Category Archives: Finance

The New Gartner 2018 Magic Quadrants for Cloud Financial Planning & Analysis and Cloud Financial Close Solutions

If all you’re looking for is the free download link, let’s cut to the chase:  here’s where you can download the new 2018 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Financial Planning and Analysis Solutions and the new 2018 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud Financial Close Solutions.  These MQs are written jointly by John Van Decker and Chris Iervolino (with Chris as primary author on the first and John as primary author on the second).  Both are deep experts in the category with decades of experience.

Overall, I can say that at Host Analytics, we are honored to a leader in both MQs again this year.  We are also honored to be the only cloud pure-play vendor to be a leader in both MQs and we believe that speaks volumes about the depth and breadth of EPM functionality that we bring to the cloud.

So, if all you wanted was the links, thanks for visiting.  If, however, you’re looking for some Kellblog editorial on these MQs, then please continue on.

Whither CPM?
The first thing the astute reader will notice is that the category name, which Gartner formerly referred to as corporate performance management (CPM), and which others often referred to as enterprise performance management (EPM), is entirely missing from these MQs.  That’s no accident.  Gartner decided last fall to move away from CPM as a uber category descriptor in favor of referring more directly to the two related, but pretty different, categories beneath it.  Thus, in the future you won’t be hearing “CPM” from Gartner anymore, though I know that some vendors — including Host Analytics — will continue to use EPM/CPM until we can find a more suitable capstone name for the category.

Personally, I’m in favor of this move for two simple reasons.

  • CPM was a forced, analyst-driven category in the first place, dating back to Howard Dresner’s predictions that financial planning/budgeting would converge with business intelligence.  While Howard published the research that launched a thousand ships in terms of BI and financial planning industry consolidation (e.g., Cognos/Adaytum, BusinessObjects/SRC/Cartesis, Hyperion/Brio), the actual software itself never converged.  CPM never became like CRM — a true convergence of sales force automation (SFA) and contact center.  In each case, the two companies could be put under one roof, but they sold fundamentally different value propositions to very different buyers and thus never came together as one.
  • In accordance with the prior point, few customers actually refer to the category by CPM/EPM.  They say things much more akin to “financial planning” and “consolidation and close management.”  Since I like referring to things in the words that customers use, I am again in favor of this change.

It does, however, create one problem — Gartner has basically punted on trying to name a capstone category to include vendors who sell both financial planning and financial consolidation software.  Since we at Host Analytics think that’s important, and since we believe there are key advantages to buying both from the same vendor, we’d prefer if there were a single, standard capstone term.  If it were easy, I suppose a name would have already emerged [1].

How Not To Use Magic Quadrants
While they are Gartner’s flagship deliverable, magic quadrants (MQs) can generate a lot of confusion.  MQs don’t tell you which vendor is “best” because there is no universal best in any category.  MQs don’t tell you which vendor to pick to solve your problem because different solutions are designed around meeting different requirements.  MQs don’t predict the future of vendors — last-year’s movement vectors rarely predict this year’s positions.  And the folks I know at Gartner generally strongly dislike vector analysis of MQs because they view vendor placement as relative to each other at any moment in time [2].

Many things that customers seem to want from Gartner MQs are actually delivered by Gartner’s Critical Capabilities reports which get less attention because they don’t produce a simple, dramatic 2×2 output, but which are far better suited for determine the suitability of different products to different use-cases.

How To Use A Gartner Magic Quadrant?
In my experience after 25+ in enterprise software, I would use MQs for their overall purpose:  to group vendors into 4 different bucketsleaders, challengers, visionaries, and niche players.  That’s it.  If you want to know who the leaders are in a category, look top right.  If you want to know who the visionaries are, look bottom right.  You want to know which big companies are putting resources into the category but who thus far are lacking strategy/vision, then look top-left at the challengers quadrant.

But should you, in my humble opinion, get particularly excited about millimeter differences on either axes?  No.  Why?  Because what drives those deltas may have little, none, or in fact a counter-correlation to your situation.  In my experience, the analysts pay a lot of attention to the quadrants in which vendors end up in [2] so quadrant-placement, I’d say, is quite closely watched by the analysts.  Dot-placement, while closely watched by vendors, save for dramatic differences, doesn’t change much in the real world.  After all, they are called the magic quadrants, not the magic dots.

All that said, let me wind up with some observations on the MQs themselves.

Quick Thoughts on the 2018 Cloud FP&A Solutions MQ
While the MQs were published at the end of July 2018, they were based on information about the vendors gathered in and largely about 2017.  While there is always some phase-lag between the end of data collection and the publication data, this year it was rather unusually long — meaning that a lot may have changed in the market in the first half of 2018 that customers should be aware of. For that reason, if you’re a Gartner customer and using either the MQs or critical capabilities reports that accompany them, you should probably setup an appointment to call the analysts to ensure you’re working off the latest data.

Here are some of my quick thoughts the Cloud FP&A Solutions magic quadrant:

  • Gartner says the FP&A market is accelerating its shift from on-premises cloud.  I agree.
  • Gartner allows three types of “cloud” vendors into this (and the other) MQ:  cloud-only vendors, on-premise vendors with new built-for-the-cloud solutions, and on-premises vendors who allow their software to be run hosted on a third-party cloud platform.  While I understand their need to be inclusive, I think this is pretty broad — the total cost of ownership, cash flows, and incentives are quite different between pure cloud vendors and hosted on-premises solutions.  Caveat emptor.
  • To qualify for the MQ vendors must support at least two of the four following components of FP&A:  planning/budgeting, integrated financial planning, forecasting/modeling, management/performance reporting.  Thus the MQ is not terribly homogeneous in terms of vendor profile and use-cases.
  • For the second year in a row, (1) Host is a leader in this MQ and (2) is the only cloud pure-play vendor who is a leader in both.  We think this says a lot about the breadth and depth of our product line.
  • Customer references for Host cited ease of use, price, and solution flexibility as top three purchasing criteria.  We think this very much represents our philosophy of complex EPM made easy.

Quick Thoughts on the 2018 Cloud Financial Close Solutions MQ
Here are some of my quick thoughts on the Cloud Financial Close Solutions magic quadrant:

  • Gartner says that in the past two years the financial close market has shifted from mature on-premises to cloud solutions.  I agree.
  • While Gartner again allowed all three types of cloud vendors in this MQ, I believe some of the vendors in this MQ do just-enough, just-cloud-enough business to clear the bar, but are fundamentally still offering on-premise wolves in cloud sheep’s clothing.  Customers should look to things like total cost of ownership, upgrade frequency, and upgrade phase lags in order to flesh out real vs. fake cloud offerings.
  • This MQ is more of a mixed bag than the FP&A MQ or, for that matter, most Gartner MQs.  In general, MQs plot substitutes against each other — each dot on an MQ usually represents a vendor who does basically the same thing.  This is not true for the Cloud Financial Close (CFC) MQ — e.g., Workiva is a disclosure management vendor (and a partner of Host Analytics).  However, they do not offer financial consolidation software, as does say Host Analytics or Oracle.
  • Because the scope of this MQ is broad and both general and specialist vendors are included, customers should either call the Gartner for help (if they are Gartner customers) or just be mindful of the mixing and segmentation — e.g., Floqast (in SMB and MM) and Blackline (in enterprise) both do account reconciliation, but they are naturally segmented by customer size (and both are partners of Host, which does financial consolidation but not account reconciliation).
  • Net:  while I love that the analysts are willing to put different types of close-related, office-of-the-CFO-oriented vendors on the same MQ, it does require more than the usual amount of mindfulness in interpreting it.

Conclusion
Finally, if you want to analyze the source documents yourself, you can use the following link to download both the 2018 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Financial Planning and Analysis and Consolidation and Close Management.

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Notes

[1] For Gartner, this is likely more than a semantic issue.  They are pretty strong believers in a “post-modern” ERP vision which eschews the idea of a monolithic application that includes all services, in favor of using and integrating a series of cloud-based services.  Since we are also huge believers in integrating best-of-breed cloud services, it’s hard for us to take too much issue with that.  So we’ll simply have to clearly articulate the advantages of using Host Planning and Host Consolidations together — from our viewpoint, two best-of-breed cloud services that happen to come from a single vendor.

[2] And not something done against absolute scales where you can track movement over time.  See, for example, the two explicit disclaimers in the FP&A MQ:

Capture

[3] I’m also a believer in a slightly more esoteric theory which says:  given that the Gartner dot-placement algorithm seems to try very hard to layout dots in a 45-degree-tilted football shaped pattern, it is always interesting to examine who, how, and why someone ends up outside that football.

Putting the A Back in FP&A with Automated, Integrated Planning

I was reading this blog post on Continuous Planning by Rob Kugel of Ventana Research the other day and it reminded me of one of my (and Rob’s) favorite sayings:

We need to put the A back in FP&A

This means that the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) team at many companies is so busy doing other things that it doesn’t have time to focus on what it does best and where it can add the most value:  analysis.

This begs the question:  where did the A go?  What are the other things that are taking up so much time?  The answer:  data prep and spreadsheet jockeying.  These functions suck time away and the soul from the FP&A function.

dataprep

Data-related tasks — such as finding, integrating, and preparing data — take up more than 2/3rds of FP&A’s time.  Put differently, FP&A spends twice as much time getting ready to analyze data than it does analyzing it.  It might even be worse, depending on whether periodic and ad hoc reporting is included in data-related task or further carved out of the 28% of time remaining for analytics, as I suspect it is.

spreadsheetsrule

It’s not just finance who loves spreadsheets.  The business does do:  salesops, marketingops, supply chain planners, professional services ops, and customer support all love spreadsheets, too.  When I worked at Salesforce, we had one of the most sophisticated sales strategy and planning teams I’ve ever seen.  Their tool of choice?  Excel.

This comes back to haunt finance in three ways:

  • Warring models, for example, when the salesops new bookings model doesn’t foot to the finance one because they make different ramping and turnover assumptions.  These waste time with potential endless fights.
  • Non-integrated models.  Say sales and finance finally agree on a bookings target and to hire 5 more salespeople to support it.  Now we need to call marketing to update their leadgen model to ensure there’s enough budget to support them, customer service to ensure we’re staffed to handle the incremental customers they sign, professional services to ensure we’re have adequate consulting resources, and on and on.  Forget any of these steps and you’ll start the year out of balance, with unattainable targets somewhere.
  • Excel inundation.   FP&A develops battle fatigue dealing with and integrating some many different versions of so many spreadsheets, often late and night and under deadline pressure.  Mistakes gets made.

So how can prevent FP&A from being run over by these forces?  The answer is to automate, automate, and integrate.

  • Automate data integration and preparation.  Let’s free up time by use software that lets you “set and forget” data refreshes.  You should be able to setup a connector to a data source one, and then have it automatically run at periodic intervals going forward.  No more mailing spreadsheets around.
  • Automate periodic FP&A tasks.  Use software where you can invest in building the perfect monthly board pack, monthly management reports, quarterly ops review decks, and quarterly board reports once, and then automatically refresh it every period through these templates.  This not only free up time and reduces drudgery; it eliminates plenty of mistakes as well.
  • Integrate planning across the organization.  Move to a cloud-based enterprise performance platform (like Host Analytics) that not only accomplishes the prior two goals, but also offers a modeling platform that can be used across the organization to put finance, salesops, marketingops, professional services, supply chain, HR, and everyone else across the organization on a common footing.

Since the obligatory groundwork in FP&A is always heavy, you’re not going to succeed in putting the A back in FP&A simply by working harder and later.  The only way to put the A back in FP&A is to create time.  And you can do that with two doses of automation and one of integration.

The New 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrants for Cloud Strategic CPM (SCPM) and Cloud Financial CPM (FCPM) – How to Download; A Few Thoughts

For some odd reason, I always think of this scene — The New Phone Book’s Here – from an old Steve Martin comedy whenever Gartner rolls out their new Magic Quadrants (MQ) for corporate performance management (CPM). It’s probably because all of the excitement they generate.

Last year, Gartner researchers John Van Decker and Chris Iervolino kept that excitement up by making the provocative move of splitting the CPM quadrant in two — strategic CPM (SCPM) and financial CPM (FCPM). Never complacent, this year they stirred things up again by inserting the word “cloud” before the category name for each; we’ll discuss the ramifications of that in a minute.

Free Download of 2017 CPM Magic Quadrants

But first, let me provide some links where you can download the new FCPM and SCPM magic quadrants:

Significance of the New 2017 FPCM and SCPM Magic Quadrants

The biggest change this year is the insertion of the word “cloud” in the title of the magic quadrants.  This perhaps seemingly small change, like a butterfly effect, results in an entirely new world order where two of the three megavendors in the category (i.e., IBM, SAP) get displaced from market leadership due to the lack of the credibility and/or sophistication of their cloud offerings.

For example:

  • In the strategic CPM quadrant, IBM is relegated to the Visionary quadrant (bottom right) and SAP does not even make the cut.
  • In the financial CPM quadrant, IBM is relegated to the Challenger quadrant (top left) and SAP again does not even make the cut.

Well, I suppose one might then ask, well if IBM and SAP do poorly in the cloud financial and strategic CPM magic quadrants, then how do they do in the “regular” ones?

To which the answer is, there aren’t any “regular” ones; they only made cloud ones.  That’s the point.

So I view this as the mainstreaming of cloud in EPM [1].  Gartner is effectively saying a few things:

  • Who cares how much maintenance fees a vendor derives from legacy products?
  • The size of a vendor’s legacy base is independent of its position for the future.
  • The cloud is now the norm in CPM product selection, so it’s uninteresting to even produce a non-cloud MQ for CPM. The only CPM MQs are the cloud ones.

While I have plenty of beefs with Oracle as a prospective business partner — and nearly as many with their cloud EPM offerings — to their credit, they have been making an effort at cloud EPM while IBM and SAP seem to have somehow been caught off-guard, at least from an EPM perspective.

(Some of Oracle’s overall cloud revenue success is likely cloudwashing though they settled a related lawsuit with the whistleblower so we’ll never know the details.)

Unlikely Bedfellows:  Only Two Vendors are Leaders in Both FCPM and SCPM Magic Quadrants

This creates the rather odd situation where there are only two vendors in the Leaders section of both the financial and strategic CPM magic quadrants:  Host Analytics and Oracle.  That means only two vendors can provide the depth and breadth of products in the cloud to qualify for the Leaders quadrant in both the FCPM and SCPM MQ.

I know who I’d rather buy from.

In my view, Host Analytics has a more complete, mature, and proven product line – we’ve been at this a lot longer than they have — and, well, oligopolists aren’t really famous for their customer success and solutions orientation.  More infamous, in fact.  See the section of the FCPM report where it says Oracle ranks in the “bottom 25% of vendors in this MQ on ‘overall satisfaction with vendor.’”

Or how an Oracle alumni once defined “solution selling” for me:

Your problem is you are out of compliance with the license agreement and we’re going to shut down the system.  The solution is to give us money.

Nice.

For more editorial, you can read John O’Rourke’s post on the Host Analytics corporate blog.

Download the 2017 FCPM and SCPM Magic Quadrants

Or you can download the new 2017 Gartner CPM MQs here.

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Notes:

[1] Gartner refers to the category as corporate performance management (CPM).  I generally refer to it as enterprise performance management (EPM), reflecting the fact that EPM software is useful not only for corporations, but other forms of organization such as not-for-profit, partnerships, government, etc.  That difference aside, I generally view EPM and CPM as synonyms.

CAC Payback Period:  The Most Misunderstood SaaS Metric

The single most misunderstood software-as-a-service (SaaS) metric I’ve encountered is the CAC Payback Period (CPP), a compound metric that is generally defined as the months of contribution margin to pay back the cost of acquiring a customer.   Bessemer defines the CPP as:

bess cac

I quibble with some of the Bessemerisms in the definition.  For example, (1) most enterprise SaaS companies should use annual recurring revenue (ARR), not monthly recurring revenue (MRR), because most enterprise companies are doing annual, not monthly, contracts, (2) the “committed” MRR concept is an overreach because it includes “anticipated” churn which is basically impossible to measure and often unknown, and (3) I don’t know why they use the prior period for both S&M costs and new ARR – almost everybody else uses prior-period S&M divided by current-period ARR in customer acquisition cost (CAC) calculations on the theory that last quarter’s S&M generated this quarter’s new ARR.

Switching to ARR nomenclature, and with a quick sleight of mathematical hand for simplification, I define the CAC Payback Period (CPP) as follows:

kell cac

Let’s run some numbers.

  • If your company has a CAC ratio of 1.5 and subscription gross margins of 75%, then your CPP = 24 months.
  • If your company has a CAC ratio of 1.2 and subscription gross margins of 80%, then your CPP = 18 months.
  • If you company has a CAC ratio of 0.8 and subscription gross margins of 80%, then your CPP = 12 months.

All seems pretty simple, right?  Not so fast.  There are two things that constantly confound people when looking at CAC Payback Period (CPP).

  • They forget payback metrics are risk metrics, not return metrics
  • They fail to correctly interpret the impact of annual or multi-year contracts

Payback Metrics are for Risk, Not Return

Quick, basic MBA question:  you have two projects, both require an investment of 100 units, and you have only 100 units to invest.  Which do you pick?

  • Project A: which has a payback period of 12 months
  • Project B: which has a payback period of 6 months

Quick, which do you pick?  Well, project B.  Duh.  But wait — now I tell you this:

  • Project A has a net present value (NPV) of 500 units
  • Project B has an NPV of 110 units

Well, don’t you feel silly for picking project B?

Payback is all about how long your money is committed (so it can’t be used for other projects) and at risk (meaning you might not get it back).  Payback doesn’t tell you anything about return.  In capital budgeting, NPV tells you about return.  In a SaaS business, customer lifetime value (LTV) tells you about return.

There are situations where it makes a lot of sense to look at CPP.  For example, if you’re running a monthly SaaS service with a high churn rate then you need to look closely how long you’re putting your money at risk because there is a very real chance you won’t recoup your CAC investment, let alone get any return on it.  Consider a monthly SaaS company with a $3500 customer acquisition cost, subscription gross margin of 70%, a monthly fee of $150, and 3% monthly churn.  I’ll calculate the ratios and examine the CAC recovery of a 100 customer cohort.

saas fail

While the CPP formula outputs a long 33.3 month CAC Payback Period, reality is far, far worse.  One problem with the CPP formula is that it does not factor in churn and how exposed a cohort is to it — the more chances customers have to not renew during the payback period, the more you need to consider the possibility of non-renewal in your math [1].  In this example, when you properly account for churn, you still have $6 worth of CAC to recover after 30 years!  You literally never get back your CAC.

Soapbox:  this is another case where using a model is infinitely preferable to back-of-the-envelope (BOTE) analysis using SaaS metrics.  If you want to understand the financials of a SaaS company, then build a driver-based model and vary the drivers.  In this case and many others, BOTE analysis fails due to subtle complexity, whereas a well-built model will always produce correct answers, even if they are counter-intuitive.

Such cases aside, the real problem with being too focused on CAC Payback Period is that CPP is a risk metric that tells you nothing about returns.  Companies are in business to get returns, not simply to minimize risk, so to properly analyze a SaaS business we need to look at both.

The Impact of Annual and Multi-Year Prepaid Contracts on CAC Payback Period

The CPP formula outputs a payback period in months, but most enterprise SaaS businesses today run on an annual rhythm.  Despite pricing that is sometimes still stated per-user, per-month, SaaS companies realized years ago that enterprise customers preferred annual contracts and actually disliked monthly invoicing.  Just as MRR is a bit of a relic from the old SaaS days, so is a CAC Payback Period stated in months.

In a one-hundred-percent annual prepaid contract world, the CPP formula should output in multiples of 12, rounding up for all values greater than 12.  For example, if a company’s CAC Payback Period is notionally 13 months, in reality it is 24 months because the leftover 1/13 of the cost isn’t collected until the a customer’s second payment at month 24.  (And that’s only if the customer chooses to renew — see above discussion of churn.)

In an annual prepaid world, if your CAC Payback Period is less than or equal to 12 months, then it should be rounded down to one day because you are invoicing the entire year up-front and at-once.  Even if the formula says the CPP is notionally 12.0 months, in an annual prepaid world your CAC investment money is at risk for just one day.

So, wait a minute.  What is the actual CAC Payback Period in this case?  12.0 months or 1 day?  It’s 1 day.

Anyone who argues 12.0 months is forgetting the point of the metric.  Payback periods are risk metrics and measured by the amount of time it takes to get your investment back [2].  If you want to look at S&M efficiency, look at the CAC ratio.  If you want to know about the efficiency of running the SaaS service, look at subscription gross margins.  If you want to talk about lifetime value, then look at LTV/CAC.  CAC Payback Period is a risk metric that measures how long your CAC investment is “on the table” before getting paid back.  In this instance the 12 months generated by the standard formula is incorrect because the formula misses the prepayment and the correct answer is 1 day.

A lot of very smart people get stuck here.  They say, “yes, sure, it’s 1 day – but really, it’s not.  It’s 12 months.”  No.  It’s 1 day.

If you want to look at something other than payback, then pick another metric.  But the CPP is 1 day.  You asked how long it takes for the company to recoup the money it spends to acquire a customer.  For CPPs less than or equal to 12 in a one-hundred percent annual prepaid world, the answer is one day.

It gets harder.  Imagine a company that sells in a sticky category (e.g., where typical lifetimes may be 10 years) and thus is a high-consideration purchase where prospective customers do deep evaluations before making a decision (e.g., ERP).  As a result of all that homework, customers are happy to sign long contracts and thus the company does only 3-year prepaid contracts.  Now, let’s look at CAC Payback Period.  Adapting our rules above, any output from the formula greater than 36 months should be rounded up in multiples of 36 months and, similarly, any output less than or equal to 36 months should be rounded down to 1 day.

Here we go again.  Say the CAC Payback Period formula outputs 33 months.  Is the real CPP 33 months or 1 day?  Same argument.  It’s 1 day.  But the formula outputs 33 months.  Yes, but the CAC recovery time is 1 day.  If you want to look at something else, then pick another metric.

It gets even harder.  Now imagine a company that does half 1-year deals and half 3-year deals (on an ARR-weighted basis).  Let’s assume it has a CAC ratio of 1.5, 75% subscription gross margins, and thus a notional CAC Payback Period of 24 months.  Let’s see what really happens using a model:

50-50

Using this model, you can see that the actual CAC Payback Period is 1 day. Why?  We need to recoup $1.5M in CAC.  On day 1 we invoice $2.0M, resulting in $1.5M in contribution margin, and thus leaving $0 in CAC that needs to be recovered.

While I have not yet devised general rounding rules for this situation, the model again demonstrates the key point – that the mix of 1-year and 3-year payment structure confounds the CPP formula resulting in a notional CPP of 24 months, when in reality it is again 1 day.  If you want to make rounding rules beware the temptation to treat the average contract duration (ACD) as a rounding multiple because it’s incorrect — while the ACD is 2 years in the above example, not a single customer is paying you at two-year intervals:  half are paying you every year while half are paying you every three.  That complexity, combined with the reality that the mix is pretty unlikely to be 50/50, suggests it’s just easier to use a model than devise a generalized rounding formula.

But pulling back up, let’s make sure we drive the key point home.  The CAC Payback Period is the single most often misunderstood SaaS metric because people forget that payback metrics are about risk, not return, and because the basic formulas – like those for many SaaS metrics – assume a monthly model that simply does not apply in today’s enterprise SaaS world, and fail to handle common cases like annual or multi-year prepaid contracts.

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Notes

[1] This is a huge omission for a metric that was defined in terms of MRR and which thus assumes a monthly business model.  As the example shows, the formula (which fails to account for churn) outputs a CAC payback of 33 months, but in reality it’s never.  Quite a difference!

[2] If I wanted to be even more rigorous, I would argue that you should not include subscription gross margin in the calculation of CAC Payback Period.  If your CAC ratio is 1.0 and you do annual prepaid contracts, then you immediately recoup 100% of your CAC investment on day 1.  Yes, a new customer comes with a future liability attached (you need to bear the costs of running the service for them for one year), but if you’re looking at a payback metric that shouldn’t matter.  You got your money back.  Yes, going forward, you need to spend about 30% (a typical subscription COGS figure) of that money over the next year to pay for operating the service, but you got your money back in one day.  Payback is 1 day, not 1/0.7 = 17 months as the formula calculates.

Finance Transformation Themes from the IE FP&A Conference in Boston

After attending our amazing, sold-out Future of Finance Tour session in Minneapolis earlier this week, I swung out to Boston attend a chunk of the IE Groups’s FP&A Summit.

I had some great conversations with delegates and attended several interesting sessions.  Transforming finance was, as expected, a big theme.  Here are some of things I heard:

  • Old-school finance used to say, like a TV anchorperson, “we don’t make the news, we just tell you about it.”  This finance-as-spectator role is passé.
  • We need to transform FP&A from the engine room for report production — “here are the variances, don’t ask us about them” — to an active role in working with the business.
  • FP&A needs to no longer be the data crunchers, but insight providers who can tell the story in the data.
  • Finance needs to engage with the business.  Interact with them.  Sit with them.  Ask them.  Iterate with them.  Financial processes (e.g., forecasting) are inherently iterative and require finance to interact with subject matter experts (SMEs).
  • FP&A needs to challenge the conventional wisdom or common knowledge about the business.  It’s amazing how often common rules of thumb (e.g., which products are profitable and which aren’t) simply aren’t true when you dive into the data.
  • Finance should be more focused on having a seat at the table than knowing what the table cost and how far it is into its depreciation cycle.
  • “I spent years leveraging my ‘CPA’ doing copy / paste / attach from Excel spreadsheets into board books and presentations.”
  • While overuse of Microsoft Excel is definitely part of the problem, Excel is also definitely part of the solution.   “There are over 1,000 person-years of Excel experience in this (not very big) room.  You can’t throw that out.”
  • “I fell out of bed knowing how to do that in Excel.”
  • In leveraging technology for FP&A the cloud is now a given — five years ago that was not the case.

And the old classic, which I really believe in:  finance needs to focus on becoming a business partner to the CEO and the business.

It was a great conference and I’m glad I stopped by.

Why Modeling Cloud Matters in EPM and Operational Planning

Two weeks ago, Host Analytics launched an amazing new product called Modeling Cloud.  Built by an elite team of some our most experienced developers, Modeling Cloud represents a breakthrough in cloud enterprise performance management (EPM).

In this post, I’ll discuss why Modeling Cloud matters to customers, to the market, and to the company.

Why Modeling Cloud Matters for Customers

  • Ability to build non-financial models. Planning and budgeting tools are built for planning and budgeting.  As such, you want them tied to the general ledger (GL) so, for example, you can easily get actual vs. plan for periodic reporting.  But that requires a level of financial intelligence that can become cumbersome; in a typical planning system every line needs to tie to an account in the GL, be a debit/credit account type, be associated with a legal entity, and have an associated currency.  That intelligence, which is so wonderful when making budgets, becomes baggage when you just want to build a model — for example, of bookings capacity given productivity and ramping assumptions, or new sales model given advertising spend, conversion, trial, and purchase rates. That’s why most models today are built in Excel and completely disconnected from the financial planning system.
  • Ability to integrate non-financial models. The problem with departmental Excel-based modeling is that everything ends up disconnected from the central financial planning.  Consulting can tell you what happens to billings if you hire 5 more consultants in the East and sales can tell you what happens to bookings if you hire 6 more salesreps in the East, but you need to start mailing spreadsheets around if you want to see the financial outcomes (e.g., revenue, EPS) of such changes.
  • Enterprise-wide scenario analysis. The beauty of connecting departmental modeling to the corporate financial plan is that you can perform enterprise-wide sensitivity analysis.  Say we’re thinking of making a big Eastern region push next year.  When the models all tie to the financial plan, we can see the financial outcomes for the company associated with such a push, and what it means to setting expectations with board and Wall Street.  This captures the real spirit of what is often called driver-based planning.
  • The bookings-to-revenue bridge. Models can help the finance team better forecast revenue because sales tends to be bookings-oriented whereas finance is revenue-oriented.   Everyone knows that given a pipeline of 100 opportunities there can be scores of combinations where sales hits the bookings target, but each one produces different revenue depending on the composition of the orders.   This is also, more subtly, true of sales expense because any given combination will consist of a given set of deals, for a given set of products, by a given set of saleseps, and each product may have different incentives on it, and each salesrep may be in a different stage of acceleration in their compensation plan.  By modeling bookings and doing scenario analysis of various combinations of orders, finance can better predict revenue, expense, and ultimately EPS.  In a world where a minuscule EPS miss can knock off 20% of a company’s valuation in a heartbeat, this is a critical capability.

Why Modeling Cloud Matters to the Market

  • Cloud penetration.  EPM is under penetrated by the cloud, with cloud-penetration of less than 5% today.  That means that 95% of all EPM systems sold in 2014 (between $3-4B worth) were on-premises.  By comparison, sales force automation (SFA) is about 50% cloud-penetrated.  While cloud-based planning and budgeting tools have existed for over 5 years, most cloud vendors are still working on completing their suites, with a handful introducing consolidation only in the past one to two years, and just two vendors offering a modeling engine in the cloud.  While it’s not the only factor hindering cloud penetration, rounding out cloud EPM suites will definitely help accelerate moving EPM to the cloud.
  • Market penetration.  Cloud aside, EPM is an under-penetrated market, overall. A recent survey by Grant Thornton, 40% of companies reported that they weren’t using any EPM system, relying only spreadsheets for FP&A work.  This implies the $3-4B EPM market could nearly double simply by better penetrating target customers.  And the best way to penetrate these companies is not by attacking Excel, but instead to bring an intelligent Excel strategy that makes it easy to import and build both budgets and models that are connected to the financial planning system.

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  • Customer penetration.  EPM is under-penetrated within EPM-consumer companies.   Many EPM customers start with a dream of true enterprise-wide planning, but fallback to EPM deployment only within finance and rely on emailed spreadsheets for the “last mile.”  That’s too bad because mailing spreadsheets is both insecure and error-prone.  This situation develops often in on-premises EPM because the hassle of deploying the software across all potential users is simply too high and because the software itself is built for finance not end users.  Cloud EPM — with cloud modeling — will help with improving customer penetration not only because it introduces new reporting and slicer/dicer options, but also because — in the case of our Modeling Cloud product — it introduces the new ability to build and manipulate sub-models which give end users the data they want — and only the data they want — without having to rely on IT for configuration.

Why Modeling Cloud Matters to Host Analytics

  • Unique position.  With Modeling Cloud in the product line, Host Analytics now has the most comprehensive EPM suite in the cloud.  If you look at our primary cloud competitors, one does low-end planning and budgeting, one does visualization and mobile, and the other does cloud modeling but has only both new and functionally thin applications for core finance.
  • The finance choice.  Host Analytics has always been the finance department’s choice when it comes to core EPM (planning, budgeting, consolidation).  That’s because experienced finance people understand the depth and breadth that we bring to the cloud and aren’t interested in buying either unproven solutions or solutions that they will outgrow.
  • The operations choice.  With Modeling Cloud, Host Analytics is now also the operations choice.  Be it sales ops, marketing ops, or services ops, Host Analytics allows ops departments to do the planning and modeling that they require — and to do so in a way that easily integrates with the core financial planning system.  This gives them the best of both worlds — the ability to build any model they could build in Excel, using Excel formulas (and even using an Excel front-end if they so desire) and to do so in a way that automatically integrates with the core financial plan.
  • The best architecture.  Only Host Analytics offers a true multi-dimensional (i.e., OLAP) backend and an architecture built atop cloud-native, dynamic, elastic, NoSQL technology where we deliver phenomenal multi-dimensional analysis and leverage modern/standard components for managing physical storage, sharding, and parallelism.  This provides us with a huge advantage going forward both in terms of productivity and scaleability.

It’s been about 2.5 years since I joined Host Analytics and I’m quite proud of the work done by our entire R&D team in industrializing the core products, introducing a new layer of solutions, and now rolling out the industry’s most innovative cloud-based modeling engine.

Free Download of the Gartner 2015 Magic Quadrant for Corporate Performance Management Suites

Just a quick post to let you know that my company, Host Analytics, is offering a free copy / free download of the Gartner 2015 Magic Quadrant (MQ) for Corporate Performance Management (CPM) Suites.

You need to give about six fields of basic contact information to get the report, which can be downloaded here.  CPM is also known as enterprise performance management (EPM) and financial performance management (FPM) and includes corporate financial planning, scenario planning, budgeting, consolidations, financial reporting, profit modeling and optimization, and analytics.