In my last piece, Sage Intacct Advantage 2019 - Marc Linden reveals why CFOs need an Intelligent GL, I pursued questions raised by a company with no shortage of news to dissect.
I've since released a Sage Intacct Advantage '19 event wrap podcast with Steve Brooks of The Enterprise Times, where we looked further into Sage Intacct's AI play, and whether it will pass the CFO relevance test.
But what do customers think? I talked with customers extensively at Sage Intacct - they are amongst the best in the industry at providing media/analysts with unfettered access to customers. From my formal and barstool interviews:
- Customers like Sage Intacct's practical-AI-for-finance direction, and can't wait to get their hands on the 2020 AI features previewed.
- They are interested in Sage Intacct's Budgeting and Planning tool, but for many I talked with, it doesn't have what they need yet, despite an attractive (affordable) price point. They are watching to see how Sage Intacct evolves the product.
- Moving from 80 percent accounting/admin to 80 percent strategic resonates, as does Sage Intacct's Financial Leadership 3.0 vision. But - getting there isn't a quick or easy path.
Tina Sachs, Director of Finance and Accounting for the Khan Academy, talked to me about the finance team's push for strategic relevance over accounting chores. Her team is getting executive engagement with Sage Intacct dashboards, but they have ambitions on improving efficiency. "Continuous close" might be a dream for now, but 20 percent reductions in closing times and report generation is a realistic stretch goal.
"I spend less time in Excel, and more time doing analysis"
When a customer stays at the expo hall up to dinner to tell you about their experience, that speaks volumes. But as Sachs said to me:
Personally, Sage Intacct has changed my life. I get to spend less time in Excel, and more time doing analysis or doing reporting to our senior leadership team.
What drives Sachs? Doing her best for Khan Academy:
I take a lot of pride in making sure that we keep our learners and teachers at the center of all of our decisions. It doesn't always come down to profits for us.
Sachs is lucky enough to work for a company she believes in. But in a way, that adds to the pressure: don't be an accounting anchor; be a force for growth. And with courses and dozens of languages, and 100 million people on the platform a year, Khan Academy is doing well. Yes, there are plenty of online learning platforms out there. But not many are free to students. Fewer are non-profits like Khan. As the online education market gets traction, Khan too has evolved. Sachs:
The education industry is changing. We're trying to figure out our role within the classroom to make life easier for our teachers as well. So we created two new products this year that we actually sell to school districts.
Khan's free platform for learners and teachers is now supplemented by Praxis test prep for teachers, and other test prep platforms like SAT prep for students. Early learning for youngsters is bolstered by Khan Academy's 2016 Duck Duck Moose acquisition, for the princely sum of $1. But that type of expansion is also what keeps Sachs and team busy.
They are pros on Sage Intacct now, but that wasn't always the case. So why did they implement Sage Intacct in 2016?
Intacct was critical for us because first of all, you could use it anywhere, and we're a virtual company. We wanted to be absolutely paperless, so that was another factor.
Another perk: Intacct was tied into software partners Khan Academy was already using.
We had already implemented a couple of the partners for Sage Intacct, which was at the time Bill.com and Expensify. And so we needed to make sure that those worked with the system that we were looking to choose, and then we wanted to make sure reporting-wise we could get the information that we were looking for, as well as tracking our spend by donors.
Khan's growth was not something Sachs would have enjoyed handling in Excel:
We purchased Duck Duck Moose, and so it was a second entity, and then we expanded into India. And because of the donor regulations and rules and laws in India, we had to start a business out there. So that was another subsidiary in a foreign currency. We were able to consolidate everything and run financials at the top level. For us, that was super, super critical. We have never been able to do that before except for in Excel, which took forever.
In the day to day, Sachs spends a lot of time on the reporting side. As needed, she'll drill into issues like "Why did that invoice cost that much money?" But lately, Sachs says she "hangs out in Sage Intacct dashboards a lot." So her speaking appearance on an Advantage 2019 dashboards panel is no surprise.
I've had debates with customers and pundits about the value of dashboards. There is absolutely a good debate to be had on that topic, but for Sachs, Sage Intacct dashboards opened up a new level of data transparency with executive leadership. So what did she tell attendees about dashboarding?
I ran through the different dashboards that we use for our team. Because we don't have external users outside of our finance team who utilize Sage Intacct, our dashboards are really meant for us. We utilize those as the basis for reports for our board and senior leadership teams.
We monitor our close process through these dashboards to see where they're at. We use it for our financial statement audits, because we can run reports to make sure that we're on the same page with our auditors. It even creates our financial statement notes, so it makes our world that much faster.
Tracking cash flow is another useful view:
I look at cash in our investments, to make sure that we're at the right levels, and have the right amounts at the right accounts.
How much more time do we get to spend on forecasting?
Sounds like a savvy use of dashboards, but I'm especially interested in quantifiable benefits. I find most Sage Intacct customers have those. How about going from 16 hours to two minutes for a consolidation report? Sachs:
Last year it took me probably took me two days to produce our statement of functional expenses. This is the first year that we had everything in the GL, and I could literally press "consolidate." Now you're consolidating in two minutes, because I had to press 12/31/2018, and then press play.
Sachs is a hands-on manager, so the time saved in reporting chores is gold:
It's game-changing for me... I'm a player/coach; I can't get away with just coaching everybody and telling folks what to do. Most of my reporting now is done with the click of a button as opposed to multiple sheets.
That gets Sachs closer to that strategic role:
How much more time do we get to spend on forecasting now? How much do we get to spend on analysis? A lot more.
But Sachs isn't done extracting that type of value. More goals ahead:
One of our goals for 2020 is to increase our efficiency, by reducing our close process by 20 percent, and our financial reporting cycle by 20 percent. Are we going to measure it? Probably not, but are we going to find ways to get to increase efficiency? Absolutely, and going to a conference like this helps us get there.
There are two ways you can go with an efficiency argument. Option one: you stay lean, keep doing what you've always done, close the books and reduce headcount. Option two: go on the path to finance leadership; make a difference to the business. Khan Academy's team has done the latter:
Everyone on my staff spends time in accounting. It's part of their job; it's non-negotiable. But every single one of them spends time in finance, which is what they want to do, right? It's the more glamorous side of things.
Each staff member teams up with business leaders:
Every single one of them now has a business partner, a senior leadership team member, who they work with directly. We're talking everybody on my team, from staff to me, has a business partner. That's unheard of, right?
Think that helps with professional development? You bet:
They get to spend time with these senior leaders, learn and grow with them, work on their budgeting, work on their forecasting, and that's a huge benefit to their world. I've worked at a lot of not for profits over the years. This is probably the first time in my career where I've seen this.
The wrap - change is a partnership
During my Advantage 2019 show wrap podcast with Steve Brooks, I shared an anecdote of a customer CFO who was pushing back a bit against the Financial Leadership 3.0 vision. She was saying that "my board expects us to deliver the reports they asked for. There isn't room to be creative."
That comment resonated with me because every situation is different, and we shouldn't ever glamorize how difficult change can be. During the podcast, I shared Sage Intacct's Marc Linden's response to that anecdote:
I thought I'd trouble Marc Linden with that story and see what he had to say. Marc had an interesting answer because he said, "Well yeah, not every CFO is in the perfect situation to transform everything.
But he said, "One thing you can start with is the data. Let's say you are expected to deliver these reports. Well, how about instead of delivering some canned report, you bring it up on the screen at the next board meeting, and allow these folks to drill down in real-time?" I thought it was a pretty interesting, not really rebuttal, but a response to that. There's a good example of how someone could subtly push the issue in a way that would make that point, even if their organizations are not completely on board yet.
Fortunately for Sachs, her leadership doesn't provide any resistance. She finds her motivation in pushing Intacct's capabilities forward. But it's not just the software:
It's not just the product itself, but the people of Intacct. I always joke, "Oh, if I have to go into the for-profit world and get a job, I would want to work for Sage Intacct."
I can't tell you how much I love Sage Intacct. I could go on and on about that.
I'm sure they don't mind, Ms. Sachs.