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Q&A: SaaS CPM system ousts Excel, automates budgeting and planning

In a Q&A, Schumacher Group CIO Douglas Menefee discusses the medical services firm’s rollout of a new budgeting system based on SaaS corporate performance management software.

Douglas Menefee, CIO, Schumacher GroupSchumacher Group provides emergency department staffing and management services to nearly 200 hospitals in the U.S. Until last summer, the Lafayette, La.-based company was in the same position as many other organizations: running its budgeting and planning processes on Excel spreadsheets. Finance personnel in remote offices around the country sent in data files via email; the files then needed to be consolidated and merged in spreadsheets, a time-consuming procedure for the finance department.

But Schumacher scrapped the spreadsheets and replaced them with a budgeting system built on Host Analytics Inc.’s cloud-based corporate performance management software. About 150 finance workers, departmental managers and corporate executives are now using the Software as a Service (SaaS) CPM system, which is tied to Schumacher’s PeopleSoft and Workday financial applications. In an interview with this week, Schumacher CIO Douglas Menefee (in photo above) discussed the company’s rollout and use of the SaaS CPM software.

What kind of budgeting system were you using previously?

Douglas Menefee: Like probably the majority of companies out there, Microsoft Excel. We just had minimal processes in place and were using Excel and SharePoint to do our budgeting and distribute reports within the organization.

And how was that working for you?

Menefee: It was a major challenge for us working in a spreadsheet environment. We have such a distributed workforce around the country – there was a very slow and tedious process of consolidating spreadsheets. We needed to go to a system that was unified and that people could access from anywhere.

What were some of the specific problems that end users were running into with the spreadsheet approach?

Menefee: The big thing was that they were spending more time doing the budget than analyzing the budget. They were spending a lot of time just entering information into spreadsheets. We had a meeting with the finance team last Friday, and they said they’d still be working on the budget for 2011 if not for the Host Analytics system.

How long did it take you to deploy the SaaS CPM system?

Menefee: We signed the contract at the end of July, and the finance department started using it two weeks after that. The full implementation took us about 60 days, including our single sign-on provision and integration with our PeopleSoft applications and Workday. We used the system to put together the 2011 budget, and now we’re [planning] to roll out the first actuals in February so the users can see how things are tracking against the budget.

Why did it take so long to move to a more formal CPM system? Was CPM software a hard sell internally?

Menefee: It was our preparedness as an organization. The finance department was looking for a solution [to the budgeting problems] probably two or three years ago. But we recognized that we had some data quality issues we needed to address first, and we did that with an enterprise data warehouse (EDW). The [data quality] gaps revolved around departmental silos and having three or four definitions for each term. Building an EDW forced us to standardize those things.

And why did you decide to go with SaaS CPM?

Menefee: It came down to a choice between a Microsoft on-premise system and Host Analytics. The big thing for us was the speed of getting the system up and running. What we saw was that by going on-premise, it would take us six to nine months to do that.

Was there any trepidation on the business side about using a cloud-based system for budgeting?

Menefee: Actually, not. I think if I had approached it four years ago, there would have been some issues. But now we’re so familiar with the cloud-based approach that there really weren’t any concerns. About 80-90% of our processes are running in cloud-based solutions. We’ve done it so many times with so many [SaaS] providers that our contracting process is pretty standardized at this point.

We needed to go to a system that was unified and that people could access from anywhere.

Douglas Menefee, Schumacher Group

What kind of security mechanisms have you put in place to make sure your data is protected in the cloud?

Menefee: The ability to address identity management is key. So we have the single sign-on provision and capabilities for managing multiple user IDs. Also, Host Analytics administrators don’t have access to our data. The best way to look at it is that Host Analytics gives us the framework and we’re the ones that populate and manage the data. Host Analytics did the initial implementation and had administrative rights to help us load the data, but not anymore.

How much of a learning curve was there for your end users on the SaaS CPM software?

Menefee: When we rolled it out to the users, we did webinar training and a printed guide with what they needed to know. You kind of prepare for the worst, but we maybe had 10 questions overall, and most of those were about the process. There were very few about the software itself. The user interface is essentially spreadsheets running inside a Web browser – it’s quite intuitive and easy to use.

Are there any plans to expand the CPM system beyond budgeting and planning to other uses, such as strategy management or profitability optimization?

Menefee: At this time, it’s purely a budgeting and planning system. There are other parts of the Host Analytics system that we might explore as we move into 2011 and 2012, but right now we don’t have anything specific on the books.

How important is the contract and service-level agreement (SLA) to the success of a SaaS CPM implementation?

Menefee: It’s critical. I think all software service providers need to be focused on structuring SLAs, not only on what the [promised service level] is but on how they respond to outages – because it’s technology, and it’s not a question of whether there will problems but when.

Do you have any advice for other organizations that are considering SaaS CPM deployments?

Menefee: The key recommendation I have, and it’s whether you’re looking at a SaaS or on-premise solution, is to have your [business] processes clearly defined going into the selection process. That made it very easy for us because we knew what we wanted and could focus the vendors on that, rather than getting lost in all of the bells and whistles.

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