All Analyst Perspectives
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 22, 2019 6:00:00 AM
We’re in a new era of trade, the result of converging issues that have been building for at least a decade. Structurally and politically, the liberal ethos that drove the trade environment through the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st has changed. There will be a new equilibrium in the future; getting there, though, will be a bumpy ride. Adding to the challenges posed by a shifting trade environment are commodity and currency market volatility and the impacts of ongoing legal, regulatory and taxation changes.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 18, 2019 6:00:00 AM
New rules governing revenue recognition for contracts have gone into effect for larger companies and are about to go into effect for smaller ones. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which administers Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in the U.S. (US-GAAP), has issued ASC 606 and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), which administers International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) used in most other countries, has issued IFRS 15. The two standards are very similar and will require fundamental changes in revenue recognition for companies that use even moderately complex contracts in their dealings with customers. These include, for example, contracts that are structured using tiered pricing or volume discounts or ones that routinely involve modifications, such as subscriptions that add or drop users and services or allow seasonal changes or promotional discounts.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 31, 2019 6:00:00 AM
“Straight-through processing” (STP) is a business process and data architecture methodology. Technology advances have made STP increasingly feasible for any business process, allowing companies to design and execute them from inception to completion in a more automated fashion, minimizing or eliminating human intervention in the process. The associated data also progresses automatically end-to-end through the process, preserving its integrity. Because there is no human intervention, data is more accurate and less prone to manipulation.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 10, 2019 6:00:00 AM
I recently attended BlackLine’s annual user conference. The company aims to automate time-consuming repetitive tasks and substantially reduce the amount of detail that individuals must handle in the department. The phrase “the devil is in the details” certainly applies to accounting, especially managing the details in the close-to-report phase of the accounting cycle, which is where BlackLine plays its role. This phase spans from all the pre-close activities to the publication of the financial statements. The non-practitioner is likely unaware of the hair-curling amount of essential detail that the finance and accounting organization must handle in the close-to-report. Beyond its toll on efficiency, the time and attention involved in performing this work manually bedevils departments’ attempts to become a more strategic partner to the rest of the business.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 13, 2018 6:00:00 AM
Workiva recently introduced Wdata, a cloud facility for centralizing financial and non-financial information from multiple sources. It frees up time for finance organizations, especially financial planning and analysis (FP&A) groups, to explore conditions and trends in their business because they need to spend less of it gathering data and preparing it for analysis and reporting. Ventana Research recently awarded Workiva our Digital Innovation award for Wdata because of its transformative potential.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 10, 2018 6:00:00 AM
FinancialForce offers cloud-based ERP and professional services automation (PSA) software. The company targets midsize and larger services companies, especially those that provide professional services (such as consultants or field service organizations), subscription-based or recurring revenue services. FinancialForce’s key point of differentiation is that it is built natively on the Salesforce platform. Thus, CRM data is already located on the same platform as accounting and back-office data so organizations can orchestrate end-to-end front-office to back-office processes without having to integrate different systems.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 6, 2018 6:00:00 AM
Kinaxis recently held its annual user conference, Kinexions, which focuses on helping the company’s customers improve their execution of supply chain and sales and operations planning (S&OP). This year’s event took place against a backdrop of what is beginning to look like a new and more challenging era of world trade. This will have a significant impact on most product companies with international operations. (I also reviewed last year’s event, which can be found here.)
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 29, 2018 6:00:00 AM
This year’s Workday Rising, the company’s annual user group meeting, offered details of the company’s latest release, Workday 31, and provided a roadmap for the next several semiannual releases. To put these plans into a broader context, I’ve commented before that information technology is on the verge of delivering capabilities that will enable finance and accounting organizations to transform how they work. Technology will have a more profound impact on accounting and finance over the coming decade than it has over the past 50 years. Workday Financial Management, along with the company’s Prism Analytics and recently acquired Adaptive Insights, is evolving to provide to finance and accounting departments the technology underpinnings that can help them redefine how they do their work.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 15, 2018 6:00:00 AM
A recent analysis of our sales and operations planning (S&OP) dynamic insight research provides perspective on the current state of this core business process. Using concise web-based surveys, Ventana Research’s Dynamic Insights provide research participants with an immediate assessment of their company’s efforts as well as research- and experience-based advice on potential next steps to improve. For those who wish to do a quick assessment of their own company’s sales and operations planning, the Dynamic Insight can be found here.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 12, 2018 6:00:00 AM
Financial analysts typically classify real estate as a fixed cost. Strictly speaking, that’s correct, but looking at it this way leads many organizations to overlook opportunities to more carefully manage their real estate and other occupancy expenses. The changes in lease accounting that are going into effect have caused some organizations to reexamine their leasing policies and how they organize their lease accounting processes. They should take an even broader approach and consider ways to improve how they manage those leases.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 16, 2018 11:29:47 PM
PROS Holdings is a software vendor with two distinct but related sets of products. The company began in 1985 offering revenue management software to airlines, hospitality and rental car companies. More recently it added price and revenue management software focusing on B2B services, chemicals and energy, consumer goods manufacturers, food and beverage, healthcare, insurance and technology. This note focuses on the B2B portion of the business.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 12, 2018 8:18:32 AM
Was accounting ever cool? Well, yes, in a nerdy sort of way. Double-entry bookkeeping, codified in the 15th century by Fra Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar and pal of Leonardo Da Vinci, was essential for the expansion of trade and the creation of the modern corporation. Bookkeeping and accounting were as important to economic development as two other financial inventions – insurance and fractional reserve banking. Double-entry bookkeeping is an elegant system, simple yet powerful. It supports the accurate recording of transactions and the economic condition of a business as well as analyses of its performance. That’s cool.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 27, 2018 9:06:06 AM
A quarter century after a “fast, clean close” became a key measure of a finance and accounting department’s effectiveness, companies continue to take too long to close their books. Our Office of Finance research finds that 60 percent of companies take more than six business days to complete their close despite widespread agreement that it should be done within a business week. Closing sooner provides executives with financial and management accounting data sooner. A faster close also promotes agility in responding to markets and competitors, frees up departmental resources to enable CFOs to fix process issues that hamper the effectiveness of the department and allows extra time to concentrate on more valuable analytical tasks. Moreover, it’s likely that by focusing on issues that are delaying the close, the department will uncover the root cause of other issues that diminish its performance. “We’re too busy to figure out how to save time” is a common problem in these finance organizations.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 27, 2018 8:42:32 AM
OneStream XF from OneStream is a financial performance management (FPM) platform offering planning, budgeting and forecasting, statutory consolidations and reporting. The company was founded in 2010 and has been self-funded, which means that until recently its marketing and brand recognition efforts have been limited. I reviewed the company’s statutory consolidation capabilities earlier this year.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 12, 2018 11:07:46 PM
Longview Solutions provides tax departments with a full suite of tax software to manage direct (income) taxes. This includes tax provision and reporting, tax analysis and planning as well as operational transfer pricing and country-by-country (CbC) reporting. A dedicated tax application suite speeds the tax process, enhances control, reduces the chance of errors and ensures consistency in provision, reporting, analysis and planning.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 18, 2018 9:07:54 AM
Budget season is about to begin for many companies. I’ve spent a few decades doing research into – as well as thinking and writing about – the planning and budgeting processes in corporations. I’ve closely examined the role of the Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) group, which is usually charged with managing the corporate budget process. About seven years ago, I published a research note, “Putting the ‘A’ Back in FP&A”. In it I made the point that the time saved by using dedicated planning and budgeting software and therefore not having to deal with spreadsheet machinations would enable people working in FP&A to do what they were hired to do: Analysis.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 1, 2018 11:08:41 PM
Workday will acquire Adaptive Insights for $1.55 billion in cash, with the transaction scheduled to close in the third quarter of this year. The combination adds Adaptive Insight’s well-developed cloud-based financial performance management software to Workday’s workforce and financial management suite. Workday says Adaptive will operate as a standalone business and continue with its current product strategy.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 27, 2018 11:23:51 PM
Blockchains are attractive because their built-in security and trust factors make them useful for almost all business interactions involving organizations and individuals. Blockchains have two basic functions. One is as a method for handling transactions involving property such as land deeds, trademarks or other assets. The second involves exchanges of data such as identities of individuals or businesses, the location of an object at a point in time or weather conditions. All interactions involving property or assets include the transfer of data as well, of course, but some blockchain use cases are informational only.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 21, 2018 6:38:29 AM
Workday recently presented a technology summit for industry analysts. The presentations focused on Workday’s ongoing product advancements as well as its approach to employing emerging technologies. These technologies include artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA) and bots utilizing natural language processing. Ventana Research uses the term “robotic finance” to refer to these technologies when used in the office of finance. In our view, they will have a profound impact on the nature of white-collar work over the coming decade. Financial management and ERP software vendors are focusing on these technologies because they will disproportionately affect finance and accounting departments: I estimate that their adoption has the potential to eliminate one-third of the accounting department’s workload within a decade.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 4, 2018 9:35:31 AM
OneStream XF from OneStream Software is a financial performance management (FPM) platform available on-premises or in the cloud. The company is a relative newcomer (it started in 2010) but its founders are industry veterans and it has a long list of referenceable customers. Being self-financed, it only recently began to raise its market profile. Its SmartCPM system consists of software for statutory financial consolidation, planning, forecasting, budgeting and reporting that’s used primarily by midsize and larger corporations, including large multinationals with complex ownership structures. Designed as a platform, OneStream XF fits into the company’s strategy to offer an array of financial applications developed by itself or third-parties that use a single authoritative source of data.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 2, 2018 7:39:48 AM
After more than a decade of steady development, ERP systems today are changing fundamentally, facilitated by the availability of advances such as cloud computing, advanced database architecture, collaboration, improved user-interface design, mobility, analytics and planning. This was evident when Oracle recently held its third analysts-only ERP Cloud Summit in New York to coincide with its Modern Finance Experience event. Oracle now has an increasingly robust set of business applications that reside in the cloud and a growing list of live customers – large and midsize – from a range of industries across the world, both of which were offered as part of the here-and-now technology theme at the event.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 16, 2018 1:00:00 PM
Accountants love electronic spreadsheets – and for good reason. They’re a powerful and versatile personal productivity tool and just about everyone knows how to use them. Spreadsheets are the default software tool for accountants because they enable autonomy (you don’t need to ask IT for anything) and they’re free (so you don’t have to make a business case to authorize buying something). Some accountants humorously (but earnestly) invoke the line “you’ll have to pry this spreadsheet from my cold, dead hands” whenever somebody suggests eliminating them.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 13, 2018 9:53:21 AM
Pricing is an issue that almost every for-profit company confronts – and usually agonizes over. Organizations’ approach to pricing can range from centralized to decentralized and from highly disciplined to lax. Whether pricing is best handled in a centralized or decentralized fashion depends a great deal on the markets the company is serving as well as its organizational structure and culture. However specific pricing policies are established, though, a disciplined approach to price setting and negotiation is always superior to an ad-hoc process. Discipline is key to preventing margin “leakage” caused by unnecessary price concessions. Configure, price and quote (CPQ) software is a critical component in any leakage-prevention strategy.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 26, 2018 12:07:03 PM
SAP recently held a teleconference to highlight its blockchain strategy. Lately, the major business software vendors have been calling attention to their blockchain initiatives. While the focus on this technology might seem premature to those who still equate it with cryptocurrencies, evidence is pointing to a future pace of adoption similar to the rapid take-up of the internet in the 1990s. That blockchain is useful for a wide range of business functions isn’t news – just google “blockchain use cases.” Payment, provenance, testament and efficiency are four main themes driving a multitude of applications of the technology. That said, blockchain isn’t technology in search of a mission but is something more like the internet, both in its broad utility and in value multiplication through network effects.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 15, 2018 10:08:14 AM
Robots of the physical sort are not about to take over finance and accounting but we have arrived at the age of “Robotic Finance”. I coined this term to focus on four key technologies with transformative capabilities: artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotic process automation, bots and natural language processing and blockchain distributed ledger technology. Embracing these technologies will enable any department to redefine itself as a forward-looking strategic partner to the rest of the company.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 15, 2018 7:23:11 AM
The use of blockchain distributed ledgers in business processes is now a common theme in many business software vendors’ presentations. The technology has a multitude of potential uses. However, presentations about the opportunities for digital transformation always leave me wondering: How is this magic going to happen? I wonder this because the details about how data flows from point A to point B via a blockchain are critically important to blockchain utility and therefore the pace of its adoption.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 12, 2018 4:32:47 AM
Ventana Research uses the term “predictive finance” to describe a forward-looking, action-oriented finance organization that places emphasis on advising its company rather than fulfilling the traditional roles of a transactions processor and reporter. Technology is driving the shift away from the traditional bean-counting role. The cumulative evolution of software advances will substantially reduce finance and accounting workloads by automating most of the mechanical, rote functions in accounting, data preparation and reporting. (I recently summarized these in a “Robotic Finance”)
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 29, 2017 5:24:49 AM
For several years, I’ve commented on a range of emerging technologies that will have a profound impact on white-collar work in the coming decade. I’ve now coined the term “Robotic finance” to describe this emerging focus, which includes four key areas of technology: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA), bots utilizing natural language processing, and blockchain distributed ledger technology (DLT), each of which I describe below. Robotic finance will have a disproportionate impact on finance and accounting departments: I estimate that adoption of these technologies potentially will eliminate one-third of the accounting department’s workload within a decade.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 25, 2017 7:52:13 AM
Robotic process automation (RPA) relies on programming or the application of analytical algorithms to execute the most appropriate action in an automated workflow. RPA enables business users to configure a “robot” (actually, computer software) to interact with applications or data sources to process a transaction, move or manipulate data, communicate with other digital systems and manage machine-to-machine and man-to-machine interactions. This technology is gaining increasing notice by finance departments, with good reason: RPA represents an important step beyond simple process automation in that it uses software to execute routine but complex workflows that require judgment. Rather than making an individual check-off a step in a routine approval, a robotic system applies an algorithm that decides the next step. The system thus does what people spend an awful lot of their time doing every day: making judgments that most of the time could be done by a machine.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 12, 2017 5:47:01 AM
Prophix is an established provider of financial performance management (FPM) software for planning and budgeting, forecasting, analysis and reporting, and managing the financial close and consolidation process. Its eponymous software is designed specifically for midsize companies or midsize divisions of larger corporations. These organizations are a distinctive segment of the market in that they have almost all the functional requirements of large enterprises but have fewer resources to apply to these critical tasks. Fortunately, the evolution of information technology over the past decade has been especially beneficial to midsize customers, bringing them expanded capabilities, substantially better performance and greater automation of routine tasks at an affordable total cost of ownership.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 30, 2017 6:27:07 AM
Oracle OpenWorld is a fall event that sprawls over a lot of territory – figuratively in terms of the IT landscape and, if you’re in San Francisco, literally. My focus here is on the ERP portion of the company’s software portfolio.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 23, 2017 8:52:34 AM
From my perspective, supply chain management (SCM) and sales and operations planning (S&OP) are two of the most underappreciated disciplines of modern corporate management. Properly applied, they can improve performance and competitiveness by increasing customer satisfaction and reducing costs. A combination of more capable information technology with advances in operations research and analytics has made managing supply and demand chains potentially more impactful by making them more flexible and adaptable to market conditions. Consequently, companies can enhance profitability, reduce working capital and improve customer satisfaction by providing more reliable service.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 14, 2017 8:54:36 AM
Sage Intacct recently held its annual user group meeting. The cloud financial management software service provider targets rapidly growing small- and midsize services companies. Within this broad category, Sage Intacct focuses on verticals including software, financial services, healthcare, nonprofits, wholesale and franchisers.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 6, 2017 11:14:06 PM
In 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report titled “Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting” (commonly referred to as “BEPS”), which describes the challenges national governments face in enforcing taxation in an increasingly global environment with a growing share of digital commerce. Country-by-country (CbC) Reporting has developed in response to the concerns raised in the report. To date, 65 countries (including all members of the European Union but not the United States) are signatories of the multilateral competent authority agreement establishing CbC reporting.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 26, 2017 7:18:56 AM
The application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to business computing will have a profound impact on white collar professions. This is especially true in heavily rules-based functions such as accounting. Companies recognize the transformational potential of AI and ML, but the progression and pace of the adoption of these technologies is unclear. Some applications of AI and ML are already in use but others are a decade or more away from replacing human tasks.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 12, 2017 8:11:29 AM
Continuous planning is a term Ventana Research uses for a high participation, collaborative, action-oriented approach to planning built on frequent, short planning sprints. This enables organizations to enhance the accuracy of their plans because refinements are made at shorter intervals. Short planning cycles enable companies to achieve greater agility in responding to market or competitive changes. “Continuous” also means continuous across the entire organization – planning as an ongoing collaborative dialogue that brings together finance, line-of-business managers and executives. And because it’s high-participation planning and not silo-based, companies can plan with greater accountability and coordination in their operations. This ongoing dialog tracks current conditions as well as changes in objectives and priorities that are driven by markets and the business climate. Continuous planning promotes a forward-looking mindset in planning and reviewing that’s focused on performance improvement.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 1, 2017 10:20:34 AM
Fra Luca Pacioli, a 15th-century Franciscan friar living in what’s now Italy, is credited with codifying double-entry bookkeeping, which is the foundation of accounting. Pacioli, a polymath, was well acquainted with his contemporary and fellow polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. So, given they were at times collaborators, it’s fitting that one of the most important applications of SAP’s Leonardo technology will be in helping to disrupt finance and accounting organizations in corporations.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 22, 2017 8:15:20 AM
In 2016 Unit4 acquired Prevero, a financial performance management software company. The acquisition reflects a trend toward the convergence of transactional and analytical business applications. ERP and financial management software vendors increasingly are adding analytic capabilities – especially in financial performance management (FPM) – to the core functions of transaction processing and accounting in order to broaden the scope of their offerings. The integration of transaction processing and analytical software is especially valuable to Unit4’s core customer base of midsize organizations, which we define as those with 100 to 1,000 employees. Midsize entities have almost the same systems requirements as larger ones but lack the resources the latter enjoy.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 6, 2017 1:23:24 AM
Workiva’s Wdesk, a cloud-based productivity application for handling composite documents, will have a larger role to play as companies adopt new revenue recognition standards governing accounting for contracts. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which administers Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in the U.S. (US-GAAP), has issued ASC 606 and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), which administers International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) used in most other countries, has issued IFRS 15. The two are very similar, and both will enforce fundamental changes in accounting for contracts.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 3, 2017 9:43:09 AM
Centage recently released Budget Maestro Version 9, a complete revamping of its longstanding budgeting application designed for midsize companies. The software, now offered as a multitenant cloud-based offering, delivers several structural improvements that can enhance the effectiveness of a company’s planning processes and at the same time is easier to use. Budget Maestro Version 9 is designed to support what Centage is calling a “Smart Budgets” approach to replace traditional budgeting. This approach is consistent with what we have been calling integrated business planning.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 24, 2017 3:26:41 AM
Earlier this year Zuora acquired revenue recognition software vendor Leeyo. Zuora, which initially focused on taming the complexities of subscription billing, has been broadening its software offerings to handle a wider set of the operational and financial requirements of a subscription business. Leeyo held a Revenue Recognition Summit in 2016 and the event was recently repeated. The need for the Summit reflects the impact new standards for accounting for contracts will have on subscription businesses. Compliance with these standards is proving to be a major challenge for companies that have subscription or recurring-revenue business models.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 10, 2017 6:43:35 AM
Longview recently completed the acquisition of Tidemark Systems, a planning software vendor. Longview Plan powered by Tidemark is a suite of cloud-based applications that enable corporations to plan, assess performance and communicate results more effectively. The software facilitates what Ventana Research calls “continuous planning.” This is a highly collaborative, action-oriented approach to planning that relies on frequent, short cycles to rapidly create and update integrated company-wide operational and financial plans. This structural approach makes it easy for individual business functions to create their own plans while enabling headquarters to connect those plans to create a unified view. Viewed in the long term, this acquisition provides Longview with a platform that will enable it to apply its existing on-premises intellectual property to a broader suite of web-based performance management and tax applications.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 8, 2017 7:20:24 AM
I recently attended SuiteWorld, NetSuite’s annual user conference. In the opening keynotes and throughout the event speakers emphasized benefits for NetSuite users resulting from the merger of NetSuite and Oracle, completed last fall. I wrote about this at the time. NetSuite users are likely to benefit from Oracle’s sales and core technology infrastructure. Before the merger, NetSuite’s R&D spending was constrained by being a public company. The amounts needed to rebuild and extend its software on an accelerated timetable likely would not have been acceptable to stock market investors.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 27, 2017 12:44:16 AM
Ventana Research defines financial performance management (FPM) as the process of addressing the often overlapping people, process, information and technology issues that affect how well finance departments operate and support the activities of the rest of their organization. FPM deals with the full cycle of finance department activities, which include planning and budgeting, analysis, assessment and review, closing and consolidation, internal financial reporting and external financial reporting, as well as the underlying information technology systems that support them.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 22, 2017 9:17:57 AM
Zuora, a subscription commerce and billing software company, recently acquired Leeyo, a company that provides software that automates the revenue recognition and forecasting processes. The terms were not disclosed. The acquisition is relevant to subscription-based businesses because of changes to accounting standards about to go into effect that will have a significant impact on how they account for their revenue. Leeyo and Zuora already have been deployed together with multiple ERP systems. The combined company plans to tighten integration between the two going forward.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 9, 2017 9:54:23 AM
Vendavo recently held its annual Profit Summit, a combination of a user group conference and a forum for covering evolving trends and techniques in business-to-business (B2B) pricing. Especially in emerging categories like pricing and revenue management, this sort of event provides an opportunity to assess the state of the market and the maturity of the applications. As I’ve noted, adoption of price and revenue management software has been slow in the B2B segment of commerce due to multiple obstacles. The challenges include change management, as well as data and process issues.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 27, 2017 11:04:56 AM
Anaplan recently held Anaplan Hub, its annual user group meeting. The company offers a cloud-based business planning platform that incorporates a modeling and calculation engine. The tool makes it relatively easy to add or expand the scope of plans that can be connected and monitored as a central source. Companies typically use Anaplan software for financial planning or budgeting, sales, workforce, marketing and IT planning. These are the types of plans in which companies often need to create models that incorporate their specific requirements, their strategy and their business systems.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 21, 2017 9:18:05 AM
Pricing is an issue that affects almost every for-profit company that doesn’t sell purely commodity products. A corporation’s approach to pricing can range from highly disciplined to ad hoc and from fully centralized to decentralized. The issue of centralized or decentralized depends a great deal on the markets the company serves, its organizational structure and its culture. However, a disciplined approach to price setting and negotiation is always superior to an ad hoc approach. This is especially true for non-commodity B2B businesses, which I believe have lagged other types of business in managing their pricing strategically. (Some would argue that there is no such thing as a pure commodity business, but that’s another issue.) Increasing pricing discipline in the company is one way for the CFO to engage more strategically in managing the business.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 17, 2017 7:26:10 AM
Oracle recently held its second ERP Cloud Summit with industry analysts. The all-day event wasn’t just about ERP. The company covered a range of its business applications, including financial performance management as well as its Adaptive Intelligent Applications. And it wasn’t just about the cloud. After more than a decade of steady developments, ERP systems have begun to change fundamentally, facilitated by the growing availability of new technologies including cloud computing, advanced database architecture, collaboration, user interface design, mobility, analytics and planning. Here are my key takeaways from the event:
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 7, 2017 10:26:56 AM
Ventana Research recently announced the results of its latest Benchmark Research, Next-Generation ERP. The enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is at the core of nearly every company’s record-keeping and management of business processes. Its smooth and uninterrupted functioning is essential to an organization’s accounting and finance functions. In manufacturing and distribution, ERP manages inventory and logistics. Some companies use it to handle human resources functions like tracking employees, payroll and related costs.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 23, 2017 9:28:13 AM
Business process reengineering was a consulting fashion in the early 1990s that spurred many companies to purchase their first ERP systems. BPR proposes a fundamental redesign of core business processes to achieve substantial improvements in market and customer responsiveness, productivity, cycle times and quality. ERP systems support business process reengineering by guiding the step-by-step execution of the redesigned process to ensure that it is performed consistently. They also automate the handoffs between individuals and departments to accelerate completion of that process.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 20, 2017 8:45:28 AM
More businesses are using software to implement and support a strategic pricing strategy designed to optimize revenue and margins in business-to-business (B2B) transactions because it can help improve results at the bottom line. “Optimize” in this instance means managing the trade-off that usually exists between revenue and profitability objectives in order to support a company’s strategy and capabilities in a given market. Business-to-business pricing management is Ventana Research’s term for such processes and applications. Software built for this purpose centralizes control and enforces consistency in pricing while assisting sales agents in negotiating prices that achieve desired business objectives. It enables agents to use techniques that can increase the revenue from a transaction, the margin on the sale or the probability of closing the sale.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 16, 2017 6:33:18 AM
Senior finance executives and finance organizations that want to improve their performance must recognize the value of technology as a key tool for doing high-quality work. Consider how poorly your organization would perform if it had to operate using 25-year-old software and hardware. Having the latest technology isn’t always necessary, but it’s important for executives to understand that technology shapes a finance organization’s ability to improve its overall effectiveness.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 7, 2017 12:14:58 AM
I’ve long advocated the use of effective technology in the tax function, especially for organizations that operate in multiple jurisdictions or have complex legal structures manage direct tax provision and analysis using outdated or inappropriate tools. Our Office of Finance benchmark research reveals that most organizations use spreadsheets to manage their tax provision and analysis: Half (52%) rely solely on spreadsheets, and another 38 percent mainly use them. I recommend to corporations that operate in multiple countries and that have even a moderately complex legal entity structure that they consider establishing what I call a tax data warehouse of record.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 24, 2017 12:16:39 AM
Price and revenue optimization (PRO) is a business discipline used to produce demand-based pricing; it applies market segmentation techniques to achieve strategic objectives such as increased profitability or greater market share. In essence, PRO enables companies to surf the demand curve using dynamic rather than fixed pricing to achieve the most desirable trade-offs between revenue volume and profit margins. The trade-off is defined by strategic factors such as the company’s market position, product and service portfolio, and marketing strategy.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 20, 2017 8:15:38 AM
Kofax offers Kapow, robotic process automation (RPA) software used to acquire information from a range of sources without human intervention and without having to write code. These sources include websites, applications, unstructured documents, data stores and desktop spreadsheets. RPA software does repetitive, low-value work that otherwise may be performed by person. It saves time in these tasks, completing them sooner and freeing skilled individuals to concentrate on work that utilizes their skills to the fullest. One of the earliest uses of software robots was “Web crawling,” which automated rapid collection of data posted on websites, for example, prices and locations. This was the Kofax Kapow’s original purpose, but its scope has expanded. When used to gather information from multiple applications, the software precludes the need for setting up and maintaining a separate data store. This saves time and money while ensuring that the information has come from the authoritative source and that there is no latency in the data. Rather than taking the time to write a program with broad applicability, a robot can be quickly configured to perform a specific task in a way that mimics how an individual does the job.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 13, 2017 12:05:19 AM
Ventana Research defines financial performance management (FPM) as the process of addressing often overlapping issues involving people, process, information and technology that affect how well finance organizations operate and support the activities of the rest of their organization. FPM software supports and automates the full cycle of finance department activities, which include planning and budgeting, analysis, assessment and review, closing and consolidation, internal financial reporting and external financial reporting, as well as the underlying information technology systems that support them.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 2, 2017 11:09:38 PM
The treasury function in finance departments doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s a fundamentally important one: to ensure that all funds are accounted for and that there is sufficient cash on hand each day to meet operating requirements. Keeping track of and managing cash, especially in larger organizations, can be complicated because of multiple bank accounts, complex financing requirements and various methods of receiving and making payments; the complexity deepens when more than one currency is used across multiple jurisdictions, which also can pose regulatory issues.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 2, 2017 10:30:56 PM
Ventana Research awarded our Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) Business Innovation Award for 2016 to IBM for IBM Regulatory Compliance Analytics, powered by Watson (IRCA). This application of cognitive analytics is designed to streamline the identification of potential regulatory requirements and suggest methods for compliance. In so doing the cloud-based system can cut the time and cost of compliance while creating an effective means of ongoing management and control of compliance processes.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 16, 2016 11:17:28 PM
Oracle and NetSuite have completed their merger. The combination is likely to be positive for customers because NetSuite will have access to “more,” a word repeated many times over the course of Oracle’s post-acquisition webcast. Existing NetSuite customers will benefit from increased investment as well as economies of scale that Oracle can bring to R&D and sales and marketing. Oracle has stated that there’s little overlap between its target customer base and NetSuite’s. However, there is substantial overlap with NetSuite’s application partner network because of Oracle’s own broad application portfolio. As such, many of these partners are likely to shift their attention to NetSuite’s cloud-only competitors (for example, FinancialForce and Intacct), which will benefit those rivals’ sales and marketing efforts.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 10, 2016 5:13:26 AM
To the extent that they know anything about blockchain distributed ledgers, people associate it with bitcoin, banking or payment systems in general. However, as I mentioned in an earlier research note, blockchains have a range of potential use cases. Indeed, blockchain distributed ledgers can look like just another technology in search of a mission. However, that’s because there are many ways of putting the technology to practical use that complement and enhance established patterns of doing business. For example, Walmart recently announced it will be using blockchains to establish authentication and traceability in its food supply chain; a French financial services company started a project to facilitate compliance with know-your-customer rules; and there is an anticounterfeiting service that can be used for authenticating diamonds and luxury goods. Technology that conforms to how an organization operates and provides immediate, clear benefits usually is adopted broadly and quickly.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 21, 2016 8:58:54 AM
Ventana Research recently awarded Workday a 2016 Technology Innovation Award for its newly released application, Workday Planning, because it simplifies and streamlines the budgeting and planning processes while facilitating collaboration, deepening visibility into spending and enabling tight fiscal control. These capabilities can help a variety of user organizations in several ways.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 10, 2016 7:21:58 AM
SYSPRO is a 35-year-old software vendor that focuses on selling enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to midsize companies, particularly those in manufacturing and distribution. In manufacturing, SYSPRO supports make, configure and assemble, engineer to order, make to stock and job shop environments. The company attempts to differentiate itself through vertical specialization and its years of ongoing development, which can reduce the need for customization and cut the cost of initial and ongoing configurations to suit the needs of companies in these industries, thereby reducing the total cost of ownership. Worldwide its targeted verticals include electronics, food, machinery and equipment and medical devices; in the United States, SYSPRO adds automotive parts (original equipment and after-market) and energy. The company’s development efforts follow a design philosophy that balances its target customers’ need for software capabilities that are on par with larger enterprises with their resource constraints (chiefly limited financial resources and technical staffs). Its software can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 9, 2016 7:32:13 AM
Intacct, a cloud-based ERP vendor focused on midsize companies, recently held its annual user group meeting. Two of its products that were covered in the keynote are worth noting. One, already available, enables companies to manage their order-to-cash process in a continuous fashion, from the time a salesperson begins to engage with a prospect to the time funds are collected. The other is a custom report writer, to be available in the first quarter of 2017, that will provide business users with the ability to create even complex reports from any data that resides within Intacct in a straightforward, interactive fashion that is similar to building reports in a desktop spreadsheet. The company also presented modules that will facilitate compliance with the new revenue recognition standards.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 31, 2016 9:30:19 AM
The annual Oracle OpenWorld user group meeting provides an opportunity to step back and take a longer view of business, industry and technology trends affecting the company. Last year, after listening to Larry Ellison’s and Mark Hurd’s vision for the future of IT, I wrote that Oracle had to continue shifting its focus to business applications because the accelerating shift to cloud computing would lead corporations to outsource their IT infrastructures, services and security to third parties. Eventually, this would substantially shrink the market for corporate IT departments, which has been Oracle’s strength. At this year’s conference the company demonstrated how it is applying its technology strengths to create a competitive advantage that it can apply to its broad business applications portfolio.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 25, 2016 4:41:29 AM
The topic of corporate governance received renewed attention recently after the publication of an open letter signed by 13 prominent business leaders, including Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase. The first principle the group advocated in the letter is the need for a truly independent board of directors. To achieve that aim, the letter suggests having the board meet regularly without the CEO and that the members of the board should have “active and direct engagement with executives below the CEO level.” From my perspective, translating this idea into reality would be helped by a change in the dynamics of most board meetings. I would eliminate the standard presentation of results and begin the meeting with questions and observations from the board members directed to company executives related to its financial and operating results and any other matters on the agenda. This could take place with or without the CEO.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 14, 2016 8:58:30 AM
Effective capital planning and capital investment are vital to a company’s long-term success. The choices a company makes in this regard – how much to invest and in which facilities or projects – almost always have a profound impact on its competitiveness and performance. Because they have limited financial resources, well-managed companies take pains to ensure that these decisions support their long-term strategies and are made as rationally as possible. To do this they must have a disciplined approach to assigning priorities to capital investments within the context of the company’s specific strategy and objectives, as well as the ability to easily identify and eliminate unnecessary projects or excessive spending. And since business environments are dynamic, companies must also continually review their investment portfolios to assess their performance to plan and their strategic value while they also consider new investments to support and expand the existing long-term portfolio.
Some aspects of planning are easier to handle than others. For example, large majorities of companies in our Office of Finance benchmark research said that they handle the basic functions of accounting (83%) and external financial reporting (78%) well or very well. In contrast only half (49%) said that they perform strategic and long-range planning well or very well. One reason for the discrepancy may be the tools that they use. Almost all (91%) companies said they use spreadsheets to manage their long-term planning and investment processes. Spreadsheets are the wrong choice for any repetitive, collaborative company-wide processes such as strategic and long-term planning. For example, tracking and revising projects and major company initiatives over time in desktop spreadsheets is time-consuming because they lack capabilities designed for these purposes, such as the ability to manage projects as a set of resources and activities along a time dimension. With such capabilities planners are able to see quickly the financial and operational impact of delaying or accelerating a capital project. Unlike spreadsheets, software dedicated to planning often includes built-in analytics and visualizations that help executives formulate plans and assess performance. Spreadsheets don’t make it impossible for companies to plan and manage strategic and long-range projects and investments, but doing that is so time-consuming organizations may not have time to do more valuable work – for example, comparing the impacts of different economic or business scenarios on a set of investment alternatives, or performing side-by-side assessments of existing project portfolios. Dedicated software can enable a company to gain agility in adapting its portfolio of projects and investments. By shortening planning and review cycles and being able to examine the impact of different scenarios on the fly, decision-makers can do more frequent in-depth reviews and reassessments of investment performance or priorities.
Dedicated planning software also can improve executives’ ability to do long-range planning to ensure they have the right strategy to succeed in the markets they serve and the right assets to support their strategic objectives. To achieve those goals they must allocate investments in those assets as optimally as feasible and possess sufficient resources (both financial and other, such as personnel with the appropriate skills) to support those investments. These are the key activities in the long-range planning process:
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 25, 2016 1:04:12 AM
Like many other industry observers I’ve heard overblown claims for information technology for decades. However, I’ve also observed that – eventually – reality catches up with vision. Finance and accounting departments are particularly resistant to change, yet because almost no corporations use adding machines or typewriters any more, it’s clear that transformative change can happen. Nonetheless, because users of business computing systems are inundated with “it’s better than ever” promotions by vendors, journalists and industry analysts, may have grown jaded and disbelieving. In the case of ERP systems that help run many organizations, that is too bad because we are finally at the point of a fundamental change in this business-critical software category.
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 25, 2016 12:14:45 AM
Ventana Research coined the term “enterprise spreadsheet” in 2004 to describe a variety of software applications that add a desktop spreadsheet’s user interface (usually that of Microsoft Excel) to components that address the issues that arise when desktop spreadsheets are used in repetitive, collaborative enterprise processes. Enterprise spreadsheets are designed to provide the best of both worlds in that they offer the ease of use and flexibility of desktop spreadsheets while overcoming their defects – chiefly inability to maintain data integrity, lack of referential integrity and dimensionality, absence of workflow and process controls, limited security and access controls as well as poor auditability. All of these issues can cause serious problems for business use, which I’ll discuss below.
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 9, 2016 9:51:30 AM
It strikes me that the motto of successful salespeople – “ABC: Always Be Closing!” – could apply equally to corporate controllers, albeit in the accounting sense. For a while now I’ve been advocating continuous accounting, a holistic approach to managing the finance and accounting function that, in part, emphasizes using technology to distribute workloads more evenly over an accounting period – in effect to always be closing rather than waiting until the end of the month or quarter. Continuous accounting also stresses improving efficiency by automating repetitive processes and enhancing organizational effectiveness by improving data integrity in finance processes.
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 1, 2016 9:02:00 AM
Vendavo is a vendor of business-to-business (B2B) price and revenue optimization software, which I have written about. A major focus of the conference sessions this year at the company’s annual user group meeting was on practical approaches to successful price optimization initiatives. While this category of software has been achieving increasing acceptance, penetration is still limited in the B2B segment, which includes, for example, industrial goods and services.
Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 23, 2016 8:12:56 AM
Unit4, a Netherlands-based vendor of financial management software focused mainly on midsize companies, recently acquired prevero, a German vendor of performance management and business intelligence software. The acquisition reflects a convergence of transactional and analytic business applications, which I have written about. ERP and financial management software vendors increasingly are adding analytic capabilities – especially in financial performance management (FPM) – to the core functions of transaction processing and accounting to broaden the scope of their offerings.
Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 18, 2016 9:42:26 AM
Invoicing and billing are mundane business activities that hardly anyone outside of the accounting department cares about, but they are where the back office meets the front office. How well a company handles the process of getting paid by its customers can have an impact on its relationships with them. Like most of the details of business process execution, the impact of substandard invoicing and billing is rarely obvious or even of interest to senior management. That said, like trimming scrap rates or increasing sales pipeline conversion rates by a couple of percentage points, achieving consistent incremental gains in the “little stuff” of business usually translates into greater competitiveness and better financial performance.
Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 5, 2016 9:45:34 AM
Today’s proponents of artificial intelligence (AI) tend to focus on its spectacular uses such as self-driving cars and uplifting ones such as medical treatment. AI also has the potential to aid humanity in more modest ways such as eliminating the need for individuals to do tedious repetitive work in white-collar areas. Along these lines, at its recent Vision users conference, IBM displayed an application of its Watson cognitive computing technology designed to automate important aspects of regulatory and legal compliance. Should it prove workable, the application of cognitive computing to compliance could be the first step in achieving what various “Paperwork Reduction Act” legislation has failed to do: substantially cutting the time needed to comply with rules imposed by government entities.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 28, 2016 2:59:13 AM
The blockchain distributed database was invented to create the peer-to-peer digital cash called bitcoin in 2008. Although the future potential of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has been debated, the distributed ledger structure using a blockchain database that supports bitcoin is likely to be adopted for a range of commercial and governmental purposes. Distributed ledgers are a secure and transparent way to digitally track the ownership of assets while enabling faster transaction speeds and reducing potential for fraud. How quickly companies, governments and individuals start using distributed ledgers and for what specific purposes remain to be seen, but their use will be independent of cryptocurrencies’ fortunes. Expansion in the use of distributed ledgers will depend heavily on the success of the initial applications and whether there are major hiccups in their use.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 22, 2016 9:19:10 AM
I recently wrote about the challenge some companies will face in planning and budgeting when new revenue recognition rules go into effect in most countries in 2018. It’s important for companies that will be affected to be sure they have the appropriate systems, processes and training to handle the more difficult demands imposed by the new rules. With the change in accounting, the time lag between when a contract is signed and when a company recognizes revenue from it may be more variable and less predictable than in the past. In extreme cases, performance measured by financial accounting will diverge materially from the “real” economic performance of the organization. Consequently, executives – especially those leading publicly listed companies – will need the ability to look at their plans from both perspectives and be able to distinguish between the two in assessing their company’s performance. In companies where the timing of revenue recognition can diverge substantially from current methods, financial planning and analysis (FP&A) groups will need to be able plan using models that incorporate financial and managerial accounting methods in parallel. They will need to be able to identify actual-to-plan variances caused by differences in contract values booked in a period and differences between the expected and actual timing of revenue recognized from contracts signed in a period.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 13, 2016 9:43:58 AM
New standards governing accounting for contracts will go into effect for most companies in 2018. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which administers Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in the U.S. (US-GAAP), has issued ASC 606, and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), which administers International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) used in most other countries, has issued IFRS 15. The two are very similar, and both will enforce fundamental changes in this area of accounting. Under the new approach to accounting for contracts, revenue (and some corresponding expense) is recognized only when customers are satisfied. In contrast, until now revenue was recognized when internally measurable events occurred, such as on delivery to the customer, the completion of milestones or the passage of time. In addition to dealing with an impact on accounting and planning, which I have discussed, companies may need to examine how the rules will affect how they account for commissions and other contract acquisition expenses.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 1, 2016 11:35:49 AM
Workiva offers Wdesk, a cloud-based productivity application for handling composite documents. I use the term “composite document” to refer to those in which text is created and edited collaboratively by multiple contributors and which incorporates tabular and numerical data from multiple sources in a controlled process. Composite documents often have formats defined by law, regulation or contract and must be created at periodic intervals. To comply with the requirement by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that companies “tag” their financial filings using eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), many companies acquired software to automate the creation and tagging of these composite documents.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 25, 2016 9:13:30 AM
Information technology enables a data-driven management style that was not feasible until powerful, affordable computers became generally available. There’s no bright line marking when this became possible; the process is ongoing. People were using financial analytics long before ENIAC, the first general-purpose computer, appeared, but the metrics available were not especially timely, broadly applicable to day-to-day situations or comprehensive enough to inform most management decision-making. Even today, there are many areas of business management where companies continue to operate much as they have in the past. One of those is pricing.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 18, 2016 5:39:25 AM
There were two noteworthy themes in SAP CEO Bill McDermott’s keynote at this year’s Sapphire conference. One was customer assurance; that is, placing greater emphasis on making the implementation of even complex business software more predictable and less of an effort. This theme reflects the maturing of the enterprise applications business as it transitions from producing highly customized software to providing configurable, off-the-rack purchases. Implementing ERP will never be simple, as I have noted, but as companies increasingly adopt multitenant software as a service (SaaS), vendors will need to make their implementations as repeatable as possible and enable flexible configuration of parameters and processes that substantially reduce the billable hours required to complete a deployment. “Customer assurance” is an important stake in the ground, but it will be an empty concept unless there is complete overhaul of the entire value chain to take it beyond good intentions. Otherwise, customer assurance will be an ongoing rearguard action to overcome technology-driven challenges and disincentives for improvement. Business applications must be re-engineered to facilitate implementation, substantially reduce the likelihood of implementation errors and facilitate subsequent changes to adapt to changing business conditions. Moreover, software vendors’ partners will need to demonstrate that they can reliably cut a substantial number of billable hours per implementation engagement. This will require partners to restructure their business models. Neither of these changes will be easy to accomplish. To its credit SAP has set a course for increasing the simplicity of using its core ERP and financial management software. Getting there soon would greatly enhance its ability to retain if not gain customers in these mature markets.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 15, 2016 8:33:01 AM
In our Office of Finance benchmark research 60 percent of participants said it takes their companies six or more business days to complete their quarterly close; that exceeds the best practice benchmark of five days. Consultants, academics and vendors have stressed the importance of shortening the close for almost a quarter of a century. The main reason for doing so is to provide executives and managers with timely information about the company’s performance. Yet our research shows that it’s taking longer for companies to complete their close than it did a decade ago: On average they now finish the monthly process in 6.8 days, compared to 6.5 days, and complete the quarterly close in 8.0 days vs. 7.5 days. The research suggests that the main reason for this increase is that companies use outdated manual close processes, which often are poorly executed and rely heavily on spreadsheets.
Posted by Ventana Research on May 27, 2016 11:12:31 AM
New rules governing revenue recognition for contracts will go into effect for most companies in 2018. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which administers Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in the U.S. (US-GAAP) has issued ASC 606, and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), which administers International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) used in most other countries, has issued IFRS 15. The two are very similar and will enforce fundamental changes in this area of accounting. The new rules will affect companies that use even moderately complex contracts in their dealings with customers. They include, for example, contracts that are structured using tiered pricing or volume discounts or ones that routinely involve modifications, such as adding or dropping users, or that allow seasonal changes to services. The changes necessitate an extensive review of an organization’s contracting and accounting policies and processes and are likely require changes to procedures and systems. Companies affected by the new rules also will need to examine their planning and budgeting processes. Those that currently use desktop spreadsheets for planning and budgeting should consider adopting dedicated planning and budgeting software in order to cope effectively with the increased complexity of planning in this new environment.
Posted by Ventana Research on May 23, 2016 7:56:24 AM
Infor recently held its annual Innovation Summit at its New York City headquarters. The company has shown leadership and creativity in business applications on two fronts: focusing its development efforts on enhancing the user experience and collaboration and building an application architecture that will deliver a rich set of functionality for ERP, financial management, CRM and HRMS and business analytics in a multitenant cloud environment. All of these advances were necessary to remake a disparate portfolio of aging software into an up-to-date set of applications. The Innovation Summits have been useful indicators of Infor’s future product and market direction. And while there has been a lag between what’s demonstrated and what’s actually available in the software, it’s not clear that this really matters. Any negative impact is limited by the slow replacement cycle for ERP (our research shows that on average companies replace their systems every 6.4 years – longer than they used to take) and conservative attitudes when it comes to core enterprise systems. Innovation doesn’t seem to be a big factor yet in selling business software to mainstream buyers, but it is likely to become more important within a few years. Changes in buyer preferences will come about as technology puts more of the design and operation of these systems in the hands of business users rather than their IT departments and outside consultants. Increasing the configurability and reducing the need for customization will cut costs, reduce the time to value in purchasing replacement applications and increase the flexibility of these notoriously inflexible systems.
Posted by Ventana Research on Apr 23, 2016 9:43:19 AM
I recently attended the SAPinsider Financials 2016 conference, a regular event that focuses on the interests and practical needs of people in the finance function of corporations. In several sessions SAP presenters continued to stress its theme of “Simple Finance” as well as making the wry observation that in finance, simple is hard to achieve. To support its theme, the company highlighted ongoing refinement and enrichment of its S/4HANA Finance offering.
Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 25, 2016 12:10:00 AM
I coined the term “cryptic data” to mean information that isn’t easy to find or access by people who could make use of it. In one instance, cryptic data offers professional investors – portfolio managers and securities analysts – a source of proprietary information that can improve their ability to pick stocks and achieve superior performance relative to their benchmarks. Automation through technology now makes collecting cryptic data substantially more efficient than manual methods and thus makes accessing it practical. In particular, Web scraping tools (what I call “data drones”) can be programmed to retrieve specific information once or on an ongoing basis. Although this data is accessible to anyone, it requires insight and experience to understand how to use it for superior investment performance.
Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 18, 2016 8:12:11 AM
The evolutionary pace of technologies that shape the design of ERP systems has been accelerating over the last couple of years. In addition to cloud computing there is the increasing availability of analytics and reporting integrated into transaction processing systems, which I have noted; support for mobile users; in-context collaboration; and more intuitive user interface (UI) design. Each of these features enhances productivity and the usefulness of ERP software in managing a business. The latest release of FinancialForce, a cloud-based ERP system, offers significant enhancements to its user interface and collaboration capabilities.
Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 10, 2016 8:56:51 AM
Financial planning and analysis (FP&A) is one of the core functions of any finance department. Preparing a budget, measuring performance to financial objectives and forecasting the company’s financial position are three of the main tasks for the FP&A organization within Finance. A key challenge for today’s FP&A organization is increasing the business value and relevance of budgeting and planning. To do so, FP&A must transform the processes from a static, rear-view mirror approach to a forward-looking, action-oriented one. A continuous planning approach can achieve this objective. Continuous planning uses short, frequent planning or budgeting cycles to promote agility, coordination and accountability in operations. It includes establishing an ongoing dialogue among finance and line-of-business managers and executives to track current conditions as well as changes in objectives and priorities driven by markets and the business climate.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 18, 2016 7:18:11 PM
Using information technology to make data useful is as old as the Information Age. The difference today is that the volume and variety of available data has grown enormously. Big data gets almost all of the attention, but there’s also cryptic data. Both are difficult to harness using basic tools and require new technology to help organizations glean actionable information from the large and chaotic mass of data. “Big data” refers to extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially those related to human behavior and interaction. The challenges in dealing with big data include having the computational power that can scale to the processing requirements for the volumes involved; analytical tools to work with the large data sets; and governance necessary to manage the large data sets to ensure that the results of the analysis are accurate and meaningful. But that’s not all organizations have to deal with now. I’ve coined the term “cryptic data” to focus on a different, less well known sort of data challenge that many companies and individuals face.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 14, 2016 11:40:09 AM
The imperative to transform the finance department to function in a more strategic, forward-looking and action-oriented fashion has been a consistent theme of practitioners, consultants and business journalists for two decades. In all that time, however, most finance and accounting departments have not changed much. In our benchmark research on the Office of Finance, nine out of 10 participants said that it’s important or very important for finance departments totake a strategic role in running their company. The research also shows a significant gap between this objective and how well most departments perform. A large majority (83%) said they perform the core finance functions of accounting, fiscal control, transaction management, financial reporting and internal auditing, but only 41 percent said they play an active role in their company’s management. Even fewer (25%) have implemented a high degree of automation in their core finance functions and actively promote process and analytical excellence.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 7, 2016 8:36:14 PM
Aria Systems provides companies with software for managing subscription or recurring revenue business models. A recurring revenue business models includes three types of selling and billing structures: a one-time transaction plus a periodic service charge; subscription-based services involving periodic charges; or a contractual relationship that charges periodically for goods and services. Aria’s cloud-based software addresses key requirements of users in the marketing, sales, operations and accounting functions in this type of business.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 1, 2016 8:26:11 AM
The steady march of technology’s ability to handle ever more complicated tasks has been a constant since the beginning of the information age in the 1950s. Initially, computers in business were used to automate simple clerical functions, but as systems have become more capable, information technology has been able to substitute for increasingly higher levels of human skill and experience. A turning point of sorts was reached in the 1990s when ERP, business intelligence and business process automation software reduced the need for middle managers. Increasingly, organizations used software to coordinate activities as well as communicate results and requirements up and down the organizational chart. Both were once the exclusive role of the middle manager. Consequently, almost every for-profit organization eliminated management layers so that today corporate structures are flatter than they once were. Technology automation also eliminated the need for administrative staff to perform routine reporting and analysis. Meanwhile, over the course of the 1990s, the cost of running the finance department measured as a percentage of sales was cut almost in half as a result of eliminating staff and because automation enabled companies to scale without adding headcount. During the last recession, companies in North America and Europe once again made deep reductions to their administrative staffs, relying on information technology to pick up the slack.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 20, 2015 8:00:55 PM
The ERP market is set to undergo a significant transformation over the next five years. At the heart of this transformation is the decade-long evolution of a set of technologies that are enabling a major shift in the design of ERP systems – the most significant change since the introduction of client/server systems in the 1990s. Some ERP software vendors increasingly are utilizing in-memory computing, mobility, in-context collaboration and user interface design to differentiate their applications from rivals and potentially accelerate replacement of existing systems (as I noted in an earlier analyst perspective). ERP vendors with software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription offerings are investing to make their software suitable for a broader variety of users in multitenant clouds. And some vendors will be able to develop lower-cost business systems to broaden the appeal of single-tenant hosted cloud deployments for companies that cannot adapt their businesses to share with other tenants or prefer not to.
Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 16, 2015 10:30:30 PM
Supply and demand chain planning and execution have grown in importance over the past decade as companies have recognized that software can meaningfully enhance their competitiveness and improve their financial performance. Sales and operations planning (S&OP) is an integrated business management process first developed in the 1980s aimed at achieving better alignment and synchronization between the supply chain, production and sales functions. A properly implemented S&OP process routinely reviews customer demand and supply resources and “replans” quantitatively across an agreed rolling horizon. The replanning process focuses on changes from the previously agreed sales and operations plan; while it helps the management team understand how the company achieved its current level of performance, its primary focus is on future actions and anticipated results. Adoption of S&OP has increased as software to support the process has become more powerful and affordable and as a growing list of companies demonstrated its value in producing meaningfully improved business results. Even without adopting a full-scale S&OP management approach, companies can benefit from better coordination and collaboration between their supply and demand functions. Software plays an important role here, too, in facilitating this coordination and collaboration.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 2, 2015 11:37:53 PM
Workday Financial Management (which belongs in the broader ERP software category) appears to be gaining traction in the market, having matured sufficiently to be attractive to a large audience of buyers. It was built from the ground up as a cloud application. While that gives it the advantage of a fresh approach to structuring its data and process models for the cloud, the product has had to catch up to its rivals in functionality. The company’s ERP offering has matured considerably over the past three years and now is better positioned to grow its installed base. Workday recently added Aon, the insurance and professional services company, to its customer list (becoming its largest customer to date) and reported that its annual contract value (ACV – the annualized aggregate revenue value of all subscription contracts as of the end of a quarter) has doubled since the second quarter of this year, albeit from a low base. This is an important milestone because for years the company’s growth has come from the human capital management (HCM) portion of the business, not financials. Workday has around 160 customers for its financials (more than 90 of which are live) compared to more than 1,000 customers for HCM.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 29, 2015 1:19:13 PM
The enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is a pillar of nearly every company’s record-keeping and management of business processes. It is essential to the smooth functioning of the accounting and finance functions. In manufacturing and distribution, ERP also can help plan and manage inventory and logistics. Some companies use it to handle human resources functions such as tracking employees, payroll and related costs. Yet despite their ubiquity, ERP systems have evolved little since their introduction a quarter of a century ago. The technologies shaping their design, functions and features had been largely unchanged. As a measure of this stability, our Office of Finance benchmark research found that in 2014 companies on average were keeping their ERP systems one year longer than they had in 2005.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 12, 2015 10:22:49 AM
Tidemark Systems offers a suite of business planning applications that enable corporations to plan more effectively. The software facilitates rapid creation and frequent updating of integrated company plans by making it easy for individual business functions to create their own plans while allowing headquarters to connect them to create a unified view. I coined the term “integrated business planning” a decade ago to highlight the potential for technology to substantially improve the effectiveness of planning and budgeting in corporations, and it remains true that integrating business planning can produce superior results. Companies that maintain direct links between functional or departmental plans more often have a planning process that works well than others. Our next-generation business planning benchmark research shows that two-thirds (66%) of those that maintain such links have a planning process that works well or very well, compared to 40 percent that copy information from individual plans into an overall plan and just 25 percent in which plans have little or no connection.
Posted by Ventana Research on Nov 5, 2015 10:26:32 PM
Whatever Oracle’s cloud strategy had been the past, this year’s OpenWorld conference and trade show made it clear that the company is now all in. In his keynote address, co-CEO Mark Hurd presented predictions for the world of information technology in 2025, when the cloud will be central to companies’ IT environments. While his forecast that two (unnamed) companies will account for 80 percent of the cloud software market 10 years from now is highly improbable, it’s likely that there will be relentless consolidation, marginalization and extinction within the IT industry sector driven by cloud disruptions and the maturing of the software business. In practice, though, we expect the transition to the cloud to be slow and uneven.
Posted by Ventana Research on Oct 29, 2015 9:51:54 PM
Many senior finance executives say they want their department to play a more strategic role in the management and operations of their company. They want Finance to shift its focus from processing transactions to higher-value functions in order to make more substantial contributions to the success of the organization. I use the term “continuous accounting” to represent an approach to managing the accounting cycle that can facilitate the shift by improving the performance of the accounting function. Continuous accounting embraces three main principles:
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 3, 2015 8:34:11 AM
The theme of transforming the finance organization is hot again. The term “finance transformation” refers to the longstanding objective of shifting the focus of finance departments from transaction processing to more strategic activities such as providing the rest of the organization with forward-looking analysis. I focus on the technology and data aspects of this type of business issue in these analyst perspectives because they are usually essential to achieving some business objective. However, technology rarely fixes a problem by itself. If it were a simple matter of just buying software or having better data stewardship, it would be relatively easy to achieve finance transformation. But it’s not simple at all. When it comes to changing how the finance and accounting organization operates, there’s no substitute for leadership. Doing that requires changes in the habits of the department, which include the CFO changing how the department works with the rest of the company.
Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 20, 2015 6:47:42 AM
Tagetik is a long-established vendor of financial performance management (FPM) software. Its full-featured suite includes planning, budgeting, consolidation, close management, disclosure management, analysis, dashboards and reporting. The software can be deployed on premises or in the cloud as multitenant software as a service or in a private cloud. Tagetik also offers pre-built integration with SAP and SAP HANA, Microsoft SharePoint and Qlik to best support a range of financial management needs.
Posted by Ventana Research on Aug 13, 2015 12:18:40 AM
Optimization is the application of algorithms to sets of data to guide executives and managers in making the best decisions. It’s a trending topic because using optimization technologies and techniques to better manage a variety of day-to-day business issues is becoming easier. I expect optimization, once the preserve of data scientists and operations research specialists will become mainstream in general purpose business analytics over the next five years.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 29, 2015 8:43:54 AM
Longview’s recent Dialog user group meeting highlighted the company’s continued commitment to providing much needed automation tools for improving tax department performance – tools that enable the tax function to play a more strategic role in the management of a company. The sessions also covered the capabilities contained in the company’s latest release, Longview 7.2 Update 2 and gave customers a detailed product evolution roadmap following their merger with arcplan.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jul 10, 2015 6:04:34 AM
Our benchmark research on next-generation business planning finds that a large majority of companies rely on spreadsheets to manage planning processes. For example, four out of five use them for supply chain planning, and about two-thirds for budgeting and sales forecasting. Spreadsheets are the default choice for modeling and planning because they are flexible. They adapt to the needs of different parts of any type of business. Unfortunately, they have inherent defects that make them problematic when used in collaborative, repetitive enterprise processes such as planning and budgeting. While it’s easy to create a model, it can quickly become a barrier to more integrated planning across the business units in an enterprise. As I’ve noted before, software vendors and IT departments have been trying – mainly in vain – to get users to switch from spreadsheets to a variety of dedicated applications. They’ve failed to make much of a dent because although these applications have substantial advantages over spreadsheets when used in repetitive, collaborative enterprise tasks, these advantages are mainly realized after the model, process or report is put to use in the “production” phase (to borrow an IT term).
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 29, 2015 8:18:36 AM
Unit4 is a global business software vendor focused on business and professional services, the public sector and higher education. Recently company executives met with industry analysts to provide an update of its strategic roadmap and to recap its accomplishments since being acquired by a private equity firm in 2014. Unit4 is the result of successive mergers of ERP and business software companies, notably CODA and Agresso. The company is also a part-owner (with salesforce.com and others) of independently run FinancialForce, which sells a cloud-based ERP system built on the Force.com platform.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 12, 2015 3:58:42 AM
IBM’s Vision user conference brings together customers who use its software for financial and sales performance management (FPM and SPM, respectively) as well as governance, risk management and compliance (GRC). Analytics is a technology that can enhance each of these activities. The recent conference and many of its sessions highlighted IBM’s growing emphasis on making more sophisticated analytics easier to use by – and therefore more useful to – general business users and their organizations. The shift is important because the IT industry has spent a quarter of a century trying to make enterprise reporting (that is, descriptive analytics) suitable for an average individual to use with limited training. Today the market for reporting, dashboards and performance management software is saturated and largely a commodity, so the software industry – and IBM in particular – is turning its attention to the next frontier: predictive and prescriptive analytics. Prescriptive analytics holds particular promise for IBM’s analytics portfolio.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 4, 2015 7:50:46 PM
Companies trust their tax departments with a highly sensitive and essential task. Direct (income) taxes usually are the second largest corporate expense, after salaries and wages. Failure to understand and manage this liability is expensive, whether because taxes are overpaid or because of fines and interest levied for underpayment. Moreover, taxes are a political issue, and corporations – especially larger ones – must be mindful of the reputational implications of their tax liabilities.
Posted by Ventana Research on May 27, 2015 3:27:04 AM
Revenue recognition standards for companies that use contracts are in the process of changing, as I covered in an earlier perspective. As part of managing their transition to these standards, CFOs and controllers should initiate a full-scale review of their order-to-cash cycle. This should include examination of their company’s sales contracts and their contracting process. They also should examine how well their contracting processes are integrated with invoicing and billing and any other elements of their order-to-cash cycle, especially as these relate to revenue recognition. They must recognize that how their company structures, writes and modifies these contracts and handles the full order-to-cash cycle will have a direct impact on workloads in the finance and accounting department as well as on external audit costs. Companies that will be affected by the new standards also should investigate whether they can benefit from using software to automate contract management or in some cases an application that supports their configure, price and quote (CPQ) function by facilitating standardization and automation of their contracting processes.
Posted by Ventana Research on May 12, 2015 9:33:06 PM
For most of the past decade businesses that decided not to pay attention to proposed changes in revenue recognition rules have saved themselves time and frustration as the proponents’ timetables have slipped and roadmaps have changed. The new rules are the result of a convergence of US-GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles – the accounting standard used by U.S.-based companies) and IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards – the system used in much of the rest of the world). Now, however, it’s time for everyone to pay close attention. Last year the U.S.-based Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB, which manages US-GAAP) and the Brussels-based International Accounting Standards Board (IASB, which manages IFRS) issued “Topic 606” and “IFRS 15,” respectively, which express their harmonized approach to governing revenue recognition. A major objective of the new standards is to provide investors and other stakeholders with more accurate and consistent depictions of companies’ revenue across multiple types of business as well as make the standard consistent between the major accounting regimes.
Posted by Ventana Research on May 8, 2015 9:46:22 AM
Recently, Infor held its second innovation conference with industry analysts at its New York City headquarters. Infor’s products include the major categories of ERP, human capital management and financial performance management applications. Behind the marketing aspects of its use of “innovation” is a business strategy for retaining existing customers, migrating a sizable percentage of those customers to the cloud and gaining new customers. (Because of the relative size of the installed base, renewals and migrating customers to the cloud are likely to be more important to Infor’s future revenues than adding new customers.) I think it’s useful to assess the content of the event in the context of the company’s business strategy.
Posted by Ventana Research on Apr 30, 2015 10:24:45 AM
Adaptive Insights held its annual user group meeting recently. A theme sounded in several keynote sessions was the importance of finance departments playing a more strategic role in their companies. Some participating customers described how they have evolved their planning process from being designed mainly to meet the needs of the finance department into a useful tool for managing the entire business. Their path took them from doing basic financial budgeting to planning focused on improving the company’s performance. This is one of the more important ways in which finance organizations can play a more strategic role in corporate management, an objective that more finance organizations are pursuing. Half of the companies participating in our Office of Finance benchmark research said that their finance organization has undertaken initiatives to enhance its strategic value to the company within the last 18 months.
Posted by Ventana Research on Apr 29, 2015 8:27:16 AM
Price and revenue optimization (PRO) software uses analytics to help companies maximize profitability for any targeted level of revenues. PRO utilizes data about buyer behavior to gauge individual customers’ price sensitivity and predict how they will react to prices. It enables users to charge buyers who appear to be less sensitive more than those who appear more price-sensitive. PRO is a significant departure from inward-focused, single-factor pricing strategies such as cost-plus pricing or, in the case of financial services, risk-based pricing (using a borrower’s credit score, for example). Instead it offers a multifaceted customer-centric analytic approach to pricing built on analysis of large sets of data.
Posted by Ventana Research on Apr 27, 2015 9:12:12 PM
There’s a long history of companies not paying close enough attention to the contractual elements of acquiring software. Today, this extends into the world of cloud computing. Many companies are choosing to acquire software services through cloud-based providers and increasingly rely on access to cloud-based data, as is shown by our forthcoming benchmark research, in which a large majority of participating companies said that having access to data in the cloud is important or very important. As they say, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on television, so what follows is intended to be nothing more than a conversation starter with legal counsel. But I do advise companies on how to use software to improve their business performance and provide guidance on what software they need to achieve their objectives. From that perspective, let me offer this blanket recommendation: Your company should examine the terms and conditions of its contracts carefully to be certain that it has the ability to control, access and retain its data in single or multitenant cloud-based systems. It should be prepared to add terms and conditions to any software-as-a-service (SaaS) contract to preserve ownership of and access to the data as well as other proprietary elements of that business relationship.
Posted by Ventana Research on Apr 8, 2015 7:21:41 AM
Because my research practice is centered on important business issues where technology is a key part of a solution, my written perspectives tend to focus on technology. However, it’s almost never the case that a company can just implement some application and fully resolve a business issue. Some progress may be achieved by using more effective tools, but in most cases results will fall short of what’s possible unless people, process and information issues are addressed as well. This is especially true for the accounting close.
Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 31, 2015 10:00:38 AM
Managing prices has always been an activity of keen interest to businesses, but it has become even more critical to do it well. Over the past decade many companies have found their ability to raise prices has been constrained by intense competition resulting from Internet commerce, global competition and other factors. One tool for dealing with this pressure is price and revenue optimization (PRO), an analytic methodology that calculates how demand varies at different price levels and then uses that algorithm to recommend prices that should optimally balance revenue and profit objectives. Computer-supported PRO began in earnest in the 1980s as the airline and hospitality industries adopted revenue management practices in efforts to maximize returns from less flexible travelers (such as people on business trips) while minimizing the unsold inventory by selling incremental seats on flights or nights in hotel rooms at discounted prices to more discretionary buyers (typically vacationers). Price and revenue optimization algorithms are designed to enable a company to achieve fatter profit margins than are possible with a monolithic pricing strategy. Using PRO, airlines and hotels catering mainly to less price-sensitive business travelers found they could match discounters’ fares and rates to fill available seats and rooms without having to forgo profits from their high-margin customers.
Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 20, 2015 10:48:03 AM
It’s stating the obvious to say that how well executives manage planning processes has a big impact on how well a business unit or company plans. However, one significant source of the value of our benchmark research is that it establishes hard evidence – the numbers – that transforms mere assertions into proof points. This is particularly important when people within an organization want to improve a process. Change management is facilitated by providing senior executives with facts to back up assertions related to solving a business issue. Our recently completed next-generation business planning research provides insight into the importance of managing the planning process well and identifies some components of good management.
Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 13, 2015 8:44:05 AM
As I noted in a recent analyst perspective note the recurring revenue business model is gaining increasing use worldwide. Our recently completed recurring revenue benchmark research shows that companies are using this business approach because they find that it can convey a strategic advantage in creating additional sales opportunities, making future revenues more predictable, enhancing their customers’ experience and increasing customer loyalty. However, recurring revenue businesses have unique challenges, especially in finance and accounting departments because most ERP systems (the ones that handle the accounting function) are not designed to manage the specific requirements of a recurring revenue businesses.
Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 26, 2015 3:52:24 AM
In our benchmark research at least half of participants that use spreadsheets to support a business process routinely say that these tools make it difficult for them to do their job. Yet spreadsheets continue to dominate in a range of business functions and processes. For example, our recent next-generation business planning research finds that this is the most common software used for performing 11 of the most common types of planning. At the heart of the problem is a disconnect between what spreadsheets were originally designed to do and how they are actually used today in corporations. Desktop spreadsheets were intended to be a personal productivity tool used, for example, for prototyping models, creating ad hoc reports and performing one-off analyses using simple models and storing small amounts of data. They were not built for collaborative, repetitive enterprise-wide tasks, and this is the root cause of most of the issues that organizations encounter when they use them in such business processes. Software vendors and IT departments have been trying – mainly in vain – to get users to switch from spreadsheets to a variety of dedicated applications. They’ve failed to make much of a dent because, although these applications have substantial advantages over spreadsheets when used in repetitive collaborative enterprise tasks, these advantages are mainly realized after the model, process or report is put to use in the “production” phase (to borrow an IT term). To date most dedicated applications have been far more difficult than spreadsheets for the average business user to use in the design and test phases. To convince people to switch to their dedicated application, a vendor must offer an alternative that lets users model, create reports, collect data and create dedicated data stores as easily as they can do it in a desktop spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are seductive for most business users because, even with a minimum amount of training and experience, it’s possible to create a useful model, do analysis and create reports. Individuals can immediately translate what they know about their business or how to present their ideas into a form and format that makes sense to them. They can update and modify it whenever they wish, and the change will occur instantly. For these business users ease of use and control trump putting up with the issues that routinely occur when spreadsheets are used in collaborative enterprise processes. Moreover, it’s hard to persuade “spreadsheet jockeys” who have strong command of spreadsheet features and functions that they should start over and learn how to use a new application. Those who have spent their careers working with spreadsheets often find it difficult to work with formal applications because those applications work in ways that aren’t intuitive. Personally these diehards may resist because not having control over analyses and data would diminish their standing in the organization. Nevertheless, there are compelling reasons for vendors to keep trying to devise dedicated software that an average business user would find as easy and intuitive as a desktop spreadsheet in the design, test and update phases. Such an application would eliminate the single most important obstacle that keeps organizations from switching. The disadvantages of using spreadsheets are clear and measurable. One of the most significant is that spreadsheets can waste large amounts of time when used inappropriately. After more than a few people become involved and a file is used and reused, issues begin to mount such as errors in data or formulas, broken links and inconsistencies. Changes to even moderately complex models are time-consuming. Soon, much of the time spent with the file is devoted to finding the sources of errors and discrepancies and fixing the mistakes. Our research confirms this. When it comes to important spreadsheets that people use over and over again to collaborate with colleagues, on average people spend about 12 hours per month consolidating, modifying and correcting the spreadsheets. That’s about a day and a half per month – or five to 10 percent of their time – just maintaining these spreadsheets. Business applications vendors started to address business users’ reluctance to use their software more than a decade ago when they began to use Microsoft Excel as the user interface (UI). This provides a familiar environment for those who mainly need to enter data or want to do some “sandbox” modeling and analysis. Since the software behind the UI is a program that uses some sort of database, companies avoid the issues that almost arise when spreadsheets are used in enterprise applications. There also are products that address some of the inherent issues with such as the difficulty of consolidating data from multiple individual spreadsheets as well as keeping data consistent. Visualization software, a relatively new category, greatly simplifies the process of collecting data from one or more enterprise data sources and creating reports and dashboards. As the enterprise software applications business evolves to meet the needs of a new generation of users, as I mentioned recently, it’s imperative that vendors find a way to provide users with software that is a real alternative to desktop spreadsheets. By this I mean enterprise software that provides business users with the same ability to model, create reports and work with data the way they do in a desktop spreadsheet as well as update and modify these by themselves without any IT resources. At the same time, this software has to eliminate all of the problems that are inevitable when spreadsheets are used. Only at that point will a dedicated application become a real alternative to using a spreadsheet for a key business process. Regards, Robert Kugel – SVP Research
Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 24, 2015 8:03:03 PM
Ventana Research recently released the results of our Next-Generation Business Planning benchmark research. Business planning encompasses all of the forward-looking activities in which companies routinely engage. The research examined 11 of the most common types of enterprise planning: capital, demand, marketing, project, sales and operations, strategic, supply chain and workforce planning, as well as sales forecasting and corporate and IT budgeting. We also aggregated the results to draw general conclusions.
Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 19, 2015 4:47:53 AM
Recurring revenue is a term applied to business models that involve three types of selling and billing structures: a one-time transaction plus a periodic service charge; subscription-based services involving periodic charges; or a contractual relationship that charges periodically for goods and services. Telecommunications was the first major industry to use it, but recently the model has gained popularity in others. It is a major trend in information technology as an increasing number of companies offer software and hardware technology accessed as a service through cloud computing. Recurring revenue also has been transforming the entertainment business, as customers subscribe to rent movies, music and other creative digital products instead of owning them; this is part of the so-called “sharing economy” whose social impacts are wide-ranging.
Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 17, 2015 8:03:45 PM
One of the issues in handling the tax function in business, especially where it involves direct (income) taxes, is the technical expertise required. At the more senior levels, practitioners must be knowledgeable about accounting and tax law. In multinational corporations, understanding differences between accounting and legal structures in various localities and their effects on tax liabilities requires more knowledge. Yet when I began to study the structures of corporate tax departments, I was struck by the scarcity of senior-level titles in them. This may reflect the low profile of the department in most companies and the tactical nature of the work it has performed. Advances in information technology have the potential to automate most of the manual tasks tax professionals perform. This increase in efficiency will enable tax departments to fill a more strategic, important role in the companies they serve.
Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 17, 2015 7:58:00 PM
One of the issues in handling the tax function in business, especially where it involves direct (income) taxes, is the technical expertise required. At the more senior levels, practitioners must be knowledgeable about accounting and tax law. In multinational corporations, understanding differences between accounting and legal structures in various localities and their effects on tax liabilities requires more knowledge. Yet when I began to study the structures of corporate tax departments, I was struck by the scarcity of senior-level titles in them. This may reflect the low profile of the department in most companies and the tactical nature of the work it has performed. Advances in information technology have the potential to automate most of the manual tasks tax professionals perform. This increase in efficiency will enable tax departments to fill a more strategic, important role in the companies they serve.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 5, 2015 8:36:27 PM
Business planning includes all of the forward-looking activities in which companies routinely engage. Companies do a great deal of planning. They plan sales and determine what and how they will produce products or deliver services. They plan the head count they’ll need and how to organize distribution and their supply chain. They also produce a budget, which is a financial plan. The purpose of planning is to be successful. Planning is defined as the process of creating a detailed formulation of a program of action to achieve some overall objective. But it’s more than that. The process of planning involves discussions about objectives and the resources and tactics that people need to achieve them. When it’s done right, planning is the best way to get everyone onto the same page to ensure that the company is well organized in executing strategy. Setting and to a greater degree changing the company’s course require coordination. Being well coordinated in this case means being able to understanding the impact of the policies and actions in your part of the company on the rest of the company.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 3, 2015 9:37:28 PM
Last year Ventana Research released our Office of Finance benchmark research. One of the objectives of the project was to assess organizations’ progress in achieving “finance transformation.” This term denotes shifting the focus of CFOs and finance departments from transaction processing toward more strategic, higher-value functions. In the research nine out of 10 participants said that it’s important or very important for the department to take a more strategic role. This objective is both longstanding and elusive. It has been part of the conversation in financial management circles since the 1990s and has been a primary focus of my research practice since its inception 12 years ago. Yet our recent research shows that most finance organizations struggle with the basics and few companies are even close to achieving this desired transformation.
Posted by Ventana Research on Feb 2, 2015 8:27:23 AM
Our recently published Office of Finance benchmark research assesses a broad set of functions and capabilities of finance organizations. We asked research participants to identify the most important issues for a finance department to address in a dozen functional areas: accounting, budgeting, cost accounting, customer profitability management, external financial reporting, financial analysis, financial governance and internal audit, management accounting, product profitability management, strategic and long-range planning, tax management and treasury and cash management. Among the key findings is this: Not using the most capable software is an underlying cause, often unrecognized, of process, analytics and data issues.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 27, 2015 7:50:29 AM
Our recent Office of Finance benchmark research demonstrates the importance of using automation to execute finance department functions. Information technology systems do at least two things very well that make better use of people’s time, and both of them can substantially improve organizational performance. First, they eliminate the need for people to do repetitive tasks, which frees them to spend time on more valuable work that requires judgment and skill. IT systems also can be programmed to focus only on relevant information while eliminating the need to get immersed in detail. The latter capability supports a “management by exception” approach, which enables executives and managers to better allocate how and where they spend their time.
Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 19, 2014 9:09:36 AM
A company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is one of the pillars of its record-keeping and process management architecture and is central to many of its critical functions. It is the heart of its accounting and financial record-keeping processes. In manufacturing and distribution, ERP manages inventory and some elements of logistics. Companies also may use it to handle core human resources record-keeping and to store product and customer master data. Often, companies bolt other functionality onto the core ERP system or extensively modify it to address limitations in the system. Because of the breadth of its functionality, those unfamiliar with the details of information technology may perceive ERP as a black box that controls just about everything. So it’s not surprising that when a company’s information technology becomes more of an issue than a solution, many assume that the ERP system needs replacing. This may or may not be true, so it’s important for a company to assess its existing ERP system in the context of its business requirements (as they are now and will be in the immediate future) and evaluate options for it.
Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 16, 2014 10:06:47 PM
SYSPRO is a 35-year-old ERP vendor that focuses on products for midsize companies, particularly those in manufacturing and distribution. In manufacturing, SYSPRO supports make, configure and assemble, engineer to order, make to stock and job shop environments. The company attempts to differentiate itself through vertical specialization and its years of ongoing development, which can reduce the need for customization and cut the cost of initial and ongoing configuration to suit the needs of companies in these industries, thereby cutting the total cost of ownership. Worldwide its targeted verticals include electronics, food, machinery and equipment and medical devices; in the United States, it adds automotive parts (original equipment and after-market) and energy.
Posted by Ventana Research on Nov 18, 2014 8:34:48 AM
Financial management software provider Intacct recently held its seventh annual user conference. In addition to a long list of enhancements in current and upcoming product releases, the company used the occasion to announce Intacct Collaborate, a capability built into its software that enables finance and accounting organizations to work together to answer questions or resolve issues while performing a process. Our benchmark research shows that collaboration ranks second in importance behind analytics as a technology innovation priority. Collaborative capabilities in software will multiply over the next several years as software transitions from the rigid constructs established in the client/server days, which force users to adapt to the limitations of the software, to fluid and dynamic designs that mold themselves around the needs of the user. A while back, I noted that finance and accounting organizations need collaborative capabilities although they might not realize it. At the same time, finance departments have their own requirements for these systems that reflect the character and constraints of the work they do. This means narrowcast, not broadcast, feeds (Finance doesn’t want a Facebook or Twitter experience because it considers much of what it does to be confidential) and in-context collaborative capabilities to simplify the working environment.
Posted by Ventana Research on Nov 18, 2014 8:25:27 AM
Financial management software provider Intacct recently held its fourth annual user conference. In addition to a long list of enhancements in current and upcoming product releases, the company used the occasion to announce Intacct Collaborate, a capability built into its software that enables finance and accounting organizations to work together to answer questions or resolve issues while performing a process. Our benchmark research shows that collaboration ranks second in importance behind analytics as a technology innovation priority. Collaborative capabilities in software will multiply over the next several years as software transitions from the rigid constructs established in the client/server days, which force users to adapt to the limitations of the software, to fluid and dynamic designs that mold themselves around the needs of the user. A while back, I noted that finance and accounting organizations need collaborative capabilities although they might not realize it. At the same time, finance departments have their own requirements for these systems that reflect the character and constraints of the work they do. This means narrowcast, not broadcast, feeds (Finance doesn’t want a Facebook or Twitter experience because it considers much of what it does to be confidential) and in-context collaborative capabilities to simplify the working environment.
Posted by Ventana Research on Oct 29, 2014 9:40:42 AM
Finance transformation” refers to a longstanding objective: shifting the focus of CFOs and finance departments from transaction processing to more strategic, higher-value functions. Our upcoming Office of Finance benchmark research confirms that most of organizations want their finance department to take a more strategic role in management of the company: nine in 10 participants said that it’s important or very important. (We are using “finance” in its broadest sense, including, for example, accounting, corporate finance, financial planning and analysis, treasury and tax functions.) Finance departments have the ability and at least an implicit mandate to improve business performance and enable a corporation to execute strategy more effectively. Yet the research shows that becoming strategic is a work in progress. Most departments handle the basics well, but half fall short in areas that can contribute significantly to the performance of their company. More than three-fourths of participants said they perform accounting, external financial reporting, financial analysis, budgeting and management accounting well or very well. But only half said that about their ability to do product and customer profitability management, strategic and long-range planning and business development.
Posted by Ventana Research on Oct 16, 2014 10:30:56 AM
When applying information technology to drive better business performance, companies and the systems integrators that assist them often underestimate the importance of organizing data management around processes. For example, companies that do not execute their quote-to-cash cycle as an end-to-end process often experience a related set of issues in their sales, marketing, operations, accounting and finance functions that stem from entering the same data into multiple systems. The inability to automate passing of data from one functional group to the next forces people to spend time re-entering data and leads to fragmented and disconnected data stores. The absence of a single authoritative data source also creates conflicts about whose numbers are “right.” Even when the actual figures recorded are identical, discrepancies can crop up because of issues in synchronization and data definition. Lacking an authoritative source, organizations may need to check for and resolve errors and inconsistencies between systems to ensure, for example, that what customers purchased was what they received and were billed for. The negative impact of this lack of automation is multiplied when transactions are complex or involve contracts for recurring services.
Posted by Ventana Research on Oct 13, 2014 11:58:44 PM
Finance and accounting departments are staffed with numbers-oriented, naturally analytical people. Strong analytic skills are essential if a finance department is to deliver deep insights into performance and visibility into emerging opportunities and challenges. The conclusions of analyses enable fast, fully informed business decisions by executives and managers. Conversely, flawed analyses undermine the performance of a company. So it was good news that in our Office of Finance benchmark research 62 percent of participants rated the analytical skills of their finance organization as above average or excellent.
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 29, 2014 6:16:03 AM
Infor recently held its annual Inforum user group meeting, along with a series of sessions with analysts. The $2 billion business software company has products in the major categories of ERP (including enterprise financial management), human capital management, customer relationship management and performance management among others.
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 22, 2014 9:31:43 AM
Like most vendors of on-premises ERP and financial management software, in moving to the cloud Oracle has focused on developing for existing and potential customers the option of multitenant software as a service (SaaS). (I’m using the term “ERP” in its most expansive sense, to include such systems employed by all types of companies for accounting and financial management rather than only systems that are used by manufacturing and distribution companies.) Oracle’s ERP Cloud Service includes Fusion Financials as well as planning and budgeting, risk and controls management, procurement and sourcing, inventory and cost management, product master data management, and project portfolio management. Although to date our benchmark research has consistently found that a large majority of finance departments do not prefer to deploy software in the cloud, we also observe the balance shifting in this direction. SaaS vendors that address finance department requirements have demonstrated faster revenue growth than those that offer products only on-premises. Like other vendors Oracle must establish itself as a credible vendor of cloud ERP and financial management services to be well positioned as market demand shifts further in that direction. The company made sizable investments in acquiring ERP and financial management software in the 2000s (notably PeopleSoft – which included JD Edwards – and Hyperion), and the investments have paid off as many companies have opted to keep their existing systems (and continue to pay maintenance) rather than replace them. Our Office of Finance benchmark research finds that over the past decade the average age of ERP systems in use has increased to 6.4 years from 5.1 years. The longevity of these systems is partly the result of the slow pace of innovation in underlying technologies used for business computing. Even so, modest year-by-year changes are adding up to make replacement a more attractive option while negative attitudes toward the cloud are dissipating. To retain its installed base, it’s important for any established vendor to have solid customer references and the ability to make sales of cloud products as demand for ERP and financial management software in the cloud increases.
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 17, 2014 9:26:25 AM
FinancialForce’s 2014 summer release incorporates improvements in mobile and collaboration features and provides enhancements to the planning dimension of its professional services automation (PSA) suite. In the last couple of releases the company emphasized expansion in the functional capabilities of its ERP suite, as I noted, focusing on human capital management and professional services automation as well as some supply chain automation capabilities.
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 11, 2014 9:49:01 AM
“What’s next?” is the perennially insistent question in information technology. One common observation about the industry holds that cycles of innovation alternate between hardware and software. New types and forms of hardware enable innovations in software that utilize the power of that hardware. These innovations create new markets, alter consumer behavior and change how work is performed. This, in turn, sets the stage for new types and forms of hardware that complement these emerging product and service markets as well as the new ways of performing work, creating products and fashioning services that they engender. For example, the emerging collection of wearable computing devices seems likely to generate a new wave of software/hardware innovation, as my colleague Mark Smith has noted. This said, I think that the idea of alternating cycles no longer applies. It would be convenient if we could assign discrete time periods to hardware dominance and software dominance, but like echoes as they fade, the reverberations are no longer as neatly synchronized as they once were. Moreover, adoption and adaptation of technology by consumers reflected in the design of work, products and services always lags – and lags in different ways, further blurring the timing of cycles.
Posted by Ventana Research on Sep 3, 2014 9:20:18 PM
I’ve written before about the increasing importance of having a solid technology base for a company’s tax function, and it’s important enough for me to revisit the topic. Tax departments are entrusted with a highly sensitive and essential task in their companies. Taxes usually are the second largest corporate expense, after salaries and wages. Failure to understand this liability is expensive – either because taxes are overpaid or because of fines and interest levied for underpayment. Moreover, taxes remain a political issue, and corporations – especially larger ones – must be mindful of the reputational implications of their tax liabilities.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 3, 2014 9:12:30 AM
One of the charitable causes to which I devote time puts on an annual vintage car show. The Concours d’Élegance dates back to 17th century France, when wealthy aristocrats gathered with judges on a field to determine who had the best carriages and the most beautiful horsepower. Our event serves as the centerpiece of a broader mission to raise money for several charitable organizations. One of my roles is to keep track of the cars entered in the show, and in that capacity I designed an online registration system. I’ve been struck by how my experiences with a simple IT system have been a microcosm of the issues that people encounter in designing, administering and using far more sophisticated ones. My most important take-away from this year’s event is the importance of self-service reporting. I suspect that most senior corporate executives – especially those in Finance – fail to appreciate the value of self-service reporting. It frees up the considerable resources organizations collectively waste on unproductive work, and it increases responsiveness and agility of the company as a whole.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 29, 2014 11:52:54 PM
Like other vendors of cloud-based ERP software, NetSuite offers the key benefits of software as a service (SaaS): a smaller upfront investment, faster time to value and potentially lower operating costs. Beyond that NetSuite’s essential point of competitive differentiation from is broad functionality beyond financial management, including capabilities for customer relationship management (CRM), professional services automation (PSA) and human capital management (HCM). These components make it easier for businesses to manage processes from end to end (such as quote- or order-to-cash) as well as to have transactions and business data available in a single system in consistent forms and synchronized. This in turn facilitates real-time reporting, dashboards and the use of analytics that integrate a wider set of functional data. Midsize companies are most likely to benefit from this integration because typically they have smaller, less sophisticated IT staffs than larger ones. A side benefit of having a single, integrated data source is improvement of situational awareness and visibility for executives and managers. It also enables organizations to reduce their use of spreadsheets for stitching together processes, doing routine analyses and reporting. These sorts of activities waste valuable time and reduce an organization’s agility.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 16, 2014 9:05:58 AM
Tagetik provides financial performance management software. One particularly useful aspect of its suite is the Collaborative Disclosure Management (CDM). CDM addresses an important need in finance departments, which routinely generate highly formatted documents that combine words and numbers. Often these documents are assembled by contributors outside of the finance department; human resources, facilities, legal and corporate groups are the most common. The data used in these reports almost always come from multiple sources – not just enterprise systems such as ERP and financial consolidation software but also individual spreadsheets and databases that collect and store nonfinancial data (such as information about leased facilities, executive compensation, fixed assets, acquisitions and corporate actions). Until recently, these reports were almost always cobbled together manually – a painstaking process made even more time-consuming by the need to double-check the documents for accuracy and consistency. The adoption of a more automated approach was driven by the requirement imposed several years ago by United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that companies tag their required periodic disclosure filings using eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), which I have written about. This mandate created a tipping point in the workload, making the manual approach infeasible for a large number of companies and motivating them to adopt tools to automate the process. Although disclosure filings were the initial impetus to acquire collaborative disclosure management software, companies have found it useful for generating a range of formatted periodic reports that combine text and data, including board books (internal documents for senior executives and members of the board of directors), highly formatted periodic internal reports and filings with nonfinancial regulators or lien holders.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 3, 2014 9:13:32 PM
The developed world has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to information technology. Individuals walk around with far more computing power and data storage in their pockets than was required to send men to the moon. People routinely hold on their laps what would have been considered a supercomputer a generation ago. There is a wealth of information available on the Web. And the costs of these information assets are a tiny fraction of what they were decades ago. Consumer products have been at the forefront in utilizing information technology capabilities. The list of innovations is staggering. The “smart” phone is positively brilliant. Games are now a far bigger business than motion pictures.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 22, 2014 10:40:32 PM
Longview Solutions has a longstanding presence in the financial performance management (FPM) software market and was rated a Hot vendor in our most recent FPM Value Index. Several years ago it began offering a tax provision and planning application. I think it’s worthwhile to focus on the tax category because it’s less well known than others in finance and is an engine of growth for Longview. We expect larger corporations increasingly to adopt software to manage direct (income) taxes to improve the quality and efficiency of what today in most companies is an inefficient, spreadsheet-driven process.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 9, 2014 10:35:37 AM
The keynote theme at this year’s Sapphire conference in Orlando was Simple. Top executives from SAP, a software company associated with complexity, stated and restated that its future direction is to simplify all aspects of its products and the ways customers interact with them and the company itself. SAP’s longstanding and commendable aspiration to thoroughness in its software will be giving way to an emphasis on elegance in its engineering. This objective is more than admirable – SAP’s future competitiveness depends on it. Changing the fundamental architecture of SAP’s offerings – already well under way with HANA – is absolutely necessary. The design underpinnings in SAP’s ERP applications, for example, have been shaped by technology limitations that have disappeared, as Dr. Hasso Plattner, one of the company’s founders, pointed out in his keynote. However, the relevant issue facing SAP and the software market is how far the company can progress toward this goal and how fast.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 3, 2014 9:35:25 AM
Analytics has long been a core discipline of Finance, applied to analysis of balance sheets, income statements and cash-flow statements. However, as I’ve noted, most finance departments have not kept up with recent advances. Our recent research in finance analytics shows that few organizations are realizing the potential of more advanced analytic methods and tools such as predictive analytics and driver-based modeling. One reason for this sluggishness is that they have not looked past yesterday’s requirements to see what possible. Another is that they are distracted by the difficulties they face in simply doing tried-and-true analysis, which is the result of difficulties in accessing the necessary data and inadequate tools. A third reason is that people receive too little training in the application of analytics to business and the use of more advanced analytic tools and methods.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 2, 2014 9:46:32 AM
Epicor used its recent user group conference to explain its strategic direction and product roadmap. The company is the result of multiple mergers of business software corporations over the past 15 years; its target customers are midsize companies and midsize divisions of larger organizations. Its most significant products are Epicor (ERP software aimed mainly at manufacturing and distribution companies) and Activant Solutions (software for small and midsize retailers, including a point-of-sale system). The company also has software that manages CRM, HR and human capital and supply chains, and provides financial performance management (FPM) and governance, risk and compliance (GRC) capabilities. These components of the software suites are adequate for the needs of many of the company’s target customers and are not intended as stand-alone applications.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 3, 2014 10:54:41 PM
From my perspective, Infor’s strategy to accelerate revenue growth is to offer companies more innovation and a lower and more predictable cost of ownership than its rivals in the business software market; its products include the major categories of ERP, human resources and financial performance management. It aims to innovate by focusing on improving the user experience and to lower costs by redesigning its software architecture. The innovation stems from a fresh approach to designing interactions between users and business software: simplifying it and providing a more modern user experience that people have grown accustomed to in their personal software. The better cost-effectiveness rests on designing its software to reduce the expense of integrating and customizing it. One element of this is creating richer functionality for narrowly segmented micro-verticals. Another is offering cloud-based versions built on less expensive open source infrastructure and third-party commodity services. The software markets that Infor serves are mature and offer limited growth. So to be successful the company must increase both its market share and its share of a company’s IT spend (capturing internal IT spending and outlays to third-party consultants and systems integrators). To prove that the company’s strategy is working will require sustained organic growth (excluding new acquisitions) in revenues.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 22, 2014 9:48:59 AM
Our research consistently finds that data issues are a root cause of many problems encountered by modern corporations. One of the main causes of bad data is a lack of data stewardship – too often, nobody is responsible for taking care of data. Fixing inaccurate data is tedious, but creating IT environments that build quality into data is far from glamorous, so these sorts of projects are rarely demanded and funded. The magnitude of the problem grows with the company: Big companies have more data and bigger issues with it than midsize ones. But companies of all sizes ignore this at their peril: Data quality, which includes accuracy, timeliness, relevance and consistency, has a profound impact on the quality of work done, especially in analytics where the value of even brilliantly conceived models is degraded when the data that drives that model is inaccurate, inconsistent or not timely. That’s a key finding of our finance analytics benchmark research.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 17, 2014 9:55:14 AM
The proliferation of chief “something” officer (CxO) titles over the past decades recognizes that there’s value in having a single individual focused on a specific critical problem. A CxO position can be strategic or it can be the ultimate middle management role, with far more responsibilities than authority. Many of those handed such a title find that it’s the latter. This may be because the organization that created the title is unwilling to invest the necessary powers and portfolio of responsibilities to make it strategic – a case of institutional inertia. Or it may be that the individual given the CxO title doesn’t have the skills or temperament to be a “chief” in a strategic sense.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 11, 2014 9:54:39 AM
Business computing has undergone a quiet revolution over the past two decades. As a result of having added, one-by-one, applications that automate all sorts of business processes, organizations now collect data from a wider and deeper array of sources than ever before. Advances in the tools for analyzing and reporting the data from such systems have made it possible to assess financial performance, process quality, operational status, risk and even governance and compliance in every aspect of a business. Against this background, however, our recently released benchmark research finds that finance organizations are slow to make use of the broader range of data and apply advanced analytics to it.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 4, 2014 8:36:44 AM
Anaplan, a provider of cloud-based business planning software for sales, operations, and finance and administration departments, recently implemented its new Winter ’14 Release for customers. This release builds on my colleagues analysis on their innovation in business modeling and planning in 2013. Anaplan’s primary objective is to give companies a workable alternative to spreadsheets for business planning. It is a field in which opportunity exists. Our benchmark research on this topic finds that a majority of companies continue to use spreadsheets for their planning activities. Almost all (83%) operations departments use spreadsheets for their plans, as do 60 percent of sales and marketing units. Yet the same research shows that satisfaction with spreadsheets as a planning tool is considerably lower than satisfaction with dedicated planning applications. But despite general agreement in companies that the planning process is broken and spreadsheets are a problem, companies seem reluctant to break the bad habit of using spreadsheets. This conclusion suggests that either switching to dedicated software hasn’t been easy enough or that the results of doing it have not been compelling enough to motivate change. Anaplan intends to address both of these issues.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 2, 2014 9:22:01 AM
There’s a growing realization that the multitenant approach to the cloud isn’t the only option that companies should weigh in deciding between deploying software on-premises and in the cloud. That some people describe the multitenancy approach as “the real cloud” reflects the contentious nature of some technical debates, especially those that occur early in the evolution of a new technology. Multitenancy does have advantages that confer cost savings, and these have been important in the first stages of cloud adoption. However, we predict that single-tenant structures will rapidly gain in importance as corporations mature in their use of cloud computing, especially with respect to how they manage their ERP systems, as I have written. Corporations are increasingly adopting Web-based applications and moving their computing environments to a hybrid model that combines a combination of on-premises and cloud deployment options (private, community and public; single- and multitenant; or managed cloud). The right choice depends on the needs of the company and the ability of vendors to provide services that match their requirements.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 29, 2014 8:40:50 AM
Reconciling accounts at the end of a period is one of those mundane finance department tasks that are ripe for automation. Reconciliation is the process of comparing account data (at the balance or item level) that exists either in two accounting systems or in an accounting system and somewhere else (such as in a spreadsheet or on paper). The purpose of the reconciling process is to identify things that don’t match (as they must in double-entry bookkeeping systems) and then assess the nature and causes of the variances. This is followed by making adjustments or corrections to ensure that the information in a company’s books is accurate. Most of the time, reconciliation is a matter of good housekeeping. The process identifies errors and omissions in the accounting process, including invalid journal postings and duplicate accounting entries, so they can be corrected. Reconciliation also is an important line of defense against fraud, since inconsistencies may be a sign of such activity.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 20, 2014 9:56:42 PM
Information technologists are fond of predictions in which the next big thing quickly and entirely renders the existing thing so completely obsolete that only troglodytes would cling to such outmoded technology. While this vision of IT progress may satisfy the egos of technologists, it rarely reflects reality. Mainframes didn’t disappear, for example. Although they long ago lost their dominant position, many remain key parts of corporate computing infrastructures. The IT landscape is a hybrid because technology users have varying requirements and constraints that can lengthen replacement cycles. Most business users of IT pay little attention to the religious wars of technologists because they take a pragmatic approach: They use technology to achieve business ends. This scenario is repeating itself in clamor about another corporate mainstay, the ERP system, which advocates claim will soon be redeployed en masse to cloud computing. That, too, won’t happen. I believe that ERP will increasingly become cloud-based, but it will be in hybrid cloud environments.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 12, 2014 1:30:04 PM
Convergence is the Microsoft Dynamics business software user group’s meeting. Dynamics’ core applications are mainly in the accounting and ERP category, descendants of products Microsoft acquired: Great Plains (now GP), Solomon (SL), Navision (NAV) and Damgaard’s Axapta (AX), to which Microsoft has added its own CRM application. It has been more than a decade since the acquisitions of Great Plains (which itself had already purchased Solomon Software), and Navision, Damgaard and the software applications family has evolved steadily if slowly since then. More recently, Microsoft has added cloud services that simplify and improve the connection between remote users and the on-premises core systems, as well as integration with Office365.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 27, 2014 8:59:18 AM
When it comes to making a business case for software investments, many people fail to recognize that the case itself is just one part of what amounts to an internal sales and marketing effort that they must perform well to be successful. Focusing only on the numbers and assumptions in a spreadsheet is not enough. Making a successful business case requires an understanding of the audience’s perspective and motivations. Since the individuals who will review the business case may not be sufficiently aware of the issues that are behind it and their seriousness, it may be necessary to begin an awareness-building program before presenting the business case. And because the benefits of software investments can be difficult to quantify, executive sponsors are useful in achieving acceptance of these calculations. Unfortunately, many business cases founder because proponents do not realize the importance of taking a sales and marketing approach.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 26, 2014 8:12:35 AM
FinancialForce recently introduced FinancialForce ERP, a family of cloud-based software designed to support a variety of customer-centric businesses such as professional services organizations or companies that specialize in business and industrial distribution. Many of these types of businesses are midsize or small (having 50 to 1,000 employees) and can benefit from the integration of FinancialForce’s accounting, professional services automation, human capital management (HCM) and supply chain management (SCM) software. The company added the last two capabilities at the end of 2013 with the acquisitions of Vana Workforce and Less Software, respectively, which I commented on. Like FinancialForce’s, their software runs on the Salesforce1 platform, which means that integration of these elements was straightforward. It also enables companies that use or are planning to use salesforce.com for sales and customer service to simplify integration of those with the operational and back-office software, by enabling single sign-on, end-to-end process management and a single data source for reporting and analysis. This integration can significantly reduce or even eliminate the need to re-enter information into systems or to use spreadsheets, documents and email to manage processes. With all of the data available in a single system, creating reports and automating their distribution becomes easier. All of this, in turn, should cut the amount of time and effort spent on administrative and clerical functions and enhance the productivity of the organization.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 20, 2014 1:35:14 AM
A core objective of my research practice and agenda is to help the Office of Finance improve its performance by better utilizing information technology. As we kick off 2014, I see five initiatives that CFOs and controllers should adopt to improve their execution of core finance functions and free up time to concentrate on increasing their department’s strategic value. Finance organizations – especially those that need to improve performance – usually find it difficult to find the resources to invest in increasing their strategic value. However, any of the first three initiatives mentioned below will enable them to operate more efficiently as well as improve performance. These initiatives have been central to my focus for the past decade. The final two are relatively new and reflect the evolution of technology to enable finance departments to deliver better results. Every finance organization should adopt at least one of these five as a priority this year.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 31, 2014 9:43:58 AM
In the wake of the past year’s usual crop of failed ERP implementations, I’ve read a couple of blogs that bemoan the fact that ERP systems are not nearly as user-friendly or intuitive as the mobile apps that everyone loves. I’ve complained about this aspect of ERP, and our research confirms that ERP systems are viewed as cumbersome: Just one in five companies (21%) said it is easy to make changes to ERP systems while one-third (33%) said making changes is difficult or very difficult. Yet as with many such technology topics, addressing the difficulty in working with ERP systems is not as straightforward as one might hope. ERP software vendors must make it easier, less expensive and less risky for customers to adapt the systems they buy to their changing business needs. To do this, vendors must design products to be more configurable. The goal should be that organizations can make changes and add new capabilities to their ERP system in far less time than it takes today and without having to engage outside consultants.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 15, 2014 10:16:28 AM
Our benchmark research on enterprise spreadsheets explores the pitfalls that await companies that use desktop spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel in repetitive, collaborative enterprise-wide processes. Because people are so familiar with Excel and therefore are able to quickly transform their finance or business expertise into a workable spreadsheet for modeling, analysis and reporting, desktop spreadsheets became the default choice. Individuals and organizations resist giving up their spreadsheets, so software vendors have come up with adaptations that embrace and extend their use. I’ve long advocated finding user-friendly spreadsheet alternatives.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 13, 2014 8:22:59 AM
Senior finance executives and finance organizations that want to improve their performance must recognize that technology is a key tool for doing high-quality work. To test this premise, imagine how smoothly your company would operate if all of its finance and administrative software and hardware were 25 years old. In almost all cases the company wouldn’t be able to compete at all or would be at a substantial disadvantage. Having the latest technology isn’t always necessary, but even though software doesn’t wear out in a physical sense, it has a useful life span, at the end of which it needs replacement. As an example, late in 2013 a major U.K. bank experienced two system-wide failures in rapid succession caused by its decades-old mainframe systems; these breakdowns followed a similarly costly failure in 2012. For years the cost and risk of replacing these legacy systems kept management from taking the plunge. What they didn’t consider were the cost and risk associated with keeping the existing systems going. Our new research agenda for the Office of Finance attempts to find a balance between the leading edge and the mainstream that will help businesses find practical solutions.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 18, 2013 9:47:56 AM
Integrated risk management (IRM) was a major theme at IBM’s recent Smarter Risk Management analyst summit in London. In the market context, IBM sees this topic as a means to differentiate its product and messaging from those of its competitors. IRM includes cloud-based offerings in operational risk analytics, IT risk analytics and financial crimes management designed for financial institutions and draws on component elements of software that IBM acquired over the past five years, notably from Algorithmics for risk-aware business decisions, Open Pages for compliance management, SPSS for sophisticated analytics, Cognos for reports, dashboards and scorecards, and Tivoli for managing all of this in a Web environment. Putting its software in the cloud enables IBM to streamline integration and maintenance, offer more flexible deployment and consumption options and potentially lower the total cost of ownership.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 28, 2013 6:38:04 AM
FinancialForce.com, a provider of cloud-based financial applications, recently announced two pending acquisitions. One is Vana Workforce, which makes a human capital management (HCM) application aimed at small to midsize companies. The other is LessSoftware, a supplier of Web-based supply chain management (SCM) applications. The acquisitions are part of FinancialForce’s strategy to build a broad suite of applications that run on salesforce.com’s Force.com platform. The three companies already have joint customers, so they build on established use cases and relationships. FinancialForce.com itself is jointly owned by salesforce.com and Netherlands-based Unit 4.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2013 9:49:35 AM
Host Analytics has introduced AirliftXL, a new feature of its cloud-based financial performance management (FPM) suite that enables its software to translate users’ spreadsheets into the Host Analytics format. I find it significant in three respects. First, it can substantially reduce the time and resources it takes for a company to go live in adopting the Host Analytics suite, lowering the cost of implementation and accelerating time to value. Second, it enables Host Analytics users who have the appropriate permissions to create and modify models and templates that they use in planning, budgeting, consolidation and reporting. This can enhance the value of the system by making it easier to maintain. Third, it can make it far easier to routinely collect and connect planning and analytical models used by all departments and business users as it has outlined in its planning cloud offering. Although it has limitations in its initial release, AirliftXL gives corporations a workable alternative to stand-alone spreadsheets and has the potential to substantially increase productivity and effectiveness of an organization in the full range of budgeting, planning, consolidation and reporting functions.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 16, 2013 8:22:39 AM
All the hubbub around big data and analytics has many senior finance executives wondering what the big deal is and what they should do about it. It can be especially confusing because much of what’s covered and discussed on this topic is geared toward technologists and others working outside of Finance, in areas such as sales, marketing and risk management. But finance executives need to position their organization to harness this technology to support the strategic goals of their company. To do so, they must have clarity as to what big data can do, what they want it to do, and what skills and tools they need to meet their objectives.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 8, 2013 8:08:44 AM
One of the potential benefits of cloud computing to access business applications and data is its potential to improve the situational awareness of executives and managers. By this I mean their understanding of what’s going on outside their company in addition to what’s happening within it. Today people have access to a trove of information about their own company, which is the result of decades of investment in an expanding range of enterprise transaction systems (ERP, CRM and supply chain management, for example) and convenient data stores that make accessing data easier than ever. But although people have access to internal information, most have big gaps in their knowledge about what’s going on in the outside world. Take, for example, market trends, information about a competitor’s, supplier’s or customer’s financials or industry-specific demand forecasts. Our benchmark research shows that while two-thirds of companies are satisfied with their ability to integrate information from standard internal sources, only 39 percent feel that way about reference or competitive data from external sources and 36 percent about text data from social media.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 6, 2013 8:50:23 AM
PROS Holdings, a provider of price and revenue optimization software, has an agreement in principle to acquire Cameleon Software, which offers configure, price and quote (CPQ) applications. The combined company is likely to benefit from a broader geographic presence (PROS is based in Houston while Cameleon is in Toulouse, France) for their sales and marketing efforts. However, the longer-term strategic value of the merger lies in the combination of the related categories of price optimization and CPQ to improve sales effectiveness and financial performance.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 31, 2013 8:16:31 PM
Informatica and Exterro have announced a partnership in the market for discovery of electronic data and documents (known as e-discovery). Exterro has made its reputation in e-discovery workflow and legal holds management while Informatica is a leader in data integration that our Value Index finds as the top and Hot rated provider. The partnership is designed to provide users of Exterro’s Fusion E-Discovery software with a single point of control for organizing and managing legal and preservation holds (that is, preventing electronic data from alteration or deletion) of unstructured and structured data that are held in Informatica’s Data Archive. Informatica specializes in the efficient management of information assets, which our benchmark research shows is not easy for most organizations to do because they have data spread across multiple applications and systems: Two-thirds of organizations said that this makes it difficult to manage information. By consolidating in a single repository the storage of information that is likely to be the subject of discovery, companies can simplify and cut the cost of the search process as well as reduce risk. Orchestrating legal and preservation holds can be complex since multiple people or groups within a company may be legally involved with the same data over an extended period of time. Moreover, it’s important to ensure that once the holds are no longer needed, all data that can be eliminated is eliminated.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 31, 2013 8:00:44 PM
Tidemark announced the release of the Fall 2013 version of its eponymous cloud-based application that my colleague assessed earlier in 2013. This new release adds capabilities for labor planning and expense management as well profitability modeling and analysis. These two areas of planning and analysis are common to all businesses. The new release adds features that enhance the software’s ability to do sales forecasting, initiative planning and IT department planning. The company continues to refine its modeling capabilities to make it easier for people engaged in the planning process to translate their expectations and concerns into a quantified view of the future. For example, users now can build models using natural-language modeling. The objective is to eliminate the need for help from business analysts or experts trained in the use of a tool and immersed the details of the IT plumbing, such as the metadata used for specific general ledger accounts or operational data.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 22, 2013 10:16:21 AM
Business planning is a new software category. These applications enable senior executives to integrate all the plans of business units into a single, integrated view, which helps them have more accurate plans, do more insightful what-if planning, achieve greater agility in reacting to changing business and economic conditions, and execute plans in a more coordinated fashion than was possible. Business planning software is intended for CEOs and COOs, who are not well served by current capabilities. Business planning software enables executives and managers to understand both the operational and the financial consequences of their actions, but it emphasizes the things that the various parts of the business focus on: units sold, sales calls made, the number and types of employees required, customers serviced and so on. Lines of business already do this but in a fragmented fashion using desktop spreadsheets circulated within silos via email. Business planning software provides a platform to support modeling in individual business units, individual planning processes and visualization of the impacts of changes in what-if scenarios. It offers a central data repository for all plans; our benchmark research shows the advantage of this approach: Companies that directly link individual business unit data to an integrated plan get more accurate results. To be specific, 22 percent of those with such links have very accurate budgets compared to just a handful with less direct links and none that employ summarized data.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 16, 2013 7:23:32 AM
Oracle continues to enrich the capabilities of its Hyperion suite of applications that support the finance function, but I wonder if that will be enough to sustain its market share and new generation of expectations. At the recent Oracle OpenWorld these new features were on display, and spokespeople described how the company will be transitioning its software to cloud deployment. Our 2013 Financial Performance Management Value (FPM) Index rates Oracle Hyperion a Warm vendor in my analysis, ranking eighth out of nine vendors. Our Value Index is informed by more than a decade of analysis of technology suppliers and their products and how well they satisfy specific business and IT needs. We perform a detailed evaluation of product functionality and suitability-to-task as well as the effectiveness of vendor support for the buying process and customer assurance. Our assessment reflects two disparate sets of factors. On one hand, the Hyperion FPM suite offers a broad set of software that automates, streamlines and supports a range of finance department functions. It includes sophisticated analytical applications. Used to full effect, Hyperion can eliminate many manual steps and speed execution of routine work. It also can enhance accuracy, ensure tasks are completed on a timely basis, foster coordination between Finance and the rest of the organization and generate insights into corporate performance. For this, the software gets high marks.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 11, 2013 12:07:59 PM
Business planning as practiced today is a relic, a process hemmed in by obsolete conceptions of what it should be. I use the term “business planning” to encompass all of the forward-looking activities in which companies routinely engage, including, for example, sales, production and head-count planning as well as budgeting. Companies need to take a fresh view of all these, adopting a new approach to business planning that while preserving continuity makes a substantial departure from what most companies do now. Currently, in most organizations the budget is the only companywide business plan. However, while necessary for financial management and control, budgets are not especially useful for running an organization.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 9, 2013 8:56:33 AM
We recently issued our 2013 Value Index on Financial Performance Management. Ventana Research defines financial performance management (FPM) as the process of addressing the often overlapping people, process, information and technology issues that affect how well finance organizations operate and support the activities of the rest of their organization. FPM deals with the full cycle of finance department activities, which includes planning and budgeting, analysis, assessment and review, closing and consolidation, and internal and external financial reporting, as well as the underlying IT systems that support them. Our Value Index is informed by more than a decade of analysis of how well technology suppliers and their products satisfy specific business and IT needs. We perform a detailed evaluation of product functionality and suitability to task in five categories as well as of the effectiveness of vendor support for the buying process and customer assurance. Our resulting index gauges the value offered by each individual vendor and its products in supporting FPM, which is necessary for running an organization efficiently and effectively.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 2, 2013 8:44:25 AM
In business, the first rule of gamification is don’t call it gamification.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 25, 2013 12:09:01 AM
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems emerged in the 1990s. Even though they don’t do much in the way of planning, the systems provide companies a means of centralizing and consolidating transaction data collection (such as purchase orders, inventory movements and depreciation), automating the management of processes, and handling the bookkeeping and financial record keeping for these transactions and related processes. ERP systems are an indispensable piece of IT infrastructure in today’s enterprises. Alas, they also are inherently flawed. But perhaps not for much longer.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 19, 2013 8:31:52 AM
Technology for the Office of Finance can have transformative power. Although progress has been slow at times, today’s finance organizations are fundamentally different from those of 50 years ago. For one thing, they require far fewer resources (chiefly people) to perform basic accounting, treasury and corporate finance tasks. In addition, public corporations report results sooner – sometimes weeks sooner – than they could in the mid-20th century. And finance departments are able to harness substantially more data and a wider array of analytics to promote insight and support more agile decision-making.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 30, 2013 10:03:06 AM
Many finance executives want to improve their department’s effectiveness in order to play a more strategic role in their company. However, frequently they find at least three serious challenges to achieving this sort of finance transformation. One is that too much time and resources are devoted to purely mechanical tasks. Another is that the information executives need is not always available immediately. A third is that they lack the data (which is unavailable or too difficult to access), the analytic tools or both to do rapid contingency planning. One area in the Office of Finance that needs particular attention is treasury, as I commented recently. Treasury management is a challenge because it’s highly detailed and demands complete accuracy. These requirements make it an area that can benefit from more automation.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 22, 2013 1:22:42 PM
Because of its impact on the Office of Finance, I’ve written in the past about the proposed timeline and IT implications of the convergence of U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (U.S. GAAP) and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). While the bottom-line differences between U.S. GAAP and IFRS are likely to be minimal for most businesses, some aspects of the convergence promise to be significant and problematic. One important change is how companies account for leases. The process of arriving at these rules has been contentious because it represents a major change that will entail substantial process and accounting challenges for U.S. GAAP companies. These changes are likely to go into effect as part of U.S. GAAP well ahead of any adoption of IFRS in the U.S. IT systems also will be affected, but software could smooth the transition if vendors provide a workable product.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 19, 2013 8:23:32 AM
This is the beginning of the season when companies that are on a calendar year begin their strategic and long-term planning. Ventana Research performed an extensive investigation in this area with our long-range planning benchmark research. Strategic and long-range planning is a process and discipline that companies use to determine the best strategy for succeeding in the markets they serve and then ensure they have the capabilities and resources needed to support their strategic objectives.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 7, 2013 10:47:30 AM
The spreadsheet is one of the five most important advances in business management over the last 50 years. It has changed all aspects of running an organization. It was the original “killer app” that made people go out and buy personal computers. So you see I’m enthusiastic about spreadsheets, but I realize they have limits that must be respected to work efficiently. One of the more important findings from our benchmark research Spreadsheets for Today’s Enterprise was about the time spent in maintaining spreadsheets. We asked participants how much time they spend per month in updating, revising, consolidating, modifying and correcting the spreadsheet used in the most important process associated with their job. The answers varied depending on the intensity with which people work with spreadsheets. On average, the heaviest users – those whose work requires them to spend all or almost all of their time using them – spend 18.1 hours per month on maintenance – the equivalent of more than two days per month! Even those who spend more than half their time in this fashion use up nearly two days (15.7 hours). For a tool designed to enhance personal productivity, these results should be sobering to executives and managers.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 5, 2013 11:32:03 AM
Pricing and profit margins appear to be trending topics, which is normal at this stage of the business cycle. North American companies achieved high levels of profitability coming out of the last recession by staying lean, but this trend has run its course. Margins are being squeezed, and companies are looking for ways to add to the bottom line.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 30, 2013 10:42:14 AM
People who don’t spend much time analyzing the software market may have trouble understanding the differences between products in a given software category or the difference between two categories. This happens because vendors and commentators use the same words to describe different depths of functionality and degrees of comprehensiveness in one type of application. As well, there can be multiple categories of software that address the same general business issues but are designed for different specific uses. Not only is it worth the effort to sort through the labels and understand what does what best, but different categories of software that are sold and deployed separately can provide even greater value when used together.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 10, 2013 8:43:35 AM
Along with other aspects of the finance organization, there’s increasing emphasis on having the treasury function play more of a strategic role in the organization. Typically, Treasury is charged with keeping track of and managing cash. Especially in larger organizations, this can be complicated because of multiple bank accounts, complex financing requirements and many methods of receiving and making payments; the complexity deepens when more than one currency is used across multiple jurisdictions, which also can pose regulatory issues. Treasury’s primary directive is to ensure that all funds are accounted for and that there is sufficient cash on hand each day to meet operating requirements. To accomplish this, finance professionals must perform key analytic tasks accurately to produce a clear picture of cash inflows and cash requirements. Analysis often is challenging because these numbers are constantly changing and because the process of collecting, analyzing and reporting all the data can be excessively time-consuming if done manually. This is a situation perfectly suited for dedicated applications that automatically manage the data needed to orchestrate treasury processes and provide analysis to inform decisions. Yet our benchmark research finds that more than half (56%) of companies with more than 1,000 employees either use spreadsheets exclusively or employ them heavily in conjunction with a treasury application.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 21, 2013 12:06:07 PM
IBM’s Big Data and Analytics Analyst Insights conference started me thinking about the longer-term potential impact of big data and related technologies on business management. I covered some of the near-term uses of big data and analytics in an earlier perspective. There are numerous uses of big data that can provide incremental improvements to existing processes and practices. Some of these will have a significant impact on changing business models, enabling new classes of products and services and improving performance. As well, the technology will have more profound, longer lasting effects. The ability to analyze large quantities of business-related data rapidly has the potential to set in motion fundamental changes in how executives and managers run their business. Properly deployed, it will enable a more forward-looking and agile management style even in very large enterprises. It will allow more flexible forms of business organization. None of these changes will be universal, and the old school will be with us for some time. Technology, however, will give executives and their boards of directors a powerful tool for strategic differentiation to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 14, 2013 11:25:41 AM
IBM hosted the Big Data and Analytics Analyst Insights conference in Toronto recently to emphasize the strategic importance of this topic to the company and to highlight recent and forthcoming advancements in its big data and analytics software. Our firm followed the presentations with interest. My colleagues Mark Smith and Tony Cosentino have commented on IBM’s execution of its big data strategy and its approach to analytics. As well, Ventana Research has conducted benchmark research on challenges in big data.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 11, 2013 11:34:59 AM
Planview recently announced general availability of Planview Enterprise 11. The new release enhances the user experience through a comprehensive redesign of the interface to promote ease of use. The changes are intended to facilitate an integrated approach to long-range planning of capital projects and major corporate initiatives across departments. There’s an important difference between strategic and long-range planning, and this difference is the reason why long-range planning benefits from software specifically designed to support that process. Strategic planning involves the formal conceptualization of a corporation’s strategy and its individual supporting elements such as product, sales, pricing and financial strategy. The strategic planning process is aimed at solidifying ideas and concepts into words to ensure understanding and agreement by the senior leadership team. Strategic planning naturally is done at the highest echelons of an organization. For that reason, it involves a relatively small group of senior executives and deals more in concepts and less in specific numbers. Long-range planning is the next step. It’s the formal quantification of the strategic plan and how that strategy is expected to play out. Translating the company’s strategic plan into numbers should be an iterative process of dialogue between those who set the strategy and those responsible for carrying it out. Being able to get quick answers to these what-if questions makes for a more productive, accurate and fact-based dialog.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 3, 2013 9:55:17 AM
I recently attended Vision 2013, IBM’s annual conference for users of its financial governance, risk management and sales performance management software. These three groups have little in common operationally, but they share software infrastructure needs and basic supporting software components such as reporting and analytics. Moreover, while some other major vendors’ user group meetings concentrate on IT departments, Vision focuses on business users and their needs, which is a welcome difference. For me, there were three noteworthy features related to the finance portion of the program. First, IBM continues to advance its financial performance management (FPM) suite and emphasizes its Cognos TM1 platform to support a range of finance department tasks. Second, the user-led sessions illustrated improvements that finance departments can make to their core processes today, ones that improve the quality of these processes and go a long way toward enabling Finance to play a more strategic role in the company it serves. Third, the Cognos Disclosure Management product has better performance and useful new features to support the management of a full range of internal and external disclosure documents, including the extended close, which I have discussed.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 10, 2013 11:00:10 AM
Finance departments don’t immediately come to mind in conversations about social collaboration technology. Most of the software used for social collaboration that I’ve seen demonstrated focuses on the sales process or for broader employee engagement. The Facebook-style interface may cause finance department managers and executives to roll their eyes, especially if they’re over 40 years old. Yet business and social collaboration is an important set of capabilities that has been taking hold in business. Our benchmark research shows it ranking second behind analytics as a technology innovation priority. It will gain adoption over the next several years as software transitions from the rigid constructs established in the client/server days, which force users to adapt to the limitations of the software, to fluid and dynamic designs that mold themselves around the needs of the user. Perhaps because most of the attention so far on the benefits of collaboration has focused on front-office roles, there’s less awareness of the potential in back-office and administrative functions. Indeed, the same research reveals that those in front-office roles five times more often than those in accounting and finance roles (21% vs. a mere 4%) said that business and social collaboration are very important to their organization. However, I assert it’s just a matter of time before the finance group understands that social collaboration has substantial potential to improve its performance.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 8, 2013 10:51:18 PM
In some parts of the world, bribing government officials is still considered a normal cost of doing business. Elsewhere there has been a growing trend over the past 40 years to make it illegal for a corporation to pay bribes. In the United States, Congress passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in 1977 in the wake of a succession of revelations of companies paying off government officials to secure arms deals or favorable tax treatment. More recently other governments have implemented anticorruption statutes. The U.K., for instance, enacted the strict Bribery Act in 2010 to replace increasingly ineffective statutes dating back to 1879. The purpose of these actions is to enable ethical and law-abiding companies to compete on a level playing field with those that are neither. A cynic might wonder about the real, functional difference between, say, Wal-Mart’s recent payments to officials in Mexico to accelerate approval of building permits and the practice in New York City of having to engage expediters to ensure timely sign-offs on construction approval documents. No matter – the latter is legal (it’s a domestic issue, after all) while the former is not.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 7, 2013 10:14:18 AM
At this year’s Global Pricing Forum, host Nomis Solutions announced the availability of its Discretion Manager software, which supports dynamic price negotiations. The annual event brings together thought leaders and practitioners interested in pricing. Nomis currently has 17 of the largest 100 banks as customers. With more customers, this year’s event had larger attendance than last year’s.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 26, 2013 10:58:55 AM
At this year’s Inforum user group conference, Infor representatives showed the progress the organization has made since last year in transforming itself from a ragbag of mostly small, often obsolete software companies to a competitive vendor of a modern enterprise management software suite. Infor was created by private equity investors employing a “rollup” strategy, aimed at combining smaller companies within an industry to form a single larger company that could achieve economies of scale and greater market presence. Others have tried this in the software industry in the past and encountered difficulty in making it work for two primary reasons. One is the technical challenge of achieving economies of scale in enterprise applications by turning a set of similar but separately developed software pieces into a single offering. Computer Associates achieved economies of scale through acquisition in the 1990s in the IT infrastructure software segment. But it did this largely by forcing customers of the various acquired companies to migrate to its single offering in the specific category. This is not a practical approach for business and finance enterprise applications because customers are willing to go off maintenance and eventually look for another vendor. The second difficulty is that newer or larger competitors can focus on innovation and overtake the rollup company while its attention and resources are focused on stitching the pieces together.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 23, 2013 10:45:13 AM
The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) recently published a draft framework outlining how it believes businesses ought to communicate with their stakeholders. In this context the purpose of an “integrated report” is to promote corporate transparency by clearly and concisely presenting how an organization’s strategy, governance, and financial and operational performance will create value for shareholders and other stakeholders in both the short and the long term. Such a report aims to address broader needs than only those of investors’ and therefore must be more than a simple extension of a company’s external financial reports, which are aimed at a specialist audience including analysts, regulators and lawyers.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 18, 2013 10:11:35 AM
I’ve been using spreadsheets for more than 30 years. I consider this technology tool among the five most important advances in business management of the 20th century. Spreadsheets have revolutionized many aspects of running an organization. Yet as enthusiastic as I am about them, I know the limits of desktop spreadsheets and the price we pay if we fail to respect those limits. The essential problem arises when people use desktop spreadsheets for purposes beyond what they were originally designed to do. Desktop spreadsheets were designed to be a personal productivity tool, and they are good for prototyping models and creating analytics used in processes, performing one-off analyses using simple models and storing small amounts of data. They were not designed built to be used to manage or support repetitive, collaborative enterprise-wide processes. As a rule of thumb, when a spreadsheet is used by more than six people six or more times, it’s time to look for an alternative. Otherwise, errors and inconsistencies easily creep in and undermine the accuracy and value of important data.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 17, 2013 8:50:24 AM
For four years Adaptive Planning has been building out its cloud-based financial software. Starting with budgeting, planning and forecasting, it added analytics, data visualization, dashboards and alerting as well as flexible reporting and collaboration tools. It recently announced the general availability of consolidation functionality in its cloud-based suite. This addition eliminates a notable gap in the company’s functionality, giving it a more complete financial performance management suite. The addition of the consolidation capability should increase its appeal to larger companies and broaden usage within its existing customer base. According to Adaptive Planning, already about one-fourth of its customers are organizations or parts of organizations that have annual revenue in excess of US$500 million.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 15, 2013 11:01:53 AM
Ventana Research recently completed an in-depth benchmark research project on long-range planning. As I define it, long-range planning is the formal quantification of the more conceptual strategic plan. It makes specific assumptions and expresses in numbers how a company expects its strategy will play out over time. Almost all (95%) of those participating in the research see a need to make improvements to their long-range planning process. The research shows that one useful improvement is integrating long-range planning with the budgeting process. Today, many corporations confine their long-range planning to a high-level, less detailed extension of their current budget. Our research shows that companies that incorporate individual capital projects and major business initiatives as discrete elements of the long-range plan get better results. Marrying the high-level business outlook with the more significant bottom-up investment details produces better results.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 4, 2013 11:04:58 AM
A recent news release by Robert Half, a staffing company that specializes in accounting and finance personnel, covered what it sees as the most important attributes required for auditors in the 21st century. “7 Attributes of Highly Effective Internal Auditors” covers the people dimension of the profession and focuses on the non-technical requirements of the role, including relationship-building, teamwork, and diversity. No doubt these skills are a must for just about anybody working in a modern (Western) corporation. For me, though, the most important quality on the list is at the bottom: continuous learning. That’s because the role of internal and external auditors will be transformed radically by big data, in-memory processing and other advances in information technology that will make enterprise automated fraud discovery and mitigation a reality before the end of this decade.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 2, 2013 11:20:35 AM
SAP recently announced its new Fraud Management analytic applications. Currently in “controlled” (limited) release, it’s a promising start for the product and a good example of the type of business process revolution that’s possible when companies can execute complex analytics on big data sets using in-memory and other advanced processing techniques. Over the next several years a wide swath of basic corporate processes will be transformed by the shift to in-memory processing and big data technology, two key foundational elements of my office of finance research agenda. HANA has been a consistent element of SAP’s product strategy and underlies many recent new releases, such as Business Suite on HANA.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 27, 2013 8:02:00 AM
This is annual report season, the time of year that a majority of European and North American corporations issue glossy paper documents aimed at investors, customers, suppliers, existing and prospective employees as well as the public at large. (Some countries have different conventions; in Japan, for instance, most companies are on a March fiscal year.) In reviewing some of the annual reports that are available on the Web, I was struck by the absence of advanced reporting technology used on investor web pages and in online annual reports of vendors of advanced reporting technology. (One notable exception is Microsoft, which uses Silverlight on its investor web pages.) Adobe Acrobat (introduced 20 years ago) is the presentation method of choice for the annual report. It would be great if publicly traded vendors that sell tools that automate the process of assembling investor documents (such as Exact Software, IBM, Infor, SAP and Trintech) would demonstrate their value beyond simple compliance. These companies’ tools support and automate the processes that are part of what some call “the last mile of finance,” referring to their use in the final steps of a stream of activities that starts with closing the books and performing statutory financial consolidations and ends with publishing and filing financial documents to satisfy regulatory or contractual obligations. (I prefer to use the term “close-to-disclose cycle” because it’s a more accurate description.) These vendors should go the extra mile and redesign their investor sites to show how XBRL-tagged financial documents can be used to communicate more effectively with shareholders.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 19, 2013 11:12:55 AM
One of the most important IT trends over the past decade has been the proliferation of ever wider and deeper sets of information sources that businesses use to collect, track and analyze data. While structured numerical data remains the most common category, organizations are also learning to exploit semistructured data (text, for example) as well as more complex data types such as voice and image files. They use these analytics increasingly in every aspect of their business – to assess financial performance, process quality, operational status, risk and even governance and compliance. Properly applied, business analytics can deliver significant value by deepening insight, supporting better decision-making and providing alerts when situations require attention from managers or executives.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 15, 2013 9:51:03 AM
I’m wondering whether the rapid rise in earnings restatements by “accelerated filers” (companies that file their financial statements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that have a public float greater than $75 million) over the past three years is a significant trend or an interesting blip. According to a research firm, Audit Analytics, that number has grown from 153 restatements in 2009 to 245 in 2012, a 60 percent increase. What makes it a blip is that the total is still less than half the number that occurred in 2006 as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act began to take effect. As well, the number of companies restating is still less than one percent of the total. Yet it’s a blip worth paying attention to, since the consequences of a restatement pose a serious professional challenge to finance executives. The right software can help address some of the underlying causes that lead to the need to restate earnings.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 13, 2013 10:00:22 AM
I’ve frequently commented on the artificiality of the emerging software category of governance, risk and compliance (GRC). The term is used to a cover a combination of what were once viewed as stand-alone software categories, including IT governance, audit documentation and industry-specific compliance management, to name three examples. While it’s still common for specific types of software to be purchased piecemeal by different departments, these disparate areas have started a long convergence process. Since just about all controls and risk management efforts require a secure IT environment to be effective, there is a growing interdependence between effective IT governance and everything else connected with enterprise GRC.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 11, 2013 11:52:08 AM
Ventana Research completed an in-depth benchmark research project on long-range planning recently. As I define it, long-range planning is the formal quantification of the strategic plan and how that strategy is expected to play out over a period of time. The benchmark demonstrated that there’s room for improvement in almost every aspect of the long-range planning process. Almost all (95%) of those participating in the research see the need to advance their process. The research confirmed that long-range planning does not work well in isolation. Greater integration of the annual budget with the long-range plan and deeper integration of individual capital projects and initiatives are two ways to enhance the value of long-range planning process.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 8, 2013 9:42:46 AM
Ventana Research recently completed an in-depth benchmark research project on long-range planning. As part of the research we had discussions with CFOs and those involved in financial planning and analysis about their company’s strategic and long-range planning processes, which pointed to the need for clarity in using the terms “strategic planning” and “long-range planning.”
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 7, 2013 7:46:46 AM
I was discussing the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) mandate with a former head of investor relations at a Fortune 100 company. His take on it is much the same as that of everyone else involved with corporate reporting: it doesn’t produce much value and costs a bundle to comply. I related to him my thoughts on the lack of progress I saw in making the XBRL mandate more useful to corporations and investors alike. Making XBRL data readily available to the public – not just for SEC enforcement purposes – is consistent with the SEC’s three-fold mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. In addition to giving XBRL-tagged data greater practical value to investors, the trove of company data assembled by the SEC could be used by a wide range of people working within corporations.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 1, 2013 9:17:27 AM
Our recent benchmark research project, Spreadsheet Use in Today’s Enterprise, demonstrated that some companies have made modest progress in addressing spreadsheet issues, but there’s still much left to be done. Desktop spreadsheets can be an important source of productivity but, as I’ve noted, you need to understand their limitations and understand the practical alternatives. Users underestimate the impact of spreadsheet problems on their productivity because they tend to overlook the myriad little issues that constantly crop up. Being human, they overlook the ill effects that occur when spreadsheets are misused, and may be spurred to look for alternatives only when disaster strikes (as it did for one major bank).
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 21, 2013 9:45:42 AM
I’ve been using electronic spreadsheets for more than 30 years. I consider this technology among the 20th century’s top five most important advances in business management. Spreadsheets have revolutionized every aspect of running any organization. A spreadsheet (specifically, VisiCalc) was the original “killer app” that made business people feel the necessity to buy a personal computer.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 20, 2013 10:15:58 AM
Profit Velocity Solutions’ PV Accelerator is an analytic application designed to enable capital-intensive companies to consistently achieve substantially wider margins and higher return on assets (ROA). Companies in industries such as specialty chemicals, building materials, integrated steel mills and silicon chip fabrication (to name just four) routinely fail to make the right decisions about pricing, production and sales management because they use analytic methods that, from an economic perspective, present a distorted measure of profitability. Profit Velocity’s approach is to use profit contribution per unit of time as the core principle for driving decisions about production, pricing and CRM-related issues, including compensation-, customer- and account management.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 13, 2013 10:37:08 AM
One of the important lessons company executives should have learned over the past 15 years is that it’s dangerous not to do contingency planning, a subject that I’ve written about before. By this I mean real, think-outside-the-box contingency planning (not just extrapolating), which is especially important when doing long-range planning. The past decade or so has been punctuated by periods of elevated volatility in financial and product markets, and there’s a good probability it will occur again in predictable yet improbable ways. The dot-com boom and its resulting bust as well as the real estate bubble and collapse were in part liquidity-driven events. Many people recognized the artificiality of the rise in values during both of those boom times. There were naysayers questioning the longevity of the upturns, but as they continued unchecked and proved the skeptics wrong, most investors, analysts and advisors grew complacent and unwilling to consider truly unfavorable scenarios. By not planning for a bust, companies and individuals were not in position to react as swiftly and intelligently as they could have.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 8, 2013 8:44:59 AM
To mark the fourth anniversary of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) interactive data mandate, Columbia Business School (my alma mater) and its Center for Excellence in Accounting and Security Analysis (CEASA) published a review of the current state of eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) that notes the manifold issues that plague this promising technology. From its perspective, three key issues hamper greater use of XBRL. The first is the high error rate in the tagging process and the tendency of companies to use too many non-standard tags, both of which substantially reduce the usefulness of the data to practitioners. Second, they believe technologists, not regulators and accountants, should be more involved in developing software that makes it easier to consume XBRL-tagged data. Third, companies should spend more effort improving the quality of their data than on trying to kill the mandate.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 7, 2013 7:00:08 AM
IBM this week announced its pending acquisition of the Star Analytics product portfolio. Star Analytics is a privately held company that offers products designed to provide easy access to and integration with Oracle Hyperion data sources. While Star Analytics has a good product and solid references, it has lacked critical mass to support more effective sales and marketing efforts. Star Analytics’ strategic value to IBM lies in its ability to unlock data held in Oracle Essbase multidimensional databases, which is the repository for applications such as Hyperion Enterprise, Financial Management and Planning. It supports IBM’s aim to offer comprehensive business analytics capabilities, which means it must be able to facilitate access to all data sources. Longer term, it enables IBM to compete with Oracle for finance department customers with IBM’s own financial performance management applications. Star Analytics gives IBM a means of fostering relationships with existing users of Hyperion applications and a more graceful migration path to using IBM’s financial, analytics and business intelligence software.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 1, 2013 9:54:20 AM
The electronic spreadsheet is among the top five most important advances in business management to come along in the last hundred years. It revolutionized almost all aspects of running an organization. It was the original “killer app” that made it necessary for people to go out and buy a personal computer. Yet our recent benchmark research project Spreadsheet Use in Today’s Enterprise confirmed advice we have been giving for the past decade: Spreadsheets are a fabulous tool but they have limits, and those who fail to respect those limits wind up paying a price. The consequences may be obvious, as JP Morgan found when faulty spreadsheets used by its trading desk cost it dearly. Or it may be more subtle, as with all the time people waste trying to make spreadsheets do things they were never designed to do.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 1, 2013 6:35:07 AM
Taxes – both indirect (sales or value added taxes, for example) and direct (income taxes) – are one the largest expense items on the corporate income statement. In recent years it has become common for large and even midsize companies to automate their indirect tax management process, but direct tax management has remained a bastion of manual processes built on a heap of desktop spreadsheets. In previous blog posts I discussed this issue and the role of the tax data warehouse as a necessary foundation for automating the direct tax process. Addressing an important need, Vertex is currently providing a limited release of its Enterprise offering, a single-platform approach to managing all types of taxes (direct and indirect) across the entire tax life cycle (from analysis through provisioning to audit defense) using a single data source.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 29, 2013 9:06:31 AM
Banking giant JP Morgan raised eyebrows in 2012 when it revealed that it had lost a substantial amount of money because of poorly conceived trades it had made for its own account. The losses raised questions about the adequacy of its internal controls, and broader questions about the need for regulations to reduce systemic risk to the banking system. At the heart of the matter were the transactions made by “the London Whale,” the name given to a JP Morgan’s trading operation in the City by its counterparties because of the outsized bets it was making. Until that point, JP Morgan’s Central Investment Office had been profitable and apparently well controlled. In the wake of a discovery of the large losses racked up by “the Whale,” JP Morgan launched an internal investigation into how it happened, and released the findings of the task force established to review the losses and their causes [PDF document].
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 11, 2013 11:31:24 AM
For the past couple of years I’ve been pointing to the importance of in-memory computing to the future of business applications. It’s an integral part of Ventana Research’s business and finance research agenda for 2013, and it’s one of the core technologies that senior executives should have an appreciation for because it can transform all core business processes, especially those that are analytic in nature.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 10, 2013 9:02:37 AM
Businesses always see a lag between when technology makes some advance possible and when a majority of companies actually adopt it. There’s even a longer lag between the emergence of an advance in a business process or technique and the time it takes to become mainstream. When we write our research agendas at the top of each year, we have to strike a balance between focusing on the new and different, which is still many years away from general acceptance, and the mainstream, which has been anticipated for so long that it almost seems passé. Our research agenda for office of finance to support business for 2013, which I just finalized, is once again an attempt to balance the leading edge and the mainstream with an eye to practical solutions.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 2, 2013 11:23:00 AM
As I’ve noted before, it’s common for CFOs of companies that are transitioning from being a small to a midsize business (that is, when they grow past about 100 employees) to find that the entry-level accounting package that they have been using no longer fits their needs. This software may be inexpensive to purchase and easy to use but it lacks many of the customization and business process management capabilities that become increasingly important as organizations grow. The transition from such an application is especially difficult when it involves an on-premises system, because the up-front and ongoing costs of implementing and using these can be daunting. Usually, the shortcomings start off as minor annoyances for companies that have between 100 and 500 employees and grow over time, and usually the pain increases with the number of employees and the volume and complexity of the underlying business. Yet because of the cost, finance executives usually don’t want to migrate to a new system until their old software threatens the orderly management of the business or becomes an overwhelming burden on finance operations. For that reason, increasingly we are finding companies choosing to migrate to a cloud-based ERP system sooner in their evolution because it is usually a more affordable and easier transition than using on-premises software.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 28, 2012 9:09:18 AM
Ventana Research does benchmark research that assesses the maturity of organizations across four dimensions: people, process, information and technology. We examine business issues along those dimensions because we recognize the interconnected relationships among them. Especially in larger companies, data issues such as accuracy and accessibility are often a root cause of poor performance of a core function. It may be a factor in such areas as poor customer service, sales execution or operations planning, to name just three. Addressing only the people-related issues of some challenge a company faces (such as communications, training or management style) may produce positive results in the short run, but these gains are likely to fall short of their potential or prove to be transitory unless companies tackle related process, technology and information problems at the same time. Our comprehensive approach is the foundation for our research, and what makes our benchmark research different and relevant to executives and managers.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 26, 2012 7:11:51 AM
This is the third in a series of blog posts on what CEOs (and for that matter, all senior corporate executives) need to know about IT and its impact on running a business. The first covered the high-level issues. As I noted, it’s not necessary for a CEO to be able to write Java code or master the intricacies of an ERP or sales compensation application. However, CEOs must grasp the basics of IT just as they must understand basic corporate finance, the production process and – at least at a high level – the technologies that support that process. My second post was about four supporting technologies that will drive change in business computing over the next five years. It relates examples of how applications can help every part of a business operate more effectively, not just efficiently. Now let’s turn our attention to finance and sales – and as I’ve noted in the previous posts, what follows is an “elevator pitch” treatment of what could be a much longer discussion.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 21, 2012 11:18:27 AM
Quantrix recently unveiled Quantrix 5, an updated version of its financial modeling software designed to fill the gap between spreadsheets and business intelligence (BI) systems. Quantrix provides users with many of the capabilities of an enterprise system and addresses shortcomings of desktop spreadsheet software without requiring extensive training.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 20, 2012 11:23:08 AM
Increasingly, global financial markets compete on speed, so much so that high-speed trading capabilities have become a performance differentiator for the largest financial services firms and some investment funds. Transmitting messages with quotes, prices and trade data is a core capability for currency dealers. Informatica recently introduced Ultra Messaging, which is designed to offer global currency traders an efficient, high-throughput, lower-latency (that is, faster) and more secure method of linking their worldwide operations.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 18, 2012 11:26:18 AM
When they were first introduced three decades ago, electronic spreadsheets provided a major advance in corporate planning compared to the paper spreadsheet-and-adding-machine systems they replaced. However, time passes and, as our research shows, desktop spreadsheets often hamper productivity because they were designed for personal productivity, not for managing repetitive, collaborative, enterprise-wide processes such as financial planning. The finance organization at the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine was grappling with this reality.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 17, 2012 11:14:14 AM
Business software is beginning to undergo a design revolution comparable to the seismic shift from the green screen to the graphical user interface (GUI) that began in the mid-1980s. Three forces are at work. One is the retirement of large numbers of members of the baby-boom generation and the rise of a generation that grew up with computers and computer games from a young age. Also, software and technology vendors have been recognizing the need to “consumerize” business applications as mobile device interactions, gestures and other newer user interface (UI) conventions, and are incorporating these innovations in their stodgy products. I commented on this in my assessment of Tidemark early this year. A third factor, “gamification” is all the rage in business consulting circles. The idea is to engage younger employees more completely by transforming dull, routine chores into more entertaining pursuits. I join with those skeptical of just how fun one can make clerical tasks. But software can – and should – be made less tedious (and therefore more productive), especially for a new generation of users.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 14, 2012 11:47:05 AM
Effective planning has always been a challenge for companies, and it’s all the more so today. Even when companies deploy dedicated planning applications, they often do not or cannot use them to full advantage. I had a chance to learn more about 3M Corp. use of business planning in our recent 2012 Leadership Awards, who is the diversified global manufacturer of consumer and industrial products, several years ago acquired a dedicated planning application, but because the system could not scale to handle all of its planning contributors, it was forced to collect data from its worldwide business units using Excel templates. Desktop spreadsheets impose severe constraints in the planning process and do not readily handle the complexities of a large multinational firm, such as intracompany allocations, multiple currencies and changes in organizational structure. Modeling both product and financial elements is difficult and, for a company of 3M’s size, the processes do not scale well. The planning process was therefore prolonged, complex and could not readily adapt to change.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 7, 2012 11:12:59 AM
Earlier this year we published our Trends in Developing the Fast, Clean Close benchmark research findings. The most significant was that, on average, it takes longer for companies to close their books today than it did five years ago. In 2007, nearly half (47%) we closing their quarters within five or six days, but now only 38 percent can do it as quickly.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 30, 2012 11:00:31 AM
I recently started a series of blog posts on what CEOs (and for that matter, all senior corporate executives) need to know about IT. The first covered the high-level issues. As I noted there, it’s not necessary for a CEO of a company to be able to write Java code or master the intricacies of an ERP or sales compensation application. However, CEOs must grasp the basics of IT just as they must understand basic corporate finance, the production process and – at least at a high level – the technologies that support that process. This installment is about four supporting technologies that will be drive considerable change in business computing over the next five years. Each of these subjects is worthy of a chapter-length discussion or even a book; what follows is the “elevator pitch” version.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2012 9:39:46 AM
I’ve been examining how corporations plan and budget for more than decade. One clear pattern that has emerged is the difficulty that using desktop spreadsheets imposes on the process. Ventana Research recently published findings from our trends in business planning benchmark research, and the research once again confirms this observation. It shows that companies that use dedicated applications are consistently more satisfied (and much less dissatisfied) with the software they use than users of spreadsheets. Twice as many said their third-party planning application performs very well in financial and cash-flow forecasting. While one-third (32%) said their dedicated application performs the complex task of compensation planning very well, just 7 percent of spreadsheet users say so. Dedicated applications also have capabilities that spreadsheets lack; those include easily integrating data from multiple systems, drilling down on demand to understand the underlying causes of variances in reviews and performing extensive what-if planning. All of these enable more accurate planning.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 23, 2012 11:13:52 AM
Many people enjoy mystery stories or crime thrillers; in the same vein of savoring the whodunnit and howdunnit, I like a good accounting scandal. My fascination with cooking the books started when I was young with the “great salad oil swindle”, which wound up causing losses in excess of $1 billion in today’s money and even threatened a Wall Street collapse. This disaster was averted by the assassination of President Kennedy, which kept markets closed on Monday, November 25, 1963, and gave the parties involved an extra day to resolve the matter. Nowadays I look forward to receiving FIRST, a compendium prepared by IBM’s Risk Analytics group of the previous month’s financial shenanigans. So, the recent Hewlett-Packard-Autonomy imbroglio fascinates me.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 16, 2012 12:04:20 PM
The business/IT divide is a barrier that prevents most companies from achieving their true performance potential. The divide has remained a constant impediment since the dawn of business computing six decades ago. It’s not necessary for a CEO of a company to be able to write Java code or master the intricacies of an ERP or sales compensation application. However, that CEO must master the basics of IT just as he must understand basic corporate finance, the production process and – at least at a high level – the technologies that support that process. Only a handful of business schools give prospective MBAs a good grounding in the practical elements of information technology or preach the necessity of mastering an understanding of IT as they would, say, the efficient market hypothesis.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 15, 2012 11:12:27 AM
People have been complaining about the budgeting and planning processes in their organizations for decades. If you’re old enough, you may recall President Carter’s failed attempt to use something called zero-based budgeting to impose discipline in federal outlays. (In his first year in office the federal government reported a whopping $54 billion deficit.) Some complaining is almost inevitable, but some reflects the one-way nature of the process. People spend time on creating a budget and don’t feel they get enough back from their time spent.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 13, 2012 10:42:44 AM
Organizations engage in a range of forward-looking activities. Sales organizations have pipelines to forecast sales. Manufacturing organizations set and reset demand plans and near-term production schedules, often in response to longer-term production plans that determine what they will make and where and how they will make it. Logistics people plan inbound and outbound shipments. Marketing departments plan advertising and promotion campaigns. HR departments project staffing requirements and associated salary and benefit costs. A lot of planning goes on in any business, but most of it is done in business silos and little of it is integrated, so companies spend a lot of time on planning but get less out of the effort than they should. We recently completed our integrated business planning benchmark research, which followed similar research we completed in 2008. The research shows that companies have done little to mature their planning processes over the past four years.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 30, 2012 11:04:07 AM
The idea of devising and using maturity assessments to improve business performance has been a staple of management, functional and strategic consultants for decades. It’s based on two unassailable principles. One is the general assertion that companies differ in their ability to do anything along a range from nonexistent to advanced. The second is that at any time it’s possible for a knowledgeable individual to construct a scale of competence for some business function from least to most mature based on the important characteristics about how an organization designs and executes that function. Using maturity scales is a handy way for executives and managers to size up where they lie on a continuum of capabilities and an easy way to define the steps necessary for improvement. Maturity assessments have the advantage of being straightforward, but there’s the danger that they can be overly simplistic.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 19, 2012 12:20:14 PM
SAP has inaugurated a new series of business applications it calls Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) OnDemand as a cloud-based subscription service. The applications are part of SAP’s EPM version 10 suite, which it introduced last year. It’s a first step in what is likely to be a portfolio of general-purpose, lightweight and relatively low-cost apps designed to be used on mobile devices. Using HANA on the back end, the applications can deliver high performance in accessing masses of business data and deliver actionable information to executives and managers. The three on-demand apps in EPM are for expense management, profit-and-loss (P&L) analysis and capital project management. They also just released its SAP Business Planning and Consolidation that has a mobile version on the Apple iPad that is part of its recently announced EPM UnWired. The move is another indication of SAP’s emphasis on cloud computing, which my colleague Mark Smith covered earlier this year.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 16, 2012 12:03:47 PM
There weren’t any headlines (or even many tweets) about Oracle Fusion Financials emanating from this year’s Oracle OpenWorld (#OOW12) conference. Maybe that’s by design, because it’s not in Oracle’s best interest to kick up a lot of dust about ERP migration. The financial applications software market is mature, and market share leaders such as Oracle have less interest in getting customers to upgrade than they did a decade ago. For a software vendor with a large installed base, cashing rich maintenance checks is more profitable than selling new software, and arguably is as dependable a source of revenue as software-as-a-service (SaaS) contracts. Companies, and especially CFOs and controllers, see replacing ERP systems akin to a root canal procedure: expensive and painful and best put off as long as possible. In North America (and to a much more limited extent in Europe) a major upgrade of a company’s current ERP software usually means it’s time to evaluate alternatives. For the incumbent, any time there’s a major upgrade there’s the potential to lose a customer.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 9, 2012 11:33:48 AM
Unless you have some combination of a very strong credit rating, a high income-to-debt payment ratio and a relatively low loan-to-value ratio, it’s not especially easy to refinance a mortgage these days. That’s a shame, because there are plenty of people who have stayed current in meeting their credit obligations and whose mortgages are comfortably below current market value who could benefit from today’s record low interest rates. One major reason they can’t refinance is the collapse of non-agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) – that is, those not backed by government agencies such Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae – in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis, in turn, was caused largely by the collapse in value of mortgage-backed securities. To be sure, a significant portion of the drop in the issuance of non-agency paper is the lack of demand these days for the risky and even fraudulent sub-prime mortgages that were a root cause of the financial collapse. Yet there would be a bigger market for MBSes (and therefore more money available for refinancing) and less need for U.S. government guarantees if there were greater transparency in the quality of the underlying assets of mortgage-backed securities. Technology exists today that would address the transparency issue relatively easily and inexpensively. In particular, eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) can provide an efficient and relatively inexpensive means of collecting needed information from a large number of disparate parties without requiring them to standardize or modify their systems.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 5, 2012 11:52:14 AM
Salesforce.com’s recent Dreamforce user conference got me wondering about how far the market for cloud-based software has come. To answer that question, I looked to our own research. For the past several years Ventana Research has routinely asked participants in its benchmark research what preference, if any, they have for deploying software they use to support the activity we are benchmarking. The choices we offer are on-premises, software as a service (SaaS – that is, in the cloud), hosted on a vendor’s servers) or no preference. I examined the responses from 1,110 participants in five benchmark research undetakings that cut across lines of business and IT areas to determine what, if any, patterns I could find in the responses.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 3, 2012 11:43:24 AM
Two key themes that emerged from Larry Ellison’s Sunday night keynote at this year’s Oracle OpenWorld were faster processing speed and cheaper storage. An underlying purpose to these themes was to assert the importance of Oracle’s strategic vertical integration of hardware and software with the acquisitions of Sun. I try to view technology keynotes like this from the perspective of a practical business user. Advancements such of these are important because enhancing the performance and cost-effectiveness of IT infrastructure can drive substantially improved business capabilities. As I’ve noted in the past, the ability to rapidly process large amounts of data provides business users with significant new capabilities in areas such as complex event processing, social media analytics and the ability to analyze unstructured or semi-structured data. In planning, it has the potential to change how companies perform a wide range of analytics-driven processes, especially in areas such as planning, budgeting and forecasting. It makes it feasible to more fully explore the impact of different courses of action, because rather than having to wait hours or days for answers to questions that start with “What happens if we…” the answers come back in seconds. Review and planning sessions can focus more on what’s next rather than rehashing history.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 27, 2012 11:24:58 AM
Effective capital planning and capital investment are vital to a company’s long-term success. The choices a company makes – how much to invest and in which facilities or projects – have a profound effect on its long-term success. For that reason, companies take pains to ensure that these decisions support their long-term strategies and are made as rationally as possible. Because Ventana Research is frequently involved in software acquisition discussions, return on investment is a topic we frequently see raised.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 21, 2012 11:42:57 AM
I cover the meat-and-potatoes aspects of corporate computing. I also pay attention to the special needs of midsize companies (by our definition, those with between 100 and 999 employees), which are unlike those of either small business or large corporations. After attending this year’s Dreamforce conference, Salesforce.com’s annual user meeting held this week in San Francisco, I can appreciate how difficult it is for executives and people who work in back office functions to cut through the technology hoopla to find the utterly practical (but certainly not dull) reasons why the cloud can help them run their businesses better. In fact, cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings can give midsize companies a leg up in ways that on-premises alternatives can’t. Here are four big ones that top my list.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 7, 2012 11:16:54 AM
Budget season is about to open at most companies that operate on a calendar year, so this is probably as good a time as any to rethink the process. Almost all companies will undertake the construction of a budget this year the same way they did it last year, despite widespread complaints that it is a monumental waste of time. One major reason why budgeting never changes is that it isn’t important enough to be worth serious rethinking. Another reason is that too many vested interests are aligned with the status quo, especially because compensation is tied to budgets. Despite this, I think companies can do better, evolving the process from a finance-centric activity to one that serves the needs of broader business interests as well.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 5, 2012 11:49:56 AM
If you’re considering purchasing a financial performance management (FPM) suite, you shouldn’t overlook a recent entrant in the category, Tagetik (which sort of rhymes with “magnetic”). The company, which was founded in 1986 and is based in Lucca, Italy, began by focusing mainly on Europe, but has extended its efforts in the United States in the past two years. Tagetik 4.0 is an elegant implementation of a financial performance management suite running on Microsoft’s SharePoint infrastructure.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 29, 2012 11:37:25 AM
One of the community groups to which I donate my time is an organization that puts on a Concours d’Élegance – a vintage car show. Such Concours date back to seventeenth-century France, when wealthy aristocrats gathered to see who had the best carriages and most beaudacious horses. Our Concours serves as the centerpiece to a broader mission of raising money for several charities. There a many such events in the United States and elsewhere, but this one, which has been held every year since 1956, has the distinction of being the longest continuously running Concours in the United States.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 24, 2012 12:29:51 PM
Our research consistently finds that defects in data are the root cause of a wide range of problems encountered by modern corporations. The magnitude of the problem correlates with the size of the company: Big companies have bigger headaches than midsize ones. Data issues diminish productivity in every part of a business as people struggle to correct errors or find workarounds. Issues with data are a man-made phenomenon, yet companies seem to treat bad data as some sort of force of nature like a tornado or earthquake – something that’s beyond their control to fix. At best they look for one-off workarounds and Band-Aids without tackling the root causes or recognizing the need to keep data issues in check. Data stewardship can and should be a part of a disciplined approach to management in the same way organizations implement quality control, cash management and legal compliance.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 23, 2012 11:55:22 AM
Midsize businesses “pay” for their use of entry-level accounting systems by not having the essential information they need readily available and by using up valuable time that could be better spent generating business, finding issues or responding to opportunities sooner or simply enhancing the efficiency of the organization. Nevertheless, the transition from an entry-level accounting package such as QuickBooks to an on-premises system can be daunting for companies whose entry-level software no longer addresses their needs. Usually, the shortcomings start off as minor annoyances for companies that have between 100 and 500 employees and grow over time, and usually the pain grows with the number of employees and the volume and complexity of the underlying business. As business volumes expand and complexity grows, entry-level accounting systems are increasingly less able to support the underlying business. Yet finance executives usually don’t want to migrate to a new system until their old software threatens the orderly management of the business or becomes an overwhelming burden on finance operations. I know this firsthand, since not all that long ago I worked at a company where the CFO thought his biggest IT challenge was finding spare parts for the ancient Burroughs mainframe on which our financial system ran.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 17, 2012 12:01:56 PM
For the past several years Ventana Research has focused more on analytics and their importance to improving business performance. We’ve done extensive benchmark research in business analytics, detailing how they are used generally in business and in major functional areas of companies as well as their application in specific industries. We adopted this focus because technology advances are changing the landscape of analytics. Its use in business management, for example, is getting new scrutiny these days because of three important changes in information technology.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 15, 2012 12:08:06 PM
People used to use the phrase “the last mile” solely to refer to a condemned prisoner’s path to execution. Then the telecommunications industry picked it up to describe that part of a circuit between a major trunk line and a subscriber. Later still a defunct software company, Movaris (now part of Trintech), used the phrase in an analogy to refer to the set of activities that take place between when a company closes its books and the point where it finishes its external reporting activities, such as disclosing periodic earnings and financial conditions to investors or filing financial statements with regulators or lenders. It was an attempt to focus attention on the need to automate and better coordinate the multiple, disparate but interconnected threads that have to be orchestrated to complete the external reporting tasks accurately and on time. Personally, I’ve never cared for the phrase being used in this context; there are really multiple “last miles,” with multiple and sometimes overlapping destinations. I prefer “the close–to-report cycle” because it’s more precise in its description, and because rather than pointing to finality, “cycle” defines it for what it is – a repetitive periodic activity. And because it is periodic and repetitive, it benefits from process optimization and automation, which can substantially reduce the effort required to complete a cycle and alleviate the stress certain departments often feel as deadlines loom.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 9, 2012 10:17:50 AM
What does it cost to run an IT department? That’s an easy question to answer, but for most companies, why it costs that amount is not. IT departments often complain that most of their budget is devoted to funding daily operations and basic maintenance (“keeping the lights on”), but often, one big overlooked problem is the chargeback process that most companies use to assign IT department operating costs.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Aug 8, 2012 11:22:11 AM
For several years the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has mandated that filers apply eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) tags to their financial statements. XBRL was developed to make it easier for investors to use a company’s financial information. Now XBRL US has kicked off its second annual XBRL Challenge, a contest designed to encourage development of open source analytical tools that can use XBRL-formatted corporate financial data from the SEC’s EDGAR database. Sponsoring the effort are the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the CFA Institute (of which I am a member) and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. XBRL US hopes to raise awareness of the wealth of available XBRL data and provide incentives for application developers to create open source software that enables broader and more frequent use of the standard. The contest will award $20,000 grand prizes to the two teams, and judging will be based on how well each submission improves access to corporate data and provides analytic capabilities in an original, user-friendly way. This competition is a terrific idea because it addresses the least well developed element in the drive to improve the communication of corporate data to investors. Earlier this year I reviewed some of the submissions to the first XBRL Challenge. Although the first round of software offered a good start, much more needs to be done to encourage use of XBRL.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 26, 2012 10:57:03 AM
Usually, just figuring out how to start the process of change is a major barrier to improvement in business. I think that’s especially true when it comes to integrated business planning (IBP). I started using that term six years ago to differentiate that process from financial budgeting and the many other forward-looking activities used in companies. IBP applies to a longstanding objective: bringing together the disparate strands of forward-looking activities across a corporation to foster internal alignment, enhance agility and therefore increase financial returns and improve strategic position. Especially in larger companies, fragmented planning efforts prevent companies from achieving these goals. They miss opportunities to sell more, incorrectly allocate their resources to less productive or less profitable activities and react too slowly to changing market conditions.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 19, 2012 11:48:10 AM
Planning portfolio risk follows the same basic tenets as other sorts of business planning. It must be done in the context of a time dimension. In business, short-term plans are developed with a lot of givens or constraints. For example, capacities are fixed, because it’s impossible to wave a magic wand and bring a new factory on line, stuff more machine tools into already jammed facilities or source more raw materials in a capacity-limited supply chain. Short-term plans also incorporate assumptions about external forces (such as the economy, competitive moves or regulation) that are fixed or change very little in this period. By contrast, long-range or strategic planning is relatively unconstrained. The countries, markets or products that an organization can offer, for example, are not limited by current conditions. Indeed, that’s an essential point of long-range planning: assessing the impact of significant changes to today’s givens or assessing how to manage the impact of expected future trends.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 17, 2012 10:07:14 AM
We recently issued our 2012 Value Index on Financial Performance Management (FPM). Ventana Research defines FPM as the process of addressing the often overlapping people, process, information and technology issues that affect how well finance organizations operate and support the activities of the rest of their organization. FPM deals with the full cycle of finance department activities, which includes planning and budgeting, analysis, assessment and review, closing and consolidation, internal financial reporting and external financial reporting, as well as the underlying information technology systems that support them. We construct the Index through a detailed evaluation of each product’s suitability to task in five categories, as well as the effectiveness of the vendor’s support for the buying process and customer assurance. The resulting index gauges the value offered by a vendor and its products.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 16, 2012 10:43:23 AM
CODA’s Financials has a specific target market, from companies in the upper half of the midsize range to the lower end of the large range (that is, companies with 500 to 2,500 employees) in services (not manufacturing) businesses. CODA, the company, started in the 1990s and differentiated itself by designing ERP and accounting software to run on a multidimensional database rather than the more common relational databases of the day. This has proven to be an elegant approach, because businesses inherently have multiple perspectives from which to view and describe their operations. Some of the most common dimensions include products, customers, corporate business units, time and currency. Each of these can be defined in a hierarchy: Individual stock-keeping units are part of products, which are part of product families, which may be part of a specific brand. Days are parts of weeks or months, which are part of quarters, which are part of years. If the multidimensional database had been available in the 15th century when Fra Luca Pacioli codified double-entry bookkeeping, I’m certain the friar would have kept his books in this form.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 13, 2012 11:52:35 AM
I’ve written frequently on issues that confront desktop spreadsheet users, such as business modeling and capital investment, as well as the risk and control issues spreadsheets pose and their contribution to paralysis by analysis. I focus mainly on the technology aspects of organizational challenges, and I usually recommend replacing stand-alone desktop spreadsheets with more appropriate tools. Yet there are many instances where spreadsheets work well, and in other cases people continue to use them when they shouldn’t. For these reasons, executives and managers must pay attention to spreadsheet training. Many people who use spreadsheets have overblown estimations of their own competence, often those who use them all the time and have years of experience. With these and other tools, unless people are tested and trained on a recurring basis, one can never be sure how well they perform. The consequences of poorly trained spreadsheet users can be significant, both in terms of their impact on direct productivity and in relating to the capabilities of the spreadsheet files they construct and the potential for errors in poorly crafted ones.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 12, 2012 11:55:22 AM
One of the most important trends in business over the past 20 years has been the broadening use of information technology to manage and support activities. In the early decades of business computing, companies developed islands of automation for largely numeric functions such as billing, inventory management and accounting. Each ran on a proprietary system and engaged the time of a relative handful of employees. Today, just about everyone works with an IT system for at least some of their operational or administrative tasks. They rely on these systems to support many of their daily routines, from recording transactions to using analytics to provide alerts, insights and decision support.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 12, 2012 9:38:43 AM
It’s clear that certain customers generate more profits than others, just as some products offer greater economic returns than others, as I’ve noted before. For this reason, efforts to improve customer profitability are not a new trend. Good managers have always looked for ways to achieve the highest sustainable margins. However, at some point, almost all businesses realize that increasing sustainable profitability can’t be achieved simply through increasing revenue or cutting costs. Those straightforward approaches are fine for tactical, one-off decisions, but they’re too simplistic for designing and implementing business strategies.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 2, 2012 11:07:18 AM
What’s a fast, free and reasonably reliable way of gauging the effectiveness of a finance department’s management? It’s the number of days it takes it to close the books. Companies that take six days or fewer after the end of the period to close their monthly, quarterly or semiannual accounts demonstrate a basic level of effectiveness that those that take longer do not. In my judgment, finance executives should regard a slow close as a negative key performance indicator pointing to less-than-effective management on their part. I draw this conclusion from our recent benchmark research, which followed up similar research we completed in 2007.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 29, 2012 12:36:45 PM
Risk has always been an integral part of business, but our recent Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) benchmark research shows that companies deal with risk with varying degrees of effectiveness – especially operational risk. A majority of companies lag in their overall GRC maturity, as I covered in a recent blog post. Operational risk management should be of greater interest to executives today because they can have greater control of it than before. The expansion of IT systems to automate and support most business processes has made it easier than ever to measure, monitor and report on what’s going on in a company. It’s now practical to expand the scope of operational risk management and improve companies’ effectiveness in handling risk events when they occur.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 28, 2012 12:14:01 PM
Our benchmark research on business analytics finds that just 13 percent of companies overall and 11 percent of finance departments use predictive analytics. I think advanced analytics – especially predictive analytics – should play a larger role in managing organizations. Making it easier to create and consume advanced analytics would help organizations broaden their integration in business planning and execution. This was one of the points that SPSS, an IBM subsidiary that provides analytics, addressed at IBM’s recent analyst summit.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 27, 2012 1:28:10 PM
Anyone who focuses on the practical uses of information technology, as I do, must consider the data aspects of adopting any new technology to achieve some business purpose. Reliable data must be readily available in the necessary form and format, or that shiny new IT bauble you want to deploy will fall short of expectations. Our research benchmarks cover a range of core business and IT processes, and they regularly demonstrate that data deficiencies are a root cause of issues organizations have in performing core functions; typically the larger the company, the more severe the data issues become.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 18, 2012 12:06:18 PM
We started Ventana Research a decade ago, with the objective of providing the highest quality in business-focused information technology research available. We were particularly interested in offering fact-based market research that would focus on the practical needs of getting the most value from technology in business and IT functions. Since then many of the observations we make and much of the advice we offer are grounded in our benchmark research. In a field that often blurs the distinction between fact and opinion, we stress the former. The quality of our research stems from the methodology and the processes we use in benchmarking organizations’ performance. We believe our approach makes our research highly credible and worthy of your attention.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 8, 2012 12:27:40 PM
A main reason why desktop spreadsheets are pervasive in midsize companies (which we define as those with 100 to 1,000 employees) is that these organizations do not have the financial and manpower resources to implement and maintain traditional enterprise business intelligence and performance management systems. To address this gap in the market, several years ago IBM Cognos launched Express, a business intelligence and planning software package designed specifically for midsize companies as well as independent workgroups within larger corporations. It’s a package designed for easy (and relatively inexpensive) implementation and maintenance, often by channel partners.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 7, 2012 10:51:48 AM
Ventana Research recently completed benchmark research on governance, risk and compliance (GRC), three business activities that are naturally linked. Although managing them requires separate and sometimes very different processes, on the whole these activities affect each other: Effective corporate governance ensures compliances with laws, regulations and company policies, and without governance, there’s no way to control risk. Separately or considered together, managing governance, risk and compliance is increasingly important.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 31, 2012 11:26:44 AM
I recently spoke with Oversight Systems, an operational intelligence analytics company that uses predictive analytics and optimization to help companies save money, reduce the risk of loss and fraud, and reinforce corporate governance and compliance efforts. Ventana Research views operational intelligence as an emerging technology with the potential for a high return on investment. By continuously monitoring activities in a company’s IT systems, Oversight’s Web-based software continuously, consistently and objectively monitors all business processes to identifies opportunities to save money, cut fraud, minimize risk and provide real-time controls to support governance.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 25, 2012 1:42:03 PM
I have commented before on the movement to adopt International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) by the United States to replace US-GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). Most recently I discussed the drive to harmonize the significant differences between US-GAAP and IFRS on revenue recognition and lease accounting. To those who are interested in but not intimately involved with the subject, I suspect the current situation is a bit confusing, since there are multiple groups involved in the discussions on how best to proceed, each with its own agenda. The full adoption issue remains in flux, but let me weigh in the matter.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 24, 2012 10:13:55 AM
SAP is planning to acquire e-commerce company Ariba in a transaction worth about US$4.3 billion expected to close in the third quarter of this year. Ariba provides cloud-based collaborative business commerce through a Web-based trading community that enables companies to find, connect and collaborate with a global network of partners. Its Commerce Cloud is a platform that businesses can use to buy and sell goods. Currently, Ariba counts more than 700,000 companies worldwide attached to this network. The purchase follows SAP's acquisition of cloud-based HR software vendor SuccessFactors for $3.4 billion. In the past SAP had been reluctant to make large acquisitions, but these two large purchases and the naming of Lars Dalgaard, former SuccessFactors CEO, to the SAP executive board indicate the strategic imperative SAP puts on quickly gaining a solid cloud presence. The acquisition also complements its 2011 acquisition of Crossgate, an electronic data interchange (EDI) service provider, which enables companies to exchange documents with customers, suppliers, supply chain partners, financial institutions and government entities, streamlining transactions and cutting administrative costs.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 22, 2012 12:22:27 PM
I recently attended Vision 2012, IBM’s conference for users of its financial governance, risk management and performance optimization software. I reviewed the finance portion of the program in a previous blog. I’ve been commenting on governance, risk and compliance (GRC) for several years, often with the caveat that GRC is a catch-all term invented by industry analysts initially to cover a broad set of individual software applications. Each of these was designed to address specific requirements across a spectrum of users in operations, IT and Finance within a company, often to meet the needs for a specific industry such as financial services or pharmaceuticals. Vision 2012 covered a lot of ground under the GRC heading, confirming the breadth of both this software category and IBM’s offerings in it. I want to focus on two areas: automation of IT governance activities and effective management of GRC-related data.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 21, 2012 11:00:31 AM
I recently attended Vision 2012, IBM’s conference for users of its financial governance, risk management and performance optimization software. From my perspective, two points are particularly worth noting with respect to the finance portion of the program. First, IBM has assembled a financial performance management suite capable of supporting core finance processes as well as more innovative ones. It continues to build out the scope of this suite’s capabilities to enhance ease of use, deepen the capabilities of existing areas and broaden to coverage to complementary or immediately adjacent software categories such as its pending acquisition of sales performance management vendor Varicent Software (covered by my colleague Mark Smith). More specifically, automating management of the extended financial close – that is, all activities from closing the books through filing financial reports with regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the U.S. or the FSC in the U.K. – is growing increasingly important as regulatory requirements for external financial reporting expand. Companies that have adopted software to manage the extended close are demonstrating the value of using it.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 11, 2012 9:58:59 AM
JDA Software is an established vendor of (among other categories) accounting software for the retail sector. So it is a bit ironic that the company is in the process of restating its earnings for 2008 through 2010 because of revenue recognition practices that led it to book some revenue sooner than it should have. The issue centers on certain transactions the company linked to service agreements and license revenue. As well, in 2009 and 2010 some of its license contracts included a clause protecting customers if certain products were discontinued, which can be construed as promising a future deliverable that would have required a delay in recognizing some or all revenue from those license contracts. Also, JDA is re-evaluating vendor-specific objective evidence (VSOE) for its Cloud Services in 2008 through 2010 to determine whether it met the appropriate requirements to recognize revenue at the start of those contracts; otherwise revenue would have to be prorated over the life of the contract. For a public company, any accounting restatement is serious, and JDA’s stock price has declined since the start of the year, but this seems to be due more to a fourth-quarter 2011 revenue shortfall relative to expectations and a downward revision in earnings expectations than to the restatement. The changes it is likely to make are more optics than substance, which accounts for the muted response from the market.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 10, 2012 9:41:09 AM
For at least a couple of decades completing the financial close within five or six business days after the end of the period has been accepted as a best practice. As such, that creates an expectation that finance organizations that take longer should work to reduce their closing intervals. In updating our last benchmark research on the closing process, Ventana Research has found this not to be the case. In fact, the latest research shows that many companies are taking longer to close today than they did five years ago. Whereas nearly half (47%) were able to close their quarter or half-year period within six business days back then, just 38 percent are able to do so now. Similarly, five years ago 70 percent of companies were able to complete their monthly close in six days; today only half can. To be sure, closing quickly still gets lip service: The research confirms that most companies (83%) view closing their books quickly as important or very important. Yet far from demonstrating progress, the results show slow closers are regressing.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 8, 2012 10:26:30 AM
I recently attended the 2012 Global Pricing Forum hosted by Nomis Solutions, a provider of software and services to banking and finance companies. This annual event brings together thought leaders and practitioners in the area of pricing and revenue optimization (PRO). This technique uses analytics to sift through large data sets to tease out customer behavior characteristics, identify customer segments and quantify their price sensitivities. These complex calculations require software designed for the purpose, but most in the financial services industry rely on older methods that produce less-than-optimal results. Analytics can help organizations more carefully manage the process of defining offers to customers (especially the levels of discretion offered to account managers and sales people) and the terms and conditions.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 7, 2012 10:37:47 AM
One of the new products that Infor announced at its recent Inforum user conference (which I covered here) is Local.ly, which is designed to facilitate localization of its applications (that is, adapting them for languages, units of measure, statutory requirements, customary processes and other specific features of the places where they will be used). Local.ly is scheduled to be released in the third quarter of this year. Infor points out that among other tasks the software can be used to facilitate tax provisioning outside a corporation’s home country, thereby reducing the costs associated with determining tax liabilities. I think it also can be useful in calculating income taxes everywhere, especially for larger customers of Infor that have even a moderately complex corporate structure. Here’s how. The entity structure of a company affects its tax management processes. Our benchmark research finds that among companies with 100 or more employees, 43 percent have relatively complicated corporate structures, which is to say they have some combination of many legal entities and complex ownership configuration. This general finding masks a substantial disparity based on size. Relatively few (27%) midsize companies (those with between 100 and 999 employees) have complex corporate structures, large companies (those with between 1,000 and 9,999 employees) are split between simple and complex structures (56% and 44%, respectively), and almost all very large corporations (those with 10,000 or more employees; 88%) are overwhelmingly complex in their structure.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 30, 2012 11:28:33 AM
Infor described this year’s Inforum user group meeting as a coming-out party for a large startup company. Such a debut was necessary because Infor had been operating in something of a stealth mode for the past three years: a limited marketing presence, no unified message and a weak, sometimes inconsistent brand identity. It also needed to formally introduce Infor to customers of Lawson, the ERP supplier it acquired last year. The “startup” designation is meant to signal that Infor has been able to render a decade-long consolidation of dozens of smaller companies into one cohesive entity.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 19, 2012 10:39:24 AM
I’ve been advocating more intelligent use of spreadsheets for the better part of a decade. Ventana Research coined the term “enterprise spreadsheet” in 2004 to describe software applications that marry a Microsoft Excel user interface with a business rules server and a relational or multidimensional data store. This approach offers the best of both worlds in the sense of taking advantage of widespread familiarity and training with Excel while substantially reducing issues stemming from the desktop spreadsheet’s lack of data integrity, referential integrity and limited dimensionality as well as limited auditability and control. One example of the enterprise spreadsheet is data consolidation and data reporting software offered by BizNet Software. It enables business users to work within an Excel environment to assemble, manage and deliver periodic reports from enterprise data sources. It offers greater efficiency than stand-alone spreadsheets while effectively addressing the above-mentioned core issues.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 16, 2012 11:57:38 AM
Host Analytics has added new analytics and reporting resources to its cloud-based performance management suite. Business Analytics will offer a broad set of built-in analytics and reporting capabilities or, for companies with an existing business intelligence infrastructure (from vendors such as IBM, Infor, Oracle or SAP), the option of a self-service approach. I believe these new analytics and reporting capabilities give companies considering only on-premises performance management deployments another reason to consider a cloud-based option; for Host Analytics it broadens the set of features it has to compete with other cloud-based vendors.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 12, 2012 11:01:53 AM
The mandate by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that requires its filers to apply eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) tags to their financial statements has been in effect for several years. (XBRL is a core element of our Office of Finance Research Agenda for 2012.) One of the most important ideas behind this “interactive data” requirement was to make it as simple as possible for investors to be able to consume and analyze corporate financial data filed with the SEC. This intent sets the SEC mandate apart from most other XBRL tagging requirements, which are designed for the needs of regulatory bodies such as the Bank of Japan, the Australian federal and state governments and the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Moreover, I believe the depth and breadth of the SEC’s database and the size of the U.S. equity capital markets make this the most important public-focused use of XBRL in the world. Considerable progress has been made toward the main objective, but considerably more is needed, and the sooner the better.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 1, 2012 11:17:29 PM
The evolution from United States Generally Accepted Accounting Standards (US-GAAP) to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) has been under way for more than a decade. I’ve commented on IFRS adoption before. It’s a hot topic for accountants and auditors because it goes to the heart of how companies keep their books.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 22, 2012 9:09:23 AM
Ventana Research recently completed an update to our last benchmark research on the financial closing process. It shows that many companies are taking longer to close today than they did five years ago. Whereas nearly half (47%) were able to close their quarter or half-year period within six business days five years ago, just 38 percent are able to do so in our latest benchmark. Similarly, five years ago 70 percent of companies were able to complete their monthly close in six days; today only half can. The research confirms that most companies (83%) view closing their books quickly as important or very important. Participants acknowledge that they can do better, saying on average that their company can cut at least two days from both the monthly and quarterly closes. Moreover, the longer it takes their company to close, the more time participants think they could save.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 21, 2012 11:43:46 AM
Ventana Research’s new financial close benchmark research reveals that many companies are taking longer to close today than they did five years ago. Whereas nearly half (47%) were able to close their quarter or half-year period within six business days five years ago, just 38 percent are able to do so in our latest benchmark. Similarly, five years ago 70 percent of companies were able to complete their monthly close in six days; today only half can. The research confirms that most companies (83%) view closing their books quickly as important or very important. Participants acknowledge that they can do better, saying on average that their company can cut at least two days from both the monthly and quarterly closes. And the longer it takes their company to close, the more time participants think they could save. Although there is some evidence that external factors such as economic and regulatory events have increased the workload in the close process, which in turn has extended some companies’ close period, I believe that organizations that take more than a business week to close their books have not made much effort to shorten the close, as I noted in a recent blog.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 20, 2012 9:31:38 AM
The most intractable issues that face finance departments are those that “everyone” knows must be addressed but somehow never muster the collective urgency to do so. Many couch potatoes know they need to watch their diet and exercise regularly. If asked, they would say it’s important or even very important. Yet there they sit. Based on our newly completed benchmark research “Trends in Developing the Fast, Clean Close”, it appears that closing falls into this category. This is especially true for companies that are slow closers, by which we mean those that take more than five or six business days (essentially one business week) to complete their monthly, quarterly or, for those that publish their financial statements only twice yearly, semiannual close. Our research shows that in general there has been no progress in achieving fast closes – indeed, there’s been some backsliding – over the past five years and, indeed, since our initial research on this subject in 2004.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 19, 2012 10:42:24 AM
For me, the most significant announcement to come out of the recent SAPinsider conference was the company’s formal release of Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC) running on HANA, SAP’s in-memory computing appliance. For me, HANA is a potential “game changer” for planning, statutory consolidation and other analytics-supported financial processes because of the substantial reduction it enables in processing time from loading to reporting. In-memory systems provide a substantial edge in speed of processing large data sets or complex calculations, whereas the latency between thought and answer in complex scenario analyses on disk-based systems often prevents a collaborative dialogue around possible situations and their potential outcomes. Today, companies have to simplify the analysis, severely limit the amount of detail or find some combination of the two. More than likely, they wind up not having a potentially valuable collaborative dialogue in activities such as weekly or monthly review and revision of operating plans and their financial consequences, closing the books or assessing the impact of pricing changes on profitability. In the case of planning, I expect that in-memory systems will enable make it easier for companies to make changes to detailed plans (such as the budget or production plans), which is difficult today for many of them.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 15, 2012 11:28:12 AM
Financial analysts typically classify real estate as a fixed cost. Strictly speaking, that’s correct, but looking at it this way leads many organizations to overlook and miss opportunities to more carefully manage their real estate and other occupancy expenses. In industries where occupancy or ownership costs account for more than 20 percent of total business expense, taking a more active approach to managing real estate and occupancy can improve a company’s profitability. But in most cases achieving a higher return from money spent on corporate facilities requires some organizational and process changes.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 27, 2012 11:22:49 AM
One trend in business software that’s still in its early stages but gathering momentum is the availability of modeling tools that fill the gap between desktop spreadsheets and enterprise systems. Granted this “early stage” has been under way for quite some time, but the technology has finally progressed to the point where I expect it to get increasing market traction.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 23, 2012 9:43:00 AM
As this year begins, “finance transformation” is a trend gaining favor with strategic consultants. The term is associated with the objective of shifting the focus of CFOs and finance departments from transaction processing toward more strategic and higher-value functions. This objective is hardly new – it has been the purpose of my practice for the past nine years. Our research confirms that most people want their finance department to take a more strategic role in the management of the company. But although some progress has been made, Finance still spends too much time and effort on the mechanics of day-to-day operations.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 21, 2012 10:50:41 AM
The melding of the world’s two main financial accounting standards – United States Generally Accepted Accounting Standards (US-GAAP) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) – continues apace. Initially, the idea was to converge the two into a single, global standard. Although there was general agreement that the concept was a noble one, there were enough differences to produce practical concerns about implementing these changes, especially in the United States. Then, in December 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which mandates accounting standards for publicly traded companies, indicated that while in principle it favors a single international accounting standard, the Commission was going to take a “condorsement” approach, which I covered in a note last year. The SEC’s move essentially derailed the prior objective of replacing US-GAAP with IFRS by the middle of this decade. Still, the coming together of US-GAAP and IFRS continues to forge ahead even without acceptance of full adoption in the U.S. The two bodies that administer accounting standards, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which manages US-GAAP, and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), which manages IFRS, are attempting to standardize wherever possible and harmonize as best they can elsewhere. One important area where there’s been significant progress is revenue recognition.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 10, 2012 1:37:15 AM
I recently got an update from Workday that focused mostly on its Financials software. This part of the company’s business management suite has received less development attention than the HR aspects since the company’s founding in 2005. The bulk of Workday’s development investment has aimed at making its human capital management applications an industry leader and adding related capabilities such as payroll. It’s hard to argue against this strategy, if only because Workday is the spiritual offshoot of PeopleSoft; founded the company after Oracle’s hostile takeover of PeopleSoft, which he also founded. This pedigree gave the new company an advantage with workforce management software buyers. Moreover, adoption of cloud-based ERP has lagged far behind that of other cloud-based applications such as sales or workforce management, especially in the larger companies that have been Workday’s target market.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 25, 2012 10:09:24 AM
One of the major issues IT executives face is how to charge their departmental costs back to each part of the business according to their usage. It’s a touchy issue that can be the source of end-user disenchantment with the performance and contribution of the IT organization. Ultimately, charge-back friction can hobble IT’s ability to make necessary investments in new capabilities and become the primary cause of misallocated IT spending. The two risks are related: Unless an IT department can calculate the real costs of the services it provides to specific parts of the business and charge for them accordingly, it is almost impossible for line-of-business department managers to assign priorities to the “keep the lights on” part of the budget, so even low-priority maintenance or upgrade efforts can crowd out all but the most pressing needs. The issue of allocating IT department costs spills over to Finance, which typically handles the allocations in budgeting and profit calculations. As a first step toward establishing an effective means of funding the IT function, I believe the finance department must establish better methods of allocating IT costs. Eventually the proper allocation of IT costs also becomes an issue for senior corporate executives as well because it has a direct impact on how effectively a company uses information technology.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 20, 2012 10:23:33 AM
I recently had a briefing from Vertex on its tax data warehouse (TDW), a key component of its tax technology platform Vertex Enterprise. The TDW concept has been around for decades, but the earliest versions were custom-built and hampered by the technology limitations of their day. This made them expensive to deploy and maintain and constrained their ability to adapt to changing corporate requirements. The basic idea behind a TDW is straightforward: a data store that makes all tax data readily available and can be used to plan and provision a company’s taxes. But the complexity of tax-related data overwhelmed the ability of information technology to deliver on the concept. With today’s technological advances the basic idea is finally realizable in a practical sense.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 19, 2012 7:42:48 AM
I recently received an update from ERP software vendor Epicor, my first since it was acquired in May 2011 by Apax Partners, a private equity company, and simultaneously merged with Activant, an ERP and point-of-sale software company serving midsize retailers and distributors. In my view, taking the company private is a good idea since it will have to make ongoing investments that would not have been treated kindly by the stock market. Bringing Epicor and Activant together (and perhaps adding other companies to the portfolio) could allow the entity to spread some development costs over a broader base of revenues, but software combinations are difficult to execute well.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 16, 2012 10:58:19 AM
I recently met with Infor’s management team, led by CEO Charles Phillips. Phillips joined Infor in October 2010 after leaving Oracle, taking several other executives with him, including Duncan Angove, now president of Infor, and Pam Murphy, now the COO. In addition to the changes in the executive suite, Soma Somasundaram, who had been at Infor and its predecessor companies since 1995, became EVP in charge of R&D. A private company, Infor had been keeping a low profile for the past several years, probably because results were nothing to brag about, and I suspect Phillips wanted to wait until there were substantive improvements to point to before fully engaging with analysts. Subsequent to his arrival, Golden Gate Capital, the private equity firm that assembled Infor from dozens of once-independent software companies, acquired ERP vendor Lawson Software in July 2011. Lawson itself had merged with Intentia, a Swedish ERP company in 2005. I estimate pro-forma 2011 revenues for Infor plus Lawson for a full year at $2.7 billion (the company has not published this number). This is only a fraction of 2011 revenues for SAP (about $14.5 billion) and Oracle’s applications ($6.8 billion). Infor reported that organic growth in license revenues was 17 percent, roughly in line with comparable companies, and executives indicated in the meeting that maintenance renewals have improved.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 12, 2012 9:37:08 AM
Risk has always been an integral part of business, but as I’ve noted, companies deal with risk with varying degrees of effectiveness. A complex, ongoing process, operational risk management identifies risks to support successful operations of an organization, estimates the monetary and other measurable impacts if a risk event occurs, establishes methods for mitigating the severity of impacts should they occur, continuously measures the probability of a risk occurring within a relevant period of time, periodically reports on the risk environment to appropriate decision-makers and alerts executives and managers when risk thresholds are crossed. These important activities should make operational risk management of greater interest to executives in today’s volatile business environment.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 3, 2012 11:50:22 AM
My colleague Mark Smith and I recently chatted with executives of Tidemark, a company in the early stages of providing business analytics for decision-makers. It has a roster of experienced executive talent and solid financial backing. There’s a strategic link with Workday that reflects a common background at the operational and investor levels. As it gets rolling, Tidemark is targeting large and very companies as customers for its cloud-based system for analyzing data. It can automate alerts and enhance operating visibility, collaboratively assess the potential impacts of decisions and support the process of implementing those decisions.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 29, 2011 11:08:57 AM
Management decision-making typically involves a three-step process of inform, analyze and act. In the earliest days of what came to be known as business intelligence, developers created decision support systems that provided information and analytics to help executives and high-level managers choose the best course of action. Working with numbers rather than gut instinct still is viewed as a best practice. After all, a pilot who doesn’t trust his or her instruments is heading for an accident.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 20, 2011 10:14:52 AM
At its annual Influencer’s Summit in Boston, SAP offered multiple perspectives on where the company’s strategy and products are heading. Overall, I was struck by the essential similarities to its message on its strategic direction a decade ago. The overarching objective in its roadmap now, as then, is to have information technology increasingly adapt to the needs of individual users and how they choose to execute established/repetitive or ad-hoc processes, rather than forcing them to adapt to the limitations of the technologies they are using. Back then the idea was to create a comprehensive process framework – a closely coupled approach. Today, it’s essentially the opposite, as SAP products run on an architecture that enables flexibility – a loosely coupled approach – both in how the computing infrastructure is organized and how people execute their tasks. It seems to me that this reflects the impact of having choices between cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) and on-premises systems and the need to enable access through a variety of devices (from desktops to mobile handhelds and tablets). Mobility is important both for people whose roles take them beyond the firewall (in sales, service and logistics, for example) and executives and managers who often find themselves managing by walking around. Tablets, smartphones and similar devices are attractive also because people consider them personal items and associate them with fun, whereas desktops and notebooks are corporate and work-related.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 12, 2011 9:28:02 AM
ERP systems not only collect information about transactions, they also automate processes. The latter includes managing the handoffs between roles and enabling electronic document creation and management associated with that. Indeed, it was the promise of improving process management and process execution that spurred companies to adopt ERP in the 1990s.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 5, 2011 12:48:36 PM
I thought of writing a note on this topic when multinational corporations started to withdraw their deposits from eurozone banks, but the pessimism that event engendered was short-lived. Now, as the monetary crisis deepens in Europe, it’s perhaps time to ask what your company would do if parts of its financial system implodes. You may think that your company will not be affected because it doesn’t do business with the eurozone. Or you may believe that it’s unlikely to happen and therefore not worth spending the time to consider the implications. I think both assumptions are mistaken.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 30, 2011 8:03:55 AM
Doing one’s homework is vital in buying business software. However, unless you’re replacing a relatively simple application, it’s hard to know exactly what to evaluate. Indeed, if people in a company given this task don’t have experience in using a specific type of business application or don’t understand how new or improved functionality will help execute business processes better, they may do a poor job of assessing the available alternatives. Third-party consultants may be helpful, but their prejudices and familiarity with a vendor’s products may cloud their objectivity. In the end, a buyer might agree with their point of view, but this agreement should be an informed decision.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 18, 2011 7:56:07 AM
I believe that one of the more important analytical applications that a company can implement is profitability management. IBM Cognos offers Profitability Modeling and Optimization as part of its Cognos 10 offering that my colleague has assessed. As I’ve noted, most people in a corporation are focused on profitability, but not necessarily in a way that optimizes results across the organization in a day-to-day, consistent fashion. Those responsible for each component piece that contributes to profitability (such as departments, product lines or divisions) have objectives, but in pursuing these individual objectives they may make decisions that degrade the overall profitability of the corporation. Moreover, companies rarely seek to maximize short-term profits. They routinely make decisions that diminish their bottom line, such as promotional pricing, warranties or services included at no additional cost, with the aim of achieving strategic objectives. The question they must answer in making these decisions is whether these moves are justified. Similarly, they also must ask what they are including in their offer that they might be able to charge more for, such as shipping or warranties.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 17, 2011 7:28:57 AM
Right after I posted my blog about the dearth of useful content for the line-of-business and finance audience at this year’s Oracle Open World, I attended a truly useful session. (Of course, it had been shunted to the next-to-last time slot on the final day of the event.) It was a case study presented by AT&T’s tax group, discussing its use of Oracle Hyperion Financial Management to manage the corporation’s tax data.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 15, 2011 11:09:41 AM
Risk has always been an integral part of business, but dealing effectively with risk is a progression. Indeed, history shows businesses adapting and coping better with risk through innovation. The importance of using information technology to manage risk is growing because today’s systems can automatically measure and analyze a much broader set of risk factors than individuals can, and do so more reliably. But a key challenge companies face in implementing enterprise risk management is developing a process for defining and measuring risk.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 11, 2011 5:49:28 AM
As Workday continues to expand and the likelihood of its IPO becomes a more frequent topic of discussion, so does the movement of ERP systems to the cloud. Thus far, only a minority of companies have chosen to put their ERP and accounting systems in the cloud, but the numbers are growing and there’s evidence of success. NetSuite, for example, reported a 26 percent increase in its revenues to $145 million in the nine months up to Sept. 30, 2011. To be sure, this is not close to Salesforce.com’s size and growth rate over the past decade, but it does indicate a growing acceptance of the cloud for this software category, which I have commented on. Moreover, I expect that as more companies adopt cloud-based systems successfully, we’ll see accelerating adoption by more cautious buyers in the classic diffusion of innovation pattern described by Everett Rogers (and later reworked by Geoffrey Moore).
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 7, 2011 6:56:47 AM
At first thought, it seems as if having a mountain of cash to manage is a problem most companies would like to have, but it’s a real problem nevertheless. To be sure, the large majority of companies are able to deal with their cash and short-term and longer-term monetary investments because the amounts are small enough to be manageable. Indeed, many companies, especially smaller ones, face the opposite problem and spend more time focused on their uncertain funding requirements. Still, over the past decade highly profitable companies have been generating more cash than they need to fund expanding operations and capital spending requirements (Apple and Oracle are two examples), and now they have to manage it. Larger companies may have portfolios in the tens of millions to billions of dollars in multiple currencies in multiple jurisdictions, so there’s a lot at stake.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 4, 2011 11:23:17 AM
Host Analytics is taking advantage of one of the inherent advantages that vendors of software as a service (SaaS) have compared to on-premises ones: It’s easier for them to offer their customers data services and shared data repositories. The company’s Decision Hub has been available since last summer. Although it doesn’t break new ground, it is a solid offering of this type and its value should be considered in any evaluation of Host’s offering.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 28, 2011 9:54:18 AM
As its name suggests, demand-based pricing is a method that uses the buyer’s demand, based on an estimate of a good’s or service’s perceived value to the buyer, as the central element in setting price. Pricing strategies are most important because they can have a disproportionate impact (positive and negative) on a company’s bottom line. Managing prices has always been an activity of keen interest, but it has become even more so over the past decade as a result of the constrained pricing environment.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 27, 2011 2:54:01 AM
I recently attended Kinaxis’ users’ group meeting and learned some interesting things. The company, which has been around since 1995, provides software for large corporations with complex supply chains. Over the past decade its product has evolved well past its roots as a material requirements planning (MRP) support tool. It is now an analytics suite that facilitates supply and demand planning, analysis and optimization with a focus on sales and operations planning (S&OP). This is a discipline that is much talked about but less well practiced, done effectively by only a handful of very large companies (Cisco, for example) and smaller ones that have defined their functional strategy around S&OP and logistics management. In our S&OP benchmark research, we assessed the degree to which companies have a broad cross-functional representation in the process (a critical aspect of an effective S&OP effort) by asking which parts of the business were involved. When it comes to five of the most important ones – executive management, manufacturing, operations, sales and finance – our research showed that only 21 percent of companies have four or five participating, while 45 percent of companies have none or just one.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 20, 2011 9:12:00 AM
In today’s economy, all companies are contending with a dynamic business environment characterized by volatile commodity prices and exchange rates, a shaky global financial system and slow growth in many countries. Many of them rely heavily on desktop spreadsheets to support the data collection and analysis related to their capital-asset planning. However, spreadsheets have inherent limitations that make them the wrong choice.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 12, 2011 11:23:28 AM
I hadn’t thought about the exact definition of “driver-based planning” until the question came up in the context of our planning benchmark research showing that only 6% of companies with more than 100 employees do driver-based planning. Broadly defined, the term could be applied to the use of any spreadsheet-planning model because these almost always have built-in volume-times-price formulas, which are components of driver-based plans. However, this is not what most people have in mind when they talk about driver-based planning, and that’s reflected in the low percentage of those employing the technique.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 11, 2011 10:40:02 AM
My colleague Mark Smith and I have frequently commented on the artificiality of the emerging software category governance, risk and compliance (GRC). To be sure, once stand-alone categories of software (IT governance, audit documentation and industry-specific compliance management, to name three examples) have started what I expect to be a long convergence process. Moreover, since just about all controls and risk management efforts require a secure IT environment to be effective, there is a growing interdependence between effective IT governance and everything else connected with enterprise GRC.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 7, 2011 8:23:04 AM
The assessment of a major focus of Oracle Open World by my colleague David Menninger sums up what I also see as the key strategic element of the event: the new appliance including that called Exalytics. My focus as an industry analyst is on the needs of the line-of-business user, not IT. And that’s the source of my ongoing frustration with this event: It’s not an application user’s conference, especially compared to the PeopleSoft and Hyperion annual gatherings of the past before Oracle acquired and absorbed them. Open World seems almost grudging in addressing their needs, and so it’s not surprising that there don’t appear to be many business users here. For example, other than the Finance IT folks, I’m not sure who from the finance organization was in attendance. In their case, most companies with fiscal years ending in December, March, June or September – and these constitute the vast majority of corporations – are busy with their quarterly financial close this week. Applications sessions focused on the basics and, while I might have missed the one or two line-of-business show-stopper success stories, the ones I saw were ho-hum. Another indication that applications are not the focus of the event is the location of the Hyperion breakout sessions, which were a 15-minute walk from the Moscone Center this year.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Oct 4, 2011 10:02:57 AM
I read a blog post by Ben Lamorte, VP of marketing and sales at Alight Planning who delivers business and financial planning applications, who askswhy financial reporting tools deliver no business value. This led me to think that there are more than a few ways to waste money buying software, but I want to focus on one of the most common ones: assuming that having a new application will automatically improve your business (or believing a vendor who tells you that it will).
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 22, 2011 9:34:53 AM
Cloud computing has changed the fundamental economics of business software, bringing new capabilities within reach of large numbers of small and midsize companies for the first time. Cloud-based ERP, for example, enables many midsize companies that in the past might have continued to use an entry-level accounting package to have more capable and sophisticated systems. The investment in software and IT capabilities to implement an ERP system on-premises is considerable enough that midsize companies often put up with a less-capable one. As well, midsize companies can now have their own call center operations because cloud-based offerings that support these operations require substantially lower up-front investments and have significantly lower operating costs than their on-premises counterparts. Consequently, a company that once outsourced all of its call center activities now has a greater degree of control of this strategic capability, often at a lower overall cost. The economic aspects of adopting the cloud are compelling, but there are other reasons as well. In some business software categories, even if the company has the IT resources and money to manage it on-premises, it makes better business sense to obtain this capability as a service in the cloud. For example, expense management is not a strategic process, and software users are often operating outside the company firewall.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 19, 2011 11:51:10 AM
I was reminded by a recent piece in InformationWeek about the need to manage the mounting cost of software more carefully that this issue never seems to become old news. I have read variations of it in IT trade publications for two decades now, reminding me of the quip attributed to Mark Twain: Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody ever seems to do anything about it. (Like many of Twain’s “quotes,” he wasn’t the author of this one either.) I believe that at the heart of this issue is a lack of oversight on software contracts, at the time of signing and especially in subsequent billings. Some companies don’t let these costs get out of hand because they have defined processes and responsibilities for managing them. The careless ones are fodder for the aforementioned articles, while the rest are somewhere in between.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 14, 2011 9:30:13 AM
Alight has announced that it is partnering with Scope Systems to provide the mining industry with planning and financial reporting systems tailored for extraction companies. Scope creates ERP solutions for companies engaged in mining, drilling and natural resource exploration.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 13, 2011 9:06:05 AM
As the third calendar quarter draws to an end, most companies will be preparing their financial close, which is part of the ongoing accounting cycle. Periodic closing is a core finance function. Since companies found they could substantially shorten their closing intervals with computer-based accounting systems in the 1990s, there has be an ongoing focus to keep shortening the time it takes to close, and for good reason. For companies that must file financial statements with investors, closing the books sooner provides more time to devote to preparing and organizing the statements. And as regulations shorten deadlines for these filings, it puts pressure on the accounting department to finish this phase sooner. In our last benchmark research, a majority of companies wanted to accelerate their close, especially if it takes more than five business days, and nearly one-third (31%) of companies wanted to shorten their close to have more time for analysis and auditing before publishing their financial statements. Since this data is usually the most important component of a periodic review, a faster close lets assessments take place sooner and therefore become more actionable. Indeed, more than half (58%) of participants in our research said the major benefit of accelerating the close is getting financial or management information out sooner.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 9, 2011 10:04:41 AM
The globalization of business is having a profound impact on corporate taxation worldwide, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who covers international tax laws. The impacts on corporations operating in multiple national jurisdictions (which today, especially in Europe, includes a large number of midsize companies) are both positive and negative. Positive in the sense that corporate tax rates, tax benefits, reporting and other aspects of tax regulation are subject to competitive moves by countries as a way of attracting businesses. Ireland, for example, long ago crafted the most aggressively company-friendly tax structure in Europe, but now the U.K. and other countries are reducing rates and providing tax incentives for investment and operations within their borders. Even the United States seems poised to overhaul its corporate tax structure. At the same time, there are negative trends in the sense that increasing government cooperation in areas such as transfer pricing reduces a company’s freedom to optimize its tax incidence by artfully managing revenue recognition.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 6, 2011 10:00:14 AM
I recently participated in a panel discussion about the rise in the use of rolling forecasts in corporate planning. I’m not surprised by this trend; I have encouraged it. Ever since the financial crisis started three years ago, I’ve been writing that companies should rethink how they plan and budget to respond to increasing business volatility. Rolling forecasts are useful because they continually extend the formal planning horizon out more than a year rather than having it stop abruptly at the end of a company’s fiscal year. They can be the right first step in improving the effectiveness of a company’s budgeting process, but ultimately I believe that organizations need to adopt a better approach to planning – what I refer to as integrated business planning. Moreover, companies that want to adopt a rolling forecast approach must first make important changes to their planning and budgeting processes to make them leaner, more focused and faster.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 2, 2011 1:02:42 PM
IBM’s announced pending acquisition of Algorithmics is an important addition to the company’s portfolio of business applications aimed at financial services companies, and it is thematically consistent with its other acquisitions in risk management and analytics such as IBM’s OpenPages risk management documentation that I have already assessed. It’s also a good fit for IBM’s professional services organization, which has a significant position in the financial services industry.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Sep 1, 2011 8:25:49 AM
This year’s Dreamforce is likely include a focus on the value of moving a company’s accounting systems and related record management processes (for instance, invoicing and ordering) to the cloud. Salesforce.com’s annual conference is never short on hyperbole and promotion of everything cloud, which can be off-putting to staid finance department types (like me). And while some departments (notably Sales) have been quick to seize on the advantages of using the cloud, others (notably Finance) have not.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 21, 2011 8:48:08 AM
Our recently completed benchmark research on how finance departments use analytics makes clear that while they have a distinct competence in this area and execute the basics well, a majority of companies are immature in their use of advanced finance analytics. Regardless of industry or geography, few finance departments use predictive analytics or delve into important areas such as strategic profitability management. This is of note because these undertakings are no longer difficult to pursue: With the growing availability of in-memory processing and the improved ability to work with large data sets, information technology now makes it possible for finance departments to embrace these to enhance the effectiveness with which they execute core functions.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 18, 2011 12:01:37 PM
Hans Hoogervorst, who just succeeded Sir David Tweedie as the chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), recently said he is “optimistic the SEC will move to fully incorporate IFRS [International Financial Reporting Standards] shortly.” I find it hard to see why, unless one has a fairly elastic definition of “fully,” “incorporate” and “shortly” (or at least two out of three). Then again, one shouldn’t fault the head of an organization for expressing undue optimism since that’s what he or she is supposed to do.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 7, 2011 11:22:17 AM
Ventana Research recently completed groundbreaking benchmark research on how finance organizations use analytics these days. Of course, analytics have been a mainstay of finance organizations since people started using accounting ratios to assess the health and performance of a business. Yet perhaps because traditional analytics are so deeply entrenched, finance departments execute the basics well but don’t take the next step to fully utilize the power of information technology to use analytics more effectively. And they should: Our research finds that a majority of executives and managers outside the finance organization want the department to play a more strategic role in their company’s management.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jul 1, 2011 12:32:42 PM
Many companies have automated their sales and use tax processes to cut the effort required to execute them and to reduce the number of errors and their cost in dealing with a fiendishly complex set of rules and rates. This is one step in bringing tax into the mainstream of finance, which we advocate. Most people are familiar with sales tax; a “use tax” is a form of excise tax assessed on otherwise tax-free goods purchased by a resident of the assessing state regardless of where it was purchased. The use-tax rate is usually the same as the sales tax rate that would have been applied to an in-state purchase and is designed to serve the same purpose of generating revenue.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 24, 2011 2:30:43 PM
Two software applications I follow, price and revenue optimization (PRO) and sales compensation and incentives, can be highly complementary when used together. Unfortunately, since they typically are developed and sold by different kinds of software vendors, scant attention has been paid to the value of using them in tandem. I advise companies that have adopted a PRO strategy to use an incentive management application also to support and reinforce their optimization efforts. It is also part of our research agenda and education on sales for 2011 and beyond.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 10, 2011 12:29:46 PM
Predictive analytics can be valuable tools for performance management. When the term is applied to planning or forecasting, many people take it to mean the ability to automate plans or forecasts. It’s true that using predictive analytics correctly is likely to enhance their accuracy, but these techniques do not eliminate the need for judgment; in practice, many organizations may realize more value from applying predictive analytics to assess results than to forecast outcomes. Moreover, as regards performance management the usefulness of predictive analytics extends beyond planning and forecasting. They also can serve to set benchmarks that can be used to assess performance or generate alerts to accelerate necessary action. Although I advise companies to be more aggressive in adopting predictive analytics, I doubt that they will adopt them as fast as they should because of perceptions that the tools are too hard to use and the data too hard to get at.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 8, 2011 1:08:35 PM
I think one of best epigrams attributed to Mark Twain is, “Everyone talks about the weather but nobody ever does something about it.” This also has relevance to the situation with corporate planning and budgeting. Bemoaning its lack of value and calling for some sort of change goes back a long way, but few companies have matured their process. In the 1970s something called “zero-based budgeting” was all the rage in business and accounting periodicals. It was energetically advocated by President Carter to counteract the incremental budgeting that made it so difficult for the U.S. Congress to cut spending. (Of course, nothing changed.) Efforts to reform budgeting gathered steam in the 1990s as software vendors began offering dedicated applications designed for planning and budgeting. Even if one doesn’t fully embrace the idea of going budgetless, the book Beyond Budgeting is full of sensible management approaches (such as using league tables for internal benchmarking or using relative rather than fixed measures of performance). Of course, unlike the weather, people can change company practices. Yet when it comes to budgeting and planning, the same old stuff persists even as people like me continue to point out how using the right software can help transform the process into a valuable business tool. I’ve discussed why it’s important to adopt integrated business planning from my research, in which the budget is an automatically generated end product of the process, not the objective itself. And I’ve explained why driver-based planning produces better results. If it were just me advocating change, I might take its absence personally, but there have been scores of people, libraries of books and years of webinars focused on this topic for decades. Why has so little changed?
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jun 8, 2011 12:28:25 PM
Over the past six years big technology corporations have been acquiring all sorts of software companies, accelerating a general consolidation of the software industry since the dot-com boom ended in 2001. The consolidation has been driven in part by the deceleration of technology innovation in the business software market. Technology evolution, however, has been steady and progressed far enough now that I think we’re about to witness a revolution in how companies use analytics in business processes. I don’t used that overworked term lightly: I expect this to be as revolutionary as the impact that client/server computing had on transaction processing and related systems such as ERP and CRM. These analytical processes address performance management processes of all kinds, including planning, budgeting and reviews.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 24, 2011 1:31:20 PM
IBM Software recently held a user group conference called Vision 2011 that focused on its Clarity Systems acquisition’s users but also covered broader finance department topics. For me, the highlight of the show was the continued evolution and enrichment of the Clarity FSR external reporting application designed to automate the close-to-report cycle. This process is commonly referred to as “the last mile of finance,” a term coined by a now-defunct company, Movaris, and adopted by Gartner. If you think about it, though, it isn’t “the last mile” for the tens of thousands of companies that don’t publish financial statements and is only one of several important finance department processes that follow the accounting close (such as internal reporting and tax statement preparation).
Posted by Ventana Research on May 18, 2011 5:09:17 PM
SAP announced the release of version 10 of its SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) Solutions suite, an enhanced and updated set of applications and capabilities for executives and managers. In our Value Index assessment of financial performance management suites and my analysis of it last year, Ventana Research gave SAP’s offering the highest score, and this new release builds on that solid foundation that I already assessed in my blog. It has been several years since SAP began acquiring and assembling its performance management and analytical software assets, and the company has progressed to the point where discussing the integration efforts is becoming irrelevant. This release revamps the user interface of the different components to provide a more consistent look and feel – a crucial factor in facilitating training and improving user productivity. Outside of the suite itself, the current release is designed to integrate better with ERP, SAP NetWeaver BW, risk management and BI. In facts it establishes a foundation for finance analytics that I have researched and is essential for doing what I call and have written about in putting the “A” back in FP&A.
Posted by Robert Kugel on May 5, 2011 1:43:54 PM
The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant trifecta that devastated Japan has had a negative impact also on companies that embraced the concept of managing a lean supply chain – one that minimizes inventories at each stage. If news accounts are to be believed, there seem to be legions regretting that decision as disruptions caused by the disasters have a ripple impact, hampering manufacturers’ ability to deliver goods worldwide. But although current events are a wake-up call highlighting the risks inherent in a lean supply chain approach, a worse danger is that some companies may overreact, especially those where blame for bad outcomes – not bad decisions – are the focal point of damaging reviews and assessments.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 28, 2011 8:38:20 AM
Golden Gate Capital and Infor (which is owned largely by Golden Gate Capital) will acquire Lawson Software for approximately $2 billion in a transaction that is expected to be completed sometime in this year’s third quarter. Lawson is the latest in a string of enterprise software acquisitions made or financed by Golden Gate that began almost a decade ago. Today, Infor is made up of legacy companies such as Baan, Comshare, ePiphany, Dun & Bradstreet Software, SSA, Sun Systems and Symix, to name just a handful. Compared to Oracle’s acquisition approach, I would describe Golden Gate’s as more of a “rollup” of applications software vendors because it incorporates a larger number of smaller companies. While Oracle has focused primarily on serving the largest corporations, Infor’s customers tend to be midsize to large companies or divisions of very large corporations. Nonetheless, with this acquisition Infor will have a larger base of revenue and installations to work from in an industry where size and economies of scale drive profitability and competitiveness.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 27, 2011 12:27:04 PM
Companies (especially in high technology) that sell through an indirect channel face a difficult challenge because global sales channels are complex, fragmented and changeable, with different business practices and customs than direct channels. Keeping track of which products have sold in and sold through which partners can be a difficult task. Unless a company is working with only a handful of channel partners, just collecting the data is time-consuming. Not only is the data complex, much of it is taken from disparate IT systems of individual channel partners. They report their data at different times and in different ways using a mishmash of data structures, aggregations and nomenclature, so companies have to go through a data-cleansing step to acquire a consistent data set with which to work. Yet having accurate, detailed and timely data is important to both the day-to-day and strategic management of a corporation. Without that, it’s hard to manage customer and partner relationships effectively and have a timely, accurate view of aggregate indirect channel sales and inventory positions.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 26, 2011 4:01:29 PM
Back in the old days (20 years ago or so) companies that wanted to expand or update their telephone systems had to do what was called a “forklift migration.” In other words, they had to remove big, heavy and very expensive boxes of electronics from an equipment room and replace them with newer big, heavy and very expensive boxes. The process of adding, deleting or changing people, offices and phone numbers was equally burdensome and costly. This all seems quaint now because digital telephony and voice over IP (VOIP) have completely changed the technology underpinnings of voice communications. I bring this up because we may be on the verge of substantially reducing the “forklift migration” equivalent of replacing or updating on-premises ERP systems and other enterprise software. This possibility is important for software vendors as well as users. Retaining a maintenance base and revenue stream has become a key strategic objective for any enterprise software provider. In North America in particular, companies that have outgrown their enterprise system or want to replace it almost never exhibit total brand loyalty. Instead they begin the replacement process by looking at alternatives, winnow it down to a short list and then select the best of the lot. If migration is as much work as implementing a new system, organizations are likely to view replacement as an equally attractive option, increasing the probability that the incumbent vendor will lose a customer. But if there’s little pain in changing an ERP system to acquire new functional capabilities or meet other objectives, incumbent vendors stand to benefit.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 22, 2011 6:42:59 AM
Alight Planning sells planning and budgeting software mainly to midsize companies and stresses its software’s ability to support a more effective approach to corporate planning and budgeting. It calls this “agile planning,” a term used to contrast a traditional, highly deterministic method of drawing up and executing plans with an “agile” mindset that is better able to deal with the high level of economic volatility that most businesses confront today. In many respects Alight’s approach is consistent with what Ventana Research refers to as “integrated business planning,” which I have written about as a business priority and an area that I have extensively researched.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 20, 2011 7:41:25 AM
Although I continue to believe that governance, risk and compliance (GRC) is not a firm software category, software vendors continue to add depth and breadth to their offerings that support corporate governance, help manage risks systemically in business and IT and provide greater visibility into compliance efforts. For example, with its release of OpenPages 6.0 IBM had made an important enhancement by marrying the document management capabilities of its OpenPages acquisition with Cognos’s Analysis Studio. Although automating documentation of regulatory compliance and risk management functions has value (in the sense of lowering the cost and increasing the probability of full compliance), incorporating analytics and the ability to perform contingency planning in concert with document-driven processes potentially multiplies the business value of such automation.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Apr 14, 2011 10:38:18 PM
While Europeans have long had to adapt to working in many languages, currencies and legal jurisdictions, a generation ago most midsize companies in the United States did all their business in their home country and in U.S. dollars. Today, though, the relentless globalization of the world economy means that an increasing number of midsize companies in North America are functionally multinational and face the challenges of managing a more complex and demanding accounting and financial management function.
Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 25, 2011 7:17:28 AM
Back-office operations in commercial and investment banks are among those critical functions that are underappreciated until they stop working well. This includes transaction reconciliations and the related exceptions management. Reconciliations are necessary to achieve a reasonable assurance of complete and accurate record of trading activity. The process is especially challenging now, partly because of today’s high and growing volumes in the wide range of asset classes in which all larger financial institutions trade. Reconciliation is a necessary accounting function that has to be completed before external financial statements can be published.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 20, 2011 8:17:12 PM
One of the many interesting findings that came out of Ventana Research’s comprehensive benchmark research on business analytics was partly buried in an analysis of maturity groups. The Maturity Index of our research benchmarks classifies organizations at four maturity levels (from bottom to top, Tactical, Advanced, Strategic and Innovative) in each of four categories: People, Process, Information and Technology. We’ve conducted more than 100 benchmarks during the past seven years, covering thousands of organizations and gauging their maturity in performing important operations. We’ve consistently found an interrelationship among the people, process, information and technology dimensions in every major business issue. That is, companies that fall short in one dimension tend to fall short in others, and usually to the same degree, precisely because corporate pathologies are self-reinforcing.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Mar 18, 2011 7:47:06 AM
When the term “governance, risk and compliance” (GRC) was introduced almost 10 years ago, software for this purpose was not a real category but a loose grouping of disparate applications that had something to do with meeting the requirements of the recently passed Sarbanes-Oxley Act. (You can find my perspective on the GRC category from a couple of years ago here. Now, with the release 10.0 of SAP BusinessObjects GRC, SAP is taking another step toward making the software category a real, comprehensive one that addresses the business and IT requirements of risk and compliance management efforts. This is the first platform that enables companies to efficiently provision risk and compliance management at an elemental level (for example, to manage individual access controls and process controls) and – over time – to gain effectiveness benefits from having the ability to comprehensively manage compliance and risk.
Posted by Ventana Research on Mar 17, 2011 7:18:07 PM
The hospitality industry has a complex structure. It is highly fragmented, with many small operations but also a significant number of global companies. Moreover, a property can be managed by one company (the brand name over the door) yet owned by another, which might be a one-off local real-estate partnership or a larger-scale owner of multiple sites. The consumer side of hospitality has its own challenges as well, resulting from the dramatic shifts brought about by the Internet in how people worldwide buy travel and leisure services.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 28, 2011 7:03:59 AM
Taxes are a big expense for most companies, profitable or not. Many larger and midsize companies must traverse a complex and constantly shifting landscape of tax rules, rates, and jurisdictions. I’ve previously written about the need for corporations to manage their taxes more intelligently, and that that may require someone in the tax department who understands both the department’s functional requirements and what information technology can do to improve those functions. Today I am going to discuss some organizational changes that are required to transform the tax department from a poorly understood, isolated and tactically driven silo into a mainstream finance function that is tightly integrated with the rest of that organization.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 21, 2011 2:00:26 PM
To manage taxes more intelligently tax departments need to focus more on execution than compliance. I’ll confess that this observation is based on informal rather than rigorous research, so I’ll leave it up to individuals that work in these departments and in the finance function generally to consider whether this applies to their company.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Feb 10, 2011 4:31:01 PM
People who perform the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) function in the finance organization put together and update the budgets and forecasts. In many companies, the “A” portion of this activity gets short shrift. That’s because the mechanical process of pulling together and collating the data takes up so much time that very little remains for analysis. The result is that planning and budgeting is a less useful business tool than it could be. Improving FP&A can give executives and managers more insightful analytics and easier access to analytical tools that support more accurate and timely planning and budgeting.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Jan 28, 2011 3:52:13 PM
I have written before about enterprise risk management, which is an essential piece of both performance management and corporate governance. Every aspect of business entails risk. Everyone who makes a business decision is – whether consciously or not – making trade-offs between risk and reward. Assessing risk is tricky in business because it means different things to different people depending on where they work and their specific role in an organization. From a broad view, risk management becomes an “enterprise” issue for three reasons. One is to ensure that risk management is harmonized across the company and consistent with the corporation’s risk tolerance. A second purpose is to manage cross-functional risks – things that happen in one part of the company can have negative impacts on other areas. The third is to address the risk elements of what’s called the agency dilemma.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jan 10, 2011 4:41:12 PM
I recently commented on why I believe companies must manage taxes more intelligently. One dimension of this is optimizing tax risk exposure. Most corporate tax codes are notoriously complex and at times ambiguous, leaving room for companies to interpret their application. These interpretations fall on a scale of “conservative” to “aggressive,” in which companies weigh the risk of penalties and other negative outcomes against that of paying more taxes than necessary. It strikes me that few of the companies that should be paying attention to these sorts of trade-offs are doing so. I suspect there are a couple of important reasons.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 24, 2010 12:02:39 PM
Wall Street has many leading indicators to work with, some serious – such as housing starts and the purchasing managers’ index – and some done a bit tongue-in-cheek. One of the latter is the Super Bowl Indicator, which says that if a team from the original National Football League wins the game, the market will be up for the year, but if an old American Football League team wins it, the market will be down. The amazing thing is that so far this heuristic has an accuracy rate better than 75%! On the other hand, over time some venerable weather vanes become unreliable. For example, the “hem line theory” (that stocks rise and fall with the direction of this aspect of women’s fashion) lost its (ahem) legs, partly because fashion these days is much more anarchic.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 16, 2010 6:13:14 PM
SAP is in the process of acquiring certain financial disclosure management software assets from cundus, a German provider of BI and performance management software. SAP will be buying cundus’ Financial Statement Factory and informationCollector, which together manage the collaborative creation and editing of financial and management reports using both structured and unstructured information. SAP expects to complete the deal by the end of 2010.
Posted by Ventana Research on Dec 15, 2010 3:46:41 PM
One of the prominent salesforce.com partners on display at the recent Dreamforce in San Francisco was FinancialForce.com. It’s one of a growing list of providers of in-the-cloud accounting and finance packages built on the Force.com platform. Like other of these accounting vendors (such as Compiere, Intacct, Netsuite and - to some extent and eventually– Workday), it aims principally at companies that have outgrown entry-level accounting software such as Intuit’s QuickBooks. (I covered the emerging use of cloud-based applications for finance departments here.) However, there are key differences. One major difference is that FinancialForce offers customers the choice between buying accounting functionality as a complete package or doing so à la carte. This approach derives from its strategy of going after two types of customers.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 14, 2010 9:48:23 AM
Vishal Sikka raised an important point about the software business during his remarks at the SAP Global Influencer Summit that my colleague just assessed (See: “SAP Elevates Technology Strategy for Enterprise Software and Solutions“). He contrasted the business strategy of consolidation that other companies are pursuing with his view of SAP’s strategy of innovation. In one sense, this assertion is an attempt to disparage Oracle’s and to some extent IBM’s approach to constructing an IT business portfolio, even though SAP itself has been a consolidator in recent years. (Business Objects and Sybase, for example, are significant components of SAP’s product universe and go-forward strategy.) However, I believe consolidation vs. innovation is an important point to consider as we enter the second decade of the 21st century because it points to the potential for a basic shift in the dynamics of the software business.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 3, 2010 5:20:52 PM
Years ago I was given a tour of a company’s factory by the CEO who was credited with engineering its recent turnaround. We were walking along a gallery one story above the shop floor when he pointed down to it and told me that when he first looked down on this scene he saw people dashing madly back and forth. Rather than taking that as a good sign of a busy factory, he said it was a clear indication to him of how inefficient the operation was and why the company was losing money. He immediately went about realigning the factory’s layout to smooth out physical flows and re-examined its manufacturing processes, and soon the business was profitable.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Dec 1, 2010 9:52:07 AM
Ventana Research recently completed its 2010 Financial Performance Management Value Index of the major financial performance management suites. Financial performance management (FPM) is the process of addressing the often overlapping issues around people, process, information and information technology that affect how well finance organizations operate and support the activities of the rest of the organization. FPM deals with the full cycle of finance department activities including planning, forecasting, analysis, closing and reporting. As I noted in my earlier blog about this year’s FPM Value Index, one striking feature of this software category is its general maturity. Budgeting and planning, reporting, closing and statutory consolidation, as well as dashboards and scorecards, have been around for more than a decade, so the suites we examined are all feature-rich and with one notable exception have remarkably similar capabilities at this time. (The exception is automated preparation of XBRL-tagged financial documents for the United States Securities and Exchange Commission – the SEC). Consequently the Value Index scores were tightly clustered. SAP’s suite just edged out those of IBM and Infor in the rankings, though both of those earned the Hot Vendor rating.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 12:45:15 PM
The US Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) “Interactive Data” initiative continues to progress forward. Thus far, some 1,500 corporations have filed their financial information using XBRL tags to facilitate review and analysis, of which almost 400 have had done detailed tagging of their footnotes. By June 2011 all public companies will have to provide an XBRL-tagged, interactive version of their financial statements. As I’ve noted in the past, I think companies should find ways to automate the XBRL tagging process to make it as efficient as possible and make this a part of a close-to-report process automation effort that can lower the cost of compliance, and give companies more time to review the substance (not just the details) of their filings.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 12:42:31 PM
Ventana Research has just announced its Value Index for Financial Performance Management (FPM) for 2010. Our value indexes are user-focused assessments of how well software vendors and packages enable companies to improve their execution of core processes. This one is designed to help businesses, especially the finance organization, evaluate the FPM software suites offered by major vendors in the context of their specific needs. Ventana Research defines financial performance management as the practice of managing the efficiency and effectiveness of financial processes including analytics, budgeting, consolidation, planning, reporting and strategy. The methodology we use to produce the Value Indexes involves evaluating in detail aspects of product functionality and suitability-to-task as well as the effectiveness of vendor support for the buying process and customer assurance.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 12:04:07 PM
Actuate held its annual customer day in San Francisco amid the happy chaos of the World Series champion Giants’ ticker-tape celebration, and on that day the company’s ticker symbol changed from ACTU to BIRT (a shift, incidentally, botched by NASDAQ). There was a great deal of focus on its ActuateOne platform (which my colleague reviewed here) and the advancements in using open source software like BIRT with now over ten million downloads, but the aspect I want to highlight is the BIRT spreadsheet (originally Actuate’s e.Spreadsheet).
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 12:02:12 PM
For the past couple of years I’ve been asserting that most larger companies (those with 1,000 or employees) need to adopt a new approach to using software to handle their taxes comprehensively, both the direct sort (income taxes) and the indirect variety (sales and use taxes as well as value-added or goods and services taxes). This is a necessary response to an emerging challenge from more competent and determined tax enforcement by governments worldwide. It will require corporations to make changes in how they employ software to manage their taxes, structure their tax-related data and manage their tax processes. Increasingly, corporations will need to have better control over the way they manage tax data, calculate taxes and handle associated processes so they can minimize their tax liabilities and their tax risk exposure.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 12:00:56 PM
IBM announced it has acquired Clarity Systems, a Toronto-based vendor of performance management software and consulting. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. (My most recent blog and analysis about Clarity Systems can be found here. The acquisition fills an important hole in the IBM Cognos applications portfolio, as Clarity FSR is a leading application for automating and managing the close-to-report cycle. This capability has become essential for companies that are required to file financial statements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under its “interactive data” mandate. That mandate, which is being phased in now, requires these corporations to tag their financial statements (and most of the footnotes attached to the statements) as well as their 8-K forms (which are essentially press releases, but especially earnings announcements). I estimate that for a large majority of Fortune 1,000-size public companies, automating the close-to-report cycle alone will have a positive ROI and a short payback period. This is why earlier this year I listed automating the close-to-report cycle as a 2010 priority for finance departments. Many finance departments use up a great deal of time of highly paid employees in this process, cobbling together tables with data from multiple sources; writing, editing and reviewing scattered snippets of text and triple-checking the resulting documents for errors. Many of them, too, will have to automate the process of tagging data to reliably meet filing deadlines. I also expect that most corporations ultimately will prefer to prepare their own filing documents internally and use the financial publishers (Bowne, Donnelley and Merrill are the leaders) as conduits rather than outsourcing this work to them.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:59:29 AM
With its FXR offering, Longview Solutions becomes the latest entrant into the market for software that automates the close-to-report cycle. Addressing the steps in the accounting cycle after the books are closed, the product assembles this accounting data, data from other sources (for example, management data such as a business segment breakout of revenues and operating profits or nonaccounting data such as the amount of real estate owned or leased), and the written commentary that accompanies such data in external reports, such as a legally mandated filing by a public company (for instance, in the United States, form 10-Q, 10-K or 8-K) or a periodic filing required by a creditor or lien holder. Longview FXR and its competition come at an opportune time for both vendors and users. Until recently, companies prepared these documents manually with little if any automation. However, the mandate of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that U.S. public companies must tag their filings using the eXtended Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is forcing companies to rethink this manual process because of the time it will take to perform once the requirement is fully phased in. Larger companies may have thousands of items that they will have to tag at this stage. If history is any guide, the number of tagged items is likely to grow over time. For example, items in the management discussion and analysis and in the compensation table are not covered by tagging at this point because of how long it will take to create a useful taxonomy for these items. Moreover, governments worldwide are likely to increase the scope of business reporting that must be tagged.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:57:22 AM
As part of its recent IBM Business Analytics Industry Analyst Summit, I participated in a demonstration of IBM Business Analytics Workshop, a simulation that the company uses to demonstrate the capabilities of its performance management software. Rather than offering a canned demo or a Microsoft PowerPoint deck, the workshop gives a team of individuals from a company a reasonably realistic interactive experience of using the software for a purpose. The group starts with a set of financial goals and then has to comb quickly through a set of operating data to establish a product strategy for the coming year - which products to emphasize in which segments of the geographical markets it serves. In a series of "moves," participants progress through the year, seeing how well they've done, adjusting their strategy if necessary, reforecasting and making sure that the company's resources are aligned with the strategy that they established. IBM and its analytics from acquisition of Cognos offers different flavors of the workshop: The shortest, most basic one takes several hours and can be played with a handful of people, but longer versions that involve many more players and get into many more details are also available.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:55:11 AM
Ecology and economy are two words with the same root. Similarly, the focus on sustainability in business has two sorts of "green" impacts: on the environment and (if you do it right) on the bottom line. Perillon has an on-demand and cloud computing-based solution for companies that want to manage their double-green sustainability efforts more effectively. Perillon Workspace Suite offers "sustainability performance management" for organizations in energy and environmental management. It delivers the kind of benefits that all enterprise performance management systems are designed to provide: the ability to assemble all relevant performance-related data, put that data into the proper context, present it relative to objectives, provide individual managers with alerts when results require their specific attention and incorporate a mechanism for ensuring that out-of-tolerance situations are addressed adequately. Moreover, because of its engineering history, Perillon captures data, in effect, all the way from the smokestack and not just in the technology stack. This differentiates the product from reporting tools that, while intelligent enough to have already built data and reporting structures designed to support sustainability efforts, must obtain the data from separate systems.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:53:47 AM
Oracle unveiled its Fusion Financials applications at its latest OpenWorld confab as part of its broader Fusion Applications announcement. The software will be generally available shortly. Beyond it being the approach to bringing together the disparate ERP/Financial applications the company owns (E-Business Suite/Oracle Applications, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards), Oracle Fusion Financials rethinks the architecture on which the software is built consistent with the longer-term business software trend of having applications mould themselves around business processes rather than having to mould business processes around available software. This is not just a simpler integration of business intelligence and on-line transactions processing. It results in an easier, more consistent and faster way to execute the execution of finance department functions. It is a breakthrough in the making, but owing to the conservative nature of the buyers and the lack of any compelling reason for Oracle to encourage them to migrate, one that I expect will take most of this decade to pan out.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:51:51 AM
For the past couple of decades Xenos' distinctive competence has been the transformation of print streams into content used to assemble documents. Its focus these days is in addressing the needs of organizations that have to handle high volume transactional output (HVTO) and all forms of enterprise content. The company, which was acquired by Actuate earlier this year, recently released their Enterprise Server Version 2.0.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:50:14 AM
Looking forward to Oracle OpenWorld, I was recalling that about 20 years ago, when I started covering the software industry as a Wall St. analyst, I paid a visit to the company. There were many fewer database-shaped glass buildings there in Redwood Shores then but the lack of corporate focus on business applications and users remains unchanged.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:47:12 AM
Most large corporations have embraced some form of “performance management” software – perhaps even multiple forms – including business analytics to help create key performance indicators, reporting systems for graphically presenting information in a useful context (such as dashboards, scorecards or a recurring performance report) as well as planning systems to create budgets and forecasts or handle reviews. These sorts of systems become rarer as the size of the organization gets smaller. One reason is that in smaller organizations the time and effort needed to create and maintain these sorts of systems doesn’t seem to be worthwhile. Having an IT department that is large enough to have (and maintain) the skills support multiple applications and the data infrastructure to feed it can be more than midsize company or the division of a large corporation may be willing to bear. Yet, few of them want to compromise on features and capabilities and so they continue to cobble together their data, reporting and planning and review functions, often using desktop spreadsheets as the backbone. In midsize or large companies this can produce false economies. Our research finds that organizations this size that rely on spreadsheets to handle their performance management requirements waste a considerable amount of time trying to overcome the shortcomings of the technologies they are using and do not achieve the kind of return on the time invested they should. Time is a precious commodity to any business, but especially in any organization that has outgrown more informal systems and yet are not giant enough to be able to afford a large IT department.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:45:44 AM
Accelerating the completion of the accounting cycle remains an important objective for Finance organizations. Research shows that about half of the midsize and larger companies take more than five business days to close their books on a monthly or quarterly basis; some much longer. A fast, accurate close is important if only because it enables companies to provide financial feedback to executives and managers sooner and therefore allows them to address issues or opportunities faster. One of the most important insights provided by Ventana’s Research Benchmark on the financial close is that cutting the time to complete the accounting cycle is rarely a matter of finding one or two bottlenecks. Like most management challenges, it is almost always a matter of addressing a large number of small things, which in aggregate add up to days or weeks that can be saved. Moreover, the research also shows that companies that have established clear objectives to shorten their closing cycle and ones that have frequent formal periodic reviews of their process execution (at least monthly or quarterly) are more likely to succeed in reducing the time it takes to close the books.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:44:20 AM
Activity Based Costing (ABC) is one several popular techniques to apply marginal cost analysis to arrive at a more accurate measure of a product’s true economic cost. It became popular in the United States starting in the 1980s (earlier in Germany) as it became clear to many that traditional cost accounting techniques do not reflect the true, economic cost of production in complex, multi-product environments. Consequently, companies might price items higher than they should and lose market share, or consider them unattractive from a profitability standpoint and possibly under invest in them from a sales/marketing standpoint. Or, the company’s profitability might be impaired because standard cost accounting measures do not enable them to determine the decisions that will maximize their profitability. Sales people might be given the wrong set of incentives, heavily promote less profitable products while ignoring high margin ones. ABC attracted a great deal of attention in the English-speaking world in the 1980s and early 1990s because proponents presented compelling arguments for its adoption. Unfortunately, it quickly fell out of favor because the time and cost of doing the type of “boil the ocean” comprehensive analyses associated with it at that point did not provide commensurate benefits. This was especially true because marginal cost analyses must be performed periodically to keep them up to date.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 11:42:25 AM
In July, Australia adopted what it calls "Standard Business Reporting" (SBR), which is designed to reduce the reporting burden imposed on businesses by the country's federal and state governments by streamlining the information submission ("lodging" for the Oz) process. In essence, the country is on its way to a file-once-use-many approach whereby companies provide data using a single secure sign-on known as "AUSkey" As of now, SBR reports include the Business Activity Statement, Tax File Number Declarations, payment summaries, payroll tax returns and financial statements. While the data can be compiled manually, the objective is to have SBR-enabled software to pre-fill and complete government forms directly from their own accounting and other business systems. The Australian initiative has been in the works for several years and appears to be off to a good start.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 10:52:16 AM
I’ve focused attention of integrated business planning for the past several years as our benchmark research on business planning and other related topics consistently finds companies are not getting enough of a return on the considerable amount of time and effort they spend on budgeting and planning. Moreover, the current economic climate makes substantive contingency planning more important than ever. Our research finds that there is a great deal of planning going on. Most managers and executives participate in multiple planning exercises, although these are focused on their own business silo and do not have a firm, ongoing connection with other plans. Unfortunately, this leads to a lack of coordination between various parts of the organization because the plans in one area are only vaguely understood by others. Moreover, when changes take place in the future outlook of one part of the business, they are not immediately communicated (or communicated in sufficient detail) to everyone that would benefit from this knowledge. The main form of integrated business planning is the annual budget and the periodic budget review and re-forecast. However, this is relatively short-term and financially focused, usually does a poor job of projecting the operational aspects of a changing business landscape and is not always in sync with the company’s various operating plans. Even when companies do some integrated operational planning, it often does not do a good job of measuring the financial impact of changes in the operational forecast because the models use simplistic financial assumptions that can quickly become outdated.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 10:50:31 AM
Intacct, which offers cloud-based accounting software for small and smaller midsize companies is starting to put more emphasis on addressing the needs of project-oriented, professional services businesses. One of the challenges that these companies face is getting their accounting systems to support their business at a functional level. To be sure, any ERP system can account for projects, in the sense that they can aggregate labor and material costs attributed in some subcategory such as "new building" or "annual conference." However, unless they are built from the ground up to support businesses that revolve around projects, people in the finance department will wind up wasting time doing workarounds to overcome the system's deficiencies and companies will need to invest in adapting the system to offer the process support they need to perform routine business tasks. A lot of those workarounds will involve desktop spreadsheets which means there will be errors that will also take time to address and impose needless costs to the business.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 10:48:49 AM
It turns out that some consumer goods manufacturers and retailers are having a hard time finding space on container ships and even finding containers to ship in. This has driven up the cost of shipping these items and at times resulted in deliveries arriving too late for scheduled promotions or seasonal demand peaks. This, during a time of constrained consumer spending in North America and Europe and an extended period where the Baltic Dry Index (a measure of shipping rates for bulk commodities such as ore and grain) has been dropping at a record-breaking rapid clip. This sort of unexpected and counterintuitive event has been having a negative impact on the affected companies. Could they have anticipated this possibility? Should they have? I think the answer is: Yes.
Posted by Robert Kugel on Nov 27, 2010 10:46:37 AM
Anyone who has had to regularly produce a written business forecast that goes out more than a couple of months understand all too well Yogi Berra’s famous observation: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Certainly the economic events of the past two years have regularly made forecasts obsolete in a very short period of time. Using the wisdom of crowds can help the accuracy of forecasts in some cases because the impacts of individual biases are largely cancelled out. But surveys of expected business trends turn out to be most accurate in stable business environments when simple extrapolation turns out to be the best forecasting tool. It’s less reliable at turning points because people tend to extrapolate from current conditions. Nonetheless, I think it’s always good to examine surveys of expected business conditions, if only because they accurately summarize current attitudes.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 25, 2010 4:35:31 PM
Edgar Online (EDGR) and UBmatrix announced it will be merging, pending EDGR shareholder approval. In my opinion the merger is a good thing for the two organizations and good for their customers. The two companies are a good fit and the combination gives the consolidated entity a bit more economic heft, providing it with greater resources for continued development over the longer run. However, the subtext of the deal is: “It’s hard to make a buck in the XBRL business.”
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 23, 2010 6:46:53 AM
Midsize companies typically lack the economies of scale that larger ones can bring to bear when it comes to buying and implementing software. They usually don’t have the resources to customize packages such as generic enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and they don’t have enough internal IT staff to make ongoing refinements in response to business needs. Observing these constraints, software vendors selling to companies of this size range long ago discovered that verticalization is a necessary market strategy.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 14, 2010 2:21:32 PM
You really, really have to be a nerd to watch Jurassic Park and see the absence of separation of duties (SoD) and inadequate process controls as a core plot device. To explain, one of the pivots in the story line of Jurassic Park is the point where the villain of the story, “Dennis Nedry” decides to steal some dinosaur embryos and sell them. The company created some safeguards in their systems to prevent this from happening but (as usual) they were mainly designed to guard against outsiders, not to prevent internal fraud. Knowing how they operate (since he wrote the code), the villain shuts down key systems so that he can override security systems designed to prevent just this sort of possibility.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 9, 2010 4:28:13 PM
Oracle has just released its latest (11g) version of its enterprise content management (ECM) suite. Oracle entered the ECM business mainly through the acquisition of Stellent more than three years ago. Historically, document/content management has achieved greatest penetration in paperwork heavy or highly regulated businesses such as financial services, pharmaceuticals and government as well as in specific functions such as handling web content, especially in high-volume applications. However, I expect that it will get increased attention in more general enterprise uses, especially in the finance department, as vendors begin tapping into latent demand for better management of collaborative, repetitive processes that involve documents and documentation.
Posted by Ventana Research on Jun 4, 2010 4:23:24 PM
The word "millennium" not only means a 1,000 year span but also denotes a period of joy and prosperity. A decade into the current millennium, I think a new millennium is dawning for midsize companies (which we define as those with between 100 and 999 employees), at least as far as information technology is concerned. Midsize companies have been 'stuck in the middle' almost from the start of the computer age in the sense that their requirements tend to be as demanding as larger companies (the main exception being scalability), but they have fewer resources (both relatively and absolutely) than larger companies to buy and support IT systems. Technology has been evolving since the turn of the century in ways that are making it much easier for midsize companies to use increasingly sophisticated software.