How Customers Help Planful Drive Product Innovation

How Customers Help Planful Drive Product Innovation

With the launch of the Fall18 release, I sat down with Sanjay Vyas, Chief Product officer at Planful, to hear first hand about the work his team has been doing and how they are focused on building great products that our customers truly want and can benefit from.

We continue the strong pace of product innovation and advancements we’ve been focused on over the past few years. In fact, we’ve given customers 4 new products and more than 250 new features and enhancements over the last 18 months, including new API integrations, powerful features like Spotlight for Office, and innovative products including MyPlan.

Our product and engineering teams have been focused on helping finance, budget owners, and executives be more productive, work faster, and be more collaborative. More importantly, our driving goal is to help Finance transform into strategic business advisors that drive the success of their organizations. The Fall18 release adds numerous speed, collaboration, and accuracy enhancing features to allow finance to become central in connecting the organization around a single plan and single source of truth. Sanjay Vyas, our chief product officer, serves as the guiding force and vision behind the team, helping to ensure great products are delivered on time and that customers are realizing the benefits of the breakthrough products and features we’re working so hard to deliver.

Martell: How does the Planful engineering team deliver so many new and exciting products and features quarter after quarter?

Vyas: We have a great team, we’re focused and we have great customers.  One of the ways we’ve been able to deliver so many cool features and products over the past 18 months has to do with our commitment to our people. We’ve added 24 engineers to our team in the last 18 months. They are a great, innovative group of people. In addition to listening to our customers’ feedback and requests, our engineering team performs two team hack-a-thons a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. This gives our team time to think, ideate and come up with the most innovative feature on the market.

Martell: How are Planful customers involved in the product development process?

Vyas: We look to them for guidance. We engage with our customers through our online customer community, quarterly regional HUG meetings, and we also work with customers on support issues; all of which guide our product roadmap and spark ideas for features and enhancements.  We really value the feedback that our customers provide and make their feedback a top priority.

Martell: How has the EPM market and customer needs changed over the past few years?

Vyas: In progressive organizations, finance is becoming more integral in setting company direction, not just delivering reports to the board…products like MyPlan have allowed finance to take a more strategic role in the organization and give budget owners more autonomy.

Martell: Finance leaders tell us that they want to be a more strategic part of their organizations. How is Planful helping them reach that goal?

Vyas: Again, with the launch of MyPlan, we’ve allowed finance to talk about the business, not just budgets. By giving line of business leaders the autonomy to manage departments that roll up to one budget, this allows finance to think broader and more strategic. With our latest data trends feature, finance can now save time by reviewing historical budget data, see how and where budgets are trending and highlight potential discrepancies.

Martell: Finance teams are also asking for more collaboration tools and more task management tools. How is increased collaboration changing the role of finance within an organization?

Vyas: Let’s face it, for budget owners, financial reporting and budgeting is an onerous task. It hijacks managers for days or weeks each period and takes them away from being a strategic vision in guiding the business. By making tasks easier, and giving finance a faster and more efficient way to work, the budgeting process takes less time, and makes budgets more accurate and more informed, which is beneficial to both sides. Included in the Fall18 release, we launched Task Manager to help finance stay aligned and focused on due dates, goals and ensure projects stay on track. This feature enables comprehensive and effective management of all financial planning, modeling, consolidation, and reporting tasks, enhancing collaboration and focus to meet critical deadlines and execute against goals and objectives. These features have been frequently requested by customers. I am excited we were able to deliver them with this release.

Martell: How do you see finance’s role shifting over the next year or two, especially within forward-thinking organizations?

Vyas: Our more progressive customers have finance taking a more active role in guiding the direction of the organization and they are using visionary insights like predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to make decisions faster and with confidence. Everyday we are talking to customers about how they are using, or would like to use predictive analytics and artificial intelligence within their everyday financial processes, and we’re discovering some really exciting use-cases. We are excited to design new and exciting ways to incorporate these capabilities into the Planful platform in the near future. I  also see finance having a greater seat at the C-level table and contributing more at the business level versus just thinking about the budget/profitability stage.

Martell: Can you give us a glimpse into what Planful is working on for 2019? 

Vyas: We’re super excited about the year ahead.  I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re working with customers and our product team on some exciting new applications of predictive and prescriptive analytics, and machine learning in the planning process. This technology can provide internal and external data intelligence in the decision-making process, and make recommendations about which scenarios organizations should pursue to optimize results. We are very excited about exploring the many different ways this technology can be applied to our customers’ various use-cases to help them make better decisions.

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Customer Q&A: Saving Finance’s Most Valuable Asset

Customer Q&A: Saving Finance’s Most Valuable Asset

Without a doubt, spreadsheets are the most widely used business tool, and that doesn’t stop short at finance. We get it – finance professionals like the familiarity of the spreadsheet. The rows, the columns, the formulas – we’re excited just thinking about all the possibilities, too. But what happens when spreadsheets stop working for you, and start working against you?

We recently conducted a webinar to address that question and more. We heard from one of our customers about his experience with spreadsheets and how he finally moved off of them.

Jason Talley, Lead Business Analyst at Dynegy (recently acquired by Vistra Energy), shared his story about how his business was originally using spreadsheets and how his team moved off of them. Without drill-down capabilities, automated data loads, or audit trails, finance and operations were faced with hours and hours of manual work just to create basic budgets and forecasts. With 45 plants, $4B in revenue, and around 350 users, Jason needed a solution that was scalable, flexible, and manageable by finance. Most importantly, he needed to save on his team’s most valuable asset – their time.

Check out the Q&A below to hear more about Jason’s experience:

Q: “You mentioned your pre-Planful environment where you were data-wrangling in Excel, validating in Excel, etc. Can you share how much of your time would be spent on those kinds of tasks?”

A: “I would say 50-75% of our time was spent wrangling spreadsheets and trying to handle any issues that were coming from the consolidation of those spreadsheets. I know the FP&A team had a very manual and tedious process, especially with the size of organization we had, and the number of folks involved. We were able to significantly reduce how long that cycle took and were able to include commentary in the reports straight from the system which saved time in communication as well.”

Q: “Was there an “Ah Ha!” moment? A revelation when something happened you said, “Enough is enough, we have to find something better.”

A: “I’m going to reiterate the time spent and the lack of automation. That was the “Ah Ha!” moment for finance – as well as getting a single source of truth and get everyone in the same platform using the same templates. There’s no data wrangling. Maybe the occasional question comes up or you spend time orienting a new user, but those were basic needs once the platform was built out for us. I should mention, our project was implemented in about 3 ½ months at most, so we were able to get set up for the new budget year and start our forecasting process with just a little bit of training time for power users. Then the power users rolled it out to the remaining users. So, that was really a huge win for us.”

Q: “Where are you getting your data? Is it coming from the general ledger?”

A: “At first we were able to quickly build manual data load rules to pull in that data from several sources we had identified. Once we mapped that out, we were able to automate the data loads to populate in Planful on a schedule. That was something we really liked – the ability to start simple with our data loads and move to more advanced automation capabilities later. ”

Q: “Excellent. For those folks who might be beginning their evaluation process for different solutions, what advice might you have on where to start or what to keep in mind as they engage in evaluation?”

A: “Know what your big wins are. Don’t feel like you have to have a huge implementation timeline to get everything done. Start simple and know that you can scale – you can build your core for the budgeting and forecasting process scenarios initially very quickly. From there, focus on your training and how you want different users to be involved. You can have certain power users from the financial planning side or some from the ops side and roll it out to a more general userbase from there after they are trained. Basically, don’t try to do everything all at once but ensure you can get more advanced as you go. Your more advanced reporting can always be developed over time.”

To learn more about evaluating financial planning & close solutions and key points to consider when moving off of spreadsheets, download the buyer’s guide.

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Dear Mr. EPM, Why is Budgeting So Complex?

Dear Mr. EPM, Why is Budgeting So Complex?

In the essence of a “Dear Abbey” advice column, we at Planful are trying to tackle your biggest financial process questions. This series of blog posts called, Dear Mr. EPM will look to answer questions on some of your challenges. Have a question for us – email us at info@hostanalytics.com.

Dear Mr. EPM,

I’m a VP of Finance at an organization that is about to embark on our yearly budgeting cycle. However, I am frankly dreading the thought of starting the process. Last year I had to chase down my business owners to collect budgeting numbers, then after getting the numbers, my team manually verified and input the data into a consolidated master budget spreadsheet. We have had version issues and even errors in templates that get used across the organization.

Most of the time for the budgeting cycle got lost in these manual processes that my team had little time to analyze the data and make strategic financial decisions. Is it possible for the budgeting process to not be so complicated?

–STUCK IN SPREADSHEETS

Dear STUCK IN SPREADSHEETS,

I feel your pain. The legacy way of filling out an Excel spreadsheet provided by the finance team and emailing it around the organization is filled with pain points. Among those include broken spreadsheet formulas, data security, data integrity, versioning control issues and the collaboration problems that come with exchanging files through email. The ultimate pitfall is that people lose faith in the numbers.

After you’ve spent so much valuable time putting a budget together only to find out that you don’t trust the numbers, it can be demoralizing.

Market-leading EPM systems solve these challenges by supplying built-in structure, security, collaboration, and scalability, all while leveraging a single source of truth so that everyone trusts the final numbers. Unlimited scenario and version capabilities enable users to run any what-if analysis they need, and track who made changes and what underlying assumptions drove those changes. The result is a final budget or forecast that is accurate, trusted, and meaningful to everyone in the organization.

Here to fill the GAAPs in your Finance processes,

p.s. Download our Complete Guide to Modernizing Your Financial Processes – to get all the tips and tricks on how and EPM systems brings planning, budgeting, and forecasting to the digital workplace.

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Empowering the True You

Empowering the True You

Taking the opportunity to look back on your own career path – the people you encountered, the lessons you learned and the risks you took – can be a somewhat sobering experience.

My reflection of my own career path came during a panel/workshop at a recent sales and marketing conference in San Francisco. The panel, called “Empowering Future CMOs” was mostly targeted at women – though I’m happy to report that there were several men in attendance, too – and was intended to inspire up-and-coming marketing professionals.

What I really enjoyed about this event was the way audience members engaged with the panelists. The moderator, 6Sense CMO Latane Conant, did a fantastic job of positioning the session as more of a group discussion, a forum where stories were shared and viewpoints were expressed. We talked about big moments in our careers and recalled setbacks we’ve experienced. We talked about life’s moments that defined us.  We talked about what we could manifest in our own careers and how we got to be where we are at these points in our lives.  Careers don’t define or shape you.  Life does – and it shapes each of us very differently.

That led us to the biggest takeaway from the discussion – the need for each of us to be true to ourselves, to figure out who we are as individuals.

That may sound simple but it’s no easy task – and I found that it’s normal for people to struggle with their identities, especially for women. I know I did. I started my career in tech marketing as a manager for Ariba, a Silicon Valley software company. At the time, I’d worked in the environmental industry for five years and knew very little about software. As tough as it was to quickly come up to speed on the technology, there were so many other struggles that defined me, specifically as a businesswoman.  I had to learn how to be heard in a room full of men. I had to think about what I was wearing and how to present myself in a way that was authoritative but not aggressive. I had to learn to balance being a mom and an on-site manager. I learned a lot at Ariba as I moved up the ranks from individual contributor to managing a global team and have since made some amazing career moves, going on to work for Taleo, Jive, MapR, Marketo, Domo and now Planful.

There was one story in particular about my career journey that drew both chuckles and looks of shock when I shared it during the panel session. Early in my career, a female coworker once questioned whether I was in my position because of my intelligence or my looks.  At the time, the encounter shook me to my core and made me question everything about myself. But over the course of my career, I’ve come to realize who I am, in part, by understanding who I’m not.

I’m not, for example, one of those power businesswomen doing yoga at 5 a.m. or getting the blood flowing with a three-mile run at sunrise. That’s just not me.  But I am the person that makes the time to workout at least three times a week, who leaves work at a time that allows me to still be there for my daughter’s field hockey games and who continues to wear 4-inch heels because I like feeling tall. Most importantly, I understand the demands of everyday life and try to be flexible for both my team and myself. The team at Planful is made up of fantastic people and that trust, respect and compliment each other and most importantly do an amazing job.

Defining Your Brand

One element of the panel session was to talk about personal brands. As a CMO and a leader who builds teams, I sometimes find myself going into mom mode – which means applying tough love, being the person who says things to you that no one has ever dared say while also providing guidance along the way.  It also means being nurturing towards people and trying to understand their perspectives. Everyone has different struggles in life and I try really hard to be aware of that. #momboss has been my personal brand.

As a woman, I understand the struggle that comes with trying to define oneself, especially as women seem to work harder at being recognized for their contributions in male-dominated business environments. Case in point: there was a lively discussion in the panel about power suits and whether women needed to “power up” their wardrobes to be taken seriously.

To my surprise, the other panelists felt that “powering up” wasn’t a bad thing, that people should do whatever it takes for them to feel powerful about themselves. For me, my power is found through a pair of jeans, a leather jacket, and some killer shoes.  Recently, one of my go-to CMO pals, Inside View CMO Tracy Eiler, told me that I “really have this rock and roll chic thing going” – and I thought that was pretty spot on.

Seeking Help Along the Way

One of the biggest takeaways from the panel was that the journey through one’s career paths no longer has to be a solo adventure. Mentors – and, more importantly, sponsors – can really impact another person’s career paths.

As someone who is usually older, wiser or more seasoned in the job, a mentor tends to be that one go-to sounding board and provider of career advice. Sponsors, on the other hand, are the network of people who are more like cheerleaders, advocates or door openers.

A sponsor might be someone who recognizes your professional talent and helps to get you on the right projects or a seat in an important meeting. Sponsors aren’t necessarily your direct managers but maybe instead someone who led a cross-departmental project where you shined. When sponsors move to new jobs and new companies, they might think of you first for an important role.

Making Your Own Mark

I’m hopeful that the panel itself was helpful to the attendees. I felt good not only participating in the discussion but also taking some time to get to know people on a more personal level after the event. I met some amazing people whose career ambitions are focused less on climbing a ladder and more on making a difference in the world. I also met people who are energized by being sponsors and mentors to younger people.

Most importantly, I rediscovered myself. I remembered some of the lessons I’d learned over the years, in this job or that job. I remembered some of the people I’d encountered, for good and for bad. I remembered the times I fell down and the people that were there to help me get back up.  And I remembered what it was like to be young in my career, looking for a path forward and wishing I had the network I have today.

I like to think that the people who walked into that session forgot that it was called “Empowering Future CMOs” and will instead remember it as something more like “Empowering the True You.”

——————-

This post is the first in a monthly series called #WomenCrushWednesday, which aims to recognize the women at Planful by celebrating their careers and accomplishments.

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