Although the corporate performance management software (CPM) market has long been dominated by three "megavendors" -- SAP, IBM and Oracle -- these are no longer buyers' only options. Organizations looking to replace dated financial planning and reporting systems today discover that several new platforms are now on the CPM slate, including software as a service vendors such as Adaptive Insights and Host Analytics.
With an almost decade-old implementation of Oracle Hyperion showing its age, it was time for more modern CPM technology at IT services provider EarthLink. But an upgrade wasn't the default choice -- instead, the Atlanta-based company took the opportunity to reassess the market.
Oracle "basically wanted us to rebuy the software," said Tim McKiel, director of finance integration at EarthLink. "So we ended up going back to the drawing board, looking at what our requirements were and then making a determination of what made the most sense for the money."
With a list of requirements in hand, EarthLink's project team, comprised of both finance and IT representatives, ultimately settled on Host Analytics late last summer. Now that the system has been live for nearly 10 months, McKiel said the list was a key factor in the decision.
"It's amazing what the system can do when you walk in with business requirements," he said. "If you try to design your business requirements around the system, you really limit yourself."
Cloud CPM necessitates additional security vetting
The finance department determined three main requirements for the project. First, EarthLink sought a CPM system that could act as a "single source of truth" and standardize reports. Second, the system should be able to work both with the company's data warehouse and Oracle R12 general ledger (GL) software. Location-agnostic access for users was EarthLink's final wish.
Notably absent from the list was deployment method. "If it was cloud, great, but on-premise was OK too," McKiel said. "We just wanted to make sure we [met] our needs."
The company evaluated two cloud-based and two on-premises systems: Host Analytics and Adaptive Insights, and Oracle Hyperion and IBM Cognos, respectively. The vetting team judged systems against the requirements through demos and pricing was only considered after all capabilities were checked off the list. Host Analytics emerged as the front-runner.
"With Host, we got all our requirements and there was much better pricing," McKiel said.
But choosing a cloud vendor meant an extra round of questioning. Like many companies deploying cloud-based financial software, EarthLink was careful to probe into Host Analytics' security standards. In addition to requesting the vendor's security protocol document and SSAE 16, McKiel said EarthLink's security team met with Host Analytics' team to hash out any issues.
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"Once I got the sign-off that they were good, I had the opportunity to move forward," McKiel said.
Implementation moved at a rapid clip when McKiel received the go-ahead. After signing a contract in August, the system was live 45 days later. He credited the quick pace to his company's prep work.
"We had our ducks in a row as far as what we were going to implement," McKiel said. "We already had our requirements documented [and] our GL done, so all we were doing was duplicating what we had in Hyperion over in Host and then bringing our data over."
User adoption for the 45 end users was similarly painless, McKiel said, thanks to both Hyperion and Host Analytics being relational database systems, and therefore, familiar to users.
Host Analytics' Excel add-in weaker than Hyperion's
But there was one significant challenge. The system's Excel add-in isn't as strong as Hyperion's, according to McKiel.
"It's not that their add-in was inferior, it's just that people were using Essbase more as a data mining tool and Host Analytics' wasn't set up to be that way," he said.
But since one of the company's goals was to standardize reporting, the comparatively weak Excel add-in had an unintentionally positive side effect: it forced users to adopt Host Analytics' reporting. "If it was just as strong then they would've continued to go the same route," McKiel said. He added that he expects the add-in will be enhanced in the future.
Besides defining requirements up front, McKiel also advised IT managers undertaking a system implementation to involve end users as much as possible.
"Adoption is the hardest thing of any project. Installing, implementing -- there are going to be challenges, but if you don't get user adoption, those challenges don't mean a hill of beans," McKiel said. "It's amazing when you put somebody's reputation on the line how much harder they work for it and how much adoption increases."