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Automating the Long-Term Financial Road Map
Most people wouldn’t think of embarking on a journey from Florida to Maine without a destination, a planned route, or a map. And yet some organizations attempt to implement a strategic plan without clear directions on how to achieve their goals with the financial resources available. As you might guess, false starts, wrong turns, and inefficiency are the common results.
A partnership between finance and the rest of your organization can help create the road map you need. But to make this relationship a reality, finance must evolve away from the traditional budget cycle and embrace new technology.
Traditional budget process versus strategic planning
For many organizations, the budget process is onerous and outdated. It is often seen as a necessary evil rather than a dynamic or informative tool. In many cases, budgets are created using complex spreadsheets that can only be comprehended by the people who create them. Updating these documents is time consuming, so budgets are done annually and may only be updated once or twice a year, if at all.
Conventional budgets are complex and they are often developed in the finance department with minimal collaboration or transparency in the process. This type of budget cycle typically only focuses on a single fiscal year and one business development scenario.
Strategic plans, on the other hand, are constantly changing as your organization performs environmental scanning to proactively identify external opportunities and threats. Plans typically span three or more years and often contain ambitious, aspirational goals. Organizations rarely have the financial or human resources to invest in every goal of the strategic plan simultaneously. What they need is informative, forward-looking data to transform the plan into a clear, accurate, and detailed map of the route ahead. This is one of the most valuable services the finance function can provide, but conventional budget processes are often incapable of providing high-quality data in a timely manner.
Using a spreadsheet to drive the budget process in an organization with a dynamic strategic plan is akin to using a paper map instead of a mobile GPS app with alerts on traffic, road construction, and where to stop for lunch. A paper map does not alert you to potential issues ahead, so you can’t be proactive in your decision making. A spreadsheet-based budgeting process isn’t going to give you the necessary predictive information or tell you when you need to change course. What’s more, reforecasting with a spreadsheet can be time-consuming and cumbersome.
Automation and the future of strategic budgeting
Finance can help provide an up-to-the-minute, future-focused roadmap using modern business intelligence. In order to succeed in this arena, finance leaders must:
- Make the strategic budgeting process collaborative. It is time to step out of the finance silo and start “car-pooling” with your colleagues who will be executing the strategic plan. Their input creates a more robust analysis. In addition, since those colleagues are often most impacted by the budget, their input can help shape it into a more useful tool for the implementers.
- Develop models that allow finance to quickly and easily run multiple scenarios and adjust assumptions. Opportunities can present themselves and pass in a matter of moments; organizations need to be able to assess the costs and benefits of each opportunity before it is missed.
- Create reporting that can be digested by nonfinancial people. Columns of numbers are meaningless to most nonfinancial users. Drillable dashboards with at-a-glance visual indicators are essential in today’s environment. A well-executed dashboard is a wealth of information available at a glance.
Many future-focused organizations are already making this leap, looking to web-based business intelligence solutions to bridge the gap between yesterday’s budgets and today’s strategic plans. They are democratizing the budget process by allowing more people to be involved.
Data analysis systems are web-based so the physical location of participants in the budget process is irrelevant. Anyone with an internet browser and access to the system can contribute and view the reports and dashboards. This is especially important for organizations that span the globe or have multiple offices. These systems make it simple and efficient to develop sophisticated data modeling with multiple scenarios and adjust assumptions. Built-in dashboard functionality and easy-to-use data entry sheets make the information meaningful and accessible.
How we can help
Increasingly, organizations are making long-term strategic plans. We can help the planners and finance maximize the value of their resources to efficiently achieve their goals with automated data-analysis tools and methodologies.
Our approach to long-term financial planning is an interactive, dynamic process that develops objective yet realistic priorities, looks at the whole picture, and helps you create a path to future strategic, financial, and operational success. We will help you identify and implement technology that can be used to develop the map you need to reach your destination.