• Strategy
  • CFO Magazine

Simplicity Is Golden

Heeding customer demands, sellers of planning software aim to make their products easier to use.

Bryan Babineau of software developer Citrix Systems Inc. uses the Quantrix application to build revenue models. Babineau, financial-planning manager for the online division of the Fort Lauderdale-based company, says he likes how the program separates the presentation of a model from its logic and structure. “In Excel, we had to painstakingly lock certain cells to make sure that people didn’t accidentally change the formulas or type over them,” he says. With Quantrix, Babineau says, formulas are stored in a separate sheet that’s kept away from a user.

Isolating formulas from a spreadsheet’s data and presentation elements (and having the formulas represented in plain English) is a big advance. It’s one that’s certain to be appreciated by employees who don’t spend all day revising pivot tables for a possible .2 percent projected decrease in gross sales in Orange County (northwest sector). Some vendors, on the other hand, are hawking planning products that actually mimic the oft-cursed Excel.

KCI Control, for one, provides an Excel-like syntax that allows users to leverage their prior experience with the Microsoft product to create models. “We have worked extremely hard to put Control in a familiar and understandable form that financial analysts, planners, and end users know and love, which is the Excel environment,” says Max Kay, CEO at Torrance, California-based KCI. Formulas in the program are defined using a point-and-click wizard.

While KCI Control is designed to satisfy sophisticated users, it also considers the novice. The program has one common database to ensure the integrity of the plan and the conclusions derived from it, together with a security layer, which shields less-experienced or careless users from accidentally corrupting existing models. By layering the functionality of the software, workers see only as much of the product as they need to.

Richard Boutz is convinced of the merits of the approach. Boutz, CFO of Washington Trust Bank in Spokane, Washington, says the financial-services company substituted KCI Control for a company-built budgeting application two years ago. “KCI’s Excel interface puts the user in a familiar environment,” he says. “The advanced capabilities of Excel are, therefore, available to the Control user at all times.”

The results have been startling. In the first year of using the software, the bank was able to complete its annual budgeting process 90 days earlier than in previous years. What’s more, the software has dramatically cut the time required to perform budgeting analyses — from two weeks to a matter of minutes.

The Templates of Doom

Customer interest in less-daunting planning programs has not escaped the notice of more-established B&P vendors. John O’Rourke, senior director of product marketing for Santa Clara, California-based Hyperion Solutions Corp., believes that added functionality shouldn’t complicate a program’s structure or adversely affect its overall look and feel. He notes that despite numerous additions over the years, his company’s Hyperion Strategic Finance has retained its familiar spreadsheet-style interface and hasn’t forced users to adapt to any radical changes.

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