFirst, what exactly do we mean by BI and CPM? \n\nBusiness intelligence (BI) is defined as transforming data into information to make decisions. It might include online analytical processing (OLAP), dashboards, scorecards, visualization (graphical representation), ad hoc query, a report writer and predictive modeling. \n\nCorporate performance management (CPM) includes consolidation, budgeting and forecasting, financial reporting, business intelligence and strategy management. CPM often includes reporting tools that would overlap with BI. As CPM incorporates business intelligence and budgeting, we are going to use CPM throughout this article to represent all the systems, even though certain vendors don’t include all CPM functionality.\nTHE SURVEY\nOur survey includes hundreds of questions about target customers, cost and features. This year, 23 vendors responded. The results are available in pdf form by clicking on the survey chart below. If you want to see how well the different systems fit your requirements, you can also complete an online survey, then view the 10 best systems for your needs at http://www.180systems.com/tools/systems-analysis-tool/cpm/. As with all our surveys, we were unable to validate the information supplied to us by the vendors. However, we don't think there will be that many intentional mistakes, partly because the vendors will lose credibility if they are caught making false claims. \n\n\nCPA Magazine 2015 Business Intelligence and Corporate Performance Management Survey Chart\nIS THERE A BUSINESS CASE?\nCPM should improve the accuracy and timeliness of reporting by making the process faster and less manual. But is that a sufficient reason to make an investment — especially when the benefits can’t be accurately quantified? Here are some other reasons to take the plunge.\nExtending the life of an ERP system: CPM can go a long way toward salvaging ERP systems that don’t work well but are not yet at the point where they need to be replaced. Many companies worry about the damage that could be done by a failed ERP implementation. During an ERP implementation, the company’s best people also get dragged away from their core responsibilities. So CPM can at least address some of the problems with a legacy ERP system.\nFor example, imagine a company in real estate that wants to analyze its business by key dimensions — not only different properties, but also property managers, owners and regions. If its ERP system is not up to the task, the company could use the CPM tool to attach different dimensions to a property and to generate financial reports by any of those dimensions.\nBringing it all together: CPM can also bridge the gap between disparate systems for different businesses that are owned by one company. For example, CPM would allow a company to consolidate trial balances from the different businesses, map different account structures and generate intercompany elimination and foreign currency translation transactions.\nImproving on Excel: CPM can reduce the time it takes to perform the tasks that are usually done usually within Excel. You might not generate a positive ROI from the savings once you factor in the cost of the system, however.\nBut there is more. When you need to do complex reporting or budgeting, you can easily run into problems with Excel:\n\n One version of the truth: you can easily end up with different results depending on the formulas or timing of the report.\n Error prone: who has not made a mistake in a formula?\n Lack of an audit trail: you cannot see what changes were made and by whom. \n Not real time: Excel reports quickly become outdated as the underlying data is changed and the Excel report is not linked.\n Reliance on one Excel guru to maintain the complex spreadsheets.\n\nSo, is there a business case for CPM? It will depend on your situation. But unless your accounting or ERP system includes some CPM functionality, it would be a good idea to explore the potential of CPM to improve your business processes and decision-making.