• Strategy
  • CFO Magazine

Simplicity Is Golden

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

Planned or not, this integration is a big step up in functionality. Not all customers, however, require such sophistication. Indeed, consultants say finance managers who yearn for usability need to be wary of purchasing modeling software that is light years beyond their needs or abilities. “You don’t buy a cannon to shoot a rabbit,” says Guillermo Kopp, vice president of the cross-industry practice at Tower Group Inc., a financial-services research and consulting firm in Needham, Massachusetts.

The goal, then, is obvious: to maximize performance while minimizing confusion. But as vendors and users of planning software are discovering, that’s no small trick. “Simplicity,” says Neveras, “is sometimes the least simple thing to achieve.”

John Edwards is author of The Geeks of War.

Training Day

Given the intrinsically complex nature of modeling software, it’s unlikely that budgeting-and-planning software vendors will ever be able to design a product that can be used to full effect straight out of the box. Of course, the same can be said of many business programs. As Brian Hartlen, vice president of global marketing for Geac Computer, points out, “Most training is making people aware of all the possibilities a software [program] has.”

Still, keeping the training process simple has its advantages. Experts point out that limiting training to the features an employee is likely to use can reduce training costs. It can also make a user feel less overwhelmed, particularly if a program offers an array of advanced features. “Training people for things they’ll probably never do wastes time and money,” insists Lee Geishecker, a corporate performance management analyst at technology research firm Gartner Inc.

Some consultants also recommend formally training only select employees rather than everybody who might conceivably use a piece of software. “Bring in the power user, or someone who’s a liaison with IT and finance, to understand the product inside and out and become the product champion,” says Geishecker. “That person, who understands the company and its users, will drive the training internally.”

Such an approach also frees colleagues to keep working on revised forecasts. There seems to be a lot of that these days. According to a recent survey of B&P software users conducted by Boston-based research firm AMR Research, half of the respondents said they now update their business plans on a monthly or even continuous basis. — J.E.

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