Intact has introduced Flex Reporting, an importing extension to its existing reporting solution. The above video provides you with the story but in short, customers can now add custom dimensions which serve to provide a fresh level of analysis. As the video points out, these dimensions could be anything not included in the chart of accounts. That could be product type, product group, location - the list is entirely down to what the business needs and the taxonomy that is used.
During a call with the company, Intacct was careful to point out that this is a solution that is aimed at providing financial managers with the ability to create the dimensions. There was no talk of line of business people having that same ability. Intacct says this is because its customers prefer to keep the control of report creation in the hands of the finance department. I am not convinced this is the right approach. Neither am I convinced that charging for this capability is something that customers will readily accept.
Here is my reasoning:
The best SaaS solutions add incremental capability at no cost to the customer. This is incremental rather than representing an entirely new module or functional extension. Intacct will argue that Flex Reporting is a big step forward because it opens the door to flexible and tailored operational line of business reporting. I disagree.
Agresso for example has always had multi-dimensional reporting baked into its on-premises solution. This is what gives it the ability to talk about 'business living in change' and the flexibility that requires. It has proven to be a powerful selling point among organizations that are in constant flux.
The world of business intelligence, reporting and analytics is changing. Most vendors recognize this but have yet to figure out a way of positioning offerings. Intacct argues that its Flex Reporting tool avoids the problem of having to integrate third party tools. I get that. However, some of the newer vendors out there like tidemark are coming up with a completely new metaphor for understanding the business that is not constrained by financial only measures.
In a video that Jon Reed shot with Mico Yuk of Benchmarking Partners, Mico pointed out that we live in a world of instant gratification. Line of business will not hang around to wait for others to provide answers. That might be true in large organizations but is it valid in SMEs, Intacct's traditional market?
The more I look at small businesses, the more I see the exact same problems as are faced by larger organizations. It's just the scale that changes.
I give Intacct credit for taking their solution forward and responding to the perceived needs of its target market. However, I feel it could have taken a much more expansive and radical approach that would allow it to still charge more while directly reach more people inside the business. Simply extending row and column reporting of the kind accountants have lived with for eons doesn't quite cut it.