Today we live in a new world where the Internet levels the playing field for small, mid-size and large enterprises, breaking down barriers to entering new emerging markets. And yet we also face new challenges with rapidly changing commodity prices, fluctuating exchange and interest rates and an accelerating pace of business across a global economy. Whether you are looking to grow and expand or just accelerate profits, you need a plan.
A recent Mint Jutras report posed the question: Is Planning & Performance Management a Marriage Made In Heaven? We concluded that having a comprehensive plan is the first step towards achieving any specific outcome. But to optimize growth and profits, that plan needs to be a living plan, capable of evolving as goals and business conditions change. The key to breathing life into your plan is to actively link it to enterprise performance management. While that might seem intuitively obvious, too often the plan simply goes on the shelf as you go about business as usual. To monitor, manage and predict performance against the plan, you need to marry the right solutions with the right data.
The tools available to help you succeed range from spreadsheets to suites of applications that also might range from simple, basic tools to comprehensive solutions built on modern, enabling technology. Host Analytics provides a comprehensive Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) platform that is simple and affordable enough for the small to mid-size enterprise, but comprehensive and robust enough to support a growing mid-size company as it transforms itself into a large enterprise. Delivering its solution exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS), Host prides itself in offering an EPM solution you can’t outgrow.
The Right Mix
In our report, Is Planning & Performance Management a Marriage Made In Heaven? we found companies with World Class implementations use a more extensive set of tools to plan, monitor and manage performance (Figure 1). The tools shown in the figure below fall into four general categories: specific applications, reporting, analytics, and, of course, the ubiquitous spreadsheet. Host Analytics provides the first three as part of a comprehensive suite and also helps you control the inevitable use of spreadsheets.
Figure 1: Tools To Monitor, Plan and Predict Corporate Performance
Source: Mint Jutras 2016 Enterprise Solution Study
Note that Mint defines “World Class” in terms of the performance of the implementation of enterprise software that runs the business. Survey responses are used to measure cost savings and other improvements since implementation, progress made in achieving goals and selected current performance metrics that can apply universally to any business. The top 15% in performance is categorized as “World Class” and the remaining 85% are referred to as “All Others.”
While its solution is quite comprehensive today, being a cloud-only solution allows Host Analytics to offer frequent enhancements and improvements through monthly maintenance releases and quarterly feature releases. Over the past year Host Analytics has delivered about 185 enhancements and announced some very strategic partnerships. Key investment areas include:
- User Experience
- Data integration
“We Speak Finance, not Klingon”
According to Dave Kellogg, Host Analytics’ CEO, “Our first language is finance.” Hence the applications delivered serve the office of finance. He goes on to clarify with, “We speak finance, not Klingon.” That tongue in cheek reference to the language of the alien culture encountered in the journey of the USS Enterprise (of Star Trek fame) is a subtle reference to competitors who speak only in the language of information technology (IT), which will mean little to the finance department.
As an interesting side note, the Klingons appeared in the original Star Trek series as enemies of the Starfleet Federation, but became allies in later generations of the entertainment franchise. We can only assume Mr. Kellogg is referring to Klingon in those later series because Host Analytics is actually quite IT-friendly, building on a modern technology foundation. Certainly IT is not viewed as the enemy, even if the staff does speak a different language.
However, Mr. Kellogg goes on to point out that while those in the office of finance might speak finance, they don’t care exclusively about finance. They care about the performance of all departments and disciplines across the enterprise. This is an important factor, and one covered in depth in our prior report. You need more than a financial plan, you need to work with the top companies offering CFO services. You also need an operational plan. This could potentially present a problem to a solution provider focused exclusively on the office of finance, which is why it weighs heavily in determining Host Analytics’ strategic approach to its product portfolio.
Focus, Partner and Unite
Mr. Kellogg described the company’s strategic approach at the recent Host Analytics World 2016. “We have three options to choose from. As a solution provider we could ignore the problem. But that would most likely mean the plan would be retired to a drawer and used only for executive compensation purposes. We could go a mile wide and an inch deep, attempting to build functional performance management applications for all functions. Or we could focus, partner and unite.”
Host Analytics chooses the third option, focusing on building financial apps and partnering with other companies that speak the languages of supply chain, manufacturing, services, marketing, sales, etc. Key to that decision: Host allows partners to build these apps within its Modeling Cloud. When they do, Host can bring the financial plan together with the full operational plan in a single cloud model. In doing so, Host is hoping to eliminate the need for “shadow finance” organizations that tend to spring up across the enterprise when departmental and functional needs aren’t met by a financial (only) plan.
Planning modules within the suite allow you to plan, budget, forecast and report all from one application. Modeling helps you create operational plans that align with financial plans. Multidimensional modeling helps you anticipate outcomes using financial and non-financial drivers. New dimensions can be added for granular “what if?” scenarios.
Analytics Tie It All Together: Think Quick and Qlik
Analytics are important tools in bringing the financial and operational plan together. In our prior report we noted that World Class implementations were 43% to 180% more likely to use various types of analytics.
Host Analytics has had a long-standing relationship with Qlik, who is also its customer. That relationship has now been strengthened and Qlik is embedded within the Host Analytics suite. No more exports from Host to Qlik required. Access and data is available in real time right from Host.
This partnership and integration brings data discovery and visualization tools to the Host Analytics suite. Pre-built dashboards can be easily tailored and configured by business users, adding a level of self-service and independence for the business user without over-reliance on IT. Presentation quality story boards can be created and integrated with Host’s Financial Package Publisher. The (combined) solution becomes browser agnostic (Windows and Mac), and fully supports mobile devices.
Direct integration with Host financial data comes right out of the box, but customers and partners will also be able to integrate other models and third party applications in order to mash up data from a variety of sources. Host has also expanded in-memory support and implemented incremental updates of data cubes and dashboards. Early results have yielded 50% to 90% improvements in performance across various planning and reporting scenarios.
Expanding the Circle: Workforce Planning & Analytics
While Host Analytics’ primary focus is on financials, it is not drawing a circle too tightly around finance. In fact it is expanding its boundaries to include an element of workforce management, including the delivery of workforce planning and analytics. Workforce planning is a logical extension of the financial plan since headcount determination and resulting costs are often included as part of the financial plan. The new analytics will provide improved visibility to headcount, compensation, benefits, open requisitions and other employee detail. But for more specific planning activities, such as incentive compensation planning, Host has chosen a partner that speaks that language. A partnership and integration with Xactly was also announced at Host Analytics World 2016.
How Does Host Analytics Stack Up?
We concluded our prior report with a checklist of sorts to be used in looking for a solution that effectively manages planning and performance management. So how does Host Analytics stack up?
- Look for planning and performance management tools that complement each other. While Host positions itself as an EPM player, its planning and modeling capabilities are a good fit for many companies, particularly in the small to mid-size range. While the volumes very large enterprises must deal with might have over-taxed its solution in the past, the new in-memory capabilities might just address that.
- Make sure you can connect your overall financial plan to your operational plan. Host Analytics focuses on the financial plan, but has recently expanded to include workforce planning. Partners are required for other operational plans, but the partnership and integration with Qlik should help bring it all together in the end, provided the necessary operational plans are available. Expect some setup work to be required if bringing together data from applications in third party applications, but those offered by certified Host partners should slide in more easily.
- Select tools that encourage rather than prohibit collaboration. Host Analytics has embedded social collaboration with in-context discussion threads and activity streams and the ability to annotate a plan. Host has partnered with SocialCast, but also supports integration with other collaboration tools such as Slack and Yammer. In addition, new “reporting” capabilities also support export to Google Sheets and Google Drive and Host will continue to build out this integration for bi-directional updates.
- Consider a cloud approach. Host Analytics’ solution is delivered entirely and exclusively as Software as a Service (SaaS).
- Evaluate not only the traditional desktop/laptop user interface but also the overall user experience, including the ability to support the mobile executive, on the device(s) of choice. Ask for a demo to evaluate the overall User Experience. Host is browser agnostic and adapts well to various devices.
- Look for solutions that play well with others. Host has designed its solution with this in mind. But don’t be afraid to ask for specifics on your own configuration of solutions.
- Work with your information technology (IT) staff, but seek a level of independence in the planning and performance management process itself. Think of your most complex test case for planning/modeling. For example, do you need driver-based planning? Host Analytics supports it. But does Host support all the methods and/or algorithms you might need? Make sure you ask. With the embedding of Qlik, data discovery and visualization took a giant leap forward, but always ask for a test drive. It’s one thing to watch an expert make the software sing and dance. How does it look and feel and how flexible is it when you are in the driver’s seat?
- Understand clearly what kind of reporting and analytics are available right out of the box. Same as above: look at the demo but the proof of tailor-ability is in doing. Again, ask for a test drive.
- How much data can the solutions handle? How fast can they process it? Host now supports SQL Server 14, which provides new in-memory capabilities. In addition, Qlik dashboards preload all data needed into memory. This combined with the ability to incrementally update reporting cubes and dashboards provides good support for high speed, real-time access to data.
Host Analytics’ claim to be a leader in cloud-based enterprise performance management (EPM) is valid. Its platform of financial applications for modeling, planning, consolidation, reporting and analytics effectively marry the planning and performance management activities in companies from small to large. While Host “speaks finance” it has also created a platform on which partners that speak other functional languages (supply chain, sales, marketing, etc.) can add their own value. Together with those partners, along with its special partnership with Qlik, the happy couple expands to become a true blended family.
If your current financial plan sits in a drawer for the majority of the year…
If you can’t align your financial plans with your operational plans…
If you are struggling to make sense out of a collection of spreadsheets…
If you find yourself in fear of mistakes buried in those spreadsheets leading to bad decisions…
You owe it to yourself to look for a new solution that can help you plan, monitor and manage your performance. But of course, only if you want to maximize your opportunity to optimize growth and profits.