The artificial intelligence (AI) term gets thrown about quite a bit in the software industry. But, while many solutions providers seem to develop AI capabilities in search of a problem, we take a different approach at Planful. It’s not a new approach, but it is one that uses empathy to put people at the center of the challenge…and the solution.
“AI is hard,” says Andrew Chatfield, Planful’s Chief Product Officer. “AI has also failed, particularly for the finance and accounting industry. Many of the AI-driven capabilities out there are solutions in search of a problem. So, even if you can understand them, it’s up to the customer to find a real-world use for it. Worse yet, the AI is too complex so teams can’t understand or trust the results.”
With all of the effort spent on AI, finance and accounting teams don’t have the time to understand what’s really happening behind the AI curtain. The result is that they end up not using it at all. In other words, the current approach to finance and accounting AI typically doesn’t work.
AI for the Office of the CFO can offer valuable benefits. The disconnect is that few solution providers take into account the human perspective and the limitations of human nature.
“The vanguard of any technology is actually limited by humans’ acceptance of it,” Andrew explained. “We’ve invented many things that were advanced technologically but failed because humans didn’t want them.”
Take skyscrapers for example. Theoretically, we have the technology to build them more than 5 miles tall. Two of the limiting factors, however, are how long people are willing to wait for an elevator and then how long they are willing to spend inside that tiny metal box.
For people, time is a critical consideration. For those across finance, accounting, HR, marketing, and other teams, time is money. Finding more time is a fundamental challenge faced by businesses across the globe. That’s the problem AI and finance must address, and do it seamlessly.
“Our customers are always pointing to how much time they save with Planful, so when we look to bring in new capabilities and where to apply AI, it’s in helping them free up more time so they can apply it to higher-value activities,” said Andrew. “Our value, as we think about the people who are using our software, is that we care about them and their lives. We are trying to make their lives easier, reduce the amount of time spent doing low value work, give them more time to focus on what really matters, and get them off their computer earlier so they have time to spend with their kids or families.”
Andrew points to our Planful Predict native suite of AI-powered FP&A solutions as the ongoing fruits of this people-centered thinking in Planful’s product development efforts. Introduced in 2021, Predict: Signals checks for errors, identifies patterns, and augments human effort with intelligent financial forecast recommendations. Predict: Projections enables the business—those outside of Finance—to quickly build and manage accurate, AI-driven budgets and forecasts in an intuitive, human-centric interface.
What makes Planful Predict stand out is that humans are always in control. That is, currently, the best approach for finance and accounting teams because it’s the people who attended that last meeting to discuss the nuance of your corporate plan, for example. Planful’s AI takes on the time consuming work of searching for errors and updating numbers across static spreadsheets and gives it back to hard-working finance and accounting teams so they can make better decisions. Or, get home in time for dinner.
Gaylord Miller, Senior Director of FP&A at Imagen Dental Partners, is working hard to bring more dental practices into the organization. The company expects to grow from 80 now to nearly 200 by the end of next year.
“There is no way for me to get enough eyes on this data in budgeting and forecasting,” said Gaylord. “Predict is going to scrub through my data, show me anomalies, and leave me in control so I can say, ‘That exception is good’ or ‘Let me bring that one into tolerance.’”
Robby LeBourveau is Director of Finance at manufacturing company ProMach. He’s already using Planful Predict to automatically spot areas of risk, eliminate time previously wasted searching for errors, and repurpose that time for higher-value work.
“We implemented [Planful Predict] for the functionality it has to analyze actuals versus historicals to provide scalability to our business as we grow,” said Robby. “Our corporate accounting team doesn’t have to spend hours and hours looking at trial balances or balance sheets across all the businesses. We can rely on Predict to indicate to us where we need to focus our attention and where we don’t.”
Andrew and the Planful product team don’t reserve people-centered thinking just for the product’s AI capabilities. It’s also reflected in our continuing efforts to reimagine the business user experience with smart templates, faster data gathering and aggregation, and giving everyone across the business—including outside the Office of the CFO—more time to spend on higher-value tasks by taking away manual, error-prone work.
“Planful give Finance everything they need, but we also have to create an experience for non-finance people,” Andrew explained. “Finance frequently has to pull the business into their processes. If those processes are too complex or burdensome, business users will resist. But then, that just adds more work for the Office of the CFO.
“We set out to create an intuitive experience for non-finance people without having to compromise anyone’s experience. That’s the core idea behind our business user experience: we’re reducing friction for the business and that saves time for Finance. It benefits all of our distinct audiences.”
Putting people first and taking the time to understand what matters most to them is why our customers love Planful. “We are being human-centric in our design by recognizing that finance people have different needs than non-finance people,” Andrew concluded. “We need to build a product that works for everyone involved in these processes. That’s how we drive product design and development at Planful.”