Improving Corporate Planning through Insight Generation

I want to take a quick breather from writing about corporate innovation and return to another topic of this blog: big data and insight as a service. Host Analytics, one of my portfolio companies, recently completed a $25M financing round. Host Analytics offers a cloud-based Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) Suite that streamlines a corporation’s planning, close, consolidation and reporting processes. But it is what they are enabling for the enterprise that is important to write about. Host Analytics has moved from being an EPM company, to being an insight generation company.

In previous blog posts I have explained the concept of Insight as a Service that refers to action-oriented, analytic-driven solutions that use data generated by SaaS applications to deliver data-driven decision-making. Insight as a Service is a distinct layer of the cloud stack and I have positioned it above the Software as a Service layer. In the case of Host Analytics, its EPM solution integrates a customer’s planning data with actuals from their ERP applications and relevant syndicated and open source data creating an Insight as a Service offering that complements their existing solution. They are redefining EPM to become a true insight generation solution. In this blog, I will discuss a few of the trends that have enabled Insight as a Service and review one specific use-case, using a SaaS EPM solution like Host Analytics to corral data and deliver an Insight as a Service solution.

EPM has evolved as a category because improving the planning, forecasting, close and reporting processes continues to be a priority for corporations. EPM started, as many applications do, in Excel but gave way to automated solutions starting about 20 years ago to vendors like Hyperion Solutions. Like many other strategic enterprise applications, EPM started moving to the cloud a few years ago and Host Analytics was one of the pioneers of this movement. With EPM moving to cloud, a company’s financial data is now available to easily combine with other data sources and deliver insight-generating solutions.

The rise of Big Data in general and of the access and management of such data by SaaS applications in particular, are enabling the business user to access internal and external data, including public data. As a result, it has become possible to access the data that companies really care about, everything from the internal financial numbers and sales pipeline to external benchmarking data as well as data about best practices. Analyzing this data to derive insights is critical for corporations for two reasons. First, great companies require agility, and want to use all the data that’s available to them. Second, company leadership and corporate boards are now asking for more detailed analysis.

Host Analytics is consolidating key internal operational data from across the entire corporation. Legacy EPM applications were centralized in the finance department. This led to several different operational “data hubs” existing within each corporation. Because such EPM solutions didn’t effectively reach all departments, critical corporate information was “siloed,” with critical information like CRM data housed separately from the corporate financial plan. This has left the departments to analyze and report and deliver their data to Corporate using manually integrated Excel spreadsheets that are incredibly inefficient to manage and usually require significant time to understand the data’s source and how they were calculated rather than what to do to drive better performance. In most corporations this data remains disconnected. Understanding the ramifications of this shortcoming to achieving true enterprise performance management, Host Analytics is stretching EPM to incorporate operational functions like Marketing, Sales and Services into the planning process. Its application now integrates data sets from those departments to produce the corporate financial plan, improving the planning process and helping companies better realize Insight as a Service. In this way the CFO, VP Sales, CMO, VP Services can be provided with the actions that will improve their departments’ performance and by extension elevate the performance of the entire corporation.

© 2014 Evangelos Simoudis

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