Volume 11, Number 36 -- November 1, 2011

Adaptive Planning Delivers CPM Without the Geeks

Published: November 1, 2011

by Alex Woodie

Less can be more. Take the Republican presidential candidates, all of whom say the best government is a small government. Corporate performance management (CPM) software as a service provider Adaptive Planning espouses a similar approach. Instead of getting the IT department involved in a big, slow, and expensive implementation of BI software to enable budgeting and financial planning, the company allows CFOs and other financial pros to shortcut the geeks, and control their own destiny.

Rob Hull founded Silicon Valley-based Adaptive Planning in 2003 with two aims in mind. For starters, he was pretty sure that other CFOs were tired of trying to keep a handle on rapidly proliferating Excel spreadsheets that contained key reports, budgets, and forecasts. "Excel Hell" is the technical term for this. "Everybody tries to use Excel as this great application environment, which it really isn't. It's a great personal productivity tool, but it's a very poor collaborative application environment."

On the other hand, the most popular alternative to Excel--a server-based BI software implementation--brought its own concerns, not the least of which is being beholden to IT departments and consultants. "BusinessObjects, Cognos, Hyperion--they're very expensive and complicated to introduce, and slow to deploy and maintain. They also require a lot of IT to get involved," Hull says.

"We're essentially serving a marketplace of finance professionals who are looking for the power of something like an Oracle or IBM Cognos, with the ease of use of an Excel application. It's very affordable and manageable by finance, and doesn't require IT to get into the mix."

Adaptive Planning's focus is on CPM, and as such, it enables financial professionals to generate a complete set of financial statements, including income statements, balance sheets, and cash flows. The Java-based suite has an integration module that collects pertinent data from the general ledger and other components of a company's ERP or accounting system. Most customers access data from on-premise apps (such as JD Edwards), but increasingly users are accessing GL data from other hosted applications, such as Netsuite. The suite also has interactive forms that are used for entering data into the system, such as a manager's expected expenses for the next 24 months.

The software takes all this data and serves up an array of graphical dashboards and reports as Web pages or Excel spreadsheets (you can't ever really get away from Excel, especially its pivot table functionality, which is fully supported by Adaptive Planning). The software allows users to show how they think the business is going to look going forward, and also allows them to look back and see how they did relative to their old forecast.

Adaptive Planning provides "the data that I need to understand how my business is doing, and look forward to where I'm going, all presented at one place at the fingertips of any business user," Hull says. "It's Excel popped into a browser with a great structure around the data, behind the scenes."

By all accounts, the company has succeeded in meeting its original goals. Adaptive Planning now has more than 1,000 customers and more than 25,000 users, primarily among small and medium-sized companies with revenues between $25 million to $1 billion, including names such as Pep Boys, Konica Minolta, Bridgestone, the American Red Cross, Bosch, and Greif.

All of these customers run on Adaptive Planning's multi-tenant cloud infrastructure, which is composed of clusters of servers running Oracle's database, all housed in a Savvis data center. The company has been growing at a compound annual growth rate of more than 100 percent for the last several years, Hull tells IT Jungle. Good reviews by Gartner and several awards have also boosted the company's image.

The eight-year-old company is no longer a startup, and must focus its attention on long-term things, such as customer care. "As a SaaS vendor that's dependent on subscription-based licensing, customers can walk out at any moment," Hull says. "They vote with their feet when they're not happy, so customer satisfaction is critical." So the company has focused a lot of attention on that area."

These days, the company is working on its Winter 2012 release, which is due in January. The new release will introduce a transaction reporting and analysis module, which will allow users to pull data directly from transactional systems, instead of getting it from the GL. This feature, which will be useful for organizations that don't want to grant full access to the GL, will require an additional license fee.

Subscriptions to Adaptive Planning cost about $1,500 to $2,500 per year on top of a startup fee. Additional features are available for an additional fee. For more information, see the vendor's website at www.adaptiveplanning.com.

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Editor: Alex Woodie
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Timothy Prickett Morgan
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