I recently reviewed a client's software search materials. In our preliminary discussion they explained that they were looking for a performance attribution system. However, it became fairly clear during my review that they were actually looking for more, as they referenced the internal rate of return. I later confirmed that indeed they were also wanting to get their performance measurement and reporting addressed, and had assumed that their attribution system would be able to handle these requirements, too. And while this might be the case, to fail to completely flush out the needs of this area could result in a system selection that doesn't fully meet their requirements.
It is often the case that when a firm begins a search, they focus on one particular area, when they are really looking for more. It is important to know what you're looking for, so that you perform the proper needs analysis, and your review is complete. And while it's true that the "big four" performance areas have some overlap:
each still typically provides less than a system devoted to that area would.
The Spaulding Group's research has found that, for example, most asset managers rely on their portfolio accounting system to handle their rate of return needs, but use specialized software for their other requirements. Yes, attribution systems calculate rates of return, but primarily in the context of attribution.
Performance systems today are analogous to the medical profession; let me explain. A century or so ago, if you were in need of medical attention (because you were pregnant, had a cold, or broke your leg), you went to one doctor, who took care of all your problems; there were no specialists. But, as we know, today it's very different: you go to a cardiologist for heart issues, a dermatologist for skin problems, a pulmonologist for lung issues, etc. Likewise, it used to be that your portfolio accounting system handled all of your performance measurement needs. But today, we find specialist vendors and products, that serve each area as a distinct function, with its own set of needs. In fact, attribution should be broken into at least two areas: fixed income and equity, as some vendors or systems only serve one of these areas. Likewise, other functional areas can be further subdivided.
By understanding what you're looking for, you'll improve the chances of finding it.