Most financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professionals not prepared to evaluate technology systems, as this is not often taught in finance programs at undergraduate or graduate schools. But with the increased adoption of cloud technologies that result in faster deployments and lower total cost of ownership, more responsibility of technology selection is shifting from information technology (IT) professionals to FP&A teams.
If you are tapped by management, will you be ready to lead a systems deployment?
Making decisions on systems
Here are six guidelines to ensure you are doing right by your organization and finance team when making a systems decision that can have massive implications to your business performance in terms of speed, accuracy, and productivity.
What features and functionality do you really need? It is important before talking to technology vendors to have documented your business requirements and prioritized what the “must haves” are for your organization. No technology provider can meet all your requirements within your budget.
Features like machine learning, configurable calculations, and customized color palettes will cost more than predictive analytics, run-rate formulas, and standard color schemas. Who wouldn’t want machine learning? But does your organization really need machine learning at this time, and how much will it cost? While it is important to ensure you do not quickly outgrow your systems purchase, the purchase you are making is to meet today’s needs.
Business requirements captured in a request for proposal (RFP) that is shared with each technology vendor will not only keep sales teams honest in what they demo to you, but it also will serve as a reminder to you and your team what you really need for your finance organization. Before engaging with any technology provider, lock down your business requirements and priorities in an RFP.
Did you do your research? It is a good idea to leverage technology experts and their evaluations of financial systems before making a purchase decision that will impact your financial planning. Gartner and Forrester Research, for a nominal fee, each have an abundance of literature on different technology vendors. Check out Gartner’s Magic Quadrant reports for your desired technology solution, or Forrester’s Wave reports. Also, both Gartner Peer Insights and TrustRadius collect online feedback from customers on various technology vendors. Finally, you can solicit FP&A professionals on AFP Collaborate for candid feedback.
Do you trust the sales team? When you make a systems purchase, you are putting your badge on the line. Ensure the vendor’s sales and services teams will be there to support you. If you feel like the relationship is rocky, do not hesitate to let a technology vendor know you want a new sales team. Your sales team should make you comfortable that the technology can meet your RFP requirements, and the services team has the subject matter expertise to deploy what your organization needs. The people behind the technology are as important as the system itself.
Did you look under the hood? Your CFO will ask you if you are confident you made the best decision for your organization. To ensure this, you must look under the hood when buying a technology solution. Here’s why: Sales teams often rely on what the industry calls “click through demos”. The demo is a simulated instance and limits your ability to envision how your organization would leverage the system. Proofs of concept (POCs), hands-on workshops, and trial access allow you to have confidence that the financial system will work for your organization.
Do you have all the stakeholders helping with your purchase decision? Buying technology is a team sport. When evaluating financial system, there are two critical internal teams to involve: IT and procurement. The IT team has a technical expertise to ask questions you may not be equipped to ask. Data integration options, penetration testing scores, SOX compliance certifications, and provisioning governance are topics to leave to your IT team. The procurement team reduces the risk for the technology buyer and can review all the legal documents, including order schedules, master agreements, and pricing documents. Procurement also can step in to help negotiate a better deal based on prior negotiations with other vendors at your organization.
Do you understand the total operational costs? Before you drive the car off the lot, you ask about ongoing maintenance because it is important to understand future costs. As an FP&A professional, you will need to budget for additional costs after your systems go live. Be sure to ask the sales team about those additional costs.
Your first technology purchase may seem daunting. After all, FP&A professionals are not formally trained in purchasing technology. However, with the tips above, you will feel confident that you are driving off with a high-performing finance system that meets your budget and requirements, and not a lemon for your organization.
Meredith Hobik is a hyper-growth finance transformation evangelist. She is a former director with Anaplan and Salesforce. Reach her at Meredith.firstname.lastname@example.org.