• Strategy
  • CFO Magazine

Simplicity Is Golden

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

Still, it appears Hyperion is heeding customer calls for simpler software. The vendor is planning to improve Strategic Finance’s ease of use by providing more wizards and improving integration with Microsoft Office. Hyperion developers are also working on a feature that will enable users to attach notes to models. Says O’Rourke: “The annotations will allow team members to see the assumptions behind each model.”

Likewise, market leader Business Objects SA, based in San Jose, California, and in Paris, is tweaking its array of modeling applications. Peri Pierone, vice president of vertical markets, notes that the company’s goal, with all of its software, is to help customers create plans they can trust. Says Pierone: “It’s remarkable how much time companies spend on planning, but the plan that results really isn’t very believable.”

Universal Orlando’s Neveras has some familiarity with the problem. The planning analyst, along with dozens of other company employees, uses Business Objects’s software to track financial trends and goals at scores of functional units, including attractions, stores, restaurants, and souvenir carts. To improve usability — yet maintain reliability — Neveras says the company has pared the number of basic templates in the modeling program to 13. That’s enough to handle the variability in the different business segments while minimizing the maintenance and training that result from additional templates. “If we tried to make a template specific to each individual business and vision,” he says, “it would be a maintenance nightmare.”

With the basic templates, Universal Orlando manages the interactions between the theme park’s attractions, restaurants, and shops. The opening of a new ride, for instance, not only affects overall park attendance, but also the number of people drawn to food and merchandising sites. A fresh attraction typically adds visitors to nearby venues, yet may lure guests away from sites located close to older, less popular rides. “If we’re still staffing based on the old history,” says Neveras, “we’re not going to capitalize on our penetration and maximize our profitability.”

Easy For You

As they attempt to advance both capabilities and usability, modeling developers find themselves walking a thin and perilous line. Customers may be demanding easier-to-use products, but they’re reluctant to trade away any modeling functionality. “They don’t want the applications dumbed down,” says Business Objects’s Pierone.

Many modeling vendors have attempted to skirt the problem by giving customers the ability to integrate financial- and business-planning models. That sort of linking of systems appears to dovetail with the desires of customers. In a survey of users conducted by AMR Research, 70 percent of the respondents said their top B&P priority is connecting planning apps to underlying business programs and data.

The appeal of this melding of financial and business modeling, notes John Fontanella, a senior researcher with Aberdeen Group, a Boston-based technology research firm, is that it allows users to keep business goals in sync with financial projections. Forecasts of customer demand for a certain product or service, for example, can now be calculated alongside commodity pricing forecasts. “Virtually all of the major vendors have backwardly integrated their financial planning into business planning,” says Fontanella.

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