I speak to a lot of CFOs who are bumping up against the constraints of spreadsheets for building and maintaining their annual budgets.
With revenues in the $10 to $250 million range, and plans to expand their business in the next 12 months, it’s easy to see why replacing Excel with a budgeting software platform is a top priority.
And it’s easy to see why many haven’t taken the plunge to date. Since 2001, corporate performance management — or CPM — has dominated budgeting software conversation in the media. The term, first coined by Gartner, is defined as, “an umbrella term that describes the methodologies, metrics, processes and systems used to monitor and manage the business performance of an enterprise.”
Central to CPM is the notion that the budget model must be built from the ground up and fully customized to the company so it can adequately reflect the business’s unique structure. For CFOs familiar with the costs and efforts of implementing their general-ledger systems, the prospect of implementing a CPM platform was too daunting.
But CPM has always been directed at the enterprise-level company, and not particularly suited for midsized businesses that don’t have the funds and time to implement a highly customized CPM solution.
Many CFOs don’t spend a lot of time personally evaluating and purchasing software outside of major financial systems, which are typically highly customized for the company. But software itself has undergone radical changes with the introduction of the software as a service (SaaS) model, and those changes go far beyond simply replacing physical media with web-based access. The SaaS model is inherently flexible, allowing one solution to fit numerous business models. Put another way, SaaS means a lot less programming and custom code.
Consider Salesforce as an example. This SaaS-based CRM system supports widely different business models spanning a wide spectrum of industry sectors, from manufacturing and online retailing, to long-term health care facilities, without significant customization. How? By pre-building a wide variety of business inputs and drivers, companies can select the parameters that best meet their needs.
The SaaS model is all about configuring the drivers for a particular business, which is a very easy and straightforward thing to do as a lot of the functionality is prepackaged, and customization is easily accomplished via drop-down menus (read: no coding required). Moreover, companies don’t need to provision hardware that dedicated to the platform, and all upgrades occur automatically. And because SaaS systems are subscription based, it’s easy to predict and budget for initial and ongoing costs.
So how can the SaaS model apply to budget modeling? A SaaS platform can automate how financial inputs flow through a budget and to the company’s financial statements and forecasts, thereby ensuring that all transactional data entered by end users adheres to the company’s business structure and all U.S. GAAP accounting rules. All of the complex coding required to process that data can be packaged behind drop-down menus or radio buttons.
The next-generation SaaS solutions allow finance teams to customize every aspect of their budget models to their unique business structure. In the end, the ability of the SaaS model to reflect how a business operates means that finance teams can get a lot of customization without a lot of, well, customization.
Piyush Jain is vice president of engineering at Centage. With over 20 years of experience leading development teams for enterprise products, Mr. Jain is responsible for all aspects of product development at Centage. He brings deep expertise designing and delivering scalable analytics products, web and cloud-based architectures, OLAP, Big Data, Corporate Performance Management and Business Intelligence applications. Follow on Twitter @Centage.