Actuate Updates Financial Performance Management (FPM)

With its better-than-spreadsheet-spreadsheet marketing strategy, Actuate could find an eager audience for its FPM tool.

Actuate Corp. has carved out a niche for itself as a provider of what one industry watcher has famously termed “better-than-spreadsheet-spreadsheets.” To a large extent, the company’s bread-and-butter reporting solutions are still used primarily in conjunction with operational systems, but—over the last few years, especially—Actuate has worked to flesh out its analytic reporting and financial performance management solution stack, too.

Last week, Actuate announced version 2.0 of its Financial Performance Management (FPM) offering, which it describes as the first spreadsheet-based financial performance management tool. The folks at OLAP powerhouse Applix Inc. would almost certainly take issue with this characterization, however. After all, Applix has for some time marketed its TM1 OLAP engine and Excel-based client front-end as a combined Rx for financial performance management.

"Frankly, it's something we've been doing for years, using Applix's TM1"stated Reid Karabush, President of Decision Systems Inc., a Chicago-based consulting firm that specializes in developing BPM / FPM solutions. "Ourclients continue to embrace solutions that add value to Microsoft Excel." Karabush attributes Actuates' support of Microsoft Excel to recentmarket research which brought to light the continued popularity of theExcel interface. "It's great news that Actuate has finally embracedspreadsheet users interested in developing FPM solutions," he says.

And performance management gurus Cognos Inc. and Hyperion Solutions Corp. aren’t exactly lacking in the Excel-friendly department, either.

At the same time, however, Actuate has made a lot of hay out of Excel and its shortcomings. The company’s e.Spreadsheet offering promises an escape from what Actuate calls “spreadmart hell” (i.e., the proliferation of multiple, unmanaged, un-reconciled spreadsheets based on (often) outdated source data). So there’s a good chance Actuate’s FPM marketing pitch—call it e.Spreadsheet for the bean-counting set—might find an eager audience.

That’s the hope, anyway. And to some degree, says Mike Schiff, a principal with business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing consultancy MAS Strategies, FPM is a good move for Actuate. After all, that company’s bread-and-butter reporting space is getting very crowded—with bona-fide competition from Business Objects, Cognos, Microsoft Corp., MicroStrategy Inc., and others—so it makes sense for Actuate to branch out.

“Actuate was basically an operational reporting vendor that embraced spreadsheets with their e.Spreadsheet product. But the problem Actuate has is that they were the reporting specialist, but now everyone else is embracing reporting, so they’ve lost that competitive differentiator,” Schiff explains.

Thanks to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002 and other regulatory measures, spreadsheet anarchy has become a compliance liability. But wherever there’s liability, there’s opportunity—especially for enterprising software vendors. Actuate has long offered compliance-friendly enhancements (e.g., auditing and lockdown capabilities) in its bread-and-butter reporting tools. And both Cognos and Hyperion have amplified concerns about Excel and compliance to push their own proprietary performance management tools. To some extent, Actuate is doing the same thing with FPM: it promises a spreadsheet-driven, closed-loop performance management process that removes the risks associated with manual spreadsheets by automating data delivery, collection and return.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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