Planful, née Host Analytics, is a budgeting, planning, consolidation and forecasting toolset that works with a number of major ERP software products. Planful is a categorized as CPM/EPM vendor (corporate/enterprise performance management). Planful had their virtual and on-site user conference last week in Chicago.
Last Friday, diginomica’s Jon Reed got the scoop on Planful’s AI efforts/plans in his piece. While that article includes a number of comments from Planful’s CEO, Grant Halloran, it also noted that Planful would not be fanning the generative AI fires at this event. They didn’t.
Here are the in-person highlights.
Planful has solutions for Finance, Accounting, Sales, Operations, Marketing, HR and IT (more on the Marketing solution below). The one solution area that wasn’t listed was something for ESG. Currently, Planful customers get that capability from Planful’s software partner Workiva.
The company currently has over 1300 customers, is over 20 years old and has about 450 employees. Planful is a privately held firm. PE firm Vector Capital is the principal shareholder.
Halloran indicated that the company is now well past Rule of 40 concerns. That means the company’s net income percent and growth rate percent together are greater than 40%. When that happens, a tech company should no longer need additional capital. So, where is the extra cash going? Was it going to verticalize the firm’s offerings? No. Was it going to add new global locations? No. It is going to expand operations, demand generation and product R&D.
Planful executives noted the company’s strong growth. The firm saw a 30% increase in subscription bookings growth. Customer expansion bookings grew 50%. The company added 125 new product features and saw a 50% international customer growth year over year.
On the international front, analysts probed where Planful will expand geographically. The answers were mixed. Western Europe will likely continue to get attention from Planful. While some parts of Asia look attractive to Planful, others are less so. North America, obviously, remains the biggest market and market opportunity for Planful.
Planful and Plannuh
Planful’s acquisition of Plannuh has made a material difference in Planful’s offerings (see this story). The reason Planful did this deal last Fall is that Finance team members do not necessarily understand where the money that Marketing groups spend goes and how effective that spend truly is. As a result, you get a lot of spirited debates and dueling spreadsheet data from each side of the table.
Planful shared a number of data points illustrating the challenge:
- 64% of Finance respondents are frustrated by the unplanned nature of marketing expenses (from an EY report)
- 52% of CMOs can’t show the impact of marketing spend on overall business results (from a Deloitte report)
- 71% of companies reported that marketing and finance want to better collaborate (from a CMO study)
- Only 16% of CMOs were graded ‘A’ in translating company goals into marketing goals (from a CMO study)
I get it. And, when some CMOs are more brand/image focused and the Finance or Operations leaders want a focus on lead generation, problems are going to arise. CMOs are responsible for a number of activities that include: PR, advertising, social media, branding, lead generation, thought leadership pieces, webinars, events, etc. Whether any of these generate leads is sometimes hard to gauge. Marketing and Finance will have clashes from time to time.
Plannuh is now an integral part of Planful - Planful for Marketing. Its raison d'être is to provide a more data-driven analysis of the monies spent in marketing activities and the results that are generated. Planful has even used this to re-allocate some lower value-creating marketing monies of its own to efforts with a bigger payback.
Planful applies a budgeting/forecasting discipline to marketing. Users enter the projected marketing spend and perceived benefits for each initiative. The logic within Planful that helps accountants load in financial budgets is extended to provide similar capabilities and visibility to marketing.
In a press release on these new marketing capabilities, Planful noted the following new features:
• A new UX for the solution that facilitates better collaboration/communication between Marketing and other constituencies
- Automated expense inputs with invoice visualization for ease of use and efficiency
• Campaign planning using a range of currencies within one budget
• Viewing campaign, budget, actuals and expense group details in one screen for better visibility and access
Data Fabric and more
My mother used to sew a lot. I’m quite used to seeing patterns, fabric, sewing machines, etc. Every vendor today seems to have a data fabric story to tell. Planful did as well. Mom always assessed fabric by how it felt, how it looked and how it would look on someone. I kept wondering what Mom would say about data fabrics.
Planful executives spoke of how their new data fabric has been rolled out to approximately 80% of their customers. The new data fabric is triggering faster consolidations, screen refreshes and other performance improvements.
Executives also spoke of scaling improvements and their RESTful APIs. Scaling is very important as:
- Planful continues to go into ever larger accounts
- Customers are likely to drag ever greater quantities of data into the Planful cloud
- Planful keeps adding new horizontal solutions to the product mix.
Planful has a number of applications designed for specific users and use cases. Many of these received recent enhancements including:
- New corporate structure chart for Planful for Accounting. Think of this as an organization chart tool for supporting one’s different legal and reporting entities.
- Automated journal entry creation functionality for Planful for Accounting.
- Integration with Google Sheets and Google WorkSpace for Planful for Finance users
- A Snapshot capability that provides a point in time view of different plans or versions of plans. This can help in restoring users to the last know ‘good’ version of a plan.
- Support for external algorithms in the Predict Suite. According to Planful:
Users can leverage a comprehensive library of predictive algorithms natively within the platform, compare their accuracy, and use the algorithm most appropriate for their needs, all without needing to move sensitive financial data around their ecosystem.
Planful also announced a number of connection/integration capabilities. These included:
- Native SFTP Connector – This makes the integration of non-Planful datasets go much faster
- Integration Tiles: Users can select a number of fast, straightforward connectors within Planful
- DataBlend integration – This toolset helps finance and accounting people easily integrate the applications and data they frequently use
- Microsoft Power Automate – This is Microsoft’s process automation platform
ESG functionality got little discussion or conference time except in an executive Q&A with analysts. Planful has, to date, left ESG matters to its software partner Workiva.
Planful might want to rethink that decision. Many of Planful’s competitors have built an ESG application off of their own CPM/EPM stacks/platforms. All of these systems need to integrate with financial, HR, operational systems. They need to consolidate the data, perform calculations on the data and then map the results to specific regulatory reports. Planful can do that. I can see no reason why Planful can’t field its own ESG tool.
I suspect Planful’s hesitancy may be due to its historically mid-market key buyer being a finance/accounting executive. Accountants were in abundance at this show but Planful has been branching out beyond finance (see the Planful for Marketing discussion above). And make no mistake that more and more ESG reporting requirements are getting pushed down-market to ever smaller firms. Whether its regulators or big supply chain partners demanding this data, hiding from these requirements will not make them go away.
To really understand what it takes to implement a CPM/EPM solution, look at the implementers in attendance at a vendor’s user conference. If the vendor can sell a half-dozen mega-platinum sponsorships to big systems integrators, you can bet that implementing that solution is going to cost a pretty penny.
I only counted five application/integration/implementation partners at this show. I’m sure there were more but this is a small number AND these firms were not at the intergalactic size of many major SIs. I learned that many Planful customers often implemented the solutions themselves or only needed some point assistance. Prospective customers should take comfort in reading this.
I’ve tracked this firm for a number of years. The growth stats tell of its market success to date. The customers appeared to be a content bunch. I spent a couple of days with them and couldn’t get any real dirt or saucy stories. Planful, like many of their customers, is all business like.
The conference was also markedly different. There were no marching bands, flash pots, dancers, wild parties, etc. Yes, I expected this low-key vibe at an event full of corporate accounting types but after a whole Spring season of vendor hyperbolic overreach I felt ‘calm’. I’m not used to that at vendor shows.
There were some real ‘stars’ at the show though. I spoke at length with one big user who brings in all manner of external datasets to better model future sales and other data. Their work is ‘smoky’ and cool. Some customers are really using the workforce management and financial management capabilities to improve retail results. One customer’s story was so confidential, she back out of my interview at the last minute.
For next year’s confab, I do expect Grant and the gang to talk more, a lot more, on AI, ESG and their global expansion plans. Until then….