Building for the Future
Students explore bpm—and bring knowledge into the business world.
by Blair Campbell, May 2008
If you want to enhance your understanding of business performance management (BPM), that next-generation business intelligence (BI) approach celebrated by industry analysts, insiders, and academics alike, you need look no further than Xiao Sun's thoughtful essay on the BPM systems at work in corporate treasuries. Basing his analysis in part on his experience in the corporate treasury at General Electric (GE), Sun writes, "Quite simply, BPM is a bridge between a business's operational metrics and management, efficiently and effectively consolidating the business data from business sources and delivering the relevant and manageable metrics to management to drive strategic decision making."
Impressive and well-informed to be sure, but what executive worth his salt can't preach the gospel of getting a better, faster, more accurate picture of what's going on inside your business today? The thing is, Xiao Sun isn't an executive. He's a senior at Columbus, Ohio-based Ohio State University (OSU) who, after spending the summer of 2006 as an intern at GE, participated in a BPM-focused essay contest put on by a unique organization: the Center for Business Performance Management at OSU's Fisher College of Business. The first business school program of its kind in the United States, the Center for Business Performance Management focuses on how advances in the delivery of accurate and timely information can—and do—enhance business strategy, analysis, and management. The center came into being in the summer of 2006, thanks to a significant financial grant from Hyperion Solutions—a recognized leader in the BPM space—which Oracle acquired in early 2007.
Open for Business
The Center for Business Performance Management was the brainchild of a rising star at OSU—Joseph A. Alutto. As dean of OSU's Fisher College of Business, Alutto, who was appointed OSU's provost and executive vice president in 2007, chaired an advisory board that recommended the center's creation. Alutto and others on the board—including Jeff Rodek, then Hyperion's chairman and a Fisher College alumnus—had foreseen the value of a cross-disciplinary study of BPM through course work and research.
"One of the issues that industry has raised with schools of business is that they might be graduating students who are great at doing budgeting or planning or finance or statistical analysis, but that that's rarely done in a stovepipe fashion in industry," explains Mark Conway, director of the Alliance for Performance Leadership in Oracle's enterprise performance management division. More often, Conway says, a person in a marketing job finds himself taking on finance- and budget-oriented tasks as well as marketing, not to mention working with sales and HR. Simply put, no job is as discrete as it appears on paper, and very often there's a horizontal commingling of responsibilities.
Aware of this, Dean Alutto's advisory board encouraged him to look at horizontal approaches and initiatives that might cut across traditional boundaries and take a more multidisciplinary approach to teaching. A center within the business school was seen as an ideal solution, because it allowed the school to get around departmental structures, bring in faculty from multiple departments—accounting, management information systems, marketing, and logistics are all on board so far—and adopt a broader research agenda.
The first year of Oracle's commitment to the center largely involved the basics of getting up and running; the team primarily responsible for these tasks included the center's former executive director, Lou Straney; its academic director, Dick Dietrich; and its program director, Amanda Brahier. Together, Straney, Dietrich, and Brahier had to find space, develop a Web site, recruit key members of the Fisher College and OSU faculties, and assemble an advisory board.
The center also had to introduce faculty members and graduate students to key concepts, tools, and methodologies, to prepare them to teach BPM-oriented courses. This training involved a "BPM blueprint" session taught by a senior Hyperion executive, and faculty members were given the book Strategic Performance Management (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006) by Bernard Marr, research fellow in the Centre for Business Performance at the U.K.'s Cranfield School of Management. The center's team also tapped into a network of companies interested in participating in its work—whether by offering internships, sending in guest lecturers, or putting forward their own experiences with BPM.
And now the real work has begun: getting BPM into the Fisher College of Business curriculum. The school had already made a BPM-oriented course available to students in its executive MBA program, and this spring Dietrich himself is leading the first of three courses built around BPM with a goal of introducing students to "technology, tools, and techniques that create a successful and sustainable business."
Prior to the center's inception, OSU had a relationship with Hyperion that extended beyond Jeff Rodek's involvement. A significant Oracle's PeopleSoft and Hyperion customer, the university was already using many Hyperion applications to run the school's administrative operations, and it recognized that Hyperion had a leadership role in BPM. In addition, Hyperion executives were already interfacing with other schools of business, promoting the concepts around BPM and talking about best practices in the industry.