Discover how we manage and structure all our digital tooling in place while keeping the ownership and spending under control.
In recent years, the number of digital tools has risen exponentially. Productivity tools, design tools, CRM platforms, marketing tools, survey tools, analytics tools. Name your problem, and you can bet there’s a tool for it, if not dozens of them! While this smorgasbord of tools can undeniably help us reach new heights of performance, it can also lead to a digital tool overload that can have costly repercussions if left unchecked.
And that’s exactly what happened at November Five. With a total of 84 different tools subscriptions at our peak, and no real structure in place to manage ownership or spending, it was time to bring order to the chaos. Led by our Finance team – who were tired of chasing invoices, deciphering mystery credit card payments, and generally play ‘bad cop’ – we overhauled our processes to bring accountability, transparency and considerable cost savings across the board.
At November Five, resourcefulness is one of our core values. We strongly believe in the power of curiosity, so it’s only normal that our team members are constantly looking for new and better ways of working. And yes, this can translate itself into subscriptions to a wide range of tools.
Our ecosystem of tools is crucial to providing a first-class service to our clients and team members, but the overload was starting to make itself felt in a few different ways.
On the financial side, we no longer had a clear overview of what we were paying for, and whether or not those expenses were justified or even needed at all. Finance Director Ralph Van Tongelen explains, “A few years ago, somebody had the great idea to consolidate all our subscriptions on one credit card. So every month, we used an Excel sheet to divide everything internally”. But reconciling each and every payment manually was hard work – names on the credit card bill didn’t always match up to the tool name, ownership of individual tools was hard to trace or ambiguous, invoices had to be chased up and entered manually in the system.
In some cases, lengthy investigations revealed that we were still paying for free trials someone forgot to cancel, or for additional accounts we didn’t need anymore.
So as well as the burden on the finance team, and the time lost within the company tracking down tool ‘owners’, we were leaking thousands of euros on subscriptions we weren’t even using – a painful message to hear, especially for a company the size of ours!
Beyond these practical aspects, we also came to realise that we had lost a big picture view of all the subscriptions we had across the company. There was no structured way to identify the owner of a tool, and therefore no accountability. Did we really need all those tools? Could there be overlap between tools? Did we need so many accounts per tool, or could a different subscription level make more sense? In many cases, no-one had clear answers to these questions.
Although our digital tool overload was a transversal issue, reaching far and wide across the whole company, it was our finance team who finally blew the whistle and kicked off a complete overhaul of how we manage and pay for the tools we use.
In Q4 2020, they started by getting an overview of all the tool-related payments on the company Visa statements from the previous 12 months. In parallel they worked with team leads to get a comprehensive view of all the tools used across November Five.
Then the fun began to map tools to ‘owners’ where possible — at this stage, not all tools had formal, or even informal owners. For those ‘unclaimed’ tools with ongoing payments, the finance team simply cut the credit cards. The logic was that if a critically important tool suddenly stopped working because the payment was cancelled, we’d hear about it fast and rectify the situation.
Next came the exercise to analyse all 84 tools we’d identified. In many cases, there was no question that we needed the tool, or that we needed x number of licences. But for others, we were able to identify sufficient overlap to stop using one tool in favour of another. In total, we identified an impressive 18 tools that we no longer needed.
Once we had our definitive list of tools, we appointed individual owners and tasked them with confirming or correcting the invoice data, e.g. making sure the right VAT numbers were used per entity.
Having successfully pared down our list of tools… we added one more. Ironically, it was the addition of one new tool, Spendesk that allowed us to create an even more streamlined workflow for our subscriptions.
Spendesk is a virtual credit card and expense system that makes life easier for everyone involved in company spending. Each tool has its own virtual credit card for a set amount, and the tool’s owner is now responsible for managing the subscription and ensuring that all the ‘paperwork’ is in order.
Ralph explains: “When we started with Spendesk, everyone was really excited that they could make their own payments and that they all got Visa cards. Which could be a worry. But actually, if they don’t upload the receipts or physical proof of their payment, Spendesk automatically blocks their account”.
We’ve also integrated the tool with our internal Slack communication channel, which ensures that requests and approvals for new subscriptions and virtual cards are handled smoothly. Nothing falls through the cracks anymore, and it feels like a huge efficiency gain all round.
With a new level of accountability and transparency, we’ve been able to make sure that we’re spending money on what we actually need and use. And even though the work is essentially decentralised thanks to Spendesk, the finance team still have all the oversight and control they need, but none of the hassle.
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Our Vanbreda Healthcare platform has been awarded a UX Design Awards nomination by International Design Center Berlin – the leading, independent design institution promoting design as a driver for business and social innovation.
November Five was named one of Fast Company’s global 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators in both 2020 and 2021. This annual list, developed in collaboration with Accenture, recognises and honors the top 100 businesses from different industries that inspire, support and promote innovation at all levels. For the consecutive year, November Five was the single Belgian workplace listed.
Fast Company is the world's leading progressive business media brand, with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, ethical economics, leadership, and design. Written for, by, and about the most progressive business leaders, Fast Company and FastCompany.com inspire readers and users to think beyond traditional boundaries, lead conversations and create the future of business.