A conversation with Planful , Image credit Pixabay/GeraltI caught up with Grant Halloran, CEO of Planful, a few days before the annual Perform conference. The last time Halloran and I spoke was in 2021. I started by asking him why Planful is important today.

“Well, regardless of the business conditions you’re operating in, you need to be faster in how you course correct your business. You can’t control all those external factors, regardless of the industry you’re in or the size of the company.

“You need to increase your decision velocity, your financial IQ, and that requires resilient financial performance management systems. Every company in the world needs this system to increase the cycle times, improve the productivity of your finance and accounting folks, and extend this capability across the whole company.

“So you can make better decisions to drive towards your peak financial performance, regardless of your operating conditions.”

Company update

Grant Halloran, CEO Planful
Grant Halloran, CEO Planful

Earlier this year, Planful announced that in 2023 it had increased customer expansion bookings by 26%. International customer expansion bookings rose an impressive 71%. It has also added several new channel partners, including Novus Proximus, Blue Noda, Kloo, Postal, and Elevate IQ. In 2021, Halloran had revealed that this would be a focus. I asked how that and overall growth is going.

“The reseller expansion is going very well. We’re very methodical about that, making sure that it’s not really a volume. It’s more of a quality play for us. We feel like we have good coverage here in North America.”

Halloran is also looking to expand the reseller network in Asia, notably in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Planful is also looking to increase its workforce by 30% in the coming year, from around 400 to 550. Most of those new people are based in the UK and Western Europe, as it plans expansion in this region. It is also seeing growth in South East Asia, notably in Oceania.

Halloran also promoted Steve Walsh to the role of Chief Product Officer this year. I asked Halloran what his focus is at a time when Planful plans to double the size of its product and engineering teams.

“Steve is a domain expert in what we call financial performance management. He has been in the space for 15 years and is a former finance practitioner. I think that is particularly important because, as we are in the relatively early stages of this AI era, I believe that success for our customers will come from how you apply this technology for valuable use cases in your company.

“I wanted a chief product officer who really understood the customer value proposition. To avoid the inevitable issue where technologists might otherwise take control and start to drive the product.

“This is a very exciting time for the technologists and the engineers. They will want to build the cool things that they want to build. We want to make sure that we’re building things that customers actually get a lot of value from.” 

Planful Perform

You are just about to hold the Perform conference next week. What can customers be excited about?

“We have some announcements around the Planful for Workforce, Financial Planning and analytics. This is an area in which every customer has significant headcount costs. We’ve been working with customers around innovations in that area. Innovations that are going to have very sizeable impacts on the ability to manage your workforce costs on a much more frequent basis. They will ultimately save companies quite a bit of money. 

“The second is the AI. More broadly, it’s how Planful views computation and comprehension coming together in the platform. We’ve been very strong with computation. That’s what we do with financial data.

“Adding the new generation of AI capabilities into the platform, we have a big section around the innovations there. We’re pretty excited about that. Then, some announcements that we think will help larger customers with their data pipelines and how they get vast amounts of more data into Planful more easily.”

Looking forward

What do you want to achieve in the next 6 to 12 months?

“It’s all about expansion everywhere for us, but specifically in those markets that we’ve talked about, and bringing on a lot of new people. That’s a pretty big step change in size for us. We’re investing a lot. Our investors are extremely happy with the demand that they’re seeing for our solutions, and our right to win in the market is very strong.

“We feel the economy is resilient, and companies have adjusted to the higher inflationary environment. We believe in the strength of our products and our execution. As I have said to you before, execution is paramount for us.

“The big focus I have personally is on ensuring the great culture we have as a company. We bring in people, ingratiate them into the culture, and ensure that, that culture continues to expand into different pockets of the world that we are operating in. It’s a very exciting time for the company.

“A little counter-cyclical, a lot of SaaS companies are struggling. We feel that in our market and for us specifically, things are on the rise. We’re accelerating our growth this year, and inext year, we expect even higher growth.”

On Artificial Intelligence

What is Planful investing in for its product next?

“A lot of AI stuff. We’re putting a lot of energy into AI. What’s interesting is I think we’re in nascent times for this new technology. The more you think, the more collaborative conversations and the more folks you bring in. We’ve bolstered our visionary team members with some of what I’ve described as unicorn-style people.

“Our eyes just keep being opened to incredible possibilities. I don’t see the new LLM-based AI as a sidecar thing. It’s going to become the default way in which you create not only the functions but the actual user experience. It will take a little bit of time for people to adjust to that, but they will adjust.

“Some single-digit years in the future, all enterprise software will be powered primarily by AI. It will execute many of a company’s low-end and high-end cognition processes. Anything that we’re building, we’re looking at it from an AI-first perspective.”

Is the potential of AI real or overhyped?

“It’s absolutely followed the Gartner hype curve; there’s an inevitability about that. And frankly, no one’s brought out a technology yet where it hasn’t. The issue is that with AI today, most use cases we’ve seen are more probabilistic in their outcomes. When you start to apply this technology in the business settings that we’re talking about, you can’t be probabilistic for a lot of use cases.

“The technology promises to be absolutely game-changing for all aspects of society. If you focus the lens on businesses over the longer term, it will have dramatic effects. But companies need to figure out where they’re going to adopt it, how they’re going to adopt it, and how they will change their organisations.

“That’s the biggest inertia point. There’s a lot of dreaming, and there’s a lot of use-case imagination right now. But how you make that real and a company is going to take a marathon, not a sprint.”

On quantum computing

Is Planful considering the impact of quantum computing?

“It’s not been on my radar for our technology so far. But more broadly, I think that quantum computing has potential alongside AI. Think about it as parallel forces that are changing the possibilities of what compute can do. Quantum computing promises to revolutionise whole industries.

“We’ve been talking about solving massive, seemingly intractable problems at a global society level, cancer and things like that. The Quantum computing revolution, as it starts to make its way further and further into industry, could dramatically accelerate our ability to have those, giant breakthroughs.

“What that means for everyday folks is that industries are going to change. The standard offerings and the impact of offerings that companies will be able to bring out will be so dramatically different to what we’re used to.

“It’s going to make the economic future very, very strong. Now, there will be winners and losers. The companies and countries that are advancing most in quantum computing and artificial intelligence will be the winners here in the next decade or two.”

The book question

What’s the latest book you read, and what is your take out for business from it?

“I’m reading the mysterious case of Rudolph Diesel. (by Douglas Brunt (Amazon Aus, UK, US). It’s incredible. It really parallels what you’re seeing today in terms of the amount of innovation. My takeaway is that we live in this era right now, where we think all the innovation is happening now. This is a multi-layered story. The mysterious case is he died in mysterious circumstances, so part of this book is about solving that mystery.

“From a business perspective, it just opened my eyes up to the incredible innovation that happened in the late 1800s that really changed the world. How many prominent people were involved in that and took massive risks in changing the world with the new technology? It was humbling for us to realise it’s not just this modern IT era where innovators (appear).

“The other takeaway is it’s just a great reminder that one great mind, one single great mind, can change the course of history. That’s never, ever lost on me. It’s so amazing.”


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