Tidemark takes EPM to the cloud

Does Tidemark have what it takes to shake up the EPM market? If what I have seen is an indication then the answer is yes.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Some weeks ago, I met with Nenshad Bardoliwalla, one of Tidemark's co-founders. At the time, the company was called Proferi and was in locked down stealth mode. He gave me a preview of the company's cloud based enterprise performance management solution. Now the wraps are off.

While I have long followed the broad business intelligence/decision support market, I had become jaded to the point of avoiding the space altogether. It just wasn't that interesting. However, along with Workday analytics, Tidemark has revived my interest, signposting a future that gets away from rear view mirror reporting and which gets close to offering analytics upon which the operational manager can act at the right time.

What differentiates Tidemark for me is its melding of risk assessment in the analytics mix. The blurbs describe it well:

The Tidemark Enterprise Performance Management Platform delivers real-time, risk-adjusted metrics management; strategic, financial, operational planning and forecasting; and profitability modeling applications. Today’s EPM applications hinder businesses from being able to harness the larger and more varied data sources in the modern enterprise due to their legacy, database -centric architecture and design for only sophisticated power users. As a result, today’s analytics are delivered too late and to the wrong people to be of actionable value. Tidemark’s new applications feature rich, pre-built functionality that enable enterprises to extract immediate value for actionable decision-making from large amounts of complex, dynamic data at a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than proprietary solutions.

Too good to be true? I spent a couple of hours with Bardoliwalla walking through the solution, poking around inside it and peppering him with questions. I came away from the discussion excited at what I had seen. This will have immediate application inside finance departments and beyond.

To date, most finance people have been hamstrung by historical reporting and clunky budgeting and forecasting systems that take forever to produce. It is something finance understands as a compliance necessity but which has little value in today's high speed world. The need to understand what is happening in a risk context has always been missing or has required the tacking on of other softwares. Then there's the problem of assembling all the required information into a comprehensible pack that management can use. And assuming that gets done then what about taking decisions in the context of business processes, at the right time? Tidemark changes that. Don't take my word for it, check out what Acosta Sales and Marketing say. Again from the blurbs:

"Our existing EPM system delivered some value to our finance team but provided only basic reporting to our management group. Working with Tidemark over the last year, I finally see a unified system that both finance AND management can use to gain key insights into the relevant financial drivers of the business,” said Sean Anthony, Vice President of Treasury and Planning at Acosta Sales & Marketing.

During my conversation with Bardoliwalla, he frequently referenced the way the company had been working closely with the then undisclosed customer to ensure that what Tidemark delivers is relevant but without being a glorified toy.

The impact this style of application brings should not be under estimated. At a stroke (or as near as I'm likely to see in my lifetime) the barriers of understanding between finance and operations evaporate. This alone is such an important win that it will serve as the platform from which finance departments transform from being an overhead to business value creators. That's the kind of step change business needs.

In order to design a system for all classes of user, Tidemark has rethought how analytics should be presented and prepared. In doing so, they've not settled for a lowest common denominator appearance but a sophisticated UI that I could immediately understand and relate to. As a former finance chief, I didn't detect much sacrificing of functionality but I appreciated the fact I don't have to understand ETL. They've done things like removed the need to understand how charts are assembled, the system 'knows' based upon the preferences that are set.

See alsoTidemark emerges from stealth mode, eyes business intelligence for real people

For anyone thinking that as a version one, this is bound to be lacking in functionality, you'd be wrong. Out of the gate I could see how business processes are tied to KPIs, structured and unstructured data sources are accessible, controls can be readily established with a rich set of computational algorithms to get me started. I liked for example the idea that I could embed (say) Bloomberg or Yahoo! Finance data inside the process I am reviewing. That's the sort of included data that will be helpful when assessing large scale contracts, projects or in benchmarking scenarios.

Inside the guts of TIdemark, the company has made the solution both mobile and social. On the mobile front, the service is built upon HTML5 with emphasis on iPad. When collaborating, performance matters. I accessed it over a downtown San Francisco 3G connection on an iPad2 and it was zippy. Blogs, PDFs Word and other documents can be embedded inside the analytics interface further adding to the variety of information that can be accessed from the single interface.

Tidemark's business model is based around what is starting to emerge as classical cloud thinking: per user, per month pricing that starts at $200/u/m with a try before you buy option. As Bardoliwalla says on the above video, give Tidemark some historical data, tell it what your forecast looks like, provide a handful of metrics you want to assess and they will do the rest. For free. The logical candidate for such a test would be product and/or regional profitability forecasting. Tidemark will then give you a flavor of what the solution can achieve.

Like Larry Dignan, I wonder whether $200 is the right price point for all classes of user but then with this type of solution it is hard to imagine many as purely casual viewers of information. The more likely scenario is that users will want access to more or at least fluctuating amounts and sources of data. How that will add up in volume remains to be seen. Like many SaaS solutions, Tidemark will need to provide price breaks for volume.

From what I have seen, training should be minimal though I can readily imagine the need for change management. That will need to encompasses:

  • Recognition of how structured and unstructured data come together
  • Carefully defining roles and the amount of information that's accessible to different people inside the organization
  • Assessing which data types will be required and how they are managed over time

None of this will be trivial but if organizations start small there is good reason to think that value will be seen very quickly, allowing the solution to naturally scale out and up within the organization.

Tidemark looks genuinely promising in a space that has suffered from a lack of disruptive innovation. Will it challenge the big guns of Hyperion, BusinessObjects, Cognos and SAS Institute? It is far too early to say although the warning signs are there. As Larry Dignan notes in his conversation with Acosta's treasurer:

...his plan is to load Oracle financials and the data in his SAP budgeting system into Tidemark for next year's budget season. Tidemark is being used as an overlay right now because Acosta's fiscal year ends Oct. 31.

GIven the SAP BOBJ community has just come off its annual customer conference, I'm wondering what this will do to confidence among SIs who are used to making shedloads of money with bespoke reporting, budgeting and forecasting? From what I hear, this is the one bright spark for those implementation shops looking into 2012. If Tidemark proves disruptive to the (likely) mid-market audience, they may not be affected in the early stages.

What I do know is that senior people within certain of those organizations are keeping a close eye on anything enterprisey that has a whiff of SaaS/cloud. They see the future and it doesn't look comfortable. Add into the mix that Aneel Bhusri, co-CEO Workday is on Tidemark's board and that both Greylock (in which he is a partner) and Dave Duffield, Bhusri's other co-CEO are investors and you start to see where this is going. If you need a hint then think Workday/Salesforce.com as the twin pillars for diving a wedge into the SAP/Oracle hegemony.

And since we're on an upgrade cycle, now is a very good time for Tidemark to come out of the traps. This is one to watch.

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