Prior to co-founding Adaptive Planning, a company that offers Web-based business intelligence software, Robert Hull described himself as a “frustrated” chief financial officer — and the chief culprit behind that frustration was Excel.“I was not happy continuing to use Excel as my budgeting, forecasting and reporting application, but was also a bit hampered by the resources needed to get to essentially the enterprise class of planning applications,” Hull recalled. “As I looked out at the marketplace, what I saw was a pretty big hole with respect to a mid-market application that was affordable, didn’t require a lot of resources to get going and actually solved my business problem in a non-technical way.”

By 2003, Hull and his partner, Richard Dellinger, who now serve as the company’s CFO and vice president of product development, respectively, spent close to nine months conducting market research and talking to financial executives about the problems they were facing and whether their system would be a relevant solution.

“The response we got was pretty phenomenal,” Hull said. “Universally, people said the budgeting process was really difficult for them, the tools they had were generally unacceptable, there was a very high usage of Excel and a lot of interest in a solution that was Software-as-a Service-based.”

Enter Adaptive Planning.

The company’s typical users are businesses that have between 100 and 2,500 employees and generate between $10 million and $500 million in revenue. However, Hull said that they also work with customers that range from pre-revenue start-ups to $5 billion corporations. Its customers come from a variety of industries, including software, service companies, high-tech manufacturing, health-care providers, nonprofits and restaurants.

“What we are looking to do is provide powerful, sophisticated and easy-to-use budgeting, forecasting and reporting capabilities to an entire class of companies and organizations that have never before had access to these types of capabilities,” said Greg Schneider, Adaptive Planning’s vice president of marketing. “There are hundreds of thousands of companies out there that simply don’t have the resources to utilize traditional enterprise business intelligence and performance management solutions. Our mission is to really change the equation.”

What they’re offering is apparently working. In 2007, Adaptive Planning tripled its number of customers and bookings over 2006, according to president and chief executive William Soward. With approximately 75 employees, the company has approximately 275 customers, 10 percent of whom are outside the U.S. One third of its 100 partners are international as well, and in the fourth quarter of last year, 25 percent of the company’s business came through the partner channel, whether it be referral, reseller or implementation partners.

ADAPTING TO CUSTOMERS

“A lot of different companies are using our product, which highlights the flexibility of the application,” Soward explained. “We play in a lot of different markets with a generic product that they can easily apply vertical aspects to. So having partners who have expertise in those verticals is an important part of our strategy.”

Greg Lemon, CPA and president of Axis Accounting Systems in Nashville, Tenn., resells Adaptive Planning and also uses it for his company’s budgeting. “I think a lot of accounting professionals and CPAs have been frustrated in the past with budgeting,” he said, adding that he especially appreciates the ability to project consulting revenues by entering in an average consulting billable rate with historical utilization percentages. “While a lot of us took pride in our ability to run very detailed spreadsheets to run budgets, at the end of the day it didn’t really allow much flexibility as your business changes in terms of financial planning.”

The company boasts a quick and easy implementation. Small projects usually require approximately three days of consulting, while larger projects can take up to 10 days.

Though the software was designed from the outset to be available on-premise, that option wasn’t on the market until 2006, when the company introduced its open-source offering. That year also brought three different editions to the application: Express, Corporate and Enterprise. The Express edition is a free, “try before you buy” version designed for small companies and teams, and is the most basic of the three. The next step up, Corporate, is geared toward small and midsized companies that want additional capabilities for budgeting and forecasting, reporting and analysis, and data integration. Enterprise is the most sophisticated offering, and is targeted at managing the more complex requirements of larger corporations.

The Corporate and Enterprise editions host two types of users — a “full” user, which includes administrators and all end-users that are involved in inputting information; and “review-only” users, who can review the budgeting, forecasting and reporting processes from a management perspective by creating and reviewing reports, but can’t input data themselves.

Pricing for the Corporate version is $500 per seat per year, while a subscription to Enterprise is $750 per seat. The company does, however, offer discounts based on the number of seats and whether there is a multi-year commitment. View-only seats start at $200 per user for Corporate and $250 for Enterprise.

A typical Adaptive Planning customer, according to Soward, is a $50-million-to-$75-million operation with several hundred employees that would buy an average of 15 to 20 seats.

In June, the company released Version 5.0 of the application — its biggest event since the original product came to market. Aside from new features, including an updated, Excel-like user interface, more right-click capabilities and support for internationalization, the release introduced two collaboration initiatives that engage both customers and the general public.

“When we distilled it down to what the big challenges were, dissatisfaction with spreadsheets was one of them, but it’s actually more than that,” Schneider said in referencing the research that Adaptive Planning has done with mid-market companies. “There’s a lack of collaboration within companies that has really come to the fore. It’s the ability to have alignment within organizations to affect the process efficiently, but it’s also the ability to really have alignment, to get greater organizational accountability, so that it’s not just finance that owns the numbers.”

With that in mind, in July the company launched its Private Team Collaboration Spaces for corporate and enterprise users, which are integrated directly into the application, providing the ability for document-sharing, discussion forums, and more process-type interactions between members or a group or team within a particular company.

“Instead of having fragmented e-mail communication between employees, you can have that all within the context of the plan itself,” Schneider added. “It’s keeping everything in one place.”

In an effort to provide companies a place to start in adopting best practices, Adaptive Planning also has created a free online Public Financial Best Practices Community for finance professionals that will host a number of resources to guide companies in best practices. Included on this site are discussion groups, expert perspectives, polls, videos and access to benchmarking information.

“Our goal is to over time create a Wikipedia for finance,” Schneider said. “We realize that will take some time and doing, but there is no Wikipedia for finance available right now and there’s a huge interest in best practices and learning from peers.”

WHAT’S NEXT

Currently, the application supports any general ledger system that can export to a CSV file. Adaptive Planning, however, has plans to make the integration tighter.

“Today, essentially, it’s integration with any application through simple file transfer, and coming up will be more tightly integrated data exchange,” Hull said. “Third-party technology will allow us to automate that process, schedule that process and remove any need for a file in the middle that someone touches in order to move from one system to another.”

In the fall, the company plans to unveil an offering that will help third parties translate into other languages more easily.

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