Us analysts like to ask vendors: what next? I am constantly asking them to verticalize. Very few vendors actually do that but transaction processing vendors are constantly claiming to add analytical capabilities. Analysts also love to create new market categories. Gartner has two Corporate performance management (CPM) magic quadrants – one strategic, one focused on the finance function. Why? I am not sure.
My reality check comes when I consult with clients. Most are frustrated with all the shelfware they bought in the last couple of decades and are wary that today’s vendors are still trying to sell them portfolios when they are looking for individual components to modernize specific areas.
So it was refreshing to spend a day this week at Host Analytics Perform 2018 conference in Dallas. Here is a vendor which is unabashedly focused on the CFO, and even more narrowly just on planning activities – budgeting, forecasting etc. And customers and prospects I met were happily chattering about planning cubes and break backs.
I also had several déjà vu flashbacks that day. One of my first research notes at Gartner in 1995 (yes!) was titled “Budgeting: The painful annual ritual”. A quarter century later most companies still use spreadsheets and make basic adjustments to previous actual and estimates. Or they still use tools like Hyperion It is still a hugely political process to agree on budgets. Even the large forecast misses during the last recession have not done much to shake this ritual or dramatically reshape planning processes.
That’s big enough market for CEO Dave Kellogg and his team. They want to make the monthly, quarterly, yearly rituals less painful and more effective. Offering functionality in the cloud is a giant step forward (beyond the lowered TCO of not needing to invest in infrastructure, application management and upgrades) to allow for more real-time and collaborative planning. A focus on the budget owner allows for UX in the form of MyPlan, dashboard and mobile features and targeted functionality – over 200 new features in the last year. They include Spotlight which integrates visualization capabilities of Microsoft Office with the data at Host, integration with several Workiva for external statutory and compliance reporting, with Floqast to streamline closing processes, with ASC606 Revenue Recognition from the accounting firm, RSM (formerly McGladrey) and several others such as support in data loads for Asian (double byte) data characters and NetSuite connectors
Is Finance too narrow a focus? Dave’s view is the CFO, his prime sponsor in organizations, should take their planning capabilities into other parts of the organization, be in sales and operations planning or production planning. In that he may be borrowing a page from ServiceNow’s book. ServiceNow has seen its CIO base take its ticketing and workflow capabilities into HR shared service and customer service areas. If Host can deliver extensions which allow for easier planning of common scenarios – launch a new product, enter a new country, reorganize sales territories – it would go a long way towards helping the CFO sell it internally and help them deliver to their mantra of Continuous, Connected and Collaborative planning.
Dave is also borrowing a page from his previous employer, Salesforce. In his keynote, he spent a fair amount of time on “Trust” – the promise of uptime, secure infrastructure, the ability to deliver promised features. He reinforced the last point by saying in his view cloud contract renewals should not commit a customer longer than the buying executive’s tenure. That’s refreshing to hear in a world of so much vendor lock-in.
A couple of other observations from the event:
- Host had an analyst breakout during the day. As happens often, that agenda fell by the way side, and the session turned interactive. I was impressed by how Dave handled the analyst questions and parceled them out to his direct reports. I have seen too many vendor execs fall apart when they have to go off script. It showed his maturity as an exec. It also shows his media savvy, helped by his own regular blogging (he is also a fellow Enterprise Irregular).
- He was followed on stage by Bert Jacobs, who along with his brother founded and run Life is Good, best known for its optimistic T-shirts and hats. Their story of rags to riches is impressive enough – the personal stories he told from the Good Kids Foundation ( they donate 10% of profits to improving children's lives through that foundation) was even more so. When I was writing Silicon Collar I saw all the pessimistic memes that get propagated – machines will take all our jobs, our middle class is dead, our manufacturing is dead etc, and so it is nice to see optimists like Bert show us that things and people are actually pretty good. I have asked Host permission to embed video of the session on the New Florence blog - I found it that inspiring.
All in all, a refreshingly focused day. Life felt good.