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A Whiteboard for Budgets

If you need lots of flexibility in modeling a business, A3's Profit Center is worth a look.

The budgeting software arena is dominated by the likes of Hyperion, Comshare, and Adaytum, but there are a host of lesser-known contenders, such as A3 (“A cubed”) Solutions Inc. If you need lots of flexibility in modeling a business, A3′s Profit Center is worth a look.

“It was pretty neat,” says Michael Boennighausen, group controller at Mountain View, Calif.-based ALZA Corp., describing the budgeting and analysis model that the pharmaceutical firm set up in Profit Center. “[The model] mimics the supply/ demand environment within the company.”

A project-management group oversees ALZA’s R&D activities; project managers request personnel and other resources from departments, and department managers allocate resources to projects based on demand, explains Boennighausen. “The departments bid on the projects to meet R&D needs, and the ability to model that was really helpful.”

Boennighausen says most planning packages aren’t flexible enough to let ALZA do what it did with Profit Center’s wizards and templates. But that flexibility can be intimidating, he adds; the software “starts out as a blank slate, a whiteboard, saying, ‘Here’s scratch. How do you want to budget?’”

A3 Profit Center ranges in cost from $75,000 to $400,000. It requires a multidimensional database, and it builds and displays end-user views in an Excel interface. - John J. Xenakis

Credit Automation: Give ‘em Credit

If you’re setting up an E- commerce Web site, sooner or later you’ll have to solve the problem of granting credit. Most of the industry’s attention has been directed to various methods for accepting credit cards online; solutions for automating the granting of direct credit to businesses or for large consumer purchases have been slower in coming.

“The approval of these credit relationships is necessary if you want to close orders,” says Dan Sholler, analyst at IT consultancy Meta Group Inc. However, taking hours or days to approve credit using faxes and phone calls is not always acceptable in E-commerce. “You’re going to lose orders if you can’t match people’s speed expectations,” says Sholler.

The equipment finance division of CIT Group is using an automated credit scoring system from eCredit .com Inc.. “We’ve been using the CCX scoring system [from Acxiom Corp.] for years,” says CIT vice president Hal Hitch. An E-commerce customer types data into an online form. The eCredit.com software evaluates the data, instantly obtains online credit reports from Dun & Bradstreet Corp. or Experian Inc., and does the CCX scoring, customized for CIT. “The software comes up with a raw score, which specifies automatic approval, automatic decline, or human review,” says Hitch.

The software took CIT close to a year to implement and cost about $600,000, including consulting fees. Generally, eCredit.com charges from $8 to $25 per transaction for its software, depending on such factors as volume, the length of the agreement, and average dollar size of transactions. In addition, credit agencies typically charge 85 cents to $2 for online reports, although full-company D&B reports can cost up to $25.

- J.J.X.

E-COMMERCE: How Big a Bite?

Web retailers will take chunks out of some industries by 2002, but barely dent others, says Internet analysts Jupiter Communications.

Product 1997 Sales ($ millions) 2002 Sales ($millions) Change (%) Industry Share in 2002 (%)
Travel 911.3 12802.1 1305 8.4
PC Hardware 985.5 6434.4 533 13.3
Books 151.9 3661.0 2311 11.3
Groceries 63.3 3529.2 5479 .7
Clothes & Accessories 103.1 2844.5 2658 1.6
Software 84.5 2379.1 2714 35.3
Music 36.6 1590.6 4246 9.2
Entertainment Tickets 51.8 1809.9 3397 7.0
Consumer Electonics 15.0 792.5 5183 1.8
Videos 15.0 575.2 3735 5.9
Toys 2.0 555.3 27,664 2.0
Pharmaceuticals N/A 331.9 5307** 0.8

* Share of airline ticket sales only. **Change from 1999, first year online drug sales were allowed.
SOURCE: Jupiter Communications, LLC.

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