By Kirby Lunger, Partner, Performance Architects
Anyone else tired of hearing about the same old “innovative” trends in the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) arena? Here’s the thing—three of those FP&A topics we hear about repeatedly that would have produced a yawn only a little while ago are now interesting and exciting again as a result of recent technical innovation.
THREE FP&A TRENDS THAT HAVE BEEN REIGNITED BY TECHNOLOGY
1. Integrated planning
For years, the Holy Grail of FP&A has been to link the long-term strategy (five-plus years out) with the long-range plan (three-to-five years out) and the annual operating plan (AOP) or annual budget. This was difficult because most budgeting solutions were built on different databases and developed by different vendors than longer-term strategic forecasting solutions.
A wave of acquisitions over the past several years, along with a general rebuild/re-platform of somewhat mature on-premises budgeting, forecasting and planning solutions as a result of the move to the cloud, mean that most of these solutions now are integrated. This allows for truly linked budgets and forecasts and permits the technical and functional integration of plans.
2. Strategy management and analysis
In addition to the “lack of linkage” issues mentioned in item #1, we also faced another problem in the strategic planning arena. In order to look for trends that might help guide where an organization was going, practitioners had to practically have an advanced degree in statistics in order to understand how to look for correlations in data that might predict an organization’s strategic direction and outcomes.
Now, many of the same planning solutions mentioned in item #1 contain predictive planning modules that auto-recommend certain statistical models and correlations to help finance analysts act like quasi-data scientists to evaluate patterns. With these patterns, they can start measuring cause-and-effect relationships in their data that can then be measured and managed in a strategic planning framework that trickles down into the forecast and budget.
3. Rolling forecasting and continuous budgeting
Let’s face it—we all know the budget is almost useless (or at least somewhat inaccurate) the minute that it’s been completed, because the data usually doesn’t refresh regularly or thoroughly enough until the next annual budgeting cycle. For years, the FP&A community has been talking about continuous or rolling forecasting and “just-in-time” budgets, but there have been some major technical obstacles to execution.
One of the largest barriers to adoption has been task lists and workflow related to the collection and dissemination of budgets. Many solutions contained rudimentary workflow and task list capabilities, but these often weren’t well integrated with project management solutions, email and calendaring programs, etc. Most solutions are now well-integrated with major platforms in all relevant areas.
In addition, the integration of role-based security into these platforms means that you can easily roll up a version, scenario or plan and see the impact of recent changes in your budget or forecast—which means your annual budget can now move to more a frequent planning model.
Finally, the fact that planning and forecasting is integrated from a data storage and management perspective in the same system results in a more efficient and effective way to share plan information across different planning functions and types.
THE NEXT FRONTIER
As FP&A practitioners, we know that the best technology in the world can’t fix a broken or immature process. Although these technical advances remove a lot of the barriers that stalled advancement, we still need to train, mentor and manage people to execute on processes related to these solutions.
Want to learn more about these topics? Attend the AFP 2019 session, Budgeting, Forecasting and Planning Best Practices: Customer Case Study Panel. Register for AFP 2019 here.