Perform 2021 - LifeStance Health gets out of Excel and automates FP&A with Planful

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez September 16, 2021 Audio mode
LifeStance Health was spending too much manual time on budgets and reports and has since created a ‘single source of truth’ with Planful.

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LifeStance Health, a behavioural health company that has 4,000 clinicians supporting patients in 31 States across the US, has automated much of its budgeting and reporting with Planful, so that teams can spend less time manually processing data and more time analyzing financial data. 

Speaking at Planful's annual user event, Perform 2021, director of FP&A (Financial Planning and Analysis) at LifeStance Health, Noah Pieper, explained the company was able to automate report creation and improve collaboration with Planful in just a matter of weeks. 

The company went live with the new Planful environment at the beginning of March, and by April had reduced the manual workload for finance teams, whilst also creating a single source of truth for financial planning data. Pieper said: 

We are a high growth company, we've been around for four years, but we've grown exponentially over those four years. And so we have over 700 locations now, which is rolling up and aggregating in a lot of very complex ways. 

We were having to slice and report that data very differently, we had a very manual process, where we pull our data out of NetSuite to do reporting. We would sometimes have to redo reporting again, and produce our packages for review. 

There was a lack of transparency that was happening with our budget owners - how could they see information in real time as well as get down to that transactional level and be engaged within the process? 

Then finally, those reports get stored in different places. They're out of date, they may get stored on a SharePoint, or even on somebody's desktop. We needed a single place where all that data could be stored.

Pieper outlined that ahead of the implementation of Planful, LifeStance Health clearly laid out a set of guiding principles for what outcomes it was hoping to achieve. These meant creating: 

  • A single source of truth -  the data that comes  out of the system is what LifeStance will report. It will be what LifeStance shares and validates to, and the data coming out of Planful will be what the company is reviewing. 

  • A permissions system - meaning that people will have access to what they should have access to. Business owners in the East Coast can see their East Coast data, but not the West Coast data. This should give LifeStance a better environment to not overshare information, but to really focus people on what they have ownership of. 

  • A revisions system - A system that can make comparisons very easily: budgets versus actuals, forecasts in July versus current forecast, and very quickly run reports and compare scenarios. 

  • Getting out of Excel  - LifeStance was finding that within Excel there were formula errors and time to process was static to the data itself. And so Planful should get people out of that continuous process of exporting data and making their own reports. 

  • A real time reporting environment - where if a change is made within the system, users can then see that change without having to contact FP&A or the reporting team to process it for them and send it back.

Raising the IQ of finance

The implementation of Planful required LifeStance to carefully think through how its data was structured and attributed. Pieper explained: 

At Lifestance Health we have eight different divisions. Those divisions are made up of multiple States. And so within each State there might be multiple practices. And in any given practice there might be multiple locations. So there's multiple ways we're aggregating this data up and wanting to slice and see the reports. 

Now not all of these are built fundamentally within our hierarchy and our structure, so we have to use a combination of both our hierarchy as well as our attributes on those locations to slice our information.

For example, LifeStance has a division called ‘Central'. Within that division, there are multiple States - Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma. But there's also attributes assigned to central, such as an acquisition code, or type of location, or year. Pieper added: 

This really gave us something that was very unique to what we were doing before, and NetSuite and other financial reporting products weren't able to add that attribute selection for us.

So as we progressed through that process, we got to the point of making report collections, which is a way we can mass produce on demand a series of reports and slice it a lot of different ways. 

So we can start with ‘central' and then have our States and then we have our acquisitions or practices underneath of those, which in our case, is an attribute on those locations. So we're able to mix and match those within this report selection and be able to burst out a large amount of reports In one click of a button. 

This reduced a lot of our finance processing time. Our team was spending a day a month creating these packages. So there was an immediate impact to our business, not having to spend our manual time processing these. 

Dynamic Commentary 

Another useful feature of the Planful implementation for LifeStance has been the introduction of Dynamic Commentary. Pieper said that within finance, teams write a lot of comments - on monthly variances, flex analysis, giving information to shareholders or budget users - but that this typically happens once exported to Excel. This led to fragmentation and a no central view of what is and has been discussed. Pieper explained: 

With Dynamic Commentary it becomes a central place to store those comments and as a result it's going to reduce a lot of reporting time and give us access to those historical comments. 

It gives you the ability to collaborate back and forth. So, instead of double clicking into the transactions and trying to figure out what that $10,000 is from all the transactional details, we can just add a comment and explain it, making it a quicker explanation for somebody. 

It has saved us a lot of time - the amount of manual work that was being done every month to recreate these reports and to copy and paste comments between reports - overall, everybody felt that it was very easy to use. Our adoption rate was very quick. We have all of our team now using it. understanding it.

Pieper said that the implementation of Planful has had a large organizational impact on LifeStance. The company now has a single source of truth for financial planning, budgets and reporting. Pieper said that the information coming out of Planful is now what it presents to the leadership team. 

But more importantly, the real-time and automated use of the system means that the company is able to spend time doing more meaningful work. Pieper said: 

We got our team out of Excel. There's a great place for Excel and Excel is a powerful tool, but for some of these very structured standard reporting, for report gathering, report bursting, we wanted to make them as automated as possible so that everybody within our organization could spend more time doing analysis of our business rather than on the manual creation of these reports. 

And also as a result of that, when we run our reports we know that it's not dated information, it's real-time and the latest information of what's available. 

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