ACL VP Operations Jose Aleman shares his journey creating a corporate crystal ball
Last week at our annual sales kick-off event, ACL’s CEO Laurie Schultz flatteringly (and, frankly, a bit embarrassingly) called me out in front of the whole company as the most “sought after” ACLer. Given that our company’s vision is to create “a world where GRC professionals are an organization’s most sought after people” and that my use of ACL’s gear is what has driven this perception, I thought it was appropriate to write a series of short posts to share my personal “journey” to being sought after within ACL—and describe some of the cool applications that my sales operations and services operations teams and I have developed to generate insights about our business.
Looking back at where we started
I joined ACL just over two years ago, at a time when the organization was getting ready to pull the trigger on the biggest business transformation project on the company’s illustrious 25-year history: moving from a mostly on-premise, perpetual software company to a mostly cloud, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) operation. By the time I joined, most of the heavy lifting had been taken care of by really smart people in our Product Management, R&D and IT departments, so my involvement at that stage was really just about coordinating “last mile” efforts around communication, training and process changes.
Where do you go when you’ve pushed Excel and Salesforce reports and dashboards to the limit?
Things started heating up for me in August 2015, the start of our very first fiscal year operating as a SaaS company. We had set ourselves a very aggressive target of converting 80% of our customers to a subscription model during that first year (industry benchmark is around 40%) and we were very interested in tracking progress by geography, team and month. So, I developed a set of reports and dashboards in Salesforce.com that proved really useful in illuminating what was going on, and helped us “predict the future” by identifying patterns that could be extrapolated with some degree of confidence.
As anyone who has worked on any BI initiative knows, answering questions often results in more questions being asked—so from that initial well-defined reporting project, I got more and more involved in other aspects of corporate performance management (CPM). This involved several data sources, which my team and I cobbled together in increasingly complex macro-enabled Excel spreadsheets.
By now I was somewhat aware of what our own software could do in theory, but beyond the initial training I did during my orientation week I had never actually dug into the functionality as I had convinced myself I had what seemed to be the perfect excuse:
“ACL is for analyzing on-premise financial systems, not for cloud data.”
Boy was I wrong!
Looking ahead at our future: My lightbulb moment
Credit goes to ACL’s Manager of Content Solutions, Phil Lim, for literally changing my life during a one-hour lunch-and-learn session. Over pizza (maybe the main reason I showed up?), he demonstrated a few basic ACL commands using our own Salesforce.com customer data as an example—and this is what turned on the lights for me.
We were reaching the limit of what Salesforce.com reporting could do “out of the box.” My epiphany: Combining our CRM data with other sources (Financials and Project Management) for analysis in the ACL platform opened up massive opportunities for providing insight into our business. I was hooked.
Turning a light bulb moment into a corporate crystal ball
The next step on my journey was realizing that I could use a data connector that would provide an ODBC connection into Salesforce’s database. This translated into the ability to query and process our data hourly through an AX server that we quickly set up in a virtual machine, providing near real-time insights.
This might not seem like a big deal at first, but it massively amplified the value of everything we built: Not only were our reports showing side-by-side data from systems that have never before been joined—but now it was doing it at a pace and frequency that enabled management to check the business’ key indicators in time to actually do something that would affect the end of period outcome.
This. Is. Huge. We call it our “crystal ball.”
I have spent my entire professional life working with data: from designing and implementing custom business systems, CRM system management implementations and migrations, all aspects of Business Intelligence ranging from Excel (remember the good old days when it was limited to 65,536 rows?), to Crystal Reports, SQL Cubes, SSIS and Enterprise platforms like Business Objects or Cognos. In all this time, I’ve never used software that delivered so much value, so quickly, and with this amount of flexibility and insight.
It has been just over a year since that fateful “lunch and learn,” and my—and my operations team’s—work has been completely transformed to the point where we cannot imagine doing our jobs without the ACL platform.