For Finance, 2015 Will be the Year of Analytics – and the Cloud

Here is our fearless forecast for 2015: The year will see the rise of the flexible enterprise platform built for the cloud and the continued decline of legacy B2B vendors that are simply moving their old software to the cloud.

While the legacy vendors may be finally be waking up to the fact that cloud is the future of enterprise software, they seem unable to shake the same old mentality of trying to update their on-premise solutions with cloud technology – while maintaining the same large and expensive footprint.

Enterprises are pivoting away from these traditional enterprise vendors. They are moving toward those with a cloud-based, application-first strategy, the so-called “3rd Platform” that industry research organization IDC first identified in 2007.

The 3rd Platform

According to IDC, the 3rd Platform, which is built on the technology pillars of mobile computing, cloud services, big data and analytics, and social networking, would eventually become the new core of growth in the information and communications technology (ICT) market.

In 2015, the 3rd platform will account for one third of global ICT spending – and 100% of spending growth.

IDC believes that the industry is now entering the most critical period yet in the 3rd Platform era: the 'Innovation Stage'. It expects that, over the next several years, there will be an explosion of innovation and value creation on top of the 3rd Platform's foundation.

IDC says this stage will be driven by a new wave of core technologies – of Innovation Accelerators – that will radically extend the 3rd Platform's capabilities and applications across all industries.

The prediction is that cloud services will remain a hotbed of activity in 2015, with US$118 billion in spending on the greater cloud ecosystem.

This idea that we’re going to see further cloud adoption is in line with what I said at the end of 2013, when I predicted that 2014 would be a global tipping point for the cloud-first strategy across all sectors.

The ease of cloud deployment and maintenance is a huge draw. Plus, it also plays nice for ‘hybrid’ environments, which leverage on-premise and other system investments integrated with cloud solutions.

The cloud supports fast implementation/training (up and running), anywhere access, and collaboration.

Rise of the Citizen Developer

The vision for integrated business planning (IBP) is going from discussion to reality with the rise of the citizen developer.

In 2009, Gartner predicted that, by 2014, citizen developers would build at least 25% of new business applications. The reality is close to that, but not quite.  

But in 2015, we at Anaplan expect to see this prediction come true as the open-content model for business applications comes to fruition, thanks to continued cloud adoption.

This will happen through the empowerment of citizen developers: business people without programming background who are building their own apps, cracking the code on long-standing, industry-wide problems, and sharing their solutions with their peers.

We are already seeing the trend within mobile app building; the next push will be fully configured apps within the enterprise.

The top business priority of CFOs is bringing the drivers and impacts from across the company into play in one view and being able to create and maintain a view of the interconnected business.

Ready-to-go integration is big. It’s not enough to say ‘we integrate with any data’. Businesses have so many information sources. Having ready to go connections to meta-data has more value than ‘you can build integration to anything’. 

Death of the Spreadsheet

Finance has long been called bean counter, budget police and cost center. But many companies are increasingly regarding the function as a strategic asset within the organization. The modern CFO is seen as a vital and strategic leader, driving cost savings and increasing the bottom line and revenue.   

Traditional reporting (financial and operational) is not dead. Finance and accounting groups still need to deliver traditional reports that can be shared (email, portal) and reviewed (online and offline) with both internal and external stakeholders. Dashboards are good. They deliver views at a glance to executives and leaders.

But when the rubber hits the road, traditional reporting, controlled by users, is required.

2015 will bring further interoperability between cloud platforms, including Salesforce.com, Workday, and Anaplan. As a result of rising adoption of cloud-based enterprise platforms, 2015 will likely see the end spreadsheets as an enterprise collaboration app.

Spreadsheets may be the main business-planning tool for many smaller companies, but they were never designed for that job. Designed as a personal productivity tool, they are not flexible enough and cannot handle the data loads required by large enterprises.

Still, spreadsheets are not the enemy. Finance, and all business users, will always use them in some way. It is their baby and they are tired of people calling their baby ugly!

But there is an opportunity here. As applications improve over Excel, they can still complement and work with it. This resonates with CFOs and finance professionals.

Facilitating Analysis

Analytics will be huge in 2015. Finance needs everything to be visual to gain at-a-glance insights and drill-to-detail capability to answer next-level questions (through dashboards, visual analytics, and interactive graphs).

The No. 1 business priority that needs technology support, as identified by CFOs, is facilitating analysis and decision-making. The data is in there. What is needed is the capability to get the information into a unified view, and then make that view accessible to decision-makers.

CFOs rank Corporate Performance Management (CPM) at the top for future investment in Business Intelligence and Analytics. In terms of priority, the ability to fuel analysis, reporting and decisions on the data being generated is equal to, if not ahead of, the ability to just create the data (plans, forecasts).

CPM and Insight will fuse into one, so that CPM isn’t just another black box like the ERP. CFOs value immediate insight on what the data can tell them, in a way that makes sense to the business user (whether Executive, Finance, LOB leader, front line).

The CFO and CIO are partnering to make technology decisions. No longer is it a one or the other controlling the buy. IT and Finance leaders now see their priorities in alignment and working together. 

About the Author

Frederic Laluyaux is President & CEO of Anaplan, a cloud services company that provides businesses with a planning platform for sales, finance and operations. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock