A new application designed to streamline the creation of quotes and contracts has piqued the interest of the financial services industry for its ability to use Microsoft Office as a user interface for Enterprise applications, including Excel and Word.
The solution came about when Kirk Krappe, the CEO of Apttus, a company specialized in contract management and CPQ solutions (e.g configure, price, quote), realized the contract process - from quoting to execution - involved several documents, but applications were not document-centric. Some of it might be stored on desktops, cabinets, servers, and proved difficult to collect at moments of need, especially in acquisitions.
"It becomes a big awakening in acquisitions, the CFO finds they never understood the manual side of it," says Krappe. "They can't get a single view of the contracts. Even in Six Sigma organizations you'll find contract process has been forgotten about. It's really startling." Yet these contracts are critical. Part of an acquirer's diligence process is to understand the customer contracts, what they are, the key terms, the risks and liabilities. Without knowing the impact on customers the consequences can be complicated, and costly.
In building a streamlined solution Apttus combines all three contract elements — quoting, contracting and compliance — under one management system, creating a high order of quote-to-cash. "There are people who do just quoting, contracting, compliance, but nobody does all of that except us. The business problem is usually not each one specifically, but really that combination of applications."
Yet the unique aspect, and what Krappe would say is the key to the success, is a background application called X-Author that tracks and compiles all the relevant information from Microsoft Office documents, the most used and understood programs of our time, and ensures that that data automatically goes into an enterprise application.
"We developed and patented a technology to allow a user to stay in Microsoft Office and do the job they need to do," explains Krappe. "We allow you to go directly into a document with full communication from that document to any enterprise application … Think of the document as essentially intelligent. It sees information and pulls it out."
Finance Loves Excel
Interest for X-Author has been all over the map, according to Krappe, whose clients range from airline industries to telecom. Yet the interest from financial services has been wild. Beyond contract services, brokers, for example, are very interested in the back-end capturing of excel quoting.
Simply put, in finance there's a higher degree of people modeling with spreadsheets, and enterprises are interested in keeping their employees and processes in check. As it stands now, usage of excel tools is outside of enterprise oversight; models and budgets may be saved on desktops, shared through e-mails, with multiple users constantly adding to it, perhaps mistyping numbers here and there. "Spreadsheets are a great tool for modeling, but because we have this connection, when someone is in a spreadsheet making changes, our application underneath is aware of what's happening and is capturing all the data."
For example, if someone is doing a budget in a spreadsheet, and types in a number that violates a rule (ex: the budget can't be over $2 million, but the user types $2.2 million) the X-Author app will flash an alert within the spreadsheet that they are over. "Our application is aware of any changes in Microsoft Office document and is telling the user what to do," explains Krappe. "Because people like to use what they're familiar with, i.e. Microsoft Office, Apttus has enabled the user to stay in Microsoft Office but have an enterprise app controlling the behavior of the document, making sure whatever they're doing is under corporate guidance."
There's also a high interest in retail banks due to increased scrutiny, "There's literally hundreds of different people that do different spreadsheet tasks. Banks have big systems in place, and hundreds of sub processes," says Krappe. "At some point, the data within a spreadsheet needs to be entered into a larger system. As awareness has increased, we're seeing more interest in this area."