Oracle proclaims itself to be the leader in the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) market – an assertion that is hard to dispute given the imprecise way in which that acronym is used. Like all of its competitors, Oracle has its own unique vocabulary and associated definitions of the jargon and acronyms it uses. For those trying to keep score at home, we will take a stab at making sense of what Oracle is trying to tell us.

A brief history lesson is needed to understand how Oracle arrived at its current usage of the EPM term. The Oracle acquisition of Siebel brought along two important Business Intelligence products: a suite of data analysis tools that Oracle gave the tongue twisting name Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition (OBIEE); and a collection of analytic applications now called Oracle Business Intelligence Applications or OBIA.

These offerings transformed Oracle from a fringe player in BI into a possible contender. The Siebel offerings helped fill out a limited lineup of BI related data management tools that were little more than add-ons to Oracle’s 11g DBMS.

The acquisition of Hyperion pushed Oracle into the upper tier of BI vendors. It also created the challenge of integrating three separately created product lines and explaining how they fit together. The most important contribution was a suite of financial applications now called Hyperion Performance Applications that includes Strategy Management, Financial Close and Reporting, Planning Budgeting and Forecasting, and Profitability and Cost Management.

Oracle started to use the term Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) as an umbrella name for a now fairly comprehensive BI product line that featured the Hyperion Performance Applications. Unfortunately, in practice, Oracle people have fallen into the habit of using EPM as shorthand when talking about the Hyperion applications.

When EPM is used to mean the Hyperion applications Oracle can correctly claim to be the market leader. On the other hand, when Oracle claims that market leadership in EPM means that it leads the entire BI market, then an element of exaggeration is present.

Gartner is the closest thing we have to a referee when vendors make conflicting claims or use different jargon to describe the same thing. It uses the term Corporate Performance Management (CPM) to categorize the type of applications Hyperion offers and does indeed certify that Oracle is the clear market leader. For example, Hyperion’s flagship offering Financial Close has firmly established itself as the worldwide gold standard for large enterprise consolidation.

To be fair, at the same time Gartner has decided that SAP, with its Business Objects subsidiary, is the overall BI market share leader. Just to make things more confusing, SAP uses the term Enterprise Information Management (EIM) as its umbrella term for BI and the things that surround it including SAP’s own financial performance applications. SAP has understandable decided to use a term that plays to its greatest strength – its suite of data management tools.

If all that was not confusing enough, IBM (the other major BI vendor) prefers to use the simpler term Performance Management. It uses this term in a more narrow way to discourage unfavorable comparisons with the other vendors.

It is thus no wonder that IT decision makers can feel confused when trying to understand and compare the options available to them. All of the vendors make creative use of language, freely invent esoteric new acronyms, and stretch and bend commonly used terms to mean new things.

As you try to decide if your organization needs EPM, CPM, EIM or PM it is useful to know that these terms are slight variations of the same idea. By whatever name you choose to use, you will eventually need a strategy for collecting, organizing, managing and analyzing the massive amounts of data that passes through your organization every day. A number of excellent tools are available to help you do so, but the major vendors that sell them are certain to make it hard to sort out which ones are best for you by each using different terms to describe essentially the same thing.