REVIEWER: Robert Sindler, senior financial analyst at Check Into Cash.

BACKGROUND: Check Into Cash serves mainstream and underbanked consumers by providing specialized financial services, such as payday advances, short-term loans and check cashing. Check Into Cash, headquartered in Cleveland, Tenn., went from 360 store locations in 1999 to 1,100 in 2010. It operates in 30 states and employs more than 3,000 people.

PLATFORMS: Host Analytics is a software as a service solution, which allows Check Into Cash freedom from investing in or being tied to a platform. We’re able to access the secure site via Web browsers from any location with an Internet connection.

PROBLEM SOLVED: For years, our corporate finance department handled all budgeting, annually reviewing with regional managers the expectations and sending Excel spreadsheets with which to manage their planned spending. There were numerous drawbacks to this process. It took our small finance staff months to prepare a new annual budget. Spreadsheets weren’t integrated with systems at headquarters, and updating with current data was nearly impossible. Executives needed detailed information to make critical decisions. However, we couldn’t get timely performance reports into the budget process. We kept adding stores and services, and it was apparent that this inflexible process would become unsustainable.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We’ve replaced spreadsheets with Host Analytics Budget, which enables us to increase the interaction with the entire management team. Executives can see the effects of decisions regarding expectations, resources and products, making budgets more accurate. We now make fact-based decisions and see potential issues during the process. If the cumulative effect of changes in expenses and income, combined with operations-specific knowledge of personnel and the local market, create an unsustainable or marginally profitable location, we can move to modify the store or plan an exit of the market. This has changed the budgeting process from a “dreaded accounting requirement” to a productive planning exercise. Managers aren’t stuck doing budgeting, but can focus on operating our stores.

STRENGTHS: The familiar Excel-like user interface allowed us to begin using Host Analytics Budget quickly, and it was easy to create new templates that resembled the old ones. We depend on the central database to ensure consistent, accurate data. Host Analytics allows us to do more than just gather our data; we’re able to make it actionable. We “slice and dice” the data in our Host Analytics system and easily combine it with myriad data from HR to marketing to leasing. The biggest strength of Host Analytics is its implementation of SaaS, which allows our dispersed users at more than 1,000 locations to access the system through a Web browser no matter where they are. Additionally, the flexibility of Host Analytics Budget helps decision-makers understand all options from various perspectives. We look at our business in all sorts of ways – by product, state, marketing area or branch operations versus online operations. We’re able to do analytics and reports that weren’t possible when using Excel.

WEAKNESSES: The ability of the software to be dynamic enough for most users tends to make it seem complex and intimidating at first glance. However, this is easily overcome once you work with it. The system virtually eliminates this drawback for our users with the security settings, which can hide options by user. The user interface can initially seem less than obvious considering what people have come to expect in this age of Web and apps, but it’s a real workhorse. I imagine the GUI will develop quickly, eliminating the only real weakness we have experienced.

SELECTION CRITERIA: In evaluating products, my first requirement combined value and affordability. We had a big company’s complexity but not the budget to invest in a large financial system. Equally important was the ease of adoption; software that people won’t use is no bargain at any price. Host Analytics Budget best met these requirements.

DELIVERABLES: The system’s flexibility lets finance and operations use timely, actual numbers for each of its constituents. Everybody’s individual budgets and reports are tailored to them.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Our support from Host Analytics has been above and beyond our expectations. From implementation, developers, customer reps and tech support have been cooperative, responsive and timely on top of the product knowledge we need and expect.

DOCUMENTATION: A basic contextual help is available online, and the ability to get support for even simple questions along with the documentation make finding the answer to most questions very easy.

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