The ‘predictive enterprise’, ‘corporate performance management systems’ (CPM) and such like will be increasingly joining the vocabulary of business IT – and coming onto the boardroom agenda. Companies as disparate as Oracle, Cognos, SSA Global, Tibco, WebMethods – ERP companies, business intelligence (BI) software developers and application integration and business web software developers – are already voicing the terminology and offering software and systems. They’re noting that with the explosion of data being collected covering just about everything – from materials and product tracking to maintenance and production performance management, engineering development and so on – manufacturing businesses will be able to do better. If they can get ‘multi-dimensional’ overviews of detailed real time information that make sense and reflect all that, they will be able to get much smarter about optimising both departmentally and according to their overall business plans. So the next generation of intelligent systems, say the thought leaders, will build on existing database technology, BI developments, we portal technologies and application integration suites. And the goal will be what Oracle’s vice president of manufacturing Simon Pollard calls ‘joined up business thinking’. He gives the example of sales and operations planning (S&OP), almost always less than perfect involving periodic departmental gatherings and resolutions that, once agreed, are often overtaken by events until the next time. The deal with CPM systems will be collective key performance indicators used in S&OP running real time, all the time – enabling organisations to stop the classic rearguard reactive approaches to management, and become proactive and on the case. Sounds far fetched? Frightening? Yes, and consider the data volumes involved and the compute power. But this is happening already. Tibco, for example, is working with HP and Intel to develop an infrastructure with technologies that collect, integrate and present information to applications and people in real time. The firm says it will enable the potential for continuous business process management, with integrated dashboard for intuitive, predictive decision-support functionality. What kind of IT vendor is likely to do well here and offer most for the future? There are several key players in all the technologies above, and consolidation of some of those is already underway. But remember the importance of databases, web services, grid computing and ‘on-demand’ computing. Our bet is on a company with its fingers in all the pies. Think about Oracle and Microsoft.