Whilst attending Finovate earlier this month, I noticed a lot of focus on consumers, as companies considered how to make previously tedious tasks simple for end users. Despite this, I couldn’t see how the back-office processes behind these offerings were being made any easier – it seems like the hard work behind the scenes still isn’t streamlined.
Although it was exciting to see how the future of Fintech is taking off rapidly, there must have been someone in the room who was wishing that their job of modeling the growth of these new technologies, sales and investments could be made easier?
As Greg Palmer said in his opening remarks – Fintech really is global (Region). Not only this, but the companies going through the launch process of either a new app or service offering, would have had to look at the timescales and finances against this to ensure success (Time). Additionally, there usually isn’t one idea on the table in development meetings – it’s usual for several variances to be considered (Products). It’s also likely many of these variables were backed by teams, external consultants or even investors (Personnel). When you then take a deeper look at the finances of the launch, including the income required to become profitable; the cost of sale; your outgoings and many more (Line Items), you can be faced with quite a complex array of scenarios.
The words in italics are not mistakes or even notes to remind me what to write. I wanted to highlight the fact the world we live in consists of many dimensions. There is huge complexity when putting these factors into a financial model using a traditional spreadsheet. Notice how, even with what could look like a simple project, I have easily outlined five dimensions of the model.
I believe that Quantrix really could be the missing puzzle piece for many innovative companies, like those who attended Finovate. Quantrix helps simplify, accelerate and perfect the modeling process behind the scenes as well as creating ‘what-if’ type analyses. Because modeling is now very multi-dimensional, we must adapt to the requirements of our users to make their lives easier. After all, who doesn’t want that?
If you want your modeling processes to be best-in-class, download a free 30-day free trial and explore the benefits of Quantrix Modeler or get in touch.
We are always amazed and gratified by our customers’ passion for Quantrix Modeler, but Rich Lopez has taken it to the next level. By day, he works in the finance department of Litehouse Foods, but by night he is YouTube star The Quantrix Authority. His series of three- to five-minute-long how-to videos helps others get the most out of using Quantrix’s multidimensional modeling software, from learning how to snap two matrices horizontally to a canvas, to the benefits of using Timeline for recursion in a model.
How did you get started with Quantrix?
I was introduced to Quantrix when I worked at clothing retailer Coldwater Creek. I used it to build an allocation tool to manage inventory at our 350+ stores. When I moved to Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division, a co-worker and I built a distribution model to ensure that we were getting the Xboxes and games shipped properly. It was during some of the really big
Microsoft launches, like Halo 4 and Windows 8, so we build scenarios for everything we had to manage during the holiday season. We were able to model it down to the daily levels. Quantrix saved my bacon at that job – I could not have done what we needed without it. Now I use Quantrix for financial modeling and capacity modeling for Litehouse.
What inspired you to start making video tutorials about Quantrix Modeler?
I leaned a lot about using Excel from a guy on YouTube called MrExcel. Bill Jelen has more than a thousand videos, and I used to watch him every day. I am a pretty advanced Excel user, but I love Quantrix more. After seeing what MrExcel has done, and seeing how his expertise helped me, I thought I could do something similar to help others with this fantastic software.
How do you choose the topics?
My first video was about the first feature I learned in Quantrix – “Using As.” My mentor taught me that when I started at Coldwater Creek, and it’s basic functionality in Quantrix. Some people at my company are struggling to use certain features of our Quantrix Models, so I’m starting to create videos on topics that will help them.
Who are you targeting?
I am pretty much reaching out to beginners and intermediate users. I am very open to questions – after my second video, I got an email from a Quantrix user in the Ukraine. Just this week someone asked me about using DataLink with .csv files, so I made that video. Whenever someone asks me a question, I try to answer it.
How many videos do you plan to make?
MrExcel has more than 1,000 videos and a forum that everyone knows. I have eight videos online now, and if I get to 100, I know I will have really accomplished something.
I’m following you on Twitter. How famous are you?
Ha ha! On a scale of one to ten, I am probably a “one” in real life. But in the Quantrix world, I hope to one day be about an eight! I am having fun with the videos, and with my Twitter account (@QuantrixAuthor). I have legitimate Quantrix users following me, and I feel like I am rubbing shoulders with some real legends. Some of these people are such power users, and they are telling me to keep making videos. Their feedback is so positive, and it’s great.
Final question – what was your “aha” moment using Quantrix?
It happened at Microsoft. I remember being called into a room by eight managers and having them tell me they needed some specific information, and they wanted it in three days. It could not be done in Excel, so we just pounded out a model in Quantrix. I stayed up until two in the morning a couple of nights, but I developed a model where if the managers wanted to add another distribution center, product line, or launch scenario they just could select a category and hit “enter”. That was it. And I realized then and there that Quantrix Modeler was the coolest tool that has ever been made. Quantrix Forever!
James Kipling started his professional career at IDBS, which develops advanced software for research and development and also is the parent company of Quantrix. When assigned the task of developing a performance management tool, he immediately decided to use Quantrix Modeler for the project. He became as hooked as many of Quantrix’s other customers, and recently joined the Quantrix product management team. Following are some insights from James.
Tell us a little bit about your history with IDBS.
I started working summers while I was at university. I was a software tester, and then worked on the Help Desk. That was a great experience, and really helped me understand our customers. When I graduated, I was assigned to Operations, and worked on our Balanced Scorecard Project.
What did that involve?
A Balanced Scorecard is basically a way for a company to measure its performance and trend it between periods. We are developing our Scorecard to measure metrics such as revenue, profit, customer satisfaction, adherence to forecasted product release dates, and more. We will use it for performance management for IDBS and our subsidiaries around the world. I knew this would be a project that Quantrix Modeler was perfect for.
How did Quantrix perform?
We are still in the process of refining it, but once it’s fully linked to our support systems and data sources, it will be a completely automated system. We will be able to get an instant update about anything happening in our business – this process used to take us a full month just to pull the data together.
Like many Quantrix users, we had multiple iterations of Excel models around the business. Marketing had one version, corporate had another – it was a challenge to determine who had the right number. We needed a single model that accessed the right information, but that could provide different views. This is where Quantrix excels – we can trend metrics over time, and generate views very quickly. This will become our single source of truth for metrics.
I bet your Quantrix skills are pretty good now.
I would say that I am now a Quantrix power user! I was invited to speak at the annual customer event, Seminar by the Sea, in Portland, Maine last fall about my work on this project. It was great to be surrounded by people who love Quantrix as much as I do.
How else have you used Quantrix?
When I moved into sales operations at IDBS, I used Quantrix for sales forecasting, pipeline analysis, and to evaluate sales opportunities across multiple regions. After using Quantrix so much, I really aspired to be on the Quantrix team. When I had the opportunity to join the product management team, I jumped on it.
What does the new position entail?
I’m working with the desktop software development team as the voice of the user. My job is to listen to customers, learn what they need and want, shape the feedback, and relay that back to the team. My aim is to help the team bring out high-quality features that will help our existing and prospective customers get the most out of Quantrix.
How has this played out with the team?
I have had so many interesting conversations with the team about how customers use certain features. One example is the Dependency Inspector – it was created primarily as a debugging tool and of course it works great as that. But our customers also use it to query how a number is generated within Quantrix. Executives can click on a number and find out its sources and how the final number is calculated. That’s just one interesting way that I can bring the customer’s voice to the table when it comes to design and development – I think it will really help us make even higher quality products.
You’re splitting your time between the UK and the States for this role – what do you do in your spare time other than trying to get some sleep at 35,000 feet.
I have done a lot of offshore sailing, and would like to get back into that. But I’d also call myself a foodie – Portland, Maine is one of the foodiest cities in America, so I’m looking forward to working my way through the more than 200 restaurants here.
Essla International is a Quantrix partner, and recently started using the business modeling solution to help its clients with budgeting and financial forecasting. At the 2014 Seminar by the Sea, Ernesto Seijas took some time to share his experiences using Quantrix.
The company had several criteria in mind when it was looking for a new software solution, including connectivity to databases, the ability to manage a lot of data, and multidimensional views and found Quantrix to be the best solution.
In addition to meeting everything on the company’s wish list, Quantrix offered a more collaborative environment. “We can have 20, 30, 50 users inputting data – that’s a major difference,” says Seijas. Other benefits include the speed of calculation and reporting.
Seijas also likes Quantrix’s graphical canvas, as it enables him to display what-if scenarios in a dynamic presentation. This capability enhances the impact of Essla’s work, particularly when sharing with management or company boards.
“Quantrix has the best of many of the software [packages] in the market,” says Seijas. “You have the multidimensional approach. You have the data gathering and databases. And you have the reporting and the [fast] calculations.”
The Quantrix team is energized after hosting our customers from around the world at our eighth annual Seminar by the Sea. This event, held in our headquarters city of Portland, Maine, gives us a chance to connect more closely with our customers, from Fortune 500 companies to small business owners. We shared information about our products, services, and company outlook, but more importantly, we got the chance to learn from our customers about how they are using Quantrix products in their environment. Plus, we managed to have some time to relax and network on an informal basis. Following are some of the highlights of this year’s event:
Quantrix beginners had their own track of sessions that introduced them to the product and the essentials of model building. They also learned how to structure logic, formulas, and function as well as understand the presentation tools of Quantrix. Other introductory sessions included basics that every Quantrix user should know, including the sample model library and the support portal, and how to build dynamic presentation canvasses.
Advanced users participated in hands-on sessions to explore features such as DataLink, DataNAV, and DataPush and to learn new skills such as building scorecard models. The final day of the seminar included a full day scripting workshop, where customers brought their own scripts in to be reviewed by the Quantrix team.
Other sessions were conducted for the full group, including those that spelled out the Quantrix road map, introduced some upcoming product features and brainstorms around future product features, and shared best practices in model performance and scalability.
As always, among the most popular sessions of the Seminar were the presentations from customers. This year’s presenters included Charity Hegel, Kim Oleson, Derek Christensen, Matt Burrows, and Rich Lopez from Litehouse; Christie Kent from Lipkie Consulting; and George Pappas from MotionSoft. These people shared information about their models and how they use them within their companies, and answered questions from the audience. They were all great about continuing to answer questions during the networking times, as well – everyone wanted to learn more about these advanced implementations.
As in years past, we dedicated a block of time for one-on-one consulting sessions with members of our team. This year, the sessions were completely booked up almost immediately after we announced them – we were really excited that so many of our customers took advantage of this opportunity.
We had some great evening activities as well, including a sail on an historic schooner in Casco Bay. We’re not sure which was more popular – the gorgeous view of Casco Bay and its islands and the dramatic sunset sky, or the lobster dinner. People “from away” were excited to see the buffet piled high, and to grab a second (or third!) lobster.
The event was a success for Quantrix, but the true measure is when it’s a success for our customers. As one attendee said on the evaluation form, “I think Quantrix is the best kept secret in business modeling. At the networking session I was pleased with people speaking with as much passion about the product as I have.”
We thank everyone for attending. If you didn’t get a chance to come to this year’s event, we hope you can join us for next year’s event. Just watch this space, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be included on the list for when we announce the dates.
A lot of companies use spreadsheets – they’re cheap, relatively easy to use, and are standalone apps for the desktop. But any organization relying on spreadsheets for financial planning should read the recent research report from Nick Castellina at Aberdeen Group (Beyond Spreadsheets: The Next Level in Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting). This report calls out something that is no surprise to us at Quantrix: top-performing organizations take a “beyond spreadsheets” approach to budgeting, forecasting, and planning.
In addition to security, challenges with version control, and problems accessing data, spreadsheets simply aren’t as nimble and agile as most businesses need for decision-making. Aberdeen’s research finds that organizations that use a beyond-spreadsheets approach are more than twice as likely to have real-time updates to financial metrics. They can better track performance against budget on an ongoing basis, and they can reforecast as market conditions change.
The report calls out one of the strengths of Quantrix – the ability to create “what-if” scenarios. Those who can generate scenarios can create more informed plans, and set contingencies for certain events. Moving beyond spreadsheets enables organizations to make adjustments to the business that improve productivity, revenue, and operating margins.
In all, organizations that Aberdeen defines as “best in class” are 71% more likely to take a “beyond spreadsheet” approach to financial planning.
To that, we say “amen” – and recommend that anyone relying on spreadsheets alone check out Quantrix. We’d love to help you become best-in-class!
One thing I love to do with my family is to go Alpine skiing. With Quantrix’s HQ in Maine, we can take advantage of some great ski areas. Each year we make a point to ski Sugarloaf, Mt. Abram, Black Mountain of Maine and Shawnee Peak. I even maintain a personal ski blog about our family skiing adventures. Our favorite mountain and where we have a season pass every year is Saddleback located in Rangeley, Maine.
Each year about this time, ski areas offer “Early-Bird” pricing on next year’s season pass. The analysis for buying a season’s pass is very multi-dimensional. There is season pass price, purchase time deadlines, age level of passes, day ticket prices and the question of “How many ski-days does it take to pay off a season pass?” And of course I use Quantrix Modeler and the Quantrix Qloud to do this analysis.
With the first purchase deadline approaching, I put a model together quickly with one formula driving the entire calculation. The model is expandable so when new season pass deadline comes, I can easily expand the dimension, add the new pricing figures and the model will just… work. No formula editing or copying and pasting things around. There is also a nice canvas I built to show the model results that has links to the Saddleback website. I use a picture of my son skiing as the canvas image background.
While we market Quantrix as a tool for business, it certainly has many personal finance applications as well.
Mike Salisbury is the Sr. Product Manager for Quantrix. In his free time in the winter you can find him somewhere on a ski slope.
Many people purchase Quantrix because they are looking for a tool that can delve more deeply into their data than typical spreadsheet solutions. One of the important capabilities that Quantrix delivers is its ability to model complex information relationships in multiple dimensions. At Quantrix’s 2014 Seminar by the Sea, VC-affiliated Software Executive, George Pappas shared how he uses Quantrix to provide in-depth analytical insight to help high-growth companies succeed. Following is a discussion with him about his use of Quantrix.
Why do you use Quantrix?
I work with venture-capital-backed companies to help them get to the next stage of their evolution. As a member of The Edison Venture Partners Director’s Network, I have observed similar patterns of complexity challenges across their portfolio companies. The need to analyze activities and behaviors that drive financial results requires more modeling power than the spreadsheet metaphor. Quantrix is a superior tool for modeling that lets me do things that are too rudimentary in Excel.
You work with software companies that either use or want to migrate to a software-as-a-service model. What challenges does that bring?
Rather than getting licensing revenues up front, companies get a monthly subscription fee. It’s a very challenging business model if you have a complex product. The cost of building and implementing a SaaS customer is complex, so you have the same cost as for a customer purchasing a license, but much less up-front revenue and cash, so you have to be careful.
What are some of the other common concerns of start-up companies?
When you try to grow fast, the risk goes up. And the team has to grow from doing things themselves to managing things, and that brings a lot of complexity. There are so many challenges, really, and people tend to make emotional rather than objective decisions. They also tend to make their models match their expectations. But really, the levers that drive results are too complicated in most cases to model in a program like Excel. People end up simplifying their assumptions and inputs to their model to drive what they expect will be the financial results, such as, it will take us one month to get five new customers. This happens not just because the finance person might not understand the detailed sales process and key drivers, but also because they are not comfortable in using Excel to model the assumptions that drive the results.
So, tools can be a barrier to insight?
The problem is not modeling financials; it’s modeling the activities that drive the financial result in a way that is rich enough to test your assumptions. I spend a lot of time working with the CFOs at companies, and asking them about their financial and operating models. How much expense does it really take to implement a customer? How long does it take? What resources do we need, and how much do they cost? You need a modeling tool that can describe in a rich way the activities that you need to drive the outcomes that you want and validate the model by seeing the results in multiple perspectives simultaneously; that is where Quantrix’s multi-dimensionality is so valuable. Excel offers a flat, two-dimensional perspective with simplified assumptions. But you can get something much richer and more adaptable with Quantrix.
Give us an example.
Ok, one of my companies developed assumptions for new customer growth including the sales cycle, close rate, deployment time, and economics.
The next step was to dig into that, and find out what it meant. Take a look at the next figure – this is a flattened Excel view of the sales booking of these new customers, and the assumptions seem reasonable.
But then you look at the next figure. This is a multidimensional Quantrix model that shows the reality: if you sell this way, and your deployment time is as predicted, then you have to be prepared to handle rolling out 70 locations in one month at peak load and staffing.
That’s the difference between two-dimensional Excel models and multidimensional Quantrix models – you get information you need to do something meaningful, or make a different choice. These are things that most people understand intuitively, but seeing the cascading effects of modeling assumptions is invaluable.
What often happens with planning is that your assumptions seem right, but when you add them up together, you see that something is not working. By modeling more richly, you can see what will really happen after calculating in all of the dependencies. With Quantrix, you can see the problems clearly before they happen. That’s a big-time selling point over Excel.
How did your client react to that information?
We changed the professional services staffing, and we adjusted compensation sales goals. We did some rethinking on our sales strategy and plans. By using Quantrix, we were able to see the impact of certain assumptions, and get a real picture of our risk. It’s all about risk and execution, and being able to model more richly in Quantrix, we were able to adjust.
Where should new Quantrix users start when they begin to model?
Given the things that Quantrix does well – multidimensional analysis, and ripping things apart and calculating on baseline data – people should try to really understand what’s going on with their customers, activities and the revenue they generate. That’s something most companies have a poor understanding of. Every business cares about revenue, so this is a good place to start with Quantrix.
Quantrix periodically surveys customers to discover trends in business and finance, and the most recent edition of our Business Planning Survey uncovered some distinct challenges in the profession.
Challenges with tool sets: Many users who must interpret data from a variety of model sources, including spreadsheets, listed deciphering model formulas as a top challenge. They also noted how difficult it was to find an efficient way to get data into a model.
Challenges with information: Few models are created using information and data from one source, so it is no surprise that users cited the problems of getting timely and comprehensive data as a top information challenge.
Challenges with collaboration: Most models are developed to provide insight to numerous members of the team. Yet business and finance professionals cited access as a top challenge – they need tools that enable simultaneous access to multiple users. Version control was another top challenge, citing difficulties of reconciling models that are passed around for input.
These challenges are legitimate – it’s difficult to make business decisions when you can’t figure out how data within a model is calculated, or when you’re not sure if you have the right version of a model. But none are insurmountable. All of these challenges can be solved with modern toolsets. Quantrix Modeler, for example, uses natural language formulas that are visible simply by clicking within the model. It tracks versions easily, and also “rolls up” multiple models into a concise, easy-to-understand consolidated model. Additionally, you can easily share your models with others in your organization via the interactive web enabled Quantrix Qloud.
The real challenge isn’t the lack of availability of the right tool sets, it’s the fact that too many organizations are reluctant to break away from the tools that they have outgrown. Inertia can be a powerful force, but we’ve seen the results that multiple customers have achieved when they deploy Quantrix. A business professional will use Quantrix for a limited purpose or within a single division, and when he or she shares models with others in the company, they quickly understand the benefits of a better modeling solution. Many Quantrix sales start out small, but quickly become enterprise deployments
I’ve spoken with many finance executives over the years and a question often comes up – how do I motivate the spreadsheet gurus in our company to embrace a different tool for financial modeling? This kind of question is not unique to Quantrix; it is often the case in any implementation of new software that people express some reluctance to taking the time to learn a new skill. One of the reasons in our particular domain is that many individuals who have gained mastery in spreadsheets feel that part of the value they provide to their company is being the “go-to” person whenever anyone has a question about how to do something. They have spent many years learning how to make spreadsheets do things they weren’t necessarily designed to do. However, in my experience, most of these spreadsheet gurus catch on to Quantrix Modeler in very short order. When they begin to use Quantrix, a light often goes off in their heads with the realization that they can do their tasks with much more speed, nimbleness and accuracy than they could have with the spreadsheet. In a real and tangible way, they are able to take their financial modeling skills to a new level and offer even greater value to their organization. That is a great motivating factor! On an organizational level, this is a major benefit to finance executives who are asked to make their teams more productive with fewer resources and is one of the key reasons they come to Quantrix. On an individual level, proficiency in Quantrix Modeler is a desired skill in the marketplace. Quantrix has over 1000 customers in 50 countries and we are often asked to refer individuals to employers who are looking for talent. So, investing the time to develop Quantrix skills will pay dividends in one’s career. For those who use LinkedIn, I highly recommend adding Quantrix Modeler to your skills in your profile. Simply log in to LinkedIn, go to Profile|Edit Profile, scroll down to Skills and Expertise, click Edit (blue pen icon), and type “Quantrix Modeler”. Then hit the Add button. You never know where your Quantrix Modeler skills will take you!