As a result of the rapidly changing business landscape in 2020 and the need to quickly – and intelligently – change business plans and budgets, many more companies have been deciding to adopt a continuous planning approach to be able to add speed and flexibility. Transforming how organizations plan and budget has become a top-of-mind issue for CFO and even CEOs. Ventana Research has been advocating what we call continuous planning to improve organizational performance. In this multimedia Analyst Perspective, SVP and Research Director Robert Kugel discusses three important technologies necessary for continuous planning – technologies that can substantially enhance the effectiveness of the FP&A organization.
The use of blockchain distributed ledgers in business processes is now a common theme in many business software vendors’ presentations. The technology has a multitude of potential uses. However, presentations about the opportunities for digital transformation always leave me wondering: How is this magic going to happen? I wonder this because the details about how data flows from point A to point B via a blockchain are critically important to blockchain utility and therefore the pace of its adoption.
Topics: Planning, Predictive Analytics, Forecast, FP&A, Machine Learning, Reporting, budget, Budgeting, Continuous Planning, Analytics, Data Management, Cognitive Computing, Integrated Business Planning, AI, forecasting, consolidating
Ventana Research uses the term “predictive finance” to describe a forward-looking, action-oriented finance organization that places emphasis on advising its company rather than fulfilling the traditional roles of a transactions processor and reporter. Technology is driving the shift away from the traditional bean-counting role. The cumulative evolution of software advances will substantially reduce finance and accounting workloads by automating most of the mechanical, rote functions in accounting, data preparation and reporting. (I recently summarized these in a “Robotic Finance”)
Topics: Planning, Predictive Analytics, Forecast, FP&A, Machine Learning, Reporting, budget, Budgeting, Continuous Planning, Analytics, Data Management, Cognitive Computing, Integrated Business Planning, AI
SAP announced the release of version 10 of its SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) Solutions suite, an enhanced and updated set of applications and capabilities for executives and managers. In our Value Index assessment of financial performance management suites and my analysis of it last year, Ventana Research gave SAP’s offering the highest score, and this new release builds on that solid foundation that I already assessed in my blog. It has been several years since SAP began acquiring and assembling its performance management and analytical software assets, and the company has progressed to the point where discussing the integration efforts is becoming irrelevant. This release revamps the user interface of the different components to provide a more consistent look and feel – a crucial factor in facilitating training and improving user productivity. Outside of the suite itself, the current release is designed to integrate better with ERP, SAP NetWeaver BW, risk management and BI. In facts it establishes a foundation for finance analytics that I have researched and is essential for doing what I call and have written about in putting the “A” back in FP&A.
EPM incorporates a range of financial and performance management functionality, including strategy management, planning, sales and operations planning (S&OP), financial information management, profitability and cost management, spend management and supply chain performance management, as well as finance department process management software for financial consolidation, intercompany reconciliations and disclosure management. These components now have a more consistent user interface and all have been given some enhancements to their functionality especially in the path to supporting the need for I call integrated business planning that SAP has indicated is strategic to its future and use of its in-memory computing technology called HANA.
SAP also has improved integration of EPM with mobile devices like Apple iPad, which allows executives and managers who spend a large portion of their time away from their desks to have access to the information they need in a timely and contextual fashion, and lets them interact with the data to gain deeper understanding of underlying causes and potential outcomes. (My colleague Mark Smith covered mobile business intelligence in this blog.)
Release 10.0 includes the Disclosure Management application, which enables companies to automate the process of preparing external financial reports and regulatory disclosures. This capability will aid the increasing number of public companies in the U.S. that need to file their financial statements with a more complete set of eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) tags that I already assessed on the importance of automating. Companies can save considerable time using the software by systematizing their data collection, using workflows for managing the assembly of the text that goes into these filings, applying tags to text and data (if necessary) and automating the assembly of text and numbers in the exact format required. Automating this process gives executives more time to review filings and lessens the risk of reporting errors by changing mainly manual processes into a more systematized one. Performing this work in-house rather than outsourcing it gives companies greater control over the process and likely will save them a considerable amount of time following a relatively short learning curve. I provided some insight on this advancement when SAP acquired software assets for this new offering that has now come to market.
The current release builds enhanced enterprise risk management procedures into the overall performance management process. Outside of financial services, few companies explicitly quantify risk in their planning and performance assessment processes. Too often, managers are evaluated solely on productivity measures and therefore can be given disincentives to weigh risk factors. These risks may be well understood by business unit and divisional managers but are almost never communicated to senior executives. As I noted in a previous blog, this gives rise to agency risk within a company.
Although almost every company is mindful of achieving its profitability objectives, many fall short in coordinating the actions of their various silos and operating units to optimize the trade-offs they must make, especially as events unfold after the annual planning process. Profitability management enables senior executives to analyze and assess alternatives and optimize these trade-offs.
EPM 10 continues the necessary evolution of the financial performance management suite. It’s not necessary for finance organizations to manage performance and core finance operations using software from a single vendor (and most don’t). However, suites give companies the option of doing so, which can be a less costly way of buying and maintaining this functionality. Finance organizations looking at a consistent user experience and technology for GRC will find SAP BusinessObjects GRC 10 is empowered by SAP EPM 10 capabilities.
Today, technology is pushing a fundamental shift in how companies use financial performance management software. The increasing availability of in-memory computing (HANA in SAP’s case, which my colleague David Menninger discussed in his blog), cloud computing and mobile devices enables a fundamental shift from today’s once-a-month, accounting-based rear-view-mirror approach to assessing performance via an anywhere, anytime interactive view that blends financial and operating results and provides a richer, more accurate measure of results. In fact my colleague at SAPPHIRE NOW 2011 user conference has already seen how SAP was demonstrating a new dynamic cash flow management on SAP HANA to help advance the efficiency of accounting and financial operations.
I recommend that organizations considering any component of a financial performance management suite should include SAP BusinessObjects EPM 10 in their list of products to investigate. This application suite can clearly help finance and is a better path than doing what I call the ERP forklift migration
Robert Kugel – SVP Research
Topics: Planning, Sales Performance, SAP, Supply Chain Performance, Sustainability, Forecast, Office of Finance, budget, Budgeting, XBRL, Operational Performance, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, Customer & Contact Center, Financial Performance, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Information Management, Workforce Performance, CFO, agile, budgeting software, CEO, Corporate Finance, Financial Performance Management, Integrated Business Planning
Alight Planning sells planning and budgeting software mainly to midsize companies and stresses its software’s ability to support a more effective approach to corporate planning and budgeting. It calls this “agile planning,” a term used to contrast a traditional, highly deterministic method of drawing up and executing plans with an “agile” mindset that is better able to deal with the high level of economic volatility that most businesses confront today. In many respects Alight’s approach is consistent with what Ventana Research refers to as “integrated business planning,” which I have written about as a business priority and an area that I have extensively researched.
What distinguishes agile planning (and integrated business planning) from budgeting is this: In the end, the purpose of budgeting is to create a fixed budget for the finance department that constrains spending and attempts to hold people accountable to financial results. In contrast, the purpose of agile planning is to create a plan that enables a company to achieve its business objectives and then generate (as automatically as possible) a financial budget consistent with that business plan.
The most distinctive feature of Alight’s software – an explicit unit-times-rate structure for building plans – does a great job of supporting a more advanced approach to planning and budgeting that is consistent with a performance driver planning methodology. The unit-times-rate method disaggregates the planning of “things” (for example, how many units will be sold and how many sales calls it will take to sell this many units) from the financial consequences of those activities (that is, revenues and cost of selling). Keeping units and rates explicit during the planning process can lead to a more effective allocation of resources. For example, executives can quickly compare average sales per employee by store or region or invoices processed per employee to see if headcounts are appropriate. Keeping units and rates explicit also can make the process of planning and (as important) replanning faster and more accurate because things and their prices are stored and calculated separately. For example, over the course of time, a company may find that its sales funnel model (the description of the progression from lead generation to closing a sale) remains accurate, but the cost of some components (such as an in-person sales call or the structure of sales incentives) changes. This approach also facilitates more effective contingency planning. Continuing the example, sales executives are able to calculate the impact of changes in average travel costs in real time to discuss and determine the best response if those changes come about.
Moreover, compared to line-item budgeting, the unit-times-rate planning structure is more conducive to keeping everyone in the company focused on the important drivers of the business. It recognizes that the planning process should explicitly project the most important “things” that take place in business (for example, sales calls are made, units are sold and labor hours and materials are consumed) and the financial consequences that stem from these activities (travel expense, revenue and cost-of-sales impacts). When the time comes to compare actuals to the planned results, rather than just comparing accounting figures and trying to divine whether the difference was driven by units, the price of these or some combination of the two, executives and managers can see the explicit factors at work. By contrast, when companies do line-item budgeting, they can waste time on irrelevant items and become distracted from understanding and resolving important business issues (such as a declining close rate) because the drivers are not necessarily obvious.
Alight Planning also stresses the importance of improving the maturity of a company’s planning process as a way of gaining greater business advantage from the planning process by using driver-based planning (and focusing only on the drivers that have a material impact on a company achieving its goals), integrating actuals into reviews (that is, incorporating operating, CRM, HR and any other relevant information, not just accounting data) and increasing the amount and sophistication of a company’s contingency planning.
All dedicated planning applications compete with spreadsheets, which our research shows continue to be used by a majority of small and midsize companies. By stressing the need for a more effective approach to planning and budgeting, Alight is making the case for dropping desktop spreadsheets in favor of a dedicated planning solution; we concur with this because desktop spreadsheets are not capable of handling a dynamic, driver-based, operationally focused planning process.
Alight Planning competes with a range of on-premises and hosted solutions aimed at midsize companies (which we define as those with 100 to 999 employees). These include Adaptive Planning and Host Analytics as cloud-based solutions, IBM Cognos, Infor, Prophix and Tagetek, as well as to a lesser degree, Budget Maestro (which focuses on small business and smaller midsize companies) and Oracle Hyperion and SAP Business Objects (which overlap at the higher end of the midsize spectrum). Alight’s most distinctive positioning against these companies is its focus on the unit-times-rate approach to planning and its advocacy of maturing the process.
Companies should focus their forward-looking efforts on planning rather than simply budgeting. Our research continues to uncover reasons to use a dedicated application rather than desktop spreadsheets to manage the process so as to achieve the greatest business value for time spent. Some organizations are moving in this direction. For example, in 2010, Ventana Research gave Pittsburgh Mercy Health System our Overall Business Analytics and Performance Leadership Award for its implementation of a more collaborative and interactive, business-focused planning process. I recommend that organizations that want to make their planning and budgeting process a more valuable management tool use software that will support those efforts. If you’re at a midsize company looking to purchase a dedicate application and gain greater business value from the time spent, I recommend including Alight Planning on your list of software to evaluate.
Robert D. Kugel – SVP Research
Topics: Planning, Sales Performance, Supply Chain Performance, Forecast, Office of Finance, budget, Budgeting, Business Performance, Financial Performance, Workforce Performance, CFO, agile, budgeting software, CEO, Integrated Business Planning