Sophisticated IT systems that put finance before technology
There is no doubt that technology has changed the face of finance in recent years and it will continue to do so, but there are some who question just how effective IT has been in helping finance directors to overcome the biggest challenges. Improving efficiency and giving decision-makers a better view of their business requires much more than just speeding up the familiar financial processes.
Giving finance directors and their teams the IT tools to make better decisions and do their jobs more effectively may require a new way of thinking. For LucaNet, it means addressing the age-old challenges of finance by developing a solution that has grown from a finance perspective rather than an IT one.
"I'm an accountant, though I have been working in the technology space since the 1990s. The core responsibilities of the finance team - management accounting, reporting, planning - are still there, despite the advances in technology," says Gavin Allen, managing director UK and Ireland at LucaNet.
"In some cases, technology has exacerbated the problems with those processes. We aim to make the day-to-day tasks as simple as possible, which is not just about doing the same things faster. Finance directors really want a holistic view of cash flow and we want to help them work more effectively, while recognising that the day job of the finance professional has not changed."
Having started out as a consulting company, LucaNet soon developed an in-depth understanding of the need for supportive accountancy software solutions, and of the weaknesses of the systems that were on the market. It focused its efforts on creating a completely integrated software solution for consolidation, planning, reporting and analysis. Furthermore, it wanted to create a solution that could be used immediately by people with no prior IT knowledge, which meant focusing on intuitive usability, as well as the latest technologies.
Since 1999, the company has provided financial performance management solutions that are instantly deployable to go along with its consulting services. The LucaNet platform provides built-in financial intelligence and its latest iteration - LucaNet 10 - includes many new features that will increase the efficiency of financial processes.
The name of the company comes from an Italian mathematician born in the 14th century - Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli - who was a founding father of the accounting industry. He was the first in Europe to publish a work on the double-entry bookkeeping system and this is how his legacy has permeated LucaNet.
"LucaNet is designed as a double-entry performance management platform. For every debit, there is a credit. So when you book a sale, the system looks at the impact on factors such as cash flow. We want to give finance people of all levels a full line of sight of the financial picture within the organisation, in four clicks of a mouse. The solution is designed to be simply intelligent, and it makes complex tasks and processes simple. Financial consolidation, planning, budgeting and forecasting is possible in such a way that the finance team can interact with the system in a simple and transparent way," Allen explains.
Surpassing the spreadsheet
For many organisations, spreadsheets are one of the key tools for financial processes, but Allen believes that they could be limiting companies' ability to improve financial processes.
"Spreadsheets are one of the biggest competitors to LucaNet. They are used every day, but they are not the best option for processing information. They are good for presenting and visualising data in a certain way, but they are not so good for calculation. Nine out of ten businesses use spreadsheets for core finance functions, which means the software is being pushed beyond its means," says Allen.
The problems with spreadsheets are numerous. Firstly, a spreadsheet is not a database, so should not be used as such. Secondly, there are often questions over the accuracy of the data they contain, and problems with determining whether you are using the right version of the data. Scalability is another issue, and often people may not be viewing the same version of the data. There are also security risks with replicating a spreadsheet hundreds or thousands of times. A platform such as LucaNet can solve these problems and deliver time savings and improved agility.
"There are so many reasons why C-level executives move away from spreadsheets for financial management. The industry is awash with technology and all vendors do things differently, so when those executives look for a new solution, they need to ensure they make the right choice. What makes LucaNet unique is that we do finance - our three founding fathers were all ex-auditors - so we focus on the challenges faced by the finance team, rather than looking at the technology first," Allen explains.
"That is why we have double-entry techniques and customisable workflows to control people and processes. There are real-time platforms out there, but we have been doing that from the very start, so we have many years of experience in making it work. The solution provides groundbreaking capability at the click of a mouse, with intuitive interaction and an understanding at its core that any sale booked will affect projected cash flow."
Double-entry, in-memory computing logic, and the ability to get the data into the system quickly using pre-built data connectors, means that LucaNet gives companies powerful technology without the complexity of installation and data migration.
"Technology is great but finance people understand finance - they don't want IT jargon. Here at LucaNet, we are all finance people," says Allen. "We help our clients to move on from a scenario where they are drowning in spreadsheets, but without a massive IT implementation programme. The holy grail for the finance team is to go from an environment dominated by Excel to a platform that is transparent and intuitive, without man-months or man-years of implementation work."
Allen continues, "It is an out-of-the-box solution and another key factor is that our clients do it, not us. This is because they are in charge of the process from day one. They understand the forgotten arts of finance and they still need to get the books closed on time. They may have an ERP system running - and while that is a great system of record, consolidation is about more than adding up the numbers. We put them in charge so that they can plan P&L, and see any impact without the cost and time of building a planning engine. Also, we don't control how the data is visualised; we do the data consolidation so that our clients can use whatever graphical interpretation of that data they want. LucaNet is agile, flexible and quick to implement."
Today, LucaNet has an international presence - in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, France, China, Singapore and the US. It has handled successful implementations at big companies such as Leica, Toshiba and Condor. Recently, it was engaged by a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company in the UK to consolidate its management reporting processes. Yet its capabilities extend far beyond that space. Three years ago, the LucaNet solution was adopted by a multinational company that had recently installed a new ERP system, but saw a lot of complexity in its consolidation processes. From the initial implementation, the solution was extended to handle project-based planning and, later, personnel planning at the level of individual employees.
"We do the finance piece, which is our core competency, but we can then extend into operational planning - all within our core system," says Allen. "With our client list, our track record of success, and the fact that we have more than 250 employees and more than 1,700 customers, you may ask why people have not heard of us. The answer is that we are only now focusing on building our brand. Until now, we have focused on showing people what we can do rather than just making promises. We offer a 100% money-back guarantee on implementation and we have never had to use it."