Technology That Speeds Up the CFO’s Workday
"Technology That Speeds Up the CFO’s Workday" by Julie Bennet was first published in the August 2018 edition of Restaurant Finance Monitor.
The operators of Scottsdale-based P.F. Chang’s 300-plus bistros used to have to wait several days for key financial reports from corporate. Today, they arrive in minutes or, in the words of Chang’s CFO Jim Bell, “it’s real time all the time.” The difference is a cloud-based Strategic Corporate Performance Management (SCPM) solution from Adaptive Insights in Palo Alto, CA. “We used to distribute financial performance reports by passing around Excel spreadsheets to our restaurant operating partners,” Bell said. Using Adaptive Insights software reduces the time involved by at least 80%, and allows operators to immediately share information on what drives their restaurants’ profits, Bell added.
Adaptive Insights is one of 13 software organizations that shift financial planning and analysis, budgeting and other functions from work done on-premises to cloud-based solutions where multiple users can work on the same document simultaneously. Vendors include big names like Oracle and IBM, and specialists like Workiva, in Ames, Iowa, that released its Wdesk solution in 2010. Gartner Research Co. in Stamford, CT, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of all 13 in a June 2017 report available on its website, “Magic Quadrant for Cloud Strategic Corporate Performance Management Solutions.”
The process did look a bit like magic when James Meyer, a CPA with Adaptive Insights, led prospective customers (and one reporter) through a recent online demonstration. Adaptive works with any internet-connected browser and accepts input from Excel, SAP, IBM and many other data bases, Meyer said. The difference is that anyone with the right credentials can collaborate on a financial decision— what will it cost to add a new menu item, for example. When several people are making changes in a document, the numbers they input pop up in different colors, but only the CFO or other finance person in charge can change the final numbers.
Bell said P.F. Chang’s had “no issues with security” when setting up the Adaptive Insights platform in 2016. Corporate staff and restaurant operators are assigned “levels of visibility” into financial documents and can access and collaborate on only the data that fits their credentials.
Cloud-based financials are especially beneficial for franchisors and multi-unit franchisees, said Sean Rollings, Adaptive Insights’ VP of product marketing. Financial information from individual locations can be aggregated on a continual and automatic basis. “Franchisees no longer need to submit reports to corporate about their results or plans because such data is available to corporate at any time.” Adaptive even handles currency conversion for international franchisees “automatically and transparently,” Rollings said.
Restaurant companies pay an annual subscription for the cloud-based SCPM services they use. P.F. Chang’s made all the changes from their legacy systems at once, but for now for El Pollo Loco in Costa Mesa, CA, is using Workiva for just one task. Ashley Van, director of SEC reporting and technical accounting for publicly traded El Pollo Loco, said, “Before I arrived almost two years ago, the company was preparing its required government filings with Excel and Word and sending them off to a third party to be EDGARized (laid out in a format acceptable to the Securities and Exchange Commission) and printed. If there was a last-minute change, I had to go through the document and change the wrong number everywhere it occurred. And if there wasn’t time to reprint the document, I had to make all the changes by hand.”
Van said she prepared one 10K report the old way, then convinced her bosses at the 480-unit fire-grilled chicken chain to switch to Workiva’s Wdesk SEC documents solution. “Now I have complete control over the 10 public filings we make each year. If I have to make a change, I am comfortable that the number was changed everywhere and Wdesk can prepare any document, from 5 to over 100 pages, in the correct EDGAR format. Wdesk is easy to set up and use and it eliminates potential errors.”
Workiva (NYSE:WK) CEO Marty Vanderploeg said that “anyone who is familiar with Microsoft Office software is able to start using Wdesk almost immediately.” He added that more than 40 of Workiva’s 3,000-plus customers are in the restaurant industry. While Rollings said that Adaptive Insights “does not disclose our customer count by segment, we do work with restaurants of varying sizes, including Cipriani, with seven locations.”
Gartner predicts that by 2020 at least 25% of organizations will be using some type of “collaborative, continuous and consistent financial planning and performance management” solution. But the firm advises that CFOs research the services and customer bases of available vendors before choosing one. Anaplan, a cloud-only vendor in San Francisco, for example, also serves restaurant companies, but tends to be used by large corporations (annual revenues $1 billion to $5 billion). Others in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant serve only a small number of other industries or serve only small organizations (annual revenue under $250 million).
CFO Bell said P.F. Chang’s switch to Adaptive Insights does not mean the company is dumping Excel. “We still use Excel for what Excel is great for. But Adaptive Insights provides insight into the drivers of the financial performance of our business, which makes us more efficient and saves us time and money.”
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