Why We Turned ‘The Beast’ Into Software

A colleague and I spent nearly a decade building a series of complex Excel workbooks that we affectionately named ‘The Beast’.

The Beast allowed us to create financial forecasts for every aspect of our business, then helped us keep track of how we were performing against those forecasts. Not only could it produce forecasted income and cash statements for years in the future, but it could also tell us things like what type of compensation plan would be more beneficial for a new hire, what the impact would be if we adjusted the pricing of a product, what would happen if we entered a new market, and so on. It enabled us to combine financials with business management to forecast our future.

The Beast, at its best, was pretty incredible — but all spreadsheets are error-prone.

You’re manually keying vast amounts of information into different cells, which comes with the potential for human error. And in this case, many different workbooks were linked together, which meant one fat-fingered, incorrect input could create a string of flaws and result in inaccurate forecasts.

So we had to be very careful with the occasionally ill-tempered Beast.

Sometimes, our spreadsheets contained errors we wouldn’t catch until long after we originally made the mistakes. We’d then find ourselves in a situation where we’d been planning and making decisions based on an inaccurate forecast. So while The Beast was powerful, using it was an imperfect, time-intensive process.

I was spending 30–40 hours a month updating The Beast’s many tabs and worksheets, and our accounting team was spending way more than that. We hated maintaining it, but the data it provided was too valuable to stop.

When I began advising small companies, I realized The Beast’s potential as software.

All these companies needed forecasting tools, so I started implementing different versions of The Beast for them. But then I took a step back and asked myself, “If they all need it, but working with it is such a pain, why not turn it into software?”

That’s how PlaceCPM was born.

CPM stands for corporate performance management, which is a newer term for business intelligence. CPM systems help businesses forecast all sorts of metrics and gauge performance against those forecasts.

Software exists in this space — in fact, we tried it out at my previous company. But we soon found that it was overly complicated and the implementation was a nightmare (plus, it was really expensive). After nine months we ended up scrapping the software completely and going back to spreadsheets. The existing software just isn’t built for small- and medium-sized businesses.

By turning The Beast into software, we were handing these growing businesses the ability to make accurate predictions about their finances and act accordingly.

Here’s how PlaceCPM eliminates the flaws of both the Excel workbook system and other CPM software:

  1. It operates in real-time — rather than having multiple people working on different versions, there’s a single source of truth.

2. It’s easily shareable with internal and external stakeholders.

  • This helps keep managers in the loop, so they can make decisions based on the numbers.

3. You can create visualizations based on the data you gather.

4. It integrates seamlessly with other systems.

  • PlaceCPM has pre-built, bi-directional integrations with all the major accounting systems, HR systems, and operational systems (QuickBooks Online, Xero, Netsuite, etc.).

5. It’s very easy to install and set up. You don’t need a big IT team or expensive consultants to start using it.

6. In the near future, machine learning applied to the software will pay attention to your assumptions and outcomes so it can detect patterns and make recommendations for future decisions. That will take some pressure off leadership to be constantly thinking through the different possible outcomes of a decision.

Here are some interesting PlaceCPM use-case examples.

  • Forecasting cash flow is incredibly important — and incredibly difficult without a tool like this. There are so many different factors to consider, many out of your control. Are clients going to pay their bills on time? Are they going to make full or partial payments? When will you need to pay vendors? What are the terms of these payments? Are you making and receiving payments via credit card or wire transfer from bank accounts? There are so many variables that can affect your cash flow. PlaceCPM can help you account for them.

I can go on and on with use cases, but the problem we’re trying to solve is that businesses need a better view of their current position in relation to where they should be in order to make the right decisions. The more data you have, the better decisions you’ll make. And PlaceCPM can help you aggregate data from every area of your business, then crunch the numbers to project different potential outcomes so you can make the most accurate move possible.

What would take 100+ hours with Excel workbooks takes a few minutes with PlaceCPM.

Dog dad, husband, entrepreneur, investor. www.linkedin.com/in/Metcalf

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