Companies spend considerable time and resources on strategic planning, but that doesn’t guarantee successful execution. Also recent Gartner Research revealed, 83% of business strategies are at risk due to incorrect assumptions people make during the planning process about critical factors such as opportunities, obstacles and capabilities.

The same study found that 67% of core functions are not aligned with business unit and corporate strategies, creating a disconnect between business plans and the people who execute them. Such disconnects are amplified when the business must respond quickly to challenges, such as pandemic fallout, inflation, or war in Ukraine.

These crises have exposed a divide between companies that use built-in planning tools and those that rely on spreadsheets. When a crisis hits, shareholders, boards and senior management wonder about the impact. Finance teams that use spreadsheets need to gather data, so they are unable to provide quick answers. Teams that use integrated scheduling software can. That’s why more and more teams are adopting integrated planning tools.

Create a single source of truth

One of the main benefits of using an integrated planning tool is that it pulls financial and operational data into a single platform, making planning and reporting easier. So, if you are the new CFO of a company that receives funding from a private equity firm, you must submit monthly reports on what is going on in the company from a financial and operational perspective. To do your job effectively, you would need an integrated system and a single source of truth.

Arguably your most important priority as a new CFO is to establish a single source of truth and create a master data file. Otherwise, you’ll spend too much time arguing over numbers. Is it the value 10 or 12? You must know the correct answer if decisions will be based on this value. A single source of truth accelerates decision-making and reduces the risk of error.

In addition to gathering operational and financial data to present monthly reports, you will also need this information to manage the business and achieve your goals. A single source of truth standardizes the methodology used to calculate data, so you eliminate scenarios where people use different calculation methods and introduce inconsistencies.

Provide self-service custom reports

Another benefit of an integrated planning platform is that you have the ability to more easily share information and reports with the management team. You can also layer technology like Tableau and other tools so managers can extract the information they need, instead of creating a monthly report that tries to anticipate everyone’s questions.

This is a pull vs push reporting approach. With an integrated scheduling platform, you can create clickable dashboards as opposed to monthly reports. Managers can access the platform at any time and click on a report that tells them what is happening in the business, including what the current projections are, what trends are present, etc. Managers can see what is important to them.

Self-service pull reports might not seem like a huge leap over traditional push reports, but it’s a significant value driver. People looking to finance for answers no longer need to ask a member of the finance team to generate a report; they can see for themselves what is happening and make decisions accordingly. It is to everyone’s advantage.

Live and breathe your strategic goals

As the Gartner report notes, faulty assumptions are a danger to achieving strategic goals; lack of focus is another. Many companies lay out a five-year strategy, then dust it off every year to see where they stand against the goals. But if they really are your strategic goals, shouldn’t you live and breathe them every day? With an integrated planning approach, you can.

With integrated planning software, you can create reports aligned with your strategic goals. Unlike a spreadsheet, an integrated planning tool can be configured to answer questions related to your strategic goals and provide financial and operational data that aligns key performance indicators with goals.

This gives you the ability to see where you are at all times. You can align annual budgets with strategic goals and ensure your goals are reflected in forecasting and decision-making, focusing on key value drivers to ensure you meet your goals. This way, an integrated planning approach keeps you focused on strategic goals.

Turning spreadsheet jockeys into business partners

Another high potential benefit of adopting an integrated planning approach is that it can convert the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) team into true business partners who can drive transformative change and succeed in the business world. company as a whole. Integrated access to financial and operational data creates transformative power.

As partners, the FP&A team’s job is to help the rest of the business succeed. With a truly integrated planning tool, the FP&A team can focus on this mission instead of preparing the data. Without an integrated planning approach, FP&A teams tend to operate like spreadsheet jockeys, spending all their time making sure the numbers are balanced, reconciled, and complete.

Freed from these mundane tasks with an integrated planning platform, FP&A teams can become the business partners the business needs to move forward, collaborating with colleagues on the operational side to achieve strategic goals. This is great for FP&A team morale and productivity, and operational partners benefit immeasurably.

Increase trust – in finance and everywhere else

The truth is, we’ll probably never completely move away from spreadsheets, and that’s okay; they can fill in the gaps if necessary. But when companies use an integrated planning platform to manage 80% to 90% of the data, it speeds up decision-making, increases productivity, and allows the business to respond faster to crises.

An integrated planning approach also promotes calculated risk taking that can pay big dividends. By improving forecast accuracy, an integrated planning platform increases confidence. If you know you can trust your cash flow projections, you’ll have the confidence to free up cash for M&A activity, a move into new territory, or a product launch.

Not only will a highly accurate cash flow forecast increase confidence so you can redeploy working capital, it will also increase the bank’s confidence in your business when applying for loans. You can get more capital at lower covenants if your reports are reliable, and it also builds shareholder confidence. In short, you can operate more aggressively.

Most businesses rely on spreadsheets for their business planning, even some of the most technologically advanced companies. But the past few years have highlighted the limitations of spreadsheets as a planning tool, so finance leaders are taking a fresh look at their tech stacks. An integrated planning approach should be a priority because it accelerates decision-making and increases agility, enabling better, faster and smarter operations.

Matthew Bagley is Chief Financial Officer at Unit4.


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