Most growing businesses rely upon collections of spreadsheets and manual processes to manage their financial planning and budgeting processes. Finance teams generate revenue forecasts for each region or product line and then roll them up to executive leadership. Department heads build up their wish lists for the coming year, including requests for new initiatives. Departments pass a lot of information back and forth to solicit input from stakeholders throughout the company. Finance teams revise, refine, consolidate, negotiate, and eventually massage the data from spreadsheets into a cohesive financial plan for the coming year.
What’s wrong with this picture? For starters, it can feel like controlled chaos most of the time. Managing multiple versions of spreadsheets is generally unwieldy, especially when there are frequent changes involved. It often happens that one person’s edits are overridden by another person’s changes, and the plan no longer reflects consensus reality.
It can be hard to figure out who has seen which version of the plan, and which parts have received approval from executive management. If team members arrive at a meeting after having reviewed different versions of the proposed budget, it can be hard to have a productive conversation about the numbers. Comments, questions, discussions, and approvals frequently occur in the form of email threads or side conversations that are difficult, if not impossible, to track down after the fact.
If your organization is relatively small, then all of this might be somewhat manageable. As a company grows, however, a purely spreadsheet-based approach to planning and budgeting can quickly be strained beyond the breaking point. Just the addition of a few new people to the process can increase the number of potential communication channels, rendering an already unwieldy process even more complex and difficult to manage.
Since early 2020, many organizations have shifted to a predominantly remote workforce, making communication even more of a challenge. At the same time, business leaders are more keenly aware of the need for greater agility and responsiveness. As external conditions change, or as new business opportunities come into view, it’s important for organizations to be able to reassess and adjust their business plans and forecasts to reflect the new reality.
As with many things, technology provides some relief for the finance teams who drive the planning and budgeting process. The best financial planning software provides a clear path for improvement. Automated workflows and collaboration tools make it possible for distributed teams to work together far more effectively than they can with manual processes built around spreadsheets and email conversations.
In most organizations, though, budgets are tight. How can you persuade business leaders to invest in the right financial planning software? How do you build a case for change? It all begins with identifying the pain points unique to your organization, then seeking the financial planning solutions that can address those pains and building out a business case that makes sense to your executive leadership team.
What are the Pain Points in Your Organization?
For most growing companies, the challenges of multi-point communication, spreadsheet version control, and email collaboration provide ample justification for change. To help decision-makers in your organization better understand the problem, consider asking for input from some of the people involved with the planning and budgeting process:
- Does the organization’s reliance on email exchange of planning and budgeting spreadsheets result in confusion and inaccuracy?
- Are planning cycles unnecessarily long because of the organization’s reliance on manual processes?
- Do finance leaders have difficulty tracking down email approvals or identifying the most recent feedback within long discussion threads involving multiple stakeholders?
- Do conflicting versions of the same spreadsheet lead to different people or departments entering into budget discussions based on numbers that do not match?
- Does the organization lack a single, cohesive approach to financial planning and budgeting?
- How much time and energy does the organization waste when dealing with all of these inconsistencies?
Upper-level management might not be aware of some of the problems associated with the manual, spreadsheet-driven approach to financial planning and budgeting. By asking stakeholders these questions, you can begin to paint a more accurate picture of the planning process for management.
Merely highlighting the inefficiencies of current processes may not be enough, though. Decision-makers in your organization should also understand that manual, spreadsheet-based processes are inherently limiting. In the post-COVID business environment, executive leadership needs greater real-time visibility of what’s happening in the organization, a closer connection to external conditions, and the ability to adapt and adjust rapidly. Modern organizations need agile planning processes that drive accurate forecasts and support rapid scenario modeling. That’s where continuous financial planning has the potential to create distinct, competitive advantages.
The Next Level: Continuous Financial Planning
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in early 2020, business leaders around the world were compelled to take a fresh look at nearly everything. Demand for some products spiked, whereas for others, sales plummeted virtually overnight. There were interruptions to supply chains. Normal cash flow cycles were disrupted as concerns emerged about customers’ ability to pay. Large-scale expenditures were deferred as leaders at many companies chose to wait and see what might happen next.
In the late spring of 2020, the focus was on agility, that is, the capacity for business leaders to scan the environment, assess their options, and make rapid tactical and strategic decisions. In the context of this new reality, annual budgeting and planning cycles are no longer sufficient. Many companies have shifted to continuous planning and rolling forecasts. This provides a better real-time view of the business and aligns with the new focus that many executives have placed on agility.
In many organizations, annual budgeting planning cycles have always been notoriously labor intensive. At certain times of the year, it is accepted as a foregone conclusion that members of the finance team (and others throughout the organization) will be working long hours and weekends to get the necessary work done on time. This is often seen as a necessary evil, simply part of the annual cycle required to keep the business running smoothly and profitably.
In the post-COVID world, though, many businesses are seeking to break that mold. They have seen that with the right continuous financial planning solution, businesses can move beyond the traditional paradigm and develop a higher level of agility and responsiveness.
Near real-time financial planning software is built around automated workflows and collaboration, integrated with enterprise resource planning software (ERP) that gives business leaders an accurate, up-to-date understanding of how the business is performing relative to the plan. Just as importantly, it allows executives to monitor and adjust easily as the external business conditions change.
As you build the case for your organization’s investment in continuous financial planning software, look to some of the unexpected changes that have affected your business over the years. In other words, what kinds of events have called upon executive management to ask for changes to the annual budget? This could include changes in the competitive environment such as a merger or acquisition, the appearance of a new competitor, or the bankruptcy of one of the company’s existing competitors.
It might also include sharp swings in demand or disruptions in the supply chain. The disruptive effects brought about by the emergence of new technologies, likewise, may also call for business leaders to revisit their financial plans for the year. For virtually every business leader, the onset of the COVID-19 crisis provides ample justification for a shift to more agile financial planning and budgeting processes.
Extending Planning to the Entire Organization
In addition to shrinking the timeframe for financial planning and budgeting, many organizations are finding that it makes sense to extend the process further beyond the office of the CFO. This has a number of benefits, one of which is simply to invite input from the people who have the best, most detailed understanding of frontline operations. Bringing more participants into the process makes for greater accuracy and strategic impact. It allows for input from human resources, sales, and project leads.
In many respects, this brings us back to the issues and concerns that we raised earlier, namely, that as the number of people involved in the budgeting and planning process increases, manual systems built around email and spreadsheets can become too cumbersome, leading to errors, confusion, and delays. To build a truly inclusive process that allows for input from across the organization, effective collaboration, communication, and version control are essential.
If your organization is seeking to modernize its approach to financial planning and budgeting, insightsoftware can help. As a global leader in budgeting, planning, and financial reporting solutions, insightsoftware has extensive experience in solving complex challenges for businesses around the globe. Thousands of companies have turned to insightsoftware to help with planning, budgeting, and analytics.
Bizview is insightsoftware’s robust, web-based planning solution. Companies that use Bizview can increase planning cadences, facilitate collaboration, and simplify processes to drive smarter decisions from more accurate data. Easy configuration of planning forms, reports and dashboards, and automated workflow tools make it easy to extend planning beyond finance. Bizview’s familiar spreadsheet-like interface offers anytime, anywhere data access on any device, without having to manage multiple spreadsheets and versions. Out-of-the-box content and connectors for all leading ERP systems allow for rapid implementation and ensure quick time to value.
If your organization is seeking to extend budgeting, planning, and forecasting processes to a wider group of stakeholders within your organization, or if you are struggling with the chaos that inevitably arises from manual budgeting and forecasting processes, insightsoftware can help. To learn more, download our free guide, From Manual to Modern Planning Processes: Making the Business Case.