Many software products have been touted as user-friendly, yet live up to that claim only if the "user" happens to be a crack code-writer in the IT department. That can be particularly frustrating for finance staffers, who face increasing pressure to produce financial statements and other reports more quickly than ever.
A new application from Cetova Corp. may help. Dubbed "C-FAR," the software reaches into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and plucks numbers directly from the database, rather than relying on a data warehouse or similar middle layer. Perhaps more important, it uses an Excel-like interface and drag-and-drop functionality that allows a user to create reports without needing to learn a query language or endure a multistep "iterative" process that so often prompts users to abandon their attempts at self-sufficiency.
At LVMH Fashion Group Americas, which comprises Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Fendi, and other high-end designer brands, a joint search by the company's CIO, Carol Knouse, and corporate controller Michael Helmstetter led to Cetova. "We needed a way to pull data from our J.D. Edwards ERP system," says Knouse, "and we were attracted to Cetova because of its fast implementation and true user-friendliness." The report-writing capabilities inherent in the ERP system were tough to use, Knouse says, and while makers of business-intelligence software provided options, they were expensive and not very flexible.
A pilot project showed that users needed only two days of training to get up to speed. The pilot itself was implemented in less than a month, including some consulting help from Cetova to establish the hierarchical structure against which reports are run.
Brian O'Kelley, executive vice president at Cetova, says that a reduction in manual labor and the errors that can creep in as a result are also selling points. "Many people re-key data from ERP systems into Excel spreadsheets," he says, "then play with the numbers before passing them up the food chain. At each level, mistakes can be made."
Cetova is a new company and faces plenty of competition, notably from FRx Software Corp., now a division of Microsoft, and from business intelligence and budgeting-software firms like Cognos Inc., Hyperion Solutions Corp., and others. To date, C-FAR integrates seamlessly with J.D. Edwards & Co.'s ERP systems, and will do so with other major brands of ERP by the end of the year. In fact, LVMH expects to work closely with Cetova to help shape the budgeting software.
Price varies, but software analyst Tom Cook of Hurwitz Group Inc. estimates that a typical enterprise will spend about $100,000.