Customers weigh in on budgeting and planning in 2020, and the impact of the intelligent GL - a Sage Intacct Advantage preview

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 14, 2020
It might be a virtual event, but this promises to be one of the most important Sage Intacct Advantage shows in years. Here's why - with a look at how Sage Intacct customers are advancing their use of budgeting, planning, and general ledger outlier detection.

Sage Intacct customers
(Sage Intacct customers on deck for analyst day)

It's been a rocky year for virtual events. Alas, most vendors have viewed these events as a brandcasting platform - a missed opportunity I dissected in Virtual events and the flawed obsession with entertainment over interactivity - will fall events get it right? (So far, no).

But that piece ends with a nifty example of how Sage Intacct gathered analysts together this summer, in an informal way, without a forced agenda.

Now Sage Intacct must display their event chops on a much broader scale, with their (virtual) annual user conference, Sage Intacct Advantage 2020, set for next week (October 20-21). Most 2020 events lacked meaty news; I expect this event to have important storylines, as Intacct is more deeply integrated with other Sage assets, from Sage People to a deeper push into agile planning. These moves have implications for how Sage Intacct goes to market - and how competitors respond.

But how are Sage Intacct customers faring? Have these new tools helped them navigate an unprecedented year? We got into that during last week's Sage Intacct analyst day, with frank discussions on how Sage Intacct helped customers manage SaaS licenses - during a time where some customers hit very rough cash flow waters.

Sage Intacct customers on budgeting, planning, and the push to an intelligent General Ledger

Though Sage Intacct's analyst day format was pretty straightforward, there were some welcome touches others have overlooked. One was the chance for the assembled analysts to query two Sage Intacct customers about their 2020 experiences. Finance leaders from MemberClicks and Tender Greens joined the session for informal banter.

Instead of overmanaging the customer session - a  mistake most vendors make - Sage Intacct let the analysts pepper the customers with questions. Granted, it takes a special customer to put up with a bunch of analysts firing queries from their webcams, but these two were up for it. Brent Stringer, Director of Finance & Accounting with MemberClicks, warmed the audience up with some video event humor::

I appreciate the opportunity to put on a collared shirt.

MemberClicks provides membership software to help member-based organizations sustain their missions. They've been around for twenty years, with 3,000 customers across North America. Stringer gave us an immediate gut check on Sage Intacct Budgeting and Planning (SIBP). As he told us:

For our size business, we have a relatively complex operating and financial structure. We have three business units and eight different revenue streams. We have one subsidiary that's up in Vancouver, so we're dealing with foreign exchange rates.

Prior to SIBP, Stringer's team had the Excel blues. As he told us:

Prior to SIBP, everything was in Excel. You're talking about an Excel file that takes four to five months to build, ending with 20 to 25 tabs - you've got the business units, the revenue streams with multiple drivers and assumptions, headcount builds, allocation schedules, SaaS models.

Yikes! Obviously, a four month spreadsheet build doesn't cut it in the pandemic economy. Stringer says it's a different story now:

Sage Intacct Budgeting and Planning took all that away. When we implemented, it took me two weeks to build the template. We started budgeting in October rather than August. I was able to use the feature of sending out pieces of budget to different various executives. Obviously, there's confidential information within a budget that not everybody in the organization can see.

Budgeting is not just faster - it's more collaborative.

Functional owners can make changes and adjustments to their particular part of the business, and send it back to me. I can see it, review it, we can talk about it, and then I can accept it or deny it, or make changes in real-time.

SaaS finance models can wreck planning tools. Not in this case:

Being able to build out a SaaS model inside of SIBP, being able to create our headcount, volume, track taxes, track employee benefits, without the need to use all these for manual functions within Excel...  It's been invaluable.

I've previously spoken with Sean Skuro, Controller with Tender Greens at least year's Sage Intacct Advantage (see: How Tender Greens is disrupting the restaurant industry). But I wanted his take as an early adopter of Sage Intacct's General Ledger outlier detection capability. This functionality is sure to get exposure at next week's user event - it fits in with Sage Intacct's push towards what they call the IntelligentGL.

So how has this outlier detection capability helped Tender Greens? Talk about a company with its hands full in 2020, dealing with consumers' safety expectations at restaurants. As Skuro told us:

It's been a lot of fun working with the Sage Intacct team - they take everyone's feedback really seriously. I have confidence in my journal entry review. Not that I thought my review [was bad before], but I look at a ton of journal entries... In any given period, I'm probably reviewing upwards of 500 to 1000 journal entries.

The outlier detection is keeping Skuro on his game:

It picks up all sorts of anomalies, whether it's a location, a department that is being used for the first time, or if amounts are too small or amounts seem very large - it's picked things up that are unbelievable. Literally every day, it's picked something up. So it's confidence; its efficiency.

The journal entry detection program gets into the nitty-gritty, and looks at things I might glaze over. I call it the virtual assistant I always wanted.

Skuro isn't stopping there: he hopes to roll this out to the whole team.

My team was so jazzed by it. They're like, "Well, how do we get it on our end?"

Here's how that would work:

After they submit it, once the detection has gone through it, they can actually look at it if they want, to see that it's an exception, and review what it is. And they could recall if they want to do that.

The wrap - issues to track at Sage Intacct Advantage

We talked about how finance leaders should respond to the pandemic economy - sure to be a topic at next week's show. A discussion about choosing the right project partner also hit home. A big theme I am looking at with Sage Intacct partners is how they are positioning as industry advisors, not just cloud implementors. That's a crucial transition - if Sage Intacct wants to succeed in its micro-vertical strategy, now including cloud-native Sage Intacct Construction Cloud Accounting.

For those who are tracking, that means Sage Intacct's main verticals are primarily non-profits, software and tech, financial services, distribution, and now, construction. How Sage Intacct manages to expand vertically, while also bolstering its horizontal ERP offering as part of Sage proper - that to me is the big story to watch at this year's show.

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