Good strategic planning ensures an organization can react quickly and effectively to a changing environment.  That’s the goal anyway.  And achieving this adaptability has become more challenging and crucial than ever with the post-pandemic changes to the business.  In fact, the ability to move beyond a static, antiquated process heavily reliant on manual processes and Excel® spreadsheets is critical to achieving organizational goals.  Elevating the processes from disconnected and inefficient spreadsheets to effective corporate performance management (CPM) software enables Finance teams to drive continual performance and evolve traditional processes into an eXtended Planning & Analysis (xP&A) future.

Strategic Planning in a Post-Pandemic World

Finance leaders are uniquely poised to understand the strategy needed to execute long-term organizational goals and aspirations through a strategic and financial lens.  Accordingly, Finance can naturally lead the effort for strategic planning.

In the planning and budgeting cycles, strategic planning sits between the short-term operational plans and the longer-term long-range plans (LRPs).  A successful strategic plan looks to define how an organization intends to realize long-term goals.  After all, having goals and a vision of the future, as laid out in the LRP, helps focus the overall vision and direction of the enterprise.  But without a strategy, the LRP can resemble a list of wishes without any direction.

Strategic planning, then, helps turn the fantasy into reality.  And being able to compile the strategic plan and continually track performance against it are key to an effective process.

Operational Strategic Plannings
Figure 1: Operational, Strategic, and Long-Range Planning Goals

Understanding the realistic path to achieve organizational goals and aligning them with the financial plan are important steps to charting a clear course for company growth and managing expectations.  A good strategic plan looks to allocate resources, align financial goals and track financial performance.

Excel Introduces Limitations to the Strategic Planning Process

Excel is a powerful tool for Finance professionals, and most can relate to feeling like they have a degree in the art of Excel after working as an analyst.  That said, Excel also comes with drawbacks that can frustrate users and waste time – introducing limitations to the strategic planning process.

As a former Finance professional, I can certainly attest to missing weekends, evenings, appointments, family events, and holiday time with my family to troubleshoot a corrupted Excel file that was used for one of the most important financial planning processes in our organization.  Excel often falls short, however, when it comes to powerfully tackling important financial processes that require traceability and reliability.

The challenges of wrangling a large dataset in Excel and maintaining confidence in the numbers can quickly overwhelm the planning process.  The consequence of that often forces Finance professionals to spend precious time re-validating and explaining numbers during crunch planning periods due to corrupted or difficult-to-follow Excel models.

Digging into Excel
Figure 2: Digging into Excel data to identify its origins can be frustrating and time-consuming

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Deliver Business Value in the Strategic Planning Process with CPM Software

To avoid limitations, Finance can evolve the strategic planning process from an error-prone and time-consuming effort in spreadsheets to instead leverage a CPM software solution – which will deliver big business value.

Here are a few key benefits of leveraging purposed built, CPM software for strategic planning:

Improve on Excel with Technical Enablers in CPM Software

When evaluating CPM software to aggregate and unify operational and financial data to compile and track performance against the strategic plan, organizations should decide what technical enablers are critical.  Here are a few to consider:

Ultimately, these technical enablers deliver business value via time saved in the planning process, improving collaboration.  Time is money, after all – and the more time you can spend on valuable insights as opposed to wrangling data from disparate systems and troubleshooting temperamental spreadsheets the better, more reliable your plan becomes.

Not to mention, quality of life also greatly improves for the people involved in the process.   Having one single source of truth ensures the efforts of all the groups across an enterprise are aligned and ensures that changes and mistakes don’t go unnoticed saves time and effort.

100% Customer Success

Headquartered in Houston, Texas, with manufacturing facilities and sales offices on six continents, Prince specializes in developing, manufacturing and marketing performance-critical additives for niche applications utilized in the construction, electronics, consumer products, automotive, industrial and similar end markets.  Prince has processing centers strategically located globally and has been growing at an exponential rate – with 18 acquisitions over the last 13 years.  Today, Prince manages over 25 entities, more than half outside of North America.  Across the enterprise, multiple ERP systems – including IFS, Ross, and SAP – are in use.  And to make matters worse, Prince was relying on Excel to reconcile, translate, consolidate and report financial information.

After implementing OneStream, Prince can now drill back to the ERPs to understand data at the transactional level, by voucher line item or journal line item.  Prince is also now doing annual budgeting in OneStream – all while managing a five-year strategic plan.  Comparisons of actuals against budget are all being done in OneStream as well.  “We were able to utilize OneStream’s capabilities to produce an EBITDA bridge for our end markets, comparing periodic results to prior year, prior month, budget, etc.,” said the Controller at Prince.

Conclusion

While Excel spreadsheets can be a powerful tool, your team needs to have confidence in the output of your strategic planning efforts – and there’s no better way to do so than upgrading from a spreadsheet-heavy process to CPM software.  CPM software will save time in the strategic planning process by freeing up more time for driving strategic initiatives.  It also drives collaboration among the different teams needed for a strategic plan with a full view of the organization because you leverage the platform across the Finance department and beyond.

Ultimately, with CPM software, your strategic plan becomes more accurate thanks to increased collaboration in the planning process and less time wasted on non-value-added activities (e.g., troubleshooting spreadsheets).  Adopting CPM software also drives more dialogue on risks and opportunities, providing a better understanding of cash and capital requirements.  Collectively, those benefits culminate in more business value – and that empowers your team lead at speed.

Learn More

Want to learn more about how your organization can align its strategic plan with financial goals?  Click here to watch our video titled “Lead at Speed in Planning & Analysis: Unifying the Strategic Plan with Financial Goals.”

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Financial modeling is a powerful technique that helps corporate finance professionals create a mathematical model of their business and the impact of specific decisions on their future financial results.  There are several types of corporate finance models that are used in practice and many derivatives of these can be applied across an organization.  Microsoft Excel® is the tool of choice for simple financial modeling, however, for more complex requirements, purpose-built corporate planning and forecasting software solutions are a better choice.  Read on to learn more.

Corporate Financial Modeling

Financial modeling is a common tool used by individuals and corporations to create an abstract model of a real-world financial situation.  This typically involves the gathering and analysis of historic data, which is then used to create a forward-looking projection for future time periods. Individuals may create a financial model of their monthly or annual income and expenses to help manage their finances.  For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll focus on corporate financial modeling.

Corporate Finance Modeling

Corporate financial modeling is performed by financial analysts in a corporate finance group within an enterprise, or by the line of business analysts supporting a specific functional department such as Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, or other functions. Use cases for corporate financial modeling include strategic planning, long-range financial planning, financial budgeting, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) or divestiture analysis, capital planning, project planning, or evaluating the impact of critical business decisions.  This can include new product development and launch, geographic expansion, pricing of products and services, hiring and staffing, capital investment, and other business decisions.

Of course, in the financial services industry, financial modeling is performed by investment analysts as part of their evaluation of portfolio companies or potential investment targets.

Types of Corporate Financial Models

There are a wide variety of financial models used in corporate finance, so here we’ll cover the most commonly used types of financial models.  These include the following:

5 Steps to Effective Financial Modeling

Financial modeling in a corporate setting is a critical process whereby the results of the process will be used to support decisions that can have a major impact on future financial results.  Therefore, great care should be taken to ensure the inputs and outputs of the financial modeling process are as accurate as possible. Here are five best practices that organizations should consider when performing corporate financial modeling:

  1. Ensure the accuracy of historic data – remember the adage “garbage in – garbage out?” Having accurate and up-to-date historic financial data provides a critical foundation for corporate financial modeling.
  2. Identify key drivers – based on an analysis of historic financial and operational data, key business drivers can be identified and used as levers in modeling future revenue and expenses. Examples include orders, shipments, average price, new customers, customer retention rates, headcount, events, and others.
  3. Create multiple scenarios – once a baseline financial model is built, alternative scenarios should be created and analyzed based on the flexing of key drivers. The traditional approach is to create a base case, high case, and low case scenarios – but many organizations generate a wide range of scenarios that are used to guide critical decisions.
  4. Leverage charts and graphs – while some Finance executives prefer to review and analyze grids of numbers, many find it easier to spot trends and key financial signals through data visualization. So creating charts and graphs to present and analyze financial models is a great way to help users quickly gain insights that can be used to support critical decisions.
  5. Perform stress testing – when the financial model is done, the work is not over. The next step is to start stress-testing extreme scenarios to see if the model behaves as expected and yields realistic results.

Selecting the Right Tool for the Job

If you Google the term “financial modeling” you’ll get a number of results that highlight how Microsoft Excel® can be used to support financial modeling.  And while Excel is the “go-to” tool for financial professionals, it’s more suited to personal productivity tasks and less so to supporting enterprise planning requirements. Why?  Because Excel is error-prone, has no concept of workflow, lacks controls and governance, and has very limited audit trails.  It also wasn’t designed to manage large volumes of data and is two-dimensional in nature.

In corporate financial modeling, large volumes of historic data may need to be integrated, validated, and structured across multiple dimensions to fully support the requirement at hand.  Many Finance professionals have tried to handle this in Excel, but over time they find these models and multi-tabbed workbooks become difficult to maintain, and don’t perform well.  The alternative many organizations are turning to are purpose-built corporate planning and financial forecasting software applications, such as those that are found in modern corporate performance management (CPM) software platforms.

Financial Modeling in Action

One example of an organization that outgrew the capabilities of Excel for modeling and planning and migrated to a purpose-built corporate planning application is Fibrogen. FibroGen recently transformed from a drug development company to a global multi-channel commercial business. Their transition success depended on rapidly building out sales, channel development, and marketing as well as aligning the business and operational goals of their scientists, business leaders, and the Finance team.

Scenario Modeling

Realizing these goals required a more sophisticated corporate performance management (CPM) solution than their Excel®-based planning models and a 20-year-old legacy budgeting system that was fully matured and accepted within the organization. Fibrogen found that OneStream’s unified and extensible CPM software platform answered the company’s vision to gracefully accommodate their requirements to enable activity-based planning across two unique entities.

FibroGen’s China entity required a top-down model for planning and financial modeling while the United States model depended on non-finance users who are VPs and Executive Directors of their departments to provide the input that is needed for program-level and consolidated plans.

Said Alex Lee, Senior Director, Corporate FP&A, “With impending growth and transition, we sought a solution that can support a program-driven planning process and complex calculations and modeling with the ability to expand to include consolidation, reporting, accounting close automation, SEC reporting, and tax provisioning. We had a very specific vision in mind. It has been 10 months since go-live, and I’m still profoundly touched by the magic that is OneStream.”

Learn More

To learn more, download the Fibrogen case study and contact OneStream if your organization is ready to take the leap from Excel to an intelligent finance platform designed to conquer business complexity and help you lead at speed!

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For Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) practitioners, incorporating more operational inputs into the planning process has become critical to driving performance.  This shift from traditional FP&A methods elevates the practice to an eXtended Planning and Analysis (xP&A) process.  How can Finance accomplish this shift?  One key way is by incorporating the demand plan from the Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) process into financial planning.  Leveraging a unified FP&A software platform helps enable Intelligent Demand Planning – and with that comes improved forecast accuracy, better financial decisions and more impactful results.

Siloed Financial Planning Is No Longer an Option

Global supply chain disruptions.  Labor shortages.  Raw materials with limited availability. Collectively, these supply-side problems underscore why Finance must understand the operational business drivers that impact demand planning.  And now more than ever, Finance must also be able to incorporate those drivers into the financial planning process.  Why?  Because understanding the financial implications of the demand plan informs organizational decision-making to maximize efficiencies and ultimately drive profits while minimizing losses.

One key to elevating FP&A to xP&A is utilizing the demand plan from the S&OP process.  The operational inputs from the plan should be added to the financial planning process, which itself must remain dynamic.  The pace of change, after all, only continues to increase – making it vital to keep financial planning responsive to change.  What was relevant when the plan was developed will likely change as the plan is executed.  Having an effective FP&A software solution allows users to access, visualize and update the plan and key metrics as change occurs.

In other words, siloed planning is no longer an option.

Leverage Modern Software to Enable Intelligent Demand Planning

Modern corporate performance management (CPM) software enables Intelligent Demand Planning (see Figure 1).  How?  By continually assessing on-target forecast trends and adjusting based on changes in marketplace conditions (e.g., labor shortages or rising material costs).  Top performing organizations seek to unify planning activities with financial forecasts and plans using Intelligent Demand Planning to do the following:

These capabilities and others make demand planning easier, quicker and more accurate than ever.  Plus, these operational improvements reduce organizational risks and have direct financial implications.

Figure 1: OneStream Intelligent Demand Planning Capabilities

Forecast More Accurately with Intelligent Demand Planning

Intelligent Demand Planning enables better demand forecast accuracy, which produces results that significantly impact financial performance.  Why?  With accurate demand plans, organizations can optimize their inventory management and reduce unnecessary on-hand inventory.  Those changes lead to lower inventory holding costs, fewer obsolescence issues, and less scrap and waste.  The demand planning process also analyzes customer purchasing habits and demand, helping to improve inventory management.

Improved inventory management helps Finance achieve three key benefits (see Figure 2):

CPM OneStream
Figure 2: Business Value from Intelligent Demand Planning

5 Key Factors for Effective xP&A

When preparing to take advantage of xP&A to drive performance across the organization, FP&A leaders should evaluate options based on 5 key components and their benefits:

  1. A Unified, Extensible Platform – Alignment of granular operational plans with financial forecasting and performance through a unified, extensible platform and data model.
  2. Built-In Financial Data Quality – High-quality and accurate management reporting that empowers Finance teams and their business partners to develop insights and guide key decisions that drive performance.
  3. Built-In Financial Intelligence – Faster implementation process that reduces costs and ensures the accuracy of the results produced by the solution.
  4. Financial Signaling – Eliminated reliance on the month-end reporting cycle by accessing and leveraging abundant daily and weekly operational insights across the organization.
  5. Auto Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Increased time to value for machine learning forecasting with built-in auto AI capabilities to increase forecasting accuracy and enable continuous scenario modeling amid increasing complexity and fast-paced change.

Customers Leading the Way

John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc (JBSS) processes and distributes tree nuts, peanuts and nut products through distribution channels in the United States and around the world.  JBSS is a major processor and distributor of snack and recipe nut products, offering raw and processed nuts in various styles and seasonings.  The company’s nut and dried fruit-based products are sold under a variety of private brands, including Fisher®, Orchard Valley Harvest®, Squirrel Brand®, Southern Style Nuts® and Sunshine Country®.

The company was founded by Gaspare Sanfilippo and John B. Sanfilippo in 1922 and is headquartered in Elgin, IL.  Today, JBSS operates with around 1,200 employees across four plants: JBSS headquarters in Illinois, peanut sheller in Georgia, pecan sheller in Texas and walnut sheller in California

After using SAP BPC for its internal sales reporting, financial reporting, and forecasting for numerous years, JBSS felt stuck as its legacy CPM solution wasn’t fueling innovation as the company attempted to evolve.  The Finance team was jumping through hoops because the legacy CPM solution couldn’t handle their unique reporting needs, which included information at the base level and across multiple hierarchies where data expanded.  It was difficult to make top-down adjustments, and too much time was spent on manual data manipulation.

With OneStream’s unified CPM software, JBSS now has one system for actuals, budgets, quarterly forecasts, weekly operations data and demand analysis.  Additionally, JBSS can now get the latest costs, volumes and expenses that help reforecast the annual budget and provide executives with visibility to change or shift data as needed.  The Financial Planning team has gone from maintaining 30 Excel templates to 1 master template in OneStream while shortening the forecast process from 2 weeks to 2 days.

Conclusion

In sum, Finance must evolve the value of the Financial Planning & Analysis process to take the organization to the next level with xP&A.  That evolution requires integrating operational inputs from S&OP into the financial planning process.  One key output of the S&OP process is the demand plan and using Intelligent Demand Planning as part of effective FP&A software improves forecast accuracy to ultimately drive better financial performance.

Learn More

Want to learn more about how your organization can take steps toward evolving the value of forecasting into xP&A?  Click here to download our ebook on Intelligent Forecasting.

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A rolling forecast is a management tool that enables organizations to continuously plan (i.e., forecast) over a set time horizon.[1] Why does creating a rolling forecast matter? When you’re a finance leader and business partner, it matters because it’s your responsibility to keep a pulse on all aspects of your organization, including financial and operational performance. And while you’ll likely never get the credit you deserve for doing so, it’s also your responsibility to implement agile budgeting, planning & forecasting processes that enable collaboration and provide support for effective business decisions between the finance team, sales, operations, HR, and other functions.

Now that we have answered “what is a rolling forecast,” what kind of organizations can take advantage of rolling forecast benefits? Perhaps the better question is, who can’t? Because if your organization interacts regularly with consumers, suppliers, or regional operations, there’s simply no escape. From what? From the roller coaster ride and volatility of global markets these days. And to make matters worse, this roller coaster ride feels like the “new norm” of what to expect.

Daily, we have fears of the next recession. And let’s not forget the impact of the ongoing US-China trade wars, uncertainty surrounding inflation, as well as the impact on oil and gas prices. In other words, it’s constant chaos. This is a challenging environment to plan against.

Not to mention, the fourth quarter is approaching fast. And that means that finance and business leaders are finalizing fourth-quarter forecasts and setting goals and plans for 2020. But with all this noise externally, how will organizations dial- in their final plans? Through brute force! With hours and hours of developing revenue and EBITDA targets. And for each scenario, there’s more hard work to align goals from your financial model with what are often fragmented sales, workforce, production, and capital planning processes. The cycle seems to never end.

How do you keep your sanity amidst all of that? Rolling forecasts, of course! So let’s get rolling with some considerations for implementing this technique.

Ditch Your Static Budgets

While annual operating plans (AOPs) are the norm for most organizations to level-set expectations or anchor compensation targets, such plans do very little to help with resource allocations in a dynamic business. In fact, in today’s market, I can promise you that any AOP is wrong within seconds of the final submission.

Working in a fast-paced, sophisticated organization isn’t easy. Especially if you want to respond quickly to new opportunities and risks. So many factors can change in each and every forecast period – and change quickly. What factors? Customer wins or losses. External factors like changing oil prices or interest rates. Commodity pricing. Staffing needs or inventory levels. It’s an endless list.

A rolling forecast (see figure 1) is designed to allow management to continuously plan the business. Here are a few stats from The Dresner Advisory 2019 Wisdom of Crowds EPM Market Study, which details how frequent organizations run their forecasts:

Integrated Business Planning

Best practice is to ensure rolling forecasts can extend (e.g., roll) beyond the current calendar or fiscal year. The forecasts can extend anywhere from 12 months at a time to 18 months or even up to 24 months.

The good news is that there’s more than one way to do it. What’s more important is to actually start the process.

Why? Because it pushes the organization to think differently. To think long term. And when done consistently, a rolling forecast process can eventually not only eliminate the need for an annual budget but also positively affect the DNA of an organization.

Create Focus on Business Drivers and KPIs

It’s also important to focus on what the organization actually plans for. Did you know that 50% of finance leaders report that they get little value out of their financial planning processes[2]? Why do you think this is?

It’s because static financial plans completed in isolation add little value to managers and don’t drive the Integrated Business Planningbusiness. So what does impact the business? It’s all about the underlying business drivers. Customers and market demand. Global competition. Changes in commodity prices. And sales, marketing, and supply chain plans. So If your budgeting, planning & forecasting processes don’t yet focus on business drivers or include your business partners, it may be time to also consider integrated business planning (see figure 2).

Remember, budgeting, planning & forecasting is NOT only about finance. It’s not only about revenues or expenses. It’s also about unleashing value across the organization.

It’s also about driving measurable business performance. And to do that, the organization must focus on what actually impacts the business. Part of your job as a modern finance leader is to create processes to help translate how changes in the business impact the P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow.

A driver-based rolling forecast process ensures agility, collaboration, alignment, and a focus on what drives the organization.

Align Detailed Business Plans with Financial Results

While we’re focused on the merits of a rolling forecast process, let’s not forget that organizations have to close the books and report monthly and quarterly financial results. And we know what happens if the latest results don’t come in as planned – right?

Well, if your organization still relies on a series of spreadsheets, legacy corporate performance management (CPM 1.0), or point solutions for planning – buckle up. Because your wild ride to explain how detailed operations plans align to the financials is just beginning. Sound familiar?

I’ll bet it does. Why? Because it’s you and your team whose left maintaining and reconciling data between systems. And it’s your team who is building reports to join actual, budget, and forecast data from different applications. And if there’s been any change to your organization or product hierarchy during that time, watch out. Because your roller coaster ride may never end. And by the way. All that work is required just to do the basics.

But what if there’s a better way to seamlessly close the books, report, plan and manage a rolling forecast? And no, we’re not talking connected planning here, folks. We’re talking about unified planning with a platform approach to CPM with a single application that delivers multiple solutions (CPM 2.0).

And with over 900 successful customers around the globe, OneStream’s modern CPM platform is quickly becoming the proven alternative to legacy solutions, Excel spreadsheets, and inferior cloud-based planning tools.

OneStream Unleashes the Rolling Forecast

OneStream enables finance and business leaders like you to continuously extend the platform to meet the changing needs of the business. And to integrate all of your various planning processes, OneStream’s MarketPlace extends the value of your investment with purpose-built solutions to dynamically unify sales planning, people planning, and capital planning with financial plans.

So yes – it’s possible to develop detailed, driver-based rolling forecasts at the customer level, project level, or person level. To do this in real-time with your business partners by your side. To dynamically understand the impact on the P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow. And it’s even possible to do it for multiple scenarios, in real-time and without creating a series of offline spreadsheets or moving data between “connected” modules or cubes.

Ready to Roll?

It’s no secret that speed is a key differentiator for effective CFOs. Why, because the expectations for CFOs are expanding, and the insights they deliver are now central to executing key strategies. CFOs must keep up with today’s pace of change, and use large volumes of data, coming in at a high velocity to advise business partners to make decisions that lead the organization to prosperity.

Want a great overview and real-life examples of how modern CFOs are increasing their speed and increasing their organizational value? Watch “Stay Ahead of the Game – Maximizing Intelligent Finance with Predictive Rolling Forecasting,” where Aaron Shifrin, Managing Director at Accenture, discusses how rolling forecasts and integrated planning are operationalized and enhanced with ML and AI.

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[1] https://www.wallstreetprep.com/knowledge/rolling-forecast-best-practices-guide-fpa-professionals/

[2] Ventana Research: “Let’s Talk About the Business Not Just the Budget”

The health of any multifaceted organization depends on multiple teams working in unison, with several sources of data in real-time. In this post, we’ll take a quick look at how the right technology can boost your team’s ability to collaborate quickly and accurately – all through the lens of higher ed budgeting and planning software.

There’s nothing simple about budgeting and planning in higher education. It’s a matrix. How, exactly? Well, simply put, there are just too many moving parts, too many external variables, and too many stakeholders for these two foundational activities to be linear. As today’s increasing pace of change places ever more pressure on Finance teams, many are taking steps to modernize their static budgeting and planning cycles.

Successful Planning and Budgeting Depends on Massive Collaboration

You’d be hard-pressed to find a regent, president, provost, dean, or any other higher-ed leader who didn’t list collaboration as a core value. Educational institutions have an inherent interdependence and must have all their organizational units in sync, working together, to accomplish large goals (see Figure 1). For that reason, access to and collaboration with quality data is imperative at every level of the organization.

Gartner Cloud FC MQ

Figure 1: The Importance of Data Sharing and Collaboration Source: HBR Analytic Services, 2020

The collaboration gap in budgeting and planning often begins and ends with the segregated nature of internal systems and, more importantly, how those systems share data and edits. Any team emailing around versions of spreadsheets and documents with edits and notes knows this pain all too well.

If those teams are printing hard copies and editing with sticky notes – a practice that’s still surprisingly common – then that pain may even be worse. Essentially, working separately and consolidating along the way creates openings for errors and destroys any hope for a quick, accurate turnaround.

Manual Processes Producing Static Budgets and Plans Don’t Work Anymore

Spreadsheets aren’t equipped to handle the multiple layers of work happening within the flurry of activity known as budgeting and planning in higher ed.

Gartner Cloud FC MQ

Figure 2: Problems Caused by Spreadsheet Collaboration Reach Far and Wide Source: MarketWatch, “88% of spreadsheets have errors

In fact, budgeting and planning teams are expected to turn edits, integrate new data and structures, keep up to date, and communicate more clearly than ever before. Here are just a few of the top challenges that bog down budgeting and planning efforts when they’re rooted in manual updates through spreadsheets:

  1. No Version Control. Have you ever been working on a big project where your teammates sent you multiple emails with an attachment that had the same name? Did you know which one you were supposed to use, without wasting time looking back through the entire chain of exchanges?
  2. No Audit Trail. When you’re exchanging files, how do you remember who changed what? Do you remember when they changed it?
  3. Too Many Errors. Have you been tasked with preparing the final output? While you were re-typing edits from the separate notes and spreadsheets into the final output (was that really the “final”… or “final2″…), did you accidentally mistype a number? We’ve all been there, and we’ve all spent hours scouring the source sheets to find the correct entry. Worse yet, what if you missed the error altogether, and the final output is incorrect when it’s delivered to leadership?
  4. Slow Turnaround. Everyone hates deadlines, but speed is important when you’re making strategic decisions. Have you ever pushed to deliver on time, finished your work, and only later learned that leadership was disappointed that the output you delivered was out of date compared to the information they just heard on the news or read about in a legislative update? If your knowledge and data can’t update in real-time to your outputs, how can you be sure you’re making good decisions?

The hidden costs of spreadsheets are created by duplication of effort, errors, and rework. All this wasted time moves your team’s focus away from the true value of analysis and communication that supports strong decision-making across the institution and keeps everyone stuck in busywork.

As the pace of change continues to increase, higher ed Finance teams need to shift focus away from data gathering, reconciling, and managing key integration points and into collaborating with decision-makers and providing better, faster insights.

Moving Forward with Confidence

At OneStream, we understand that complexity is the inevitable by-product of change, especially in higher ed. Accordingly, we believe that your success will not be realized by eliminating complexity but will instead be achieved by effectively steering your institution through it.

How do we do it? Our unified Intelligent Finance platform (see Figure 3) allows us to deliver our many capabilities within a single, extensible, cloud-based application built to scale along with your organization. That’s why hundreds of organizations, including many higher ed institutions, have chosen OneStream – and they’ve never looked back.

OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform
Figure 3: OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform

Why is unification important? Well, it eliminates openings for errors created by manual work and separate, connected financial reporting tools. If you re-type data or are dependent on technical connection points for updates, you have opened the door for potential problems.

What can a platform approach do for you and your team? Here are a few of the key benefits you get with OneStream’s budgeting and planning software:

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Need some proof? How about a great example from one of the nation’s top 10 public research universities? This case study details how OneStream has helped reduce the time needed to complete budgets and has detailed ROIs, including how a regular existing 3.5 hour-process was reduced to just 5 minutes.

Want to continue the discussion? Have any questions? Contact us, and one of our experts will reach out to you ASAP.

Download the Case Study

While annual operating plans are the norm for most organisations to level-set expectations or anchor compensation targets, such plans do very little to help with resource allocations in a dynamic business.  After all, working in a fast-paced, sophisticated organisation isn’t easy – especially if the goal is to respond quickly to new opportunities and risks.

Rolling forecasts are therefore an opportunity for Finance leaders to help push their organisations to think differently.  To think long term.  And when done consistently, a rolling forecast process can eventually not only eliminate the need for an annual budget but also positively affect the DNA of an organisation.  Why is such agility so critical?

That’s an easy one: with the rapid pace of change happening internally and externally, so many factors can change – and change quickly.  What factors?  Customer wins or losses.  External factors like changing oil prices, commodity prices, or interest rates.  Changing staffing needs or inventory levels.  The list feels endless.

Whatever changes arise, rolling forecasts help organisations adapt.

Challenges to adoption

Many organisations have been reluctant to change or have lacked the right leadership approach.  And to make this change happen, executive sponsorship is absolutely fundamental.  There are also significant time investments required – something that many stretched Finance departments simply don’t have to spare.

Rolling forecasting has sometimes been seen as a ‘bit of a dark art’ or something unnecessarily complicated.  This perception is perhaps derived from the fact that it is virtually impossible to create effective rolling forecast models in Excel.  Heck, it’s even impossible in some early financial forecasting software.  Many people have tried these technologies and failed, many often burning too much time in the process.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though.  Let’s look at the five essential steps to building a successful rolling forecast strategy.

Step 1.  Foster buy-in and focus on culture change

The first and most important step requires securing buy-in from all stakeholders before the rolling forecast journey starts.  Afterward, change management is critical to the success of any project—in this case, the advantages rolling forecasting can offer.

Now, taking such steps might seem obvious; but Finance projects often fail due to lack of communication with and between stakeholders.  That communication then only diminishes the deeper it goes down into the organisation.  Keeping the lines of communication open can be challenging, but it’s necessary.  If stakeholders do not clearly understand the value for the organisation, the success of implementing rolling forecasts may be at risk.

To ensure success, rolling forecasts must be fully accepted, from stakeholder to analyst and everyone in between.  Keeping communications consistent throughout the process of introducing rolling forecasts is a top priority.

Step 2.  Keep it simple to solve a complex problem

Simplifying the approach to forecasting is key to driving efficiency, which drives value.  For many Finance teams, identifying the problem is easy.  Deploying a simple agile solution, however, is challenging.  Many organisations will be familiar with the situation where the initial purchase of a simple point solution matures into a spiderweb of confusing siloed applications and fragmented data as new applications are purchased to meet changing requirements (see Figure 1).

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud Financial Close Solutions
Figure 1: Fragmented Financial Forecasting Software

Why does this happen?  Well, because of the pressure Finance is under to solve for the immediate needs of the organization.  One of the easiest paths is leveraging tools that are readily available, such as Excel, Essbase or quick, low-cost financial forecasting software options which always, in the moment, feel like the correct choice.  Unfortunately, the cost of perpetual usage increases complexity over time, causing delays in access to the data and a general mistrust in the information provided.

Leveraging a unified platform for planning, budgeting and forecasting ensure that rolling forecast processes remain simple and that data is accurate and readily available.

Step 3.  Determine the forecast roll (monthly?  weekly?  12 or 24 months?)

Finance leaders understand that forecasting four to eight quarters past the current quarter actuals is considered a best practice.  But they will also agree that there’s no fixed guideline for the time interval in a rolling forecast.  The best timing depends on the organisational needs, external pressures, and the time needed to make decisions.

Rolling Forecasting Software
Figure 2: Rolling Forecasting Software

Absent a fixed guideline, one best practice is to ensure rolling forecasts can extend (e.g., roll) beyond the current calendar or fiscal year (see Figure 2).  Forecasts can extend anywhere from 12 months at a time to 18 months – sometimes even up to 24 months in highly specialised industries.

Step 4.  Roll with drivers, not with revenue

Rather than focusing on all aspects of revenue, organisations should identify the value drivers most likely to contribute to achieving success.  The key here is focusing on what the organisation plans for and not having too many goals, which could obstruct Finance from achieving the objectives that are most important to business performance

Ultimately, the act of planning, budgeting, and forecasting is NOT only about Finance.  It’s not only about revenues or expenses, either.  It is about unleashing value across the organisation.

It’s also about driving measurable business performance.  And to do that, the organisation must focus on whatever impacts the business.  Finance leaders must then create processes to help translate how changes in the business impact organisational performance.

A driver-based rolling forecast focusing on workforce and/or sales plans ensures agility, collaboration, alignment, and a focus on what drives the organization.

Step 5.  Always analyse variances to actuals (best practice for FP&A)

Using the rear-view mirror of budgets and variances as the primary tool to manage performance is less than optimal.  As a best practice, Finance leaders should analyse variances to actuals to compensate for rapidly changing market pressures.

This best practice enables Finance to measure the effectiveness and accuracy of a rolling forecast.  How?  By re-calibrating the forecast based on changes in both internal variables (e.g., changing demand volume and pricing) and external factors (e.g., fluctuations in the industry, economy, weather or geopolitical ecosystems) which cannot be fully accounted for in the prior budget season.

Rolling forecasts focused on variances to actuals will give Finance the foresight to make adjustments throughout the year and increase organisational performance.

OneStream unifies rolling forecasting with actuals

When creating a rolling forecast, having financial forecasting software that can consolidate and pre-populate data to save time is not only vital but also exactly what OneStream was designed to do.  The solution will automatically populate rolling forecasts with actuals the moment that the actuals have been certified.

As a unified, Intelligent Finance platform, OneStream is designed to help increase the agility and effectiveness of planning, budgeting, and forecasting as well as financial close, consolidation, and reporting processes.  OneStream even dynamically updates reports and report books using the most current forecast.  This functionality drastically cuts down the time and energy that FP&A teams spend generating reports, making it much easier to forecast monthly.

There’s no doubt that switching over to a rolling forecast will take some additional time and effort for your organisation and its employees.  However, your employees will thank you (and you’ll thank yourself!).  The rewards are well worth the work – you’ll quickly see for yourself that transitioning to a rolling forecast has a huge ROI.

Learn More

As your FP&A team begins its rolling forecast journey towards organisational agility, download our 5 Key Factors for Effective XP&A Whitepaper to learn more.  And if your organization is ready to make the leap from static planning to agile forecasting, contact OneStream today!

Download the White Paper

Do you know if your organization is using the best corporate performance management (CPM) reporting process possible? Does the CPM software leverage Artificial Intelligence to produce better reporting? Many organizations resort to ad-hoc analysis to bolster finance and operational reporting. But management reports built with legacy financial reporting tools are not flexible enough to react to what’s happening in the business during turbulent times. Meanwhile, current reporting methods typically focus on what happened in the past and give little insight on how to improve the organization’s performance going forward. Now is the time to take the best of modern finance reporting and extend it across the enterprise through the power of Artificial Intelligence. Read on to learn more.

AI for Intelligent FP&A – Reporting in an xP&A World

Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) transformation in a data-driven world is well underway. Today’s best planning solutions, however, are more accurately described by Gartner’s [1] new terminology “eXtended Planning & Analysis (xP&A).” According to Gartner, XP&A is the evolution of planning, combining financial and operational planning on a single composable platform. With xP&A, business planning, and forecasting are not only streamlined and integrated across every part of the organization but also supercharged with artificial intelligence (AI) (see Figure 1).

Why does this matter?

The Office of Finance is the central hub of the enterprise, and with xP&A comes both an expansion in responsibility and an increase in demand for reporting, analysis, and insights. As the consumer, line of business managers want the reports to be progressively more forward-looking and, in some cases, predictive in nature.

In response to the constant pressure to provide the golden source of reporting, Finance has begun to enable AI enhancements that assist with forecasting and operational analytics to increase collaboration across the organization and drive more effective decision-making. The result is accurate, fast, and forward-looking enterprise reporting that helps accelerate the xP&A journey.

eXtended Planning
Figure 1: eXtended Planning & Analysis (xP&A)

Artificial Intelligence Defined

While still a concept many companies are trying to understand fully, AI is not only real but also the future of FP&A and its subsequent evolution to xP&A. In simple terms, AI leverages computers and machines to ingest information and instructions, learn from interactions with human beings, and respond to new situations to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind. AI goes beyond technologies that merely automate rules-based activities such as robotic process automation (RPA).

AI can recognize patterns and learn to adapt to new situations, giving Finance leaders a substantial competitive edge.

Why are organizations turning to AI-enriched reporting?

Many Finance leaders agree that their business partners in Sales, Marketing, Operations, and HR want a better understanding of the information they receive from Finance, and they expect Finance to simplify it for them. The Office of the CFO thus faces constant pressure to deliver timely, accurate reporting to support effective business decision-making. While not the complete solution for FP&A, AI is a powerful tool that enables Finance to better meet the business’s needs and expectations for reporting.

Reporting demands of the next-generation FP&A Model

Every Finance leader feels the challenges of producing monthly reports in the traditional FP&A environment and then chasing down supporting data to explain the never-ending anomalies. Imagine walking into the office knowing that the AI-powered xP&A platform has obtained the anomalous data, reviewed the data, corrected the data, and explained the correction within the core financial reporting packages – all without human interaction. The updated data can then be fed into various reports that drive organizational intelligence. As a result, managers can better understand the organization’s performance in conjunction with priorities and understand the health of the enterprise (see Figure 2).

eXtended Planning
Figure 2: Next-generation FP&A model with increased demand for data & reporting in an xP&A world

Traditional FP&A   

New xP&A

Conclusion

Will AI eliminate all the uncertainty in the world of Finance? The answer is no, but the promise of folding AI services into the FP&A functions is very achievable, giving Finance new ways to ask WHY.

Every individual up and down the Finance team feels the squeeze as time begins to tick away on month-end activities. As an example, forecast validation is slow, tedious work as Finance perpetually checks and rechecks numbers to support management reporting. For many organizations, the simple response is to throw more bodies at the problem but doing so doesn’t generally provide the gains those organizations were seeking.

But what if a single team member could be trained to run infinite forecast validations to increase forecast accuracy, freeing up the rest of the team to collaborate with business partners to improve performance?

In some organizations, that single team member, called AI, has already proven that it can take on the heavy lifting of forecast validation. That leaves Finance to focus on questions that really matter, leading to elevated business partnerships and delivering accuracy across the enterprise.

Learn More

To learn more about how FP&A teams leverage AI for more than just reporting, stay tuned for additional posts, or download our interactive e-book here.

As the promise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) within corporate performance management (CPM) moves from fiction to fact, many FP&A teams are asking the same basic question.  What do AI and Machine Learning (ML) mean for me?

To answer this question and more, our AI for FP&A blog series is designed to help organizations prepare for the AI and ML journey and move beyond the hype.  Where to begin?  Well before jumping into any new journey, it’s critical to chart the course to anticipate what’s in store on the road ahead.  And for a topic as exciting and overhyped as AI, any new journey must begin by considering the key factors that have traditionally held Finance back from AI adoption.

Market Appetite for AI and ML

As we shared in the first post of the AI for FP&A blog series, about 60% of organizations are using or actively exploring ML according to the 2021 Dresner Advisory Wisdom of Crowds® Data Science and Machine Learning Market Study (see Figure 1).  On the surface, the progression over the last 5 years underscores the AI hype and excitement for the potential of AI for FP&A.

Figure 1: Dresner Advisory Wisdom of Crowds® Data Science and ML Market Survey

But when one breaks the data down by function, a bit of a different reality emerges for the Office of Finance and FP&A.

The study shows that only 20% (see figure 2) of Finance organizations are currently using AI and ML, and Finance actuals lag most functions despite all the buzz and chatter we all hear about.

Figure 2: Deployment of AI and ML by Function

What’s Holding FP&A Back?

With so much buzz and such little adoption, let’s examine the key barriers holding FP&A and Operations teams back from mainstream adoption of AI and ML solutions (see figure 3):

Figure 3: AI Barriers to Entry for FP&A

Lack of Expertise

Without dedicated expertise or resources, FP&A’s ability to take advantage of AI and ML is severely limited.

Lack of Scale

Lack of Business Intuition & Transparency

Figure 4: AI in Current CPM Solutions

As a strategic business partner, it’s FP&A’s role to instill confidence in forecasting processes.  And while leveraging AI and ML is likely to increase forecast accuracy – if P&L owners cannot assess the drivers that comprise their forecasts – P&L leaders will never own their forecasts.

And if P&L owners do not own their forecasts, forecasting processes break down and fail altogether which means FP&A has failed too.

Fragmented & Disconnected Processes

Conclusion

As AI and ML for FP&A enter the mainstream, organizations will undoubtedly have several choices to consider.  On one spectrum, solution vendors for AI (see Figure 5) are offering everything from AI infrastructure solutions to data science toolkits and complete AI platforms to create and deploy ML models.  While these are powerful tools addressing varying use cases – these tools are not designed for FP&A teams.

Figure 5: AI General Vendor Landscape

Corporate performance management vendors are also investing in AI capabilities to support extended planning & analysis (xP&A) processes such as demand planning and sales planning.  As figure 5 illustrates well for AI vendors, CPM vendors will also solve the AI needs of their customers in different ways.

So what’s the lesson in all this?

Don’t let AI hype cloud the evaluation process.  Start with a clear understanding of “what” business outcomes your FP&A team is trying to achieve with AI and ML.  Identify “who” is using the solution and “how” the solution is unified into existing planning processes.

And with answers to these questions in mind, use the evaluation process to “get under the hood” to learn whether the solution will in fact unleash the organization from the key barriers that are holding FP&A back from moving beyond the hype.

Learn More

To learn more about how FP&A teams are moving beyond the AI hype, stay tuned for additional posts from our blog series or download our interactive e-book here.

 

 

Do you know if your organization is using the best budgeting and forecasting process possible? Tried-and-true static budget methods are what many organizations resort to today. But static budgets built within legacy financial forecasting software are not flexible enough to react to what’s happening in the business during the budget period. Meanwhile, rolling forecasts are designed to change and adapt throughout the year, which provide more value if large and sudden changes impact your business. Now is the time to take the best of modern finance planning and extend it across the enterprise through xP&A (extended planning and analysis). Read on to learn more.

Let’s face it, the world is changing rapidly, and organizations face tremendous pressure to evolve with the changes. It’s no longer good enough for Finance and Line of Business leaders to create an annual plan with financial forecasting software and make multiple adjustments throughout the year.  Why?  Well, as the pace of change increases, annual plans become increasingly less relevant and, in many cases, are completely abandoned by Finance chiefs before the ink even dries.

As Finance transforms into the central hub within an organization, static budgets alone are not sufficient for budgeting, forecasting, and planning.  It isn’t that the annual budgeting process isn’t a useful exercise.  After all, the process still…

But static budgets do little to help organizations drive ongoing performance.  Why?  Well, annual plans are generally reactive to changing conditions.  Such plans are also time-consuming to build and update, inflexible and ineffectively utilized – causing employees to lose faith in the budgeting process.  The budgeting, planning, and forecasting process is seen as an exercise imposed by Finance and yielding little benefit to operational groups (e.g., Sales, Marketing, Supply Chain).

Albert Einstein perfectly captured why static budgets need to go: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Today, Finance chiefs are challenged with helping their organizations break the reliance on annual plans and embracing more agile planning techniques including driver-based planning and rolling forecasts.

Optimizing Day-to-Day Performance

Rolling forecasts (see figure 1) are extremely beneficial for large and dynamic enterprises as financial forecasting software tools to help continually adapt planning processes to actual performance and market trends.  How?  Rolling forecasts allow for more accurate and multifaceted forecasting by re-calibrating the forecast based on changes in both internal variables (e.g., changing demand volume and pricing), and external factors (e.g., fluctuations in the industry, economy, weather, or geopolitical ecosystem).

Rolling Forecast
Figure 1: Rolling Forecast Example

Below are a few additional reasons annual plans do little to help manage day-to-day performance:

We’ve previously defined a rolling forecast as “a management tool that enables organizations to continuously plan (i.e., forecast) over a set time horizon” vs. a calendar or fiscal year.  For example, in a 12-month forecast period, as each month ends, another month will be added.  In other words, you’re always forecasting 12 months into the future.

Best practice is to ensure rolling forecasts can extend (e.g., roll) beyond the current calendar or fiscal year-end.  Most commonly, rolling forecasts contain a minimum of 12 forecast periods but can also include 18, 24 or more periods depending on the needs and complexity of the organization.

Here’s a summary on the key differences between traditional and rolling forecasts (see Figure 2):

Rolling Forecast
Figure 2: Traditional Forecasting vs Rolling Forecast
Keep It Simple to Best Solve a Complex Problem

Simplifying how your team approaches forecasting is a keyway to drive efficiency, which is a key driver of value.

Luckily, we previously provided a framework to get you started on the first steps to becoming an agile Finance organization.  But there’s an additional accelerator to consider, supercharging accuracy and delivery, with the concept of eXtended Planning and Analysis (xP&A).

The paradigm shift from traditional FP&A to xP&A (see figure 3) offers a way to fully support a rolling forecast by enabling the inclusion of all organizational functions into a cohesive unified process and platform that adjusts to challenges and needs.

Gartner’s Vision for xP&A
Figure 3: Gartner’s Vision for xP&A

According to Gartner [1], by 2024, FP&A is expected to encompass xP&A, a strategy where “x” denotes how the traditional silos separating enterprise financial and operation planning processes are broken down.  The result?  A new level of transformative business value.

At OneStream, we call this Intelligent Finance.

Learn More

As your FP&A team begins your Rolling Forecast journey towards organizational agility, download BARC’s (Business Application Research Center) latest Future of Planning survey here to learn more and contact OneStream if your organization is ready to make the leap from static planning to agile forecasting

[1] Magic Quadrant for Cloud Financial Planning and Analysis Solutions, Greg Leiter, Robert Anderson, John Van Decker, 6 October 2020

Introduction

There is an evolution taking place in the Office of Finance, and many organizations are seeing the benefits.  Many FP&A teams are taking steps to move from static back-office processes into more strategic, business partner-oriented roles using rolling forecasting, integrated planning, and driver-based planning processes.

A great real-world example of FP&A’s shift into the business partner role is Gartner’s redefinition of planning from FP&A to xP&A or eXtended Planning & Analysis.

Gartner[1] defines xP&A “the evolution of planning, combining financial and operational planning on a single composable platform”.  And they state that xP&A will “require organizations to plan in a more consistent, cross-functionally aligned, collaborative, agile and accurate manner as they seek to pivot quickly and gain competitive advantage.”

It “extends” traditional FP&A solutions focused solely on finance into other enterprise planning domains such as workforce, sales, operations, and marketing.  xP&A solutions help organizations exploit the challenges faced when introducing new digital business models and navigating economic uncertainties. Said another way, xP&A enables organisations to “lead at speed.”

 

5 Key Factors for Effective xP&A

As FP&A leaders prepare to take advantage of xP&A to drive performance across the organisation, here are 5 key factors to consider as part of the evaluation process:

1.       A Unified, Extensible Platform

At the core of an effective xP&A strategy is the alignment of granular operational plans with financial forecasting and performance through a unified, extensible platform and data model.

‘Connected’ Finance solutions with data scattered across fragmented files, systems and cubes cannot effectively unify planning.  Such data is, by definition, “connected” not unified.

Planning processes must therefore be unified through a single, enterprise-wide platform that is pervasive across operational and financial functions.  The platform must have the capability to support corporate standards and controls, with the flexibility for business units to report and plan at additional levels of detail such as divisions, business units, and departments – all through a single application.

2.       Built-In Financial Data Quality

High-quality and accurate management reporting is critical to empowering Finance teams and their business partners to develop insights and guide key decisions that drive performance.

To support xP&A strategies, organizations require a platform with built-in capabilities to check, confirm, certify, and lock data for complete confidence in data quality and processes.  Achieving such capabilities begins with effective data integration to ensure the timeliness and accuracy of financial and operational results.

Users must also, at the same time, be provided with the ability to drill back into source data (see figure 1) for transactional analyses that assess invoices, capital projects, product profitability, and workforce analysis.

onestream-demo-financial data quality-

Figure 1: Financial Data Quality Drill through and Drill Back

3.       Built-In Financial Intelligence

Why is built-in financial intelligence important? Because having built-in financial intelligence speeds the implementation process reduces costs and ensures the accuracy of the results produced by the solution.

With some connected planning solutions, financial intelligence must be built during the implementation process. That process typically leads to more complexity and longer and more expensive implementations.

adobe-data brain- financial intelligence- 2159x1640px

OneStream considers the following capabilities as critical examples of built-in financial intelligence for effective xP&A:

4.       Financial Signaling

To truly lead at speed, Finance leaders must break organizational reliance on the month-end reporting cycle by accessing and leveraging the vast amount of daily and weekly operational insights across the organisation.  Financial Signaling (see Figure 2) enables FP&A teams to leverage the financial intelligence at the core of the organizational monthly financial processes (e. g., hierarchies, dimensionality, and translations), and then blend it with higher velocity financial transactions and operational data from multiple sources.

onestream-financial signaling- screenshot- 1124x493px

Figure 2: Financial Signaling for Daily/Weekly Insights

With this capability, Finance teams and key business partners can begin to analyse the signals such as order pacing or controllable costs on a weekly or even daily basis to compare how these key metrics and KPIs are pacing vs. their monthly forecasts and run rates.

5.      Auto Artificial Intelligence (AI)

No matter where an organization is in the Finance transformation journey, it’s critical to consider artificial intelligence (AI) as part of an effective xP&A strategy.  Why? Well, like it or not, machine learning (ML) and other subsets of AI are here to stay as tools to help increase forecasting accuracy and enable continuous scenario modeling within the current environment of increasing complexity and pace of change.

AutoAI is a gamechanger that breaks down the traditional high barriers to entry of advanced analytics for Finance teams, enabling organizations to leverage internal and external data to create insights for decision-making.

AutoAI delivers these additional characteristics for Finance and Operations teams:

  1. Faster — The Power of Automation
  2. Easier — Programmatic Data Science Intuition
  3. Cheaper — Agile Data Science Teams

 

Learn More

As your FP&A team begins your xP&A journey, download our whitepaper to learn more about the key factors that are critical for effective xP&A.

 

Connected Planning Defined

In recent years, we’ve seen the introduction of terms such as the ‘connected financial close’, ‘connected planning’ and ‘connected reporting’ starting to be used to describe the integration of key Finance processes – including financial close and consolidation, account reconciliation, financial reporting and extended planning and analysis (XP&A). And there’s a reason for that: the concept of connected sounds compelling. The idea is that – by “connecting” people with data, financial reporting and plans – “connected Finance teams” can move forward with speed and agility.

Figure 1: Connected Finance Solutions<
Figure 1: Connected Finance Solutions

Connected planning solutions (see Figure 1) have supported Finance transformation for over 20 years. But these solutions aren’t really designed to help the largest and most complex organisations lead at speed – not in this new era anyway.

We recently started sharing a four-part blog series discussing the path toward Intelligent Finance through digital transformation. Regardless of where you are in your journey, our Inspiring Intelligent Finance series is designed to give you insights from the experience of OneStream’s team of industry experts. Today’s post, the third in the series, focuses on helping Finance teams understand why it’s time to move beyond connected planning.

Challenges of Connected Planning Solutions

Modern connected planning solutions offer a nice alternative for corporate and departmental Finance teams seeking to evolve from manual, spreadsheet-intensive processes. And for organisations with little complexity, connected Finance solutions might work well. But how do connected Finance solutions fare for large, global organisations with sophisticated requirements that extend across the entire Office of Finance and into lines of business?

These organisations have dozens of diverse planning and Finance processes, so connected Finance solutions are difficult to scale to meet sophisticated organisational requirements. Why? Because each and every departmental and corporate application or model must be connected – adding risk, cost and complexity to already-taxed Finance teams. Here are some additional factors to consider:

The 2- to 3-Year Itch

Some organisations that began their planning journey with multiple point solutions and attempted to ‘connect’ them are arriving at a decision point 2-3 years later. Why? Well, decisions to implement planning solutions are often made in isolation. The solution is right for that specific part of the organisation at that specific time, and the organisation has probably seen many benefits and improvements to the planning and forecasting processes. There can be multiple solutions fulfilling many different planning requirements, but even if ‘connections’ or integrations exist between them, there’s no standardisation.

Not to mention, in organisations experiencing fast growth and change – which is pretty much every medium to large organisation these days – this lack of standardisation presents a problem when the need to have a single unified view of the organisation becomes imperative. Such organisations probably find themselves struggling with not only data silos but also, more importantly, planning silos. Finance, Sales, HR, Supply Chain and every other function are making forecasts based on numbers. But those numbers don’t always match – and that’s a problem.

Can this problem be solved by more integrations? No. In fact, having more integrations potentially makes the problem worse because more people and more time will be focused on integrating siloed systems. The implementation of these separate solutions has been an advancement in and of itself because users have become familiar with more advanced planning and forecasting capabilities. However, the next level of evolution needs to take organisations forward to a single version of the truth across all processes.

The Better Alternative – A Unified Platform

Organisations today should look to a truly unified platform for all their performance management processes. An intelligent Finance platform (see Figure 2) that allows them to break away from the limitations of spreadsheets and connected planning solutions. A platform that unifies financial consolidation, planning, reporting and analysis though a single, extensible solution.

Figure 2: OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform
Figure 2: OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform

OneStream offers a solution that delivers corporate standards and controls, with the flexibility for business units to report and plan at additional levels of detail without impacting corporate standards – all through a single platform. The hallmark of a unified platform is the capability of having multiple solutions for actuals, budgets, forecasts, plans, reconciliations, profitability analysis and more – all living together in a single application. Each solution benefits from leveraging everything the platform offers.

As a unified solution, OneStream eliminates risky integrations, validations and reconciliations between multiple products, applications and modules.

Customer Example – Hyperion/Howden Group Holdings

Founded in 1994 as Hyperion Insurance Group, the now re-branded Howden Group Holdings has grown significantly over the last 26 years to over 6,000 employees across 40 combined territories in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Howden Group Holdings

 

Howden Group is on a continuous mission to add controls and keep pace with growth, without crushing the entrepreneurial spirit. They needed a solution that would provide corporate standardisation while giving the individual subsidiaries the power to run their businesses as needed with a certain level of autonomy and control. That’s why Howden Group decided to upgrade their finance software and replace Anaplan with OneStream’s modern and unified CPM platform. To learn more, watch the replay of our webinar on Howden Group’s move to OneStream.

It was vital for Howden Group to invest in the long term, and OneStream is a strategic platform for the future. Previously, Howden Group had a very complex, fragmented data model that was hard to reconcile. OneStream instead gives them a single source of data, satisfying the corporate governance and control aspect while providing the ability to support divisional requirements through OneStream’s Extensible Dimensionality®. Business leaders are now able to drill into the details to understand the organic growth of the organisation.

Learn More

To learn more, read our Intelligent Finance Whitepaper, and stay tuned for the final post from our Inspiring Intelligent Finance blog series coming soon.

Scenario planning was a key focus in FSN’s Agility in Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting Global Survey 2021.  Drawing responses from 509 international senior Finance professionals from the FSN Modern Finance Forum on LinkedIn, the survey covered finance professionals across 23 different industries.  Using scenario planning enables organisations to ‘look out further’ and saves them from the risk and uncertainty of not understanding or planning for what could happen when a major change event occurs.

To any organization, agility is invaluable.  Yet the survey shows that producing accurate, far-sighted forecasts and responding quickly to both internal and external changes aren’t skills universally demonstrated in all organizations.  In fact, the Agility in Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting Survey found that some organizations fall significantly short of having the basic competencies needed to maintain an agile planning, budgeting and forecasting process.  Importantly the survey found that scenario planners are twice as likely to be able to forecast a year ahead with confidence – that means 31% of organisations who do scenario plan vs 11% within organisations who do not use scenario planning and have yet to start finance transformation (See figure 1).

Scenario Planners
Forecast Beyond 12 Months
Figure 1: FSN – Ability to Forecast beyond 12 Months

What Is Scenario Planning?

When managing through uncertainty, Finance teams should almost always look to scenario planning as their “go-to” choice.  Why?  Well, here are the key reasons:

Low Adoption in Organizations

Based on the benefits above, the case for using scenario planning is clearly compelling – so why do so few organizations embrace it?

The FSN survey found that a mere 4% of organizations make sufficient time for effective scenario planning (see Figure 2).  Worse, this low adoption rate has persisted despite the surge of interest in scenario planning since the COVID-19 pandemic swept away assumptions and forecasts with unprecedented speed and ferocity.

So again, why do organizations shy away from scenario planning?  A principal reason, as stated in the FSN survey, is a (perceived) lack of automation.  Without automation, scenario planning is time-consuming and practically worthless unless an organization can simultaneously model multiple scenarios, assumptions and variables – which is at best a grueling process and at worst entirely impossible within the limitations of a spreadsheet.

Scenario Planning Future Direction
Figure 2: Scenario Planning Future Direction

The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The survey found that COVID-19 intensified the focus on scenario planning as organizations had to quickly respond to change and plan for the uncertainties ahead.  Unfortunately, some organizations found themselves dramatically unprepared for what was happening.  Finance teams were often being asked to model different outcomes several times a day as restrictions increased, business models changed and many sources of traditional revenue dried up.  How did all of that impact planning?

Well, many organizations were simply unable to meet analysis demands.  And if they did manage to meet the demands, the road there was often littered with inefficient manual processes and potentially multiple errors.  These issues could have initially led to some to poor decision-making.  But such issues have also driven organizations to establish the right foundation for any future event of a similar nature.

Even today, the pandemic remains an ongoing problem in many countries, but opportunities will also continue to arise within those environments.  The survey states that “organizations won’t be able to take advantage of them [opportunities] unless they have a clear vision of their future, and for that they need supreme agility in planning, budgeting and forecasting.”

In other words, they need the right tools.

Specialist Tools Are Essential

The complexity of managing and running various scenarios means organizations still wedded to spreadsheets will be severely limited in what they can achieve.  Only those organizations that have mastered their data and deployed specialist tools can properly enjoy the benefits of scenario planning.  The survey found that 33% of non-scenario planners say they are “data overloaded,” meaning they’re overwhelmed by disconnected spreadsheets (data governance is also poor) vs just 8% with scenario planners (See figure 3).

Data Overloaded
Figure 3: FSN – Data Overloaded

The Benefits Are Comprehensive & Extensive

According to the FSN survey, 77% of organizations that find the time to consider alternative scenarios can reforecast earnings within a week (see Figure 4).  Comparatively, 41% of Finance executives say they lack the time for scenario planning.

Scenario planning also adds to the accuracy of forecasting.  Fifty-four percent of scenario planners can forecast to within +/- 5% of earnings and revenue.  But only 36% and 41% of non-scenario planners manage to forecast earnings and revenue, respectively, with such accuracy.

Scenario planning ultimately sets up the ability to change in times of extreme flux.  The survey found that 83% of scenario planners can adjust for a minor change, such as a new cost line added or taken out of a budget or forecast model, in half a day versus just 58% for their less-prepared competitors.

That agility is supported by two additional key benefits of scenario planning:

FSN Stress Tests
Figure 4: FSN Stress Tests

Scenario Planning Delivers Agility Now and in the Future

The recent pandemic proved that, to survive, organizations needed to react fast, understand the different options and preserve cash.  Some organizations may have discovered details about themselves and how they operate for the very first time.  Such realizations are possible because many short-term models used by organizations today are ill-suited to handling the long-term strategic cash management now required.  Why?  Well, the models are often simply too short term and too granular – with many only focused on a single customer, region or transaction.

OneStream Scenario Planning Solution
Figure 5: OneStream Scenario Planning Solution

Effective scenario planning (See Figure 5) delivers scenarios that vastly differ to ensure maximum discussion on the potential actions.  When scenarios are run, the actions to take should be clear, so models must identify specific outcomes to make that possible.  The use of Monte Carlo simulations – which produce thousands of scenarios – delivers a level of probability to the outcomes and helps foster a level of confidence in the forward decisions to be made.

Does not planning for certain scenarios always lead to disaster?  Not necessarily.  But it can leave the door open to increased risk and missed opportunities – is your organization willing to take those risks?

Learn More

To learn more, download the FSN report here.  Ready to get started on a platform that supports agile planning, budgeting and forecastingContact OneStream today to make the leap into scenario planning.