Host Analytics - on the growth train

Profile picture for user brianssommer By Brian Sommer May 22, 2016
Summary:
Host Analytics is making waves as it rapidly grows, takes on more partners and refreshes the UX.
2016 blog - Host 2
Host Analytics dashboard

Host Analytics, Inc. (HAI) just celebrated another, bigger user conference, HAWorld. They also reported a number of solid growth numbers, too. Total user count now exceeds 33,000 spread out over 600+ customers. Average recurring revenue (ARR) rose 45% in the last quarter. This points to more customers subscribing to more individual components of HAI’s suite.

HAI also made a slew of product related announcements, too.  Here are some of the big ones.

Qlik here for progress report

HAI competes in the EPM (Enterprise Performance Management) or CPM (Corporate Performance Management) space. This sector has been a good one in recent years especially for those vendors offering an easier to implement multi-tenant cloud solution. These solutions generally provide consolidation, budgeting, planning and forecasting functionality. Many buyers of cloud financial accounting solutions also acquire an EPM product (as do many users of older on-premises financial or ERP solutions). Why? Financial applications are often great for tracking very detailed accounting events within a legal entity but an EPM tool often grabs more summarized data from a host of different ERP/Accounting packages. Additionally, the way people plan/forecast/etc. is often an iterative process (i.e., top-down, down-up and maybe several back and forth cycles) before a plan can be finalized.  Many accounting and ERP solutions just don’t do this capability well nor do they handle the consolidation of financial data from diverse accounting software packages well either.

Big data is definitely changing the EPM space today. Businesses first want to incorporate larger internal data feeds into their planning/ forecasting/etc. activities. This usually means more operational data is slipping into the calculations and discussions with which plans are developed, reviewed and re-planned. Some firms are jumping deeper into the big data well and are utilizing third party big data (e.g., weather forecasts, social sentiment data). Bigger datasets are the feed stock for great plans today.

But can EPM tools handle this influx of data? The short answer is that it’s developing. In-memory database technology, Hadoop technology, almost limitless storage/memory/bandwidth, rising processor speeds, etc. make this a very real possibility. The challenges now are people based: can vendors build solutions that take EPM further?

HAI, which already can process large data files, has announced a relationship with Qlik – more specifically with the Qlik Sense solution set. Qlik brings an in-memory capability, a rapid data discovery/connection toolset and its data visualization tools to the mix. HAI customers will gain access to fast dashboard creation, easy visualization of data and an (non-IT) ability to join financial, operational and big data into one view.

HAI (like competitor Adaptive Insights) has not charged customers a fee for the amount of data used in their tool. Pricing is based more on user counts and the number of applications used.  With the new combined solution, HAI will be running an in-memory version of Qlik in HAI’s cloud (not Qlik’s!) and, I suspect, customers will start pouring in ever larger datasets with which to improve their budgets and more. If the experience of freeway builders is any indication, HAI could see a real spike in user counts, data volumes, etc.  (When you open a new freeway, it creates new traffic jams. A new freeway might actually encourage more driving not just mitigate the driving experiences of current drivers. Likewise, when new compute power is available, users start finding more ways to use it.). HAI executives did tell me that they are considering erecting some kind of “guardrails” to prevent users from going off the deep end with excessive amounts of big data.

By partnering with Qlik, HAI provides enhanced visualization capability to help users make sense of these bigger datasets. The visualization capability also permits the simultaneous display of data from multiple internal and external sources in HAI dashboard. The goal is to help customers make better business decisions by having a more complete view of what’s going on inside and outside a company. This new relationship with Qlik, supplants one HAI previously had with Birst.

The Qlik solution will not be a separate tool or run in a separate cloud. Qlik is being incorporated into the fabric of HAI so that users have a more seamless experience.  HAI users will continue to have their entire data resident on HAI’s cloud centers.

HAI also reports that greater use of in-memory technology is significantly improving system performance. In HAI’s words:

…with many benchmarks delivering increases of up to 50 percent to 90 percent across various planning and reporting scenarios. Additionally, the ability to load, process and interrogate larger, more complex data sets is also now available through the implementation of incremental updates and loading.  This has cut data load times by up to 80 percent in many scenarios and has simplified the data management process.

For the more technical readers of this post, you’ll find more re: Qlik’s in-memory design here.

Modelling

HAI software is often used to model a number of business situations and potential outcomes. The company recently reported that its software now has over 100 active customers of its modelling tool. What makes this noteworthy is that the product is only a year-old and this degree of customer acceptance shows the degree of cross-selling success HAI is having selling this to both new and pre-existing customers.

Modelling in an EPM solution differs from how it occurs in a traditional RDMS-based planning tool (or sometimes in a spreadsheet). Users don’t have to be bound by hierarchical data structures or row/column data stores. Modelling can and should embrace data that isn’t always accurate (think social sentiment information), that comes in blobs (think audio or video files), that may experience multiple format changes in a year, etc.

Is that a new UX?

HAI users can now ‘brand’ their dashboards and other reports via customization tools in the Spring 16 release. Corporate logos, color schemes, etc. can be used to make the solutions appear tailored for the customer.

UX (user experience) changes should also result in faster uptake of the systems by net-new users of HAI.

2016 blog - Host 1

One industry analyst, quoted in a HAI press release, said a new UX should “improve the mental ergonomics for users”. I’m not sure what that is and I don’t recall clients asking for this either. Who knows, mental ergonomics may be the next big thing the folks at Apple will work on soon.

But seriously, the new UX includes improved navigation capabilities across the entire suite. The degree with which each module is integrated (one-to-another) has been enhanced. Expanded support for various browsers and device types is also found in the Spring 16 release.

Partners, partners everywhere

HAI also announced a number of new/expanded partnerships. Vendors mentioned included Slack, Google, NetSuite and Xactly.

One area where the partnerships were discussed in detail is the whole communication between workers re: budgets and plans. This type of business collaboration permits the rapid sharing of data, plans, ideas, and other information with persons who should be involved in specific planning, budgeting, consolidation, etc. tasks.  HAI made this business collaboration functionality a core part of their solution and is giving customers the ability to choose what collaboration technology (e.g., Yammer, Salesforce Chatter, etc.) they’d like to use. Of course, they are also supporting new partner Slack.

Similarly, HAI’s Google partnership will permit collaboration activities whenever users are using Google’s Sheets and Drive products. This is market recognition that some accountants, operational people, etc. are sometimes more comfortable with automation tools other than those of the EPM vendor.

Dell’s Boomi technology is also part of these announcements (and was a prominent vendor at NetSuite’s event this week, as well). HAI will now offer real-time connectors via Boomi to help users connect HAI’s suite to numerous ERP solutions including a certified integration to NetSuite’s ERP products.

What else?

There were also announcements re:

  • Numerous software functionality improvements for things like multiple sets of books support (very necessary these days with all of the new revenue recognition and GAAP/IFRS harmonization work).
  • Significant new customer acquisitions (e.g., Quicken, Haggar, Mesa Air Group)
  • Performance improvements to the product line. One area alone saw 60% improvement.

Image credit - via the author.

Disclosure - Host Analytics covered most of the author's travel and expense to attend the event.