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Transform your finance dept with Adaptive Insights

Rob Hull was a chief financial officer who figured there must be a better way to run a business than constructing annual Excel-based budgets. So, he started his own company to make it happen.

Hull formed Adaptive Insights in 2003, which has grown rapidly and enjoys a client base of 3300 customers today. He attributes this growth to making customer's success the primary focus.

It undoubtedly also helps that the product is totally cloud-based, and can be set up without any infrastructure investment or needing to work through an internal IT team.

At heart, Adaptive Insights helps finance departments access powerful financial and operational data in real-time and easily blend that with financial and operational forecast models, bringing the past and future together in one place.

In my travels, I frequently speak about how the modern CIO needs to be transformational, not simply one who "keeps e-mail working", but drives business change.

Similarly, my colleague, the CFO has this same pressure. It's not enough to simply wield a tight reign on spending, to produce monthly reports which while factual don't necessarily empower the business to understand how to do things better, and to tell operational managers they must fill in the annual spreadsheet forecast "by 12 pm tomorrow, thx."

Here's where Adaptive Insights wants to help Finance teams become strategic partners to the business, and to engage in far more collaborative - and more realistic - forecasting.

The Palo Alto-based company's software is now used in over 50 countries worldwide, and of its 3300 customers, there are almost 200 across Australia and New Zealand. This is supported by employees in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth as well as a network of partners.

Hull brought Adaptive Insights to Australia when his business acquired a Brisbane-based visualisation software company. This product became the basis for Adaptive Discovery, and the team continues to work on visualisation and integration.

This integration is a key component; Adaptive Insights hooks into a vast array of financial platforms – SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Intact, Workday, NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics GP, AX, NAV, Solomon, the Sage family of products, even down to Xero and Quickbooks.

Adaptive's integration capabilities allow data to be brought together into one place to give a holistic view and create a single source of truth across the business, functional managers, and global business units.

The NetSuite integration is especially seamless, offering tabs within the NetSuite UI itself, and both read and write data flow.

Adaptive Insight also integrates with non-GL apps, such as SalesForce, Marketo, and even custom in-house applications. Wherever your data may be, Adaptive Insights is keen to work with it.

With a mantra that would make Simon Sinek proud, Adaptive Insights explains its bigger picture vision is simply to help teams to better manage their business. This is then manifested through its budgeting, forecasting and analytics platform which enables what Hull refers to as "active planning."

With active planning, the way a finance team works with the business changes dramatically.

Typically, a finance team seeks to help the business by looking at the past, and understanding what the actual numbers were, then seeking to compare it against the expectations, generally set a year ago and maybe by managers who are no longer with the business, based on either best guesses or assumptions that are either no longer accurate or just never were.

By eliminating the burden of managing Excel spreadsheets — lacking integrity, difficult to collaborate on, missing any version control and so on — and by making its product available in the cloud on any device at any time from any location, Adaptive Insights allows business teams to work together effortlessly in planning out the future.

This plan does not simply include the numbers but also the operational drivers underlying them. Managers outside of Finance can record the resources they need, tailored to their view of the world — maybe in a local language or currency — and these multiple forward-looking plans are automatically consolidated.

When a business moves from Excel to Adaptive Insights for planning, it has effectively bought itself an enormous amount of collaboration, Hull states.

Additionally, this forecasting can be effortlessly performed with increased frequency. Many may lament the annual budgeting process, and this truly can be exhausting labouring over Excel spreadsheets each year, but Adaptive Insights asserts its software's cloud availability and ease of use makes continual regular forecasting a far more collaborative and simple process.

Adaptive Insights then provides for actuals to be compared against the forecast, with variance analysis. Using these insights to forecast more regularly provides greater agility and gives greater strategic insight into the financial processes.

As a consequence, finance team time is freed up to allow the department to become a better strategic partner to the business. Finance can work with operations to take corrective actions to achieve the best outcomes.

Adaptive Insights works with companies that span sizes from US$10 million to US$20 million, through to multi-billion dollar entities, and even divisions within US$40 billion to US$50 billion companies like Siemens and DHL.

The product pricing is based on a module price for the core functionality then per-seat licensing, with full functionality and read-only tiers.

One highly successful example of the power of Adaptive Insights product is demonstrated by Zag, a provider of cell-phone screens, covers and small product parts. This public company missed achieving a forecast by US$100 million, or 30% of its projection. The decision was made to work with Adaptive Insights and adopt a weekly forecast, which gave much better control and insight into variability.

One revelation that was unearthed was the need to better plan stock requirements. The data showed frequent late orders requiring more costly priority shipping. This insight allowed the business to reduce its shipping costs by ordering earlier, and within one-quarter saved US$8 million on this item alone.

Of course, it's not only dollars that can be saved. Hull states, "when you talk to a finance team and can give them days back per month, that's time they can spend on other activities."

He says he loves to talk to customers and hear how their business has improved as a result of using the product. Some customers report advancement in their own career as a direct result.

"It's all about the customer and understanding what's most important to them," he states.

Adaptive Insights runs a weekly online gathering of financial professionals to talk through tips and tricks and share better practices. They connect with the customers through online communities, an annual conference to facilitate networking, local user groups and other activities.

"Adaptive Insights has given us the ability to work smarter rather than harder," says Philip Dowman, Global Chief Financial Officer for IFM Investors, Melbourne.

"Our aim is to really understand the drivers of the business and help make decisions that add value to our shareholders. Streamlining the production of budgets and forecasts has helped tremendously but it’s the modelling and scenario planning we’re now able to do that’s made the biggest difference to the business," said Mason Robinson, finance manager for Port Nelson, Transportation and Shipping, New Zealand.

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David M Williams

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David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. Within two years, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Newcastle, as a UNIX systems manager. This was a crucial time for UNIX at the University with the advent of the World-Wide-Web and the decline of VMS. David moved on to a brief stint in consulting, before returning to the University as IT Manager in 1998. In 2001, he joined an international software company as Asia-Pacific troubleshooter, specialising in AIX, HP/UX, Solaris and database systems. Settling down in Newcastle, David then found niche roles delivering hard-core tech to the recruitment industry and presently is the Chief Information Officer for a national resources company where he particularly specialises in mergers and acquisitions and enterprise applications.