Sometimes you just don't have a choice about taking on a challenge. Take the problem that the Stepan Co., a middle market specialty chemicals maker based in Millsdale, Ill., had to confront. Here is a company with sales in the neighborhood of $800 million and an M&A appetite to become a major global player. After a score of strategic acquisitions, it found that its systems no longer provided an accurate view of the state of its enterprise. But given the ongoing integration of its new purchases, it had no stomach for the gut-wrenching implementation that often accompanies an overhaul of financial IT.

German ERP vendor SAP AG offered a less painful alternative with an out-of-the-box enterprise performance management software package that Stepan could introduce one geographic area at a time. Set up in late 2003 and early 2004, SAP's system has already been responsible for cutting 2004 inventories by 10% to 12%; reducing book-closing times from two to three weeks to two to three days; providing employees with up-to-the-minute information on key metrics; and "sharpening the company's competitive edge" with more unified customer and product information, according to Jim Pall, Stepan's vice president for logistics. "The implementation was on time and within budget," says Pall, "and the preconfigured offering was certainly one of the many reasons for that success."

Whether you call it business performance management (BPM) or enterprise performance management (EPM) or corporate performance management (CPM), the integration of organization-wide data to create a performance monitoring system is often presented as a revolution in management, a shake-up of the old corporate paradigm, a transformational moment. In the end, however, it has often turned out to be a major headache for a company's senior finance executives–particularly when a company tries for wholesale change. Those days may be over–thanks in large part to the constraints of the middle market.

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