Is Your Business Planning Technology Driving Results? Here’s How to Know

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There’s no doubt that technology has added incredible efficiency to business processes. But we’ve all seen plenty examples of overpromising and underdelivering (such as the proverbial vaporware). How can you ensure that advancements in the accounting and finance industry actually drive better decision-making tactics for the business? Ed Gromann, CPO at Centage Corporation, explains for CEO Today.

The very nature of the finance team’s work has changed radically over the past 10 years. Once it was enough to focus on the financial aspects of a company — your general ledger, balance sheet, P&L, and so on. Today, you need a much deeper understanding of the business. Consider the composition of the workforce. Most companies have a range of fulltime, part-time and seasonal employees on their payrolls, as well as contractors and third-parties to whom they’ve outsourced business functions.

The sales cycle is equally complex. Online marketplaces, wholesaler, affiliate and reseller relationships extend your market reach and tap into new sources of revenue, but complicate invoicing and collections, payroll, financing, transactional accounting, budgeting and forecasting and financial analysis of all kinds.

Technology can help finance teams gain deeper understanding of their businesses by providing a direct, real-time line of sight into the business. CRM and payroll solutions help track sales transactions and workforce expenses with precision, and commission software packages make it easier to drive sales production through compensation models.

For finance teams, the real opportunity of these technologies is the way they feed the planning and budgeting processes, and make the data transparent and accessible. With access to that level of information, decision-making becomes fully data driven.

Of course, data-driven budget and planning decisions require a platform that automatically processes all inputs according to your company’s unique business structure, and automatically updates all outputs, such as your P&L, balance sheet or cash flow statement. That means selecting the right platform is critical. Below are some things you should think about when selecting a planning system for your company.

What Are Your Most Critical Requirements?

Prior to assessing any solution, take the time to define your high-level requirements and understand which are “must-haves” and which are just “nice to have.” For instance, what kind of reporting will you need? Many financial teams want to give key executives the ability to generate and run reports themselves, which means reporting should be customized to the individual who runs them, as well as easy. It also means it must have some kind of integration with CRM, payroll, commissions, ERP, and GL systems to ensure that all reports are up-to-the-minute.

Also, be sure you have a firm handle on what you want to spend, annually, on the platform. Costs are likely to go beyond the actual license fees. How much will it cost to implement the solution and customize it to your unique business structure? Will you need to hire consultants to change your model if you want to perform what-if testing? If so, find out how much that will cost, or if the platform allows you to easily change the model for testing purposes.

Usability

I highly recommend looking at usability and training — criterion that are often overlooked but can result in unsuccessful implementations. Here’s why: Although it’s the finance team’s responsibility to manage a plan, the plan itself belongs to every department within the organization. It’s the CMO who manages the marketing budget, and the CTO who is responsible for IT investments. This means your planning solution must be easy and accessible to more than just the finance team.

Budgeting and planning software that has an impressive list of features but is cumbersome to use will lead to disappointing results.

Business System Integration

There are a range of ways to get data from one application or data store to another, from built-in integrations with specific vendors, to easily available APIs and even custom-built interfaces. Which are important to you. For instance, is it a high priority that your planning and budgeting software easily integrates with your data warehouse? In which scenarios are you willing to take on the work of building out other integrations?

Security Considerations

Budgets often contain highly sensitive information, such as personnel data and salaries. A budgeting and planning platform should prevent the wrong users from accessing data that’s not directly related to their roles in the organization. For this reason, you may want to consider a platform that offers role-based security, with an interface that’s customized to the user’s function. What the VP of Customer Care sees should be very different from what the CMO sees. You’ll want to consider both the flexibility as well the complexity, of setting up access to your budgets and forecasts.

Ability to Evolve Alongside Your Company

Obviously this is a concern with every business solution, but what you need in terms of business planning and budgeting you need today may evolve over time. Scalability will be an important issue, especially if your company has ambitious growth plans, or any mergers or acquisitions on the horizon. A solution you choose today may support the number of users you currently have, but the cost of additional licenses may become cost-prohibitive.

Choosing the right budgeting and forecasting software can be daunting, but you can avoid many of the most common risks with some pre-planning with your internal team.

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