CRM has become a core application for businesses and we have already seen that Sales Force Automation and Marketing Automation functions have been quickly incorporated along with Business Intelligence. All of these can use the same or linked tables to provide a 360 degree view of the sales and marketing process. However, today, we have finally come to a place where it should be easy enough for SMBs to plan and execute business strategy using a structured performance management system, like the Balanced Scorecard. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be a standard part of the application architecture as should a meta-directory of KPIs that all applications can access. To measure the effectiveness of Sales, Marketing, Operations, and industry-specific activities, each area should have standard metrics and access to benchmark data that lets the SMB know how they are doing compared to peers, but rather than only using historical data it should be based on forward-looking objectives (leading indicators) that are tied directly or indirectly to activities designed to ultimately improve financial results. SMBs are seriously interested in measuring elusive objectives like Return on Marketing Investment, Optimal Pricing, Cost of Acquisition, Lifetime Customer Value. They want integrated applications that can not only measure these objectives but also be able to optimize effectively. This is what we call the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM).
For EPM applications to be really effective, they should be able to collect data from all applications and break into several areas; for people, productivity should be monitored through activity and results (as it already is in the new generation of SaaS applications), and effectiveness of software and equipment should be measured through algorithms that follow click paths, analyze application usage, optimize the process flow and usability of the systems. In some cases, like network optimization, filtering potential employees and ecommerce, systems should optimize themselves and human intervention should only be required when something is way outside the parameters defined by the administrator – who may increasingly be the LOB management.
With the EPM (Enterprise Performance Management) system SMBs will have a new attitude and culture that values and uses data visualization as the quickest way to gauge overall performance and specific areas of interest at a glance.
Most SMBs that have used CRM and ERP systems within the past few years are familiar with the dashboards that are available with many of these applications, either embedded or purchased separately. We believe that Dashboards will continue to evolve and be dynamic in several ways; the way they use data from subsystems like ecommerce and other real time feed sources, the way users can personalize the layout of their dashboards. Similarly, within the EPM, the actual KPIs should be dynamic and have the ability to build KPIs “on-the-fly” by calculating variables on the screen and saving the result in a meta-repository for all to use. It will have to become the norm.
While several SaaS vendors allow this kind of metric building and start the user at a dashboard, we have yet to see anything targeted to the mid-market or SMBs that connects the performance across front office, production, fulfillment and customer service. NetSuite does it to some extent almost out of the box. The market has to catch up. While this level of functionality is an excellent target, small businesses can probably get by with a good understanding of leads, opportunities, customers, invoicing, billing and customer service (or the appropriate subset) by integrating together several applications from different IT vendors. But the need for EPM is genuine and the industry has to quickly design solutions to empower SMBs with enterprise-level EPM technology at an affordable price.