In past articles I’ve written here on arcplan’s BI Blog, I explored the role of spreadsheets in the planning, budgeting, and forecasting process and the importance of agility and accuracy. Today I would like to talk about the benefits of business analytics in the planning process when it comes to providing agility and accuracy.
When forecasts are consistently accurate, business leaders can have more confidence when making decisions and investments to guide the organization, as they have a good idea of how the organization will perform in the coming months. Agility is essential because volatile markets make it difficult for forecasts to reflect current business conditions. Therefore, Best-in-Class organizations are more likely than All Others to implement technology to enable both data access and the ability to utilize data to make predictive decisions (Figure 1). Fifty percent (50%) of Best-in-Class organizations have implemented an enterprise-level BI solution in comparison to 28% of All Others. These tools provide data in an easily consumable format so employees can find and utilize the data they need to make decisions. The Best-in-Class are also over twice as likely as All Others to have implemented predictive analytics. This technology helps to convert BI data into forward-looking forecasts.
Figure 1: Best-in-Class Technology Adoption
Source: Aberdeen Group, January 2013
Providing Visibility & Agility: The Key Components of Success in Planning, Budgeting, and Forecastingby Nick Castellina
In my previous post, I discussed the role of spreadsheets in financial planning, budgeting, and forecasting. My key conclusion was that organizations need more substantial technology to facilitate these processes through automation. What I did not discuss was how these technologies provide greater visibility into the data that is essential for successful decision-making as well as the importance of utilizing this data to create forecasts that constantly reflect current business conditions. Today I would like to discuss these themes, but let’s first take a step back to why they are important.
Aberdeen’s 2013 Financial Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting survey illustrated the top pressures hindering planning processes (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Pressures in Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting
Source: Aberdeen Group, January 2013
Highlighting the importance of agility, organizations are pressured with volatile markets that make it extremely difficult to forecast effectively. This is compounded by the fact that 25% of organizations reported that their current budgeting process is too long and resource intensive. So organizations are spending all this time and effort, and by the time the planning process is complete, the output is already based on old data.
In my role as the Senior Research Analyst in the Aberdeen Group’s Business Planning and Execution research practice, I spend a significant amount of time studying the key pressures facing organizations in their planning processes as well as the key technologies that top performing organizations use. Unsurprisingly, I often get questions on the role of spreadsheets in the planning process. Spreadsheets continue to be a popular tool used in financial planning, budgeting, and forecasting processes. In fact, Aberdeen’s 2013 Financial Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting Benchmark survey found that 89% of organizations use spreadsheets in the planning, budgeting, and forecasting processes. Employees are comfortable with spreadsheets because many of them use them in both their professional and personal lives. This familiarity makes it unsurprising that both top performing and Laggard organizations are employing them in some aspect of their financial planning process. This reliance may stay the norm for the foreseeable future and spreadsheets are likely to continue to be an integral part of the planning process.
Yet while the Best-in-Class may be using spreadsheets as a part of the planning process, they are less reliant on them as the sole means of communication and interaction, preferring to combine them with the use of applications (Figure 1). Being a repository of exported data is in fact the leading role spreadsheets play in top performing companies. As the methods in which spreadsheets are used become more manual, the Best-in-Class and the Laggards switch rankings…
It’s that time of year again – when quarter- and year-end obligations have finance departments frantically crunching numbers to wrap-up their annual reports and create plans for the upcoming year. Some endure the same budgeting, planning and forecasting frustrations year after year, including too many spreadsheets and lack of strategic insight, with little or no plans to make things better for the next cycle. Why fall victim to Einstein’s definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results) when there’s so much more to gain from taking charge of your planning?
Here’s what you can look forward to with a software-enabled budgeting and planning process:
1) Timely, accurate plans and reports
Planners are often plagued by disjointed information from various sources and multiple spreadsheets, where no “single version of the truth” exists and for all the numbers piling up, there’s no supporting text. As a result, they spend a great deal of time consolidating and reconciling data, which is half the job but takes up 100% of the time. Many planners experience the misfortune of completing a plan weeks or even months too late, negating its validity and rendering the idea of replanning as conditions change totally impossible. It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t yield a lot of value to the organization.
Ask a sales manager what ABC means and the response, often with a smile, will be “Always Be Closing.” This concept makes sense for the sales manager but unfortunately, many finance managers are “always closing” too – and they’re not smiling about it. The budgeting, planning and forecasting (BP&F) cycle is too often the most dreaded time of the year. A recent report from Ventana Research revealed that the BP&F process “typically eats up 10 – 15% of the finance team’s time, and it takes 5 – 10 months to complete the full cycle in large organizations.” So how does the finance team get anything else done if we’re talking about a 10-month process?
Few organizations are insulated from the challenges of financial reporting and planning. The process continues to cause pain because there are many moving parts that finance managers and planners need to balance and many individuals who contribute to them. We’ve found that many of the finance team’s concerns boil down to the following 2 issues, both of which can be addressed with a dedicated, comprehensive BP&F tool.
1) You’ve outgrown your current process. For some, planning consists of Excel spreadsheets and a notepad. We recently spoke to one $3 billion company that is still managing their planning this way! In a previous post, we looked at some of the indicators for when you need to move on from your current BP&F process: multiple versions of the same spreadsheets used by different people, time wasted consolidating spreadsheets rather than analyzing data, and limited visibility. These are all signs that it’s time to graduate to a corporate performance management solution or dedicated BP&F software (like arcplan Edge), investing in a tool that is centralized, adaptive, and allows you to deliver the value that your business needs. Inefficient data collection and multiple versions of spreadsheets lengthen the BP&F cycle unnecessarily, reducing the value of the entire process.