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If you have surveyed an audience of mid-market accounting and finance professionals, you almost always find that 90-95% primarily rely on manual budget models in Excel. How is this possible when most enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, including Sage Intacct, have both basic native ERP budget functionalities? In some cases, they also have specialized add-on modules. For example, the Microsoft Dynamics on-premise ERPs had the now “retired” Forecaster product and for Sage, it is the Sage Budgeting and Planning. Other ERP systems have built various Excel export and import mechanisms to make it easier for users to budget in Excel. Then, re-import the GL portion of the budget.

While most ERP vendor’s budget add-ons do the job better then entering budgets directly into the ERP system, there still seems to be a large group of companies that simply need a full-featured budgeting and forecasting solution to get the workflow, formula and layout flexibility they need. These solutions are typically referred to as Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools. They also include a reporting and consolidation functionality.

How do I know if my planning process is NOT streamlined?

Typically, there are a number of key motivators when an organization begins to look for a CPM solution to improve its planning process:

  • Effort spent exporting and importing data from Sage Intacct to home grown Excel budgets
  • Current process is error-prone and a resource strain on the finance team
  • Lack of time and resources to quickly re-forecast (for example if a virus hits the economy!)
  • Lack of automation to create many budget versions
  • Current tool too complex for staff to learn so ended up back with a manual Excel model
  • Find that the ROI of automation with a CPM tool is higher than the cost of manual processes

Which benefits should I expect from modern CPM Planning tool?

Because Sage Intacct is a cloud-based ERP system, pretty much all customers looking for a full featured CPM solution like Solver, Adaptive Insight or Anaplan, will also expect a high degree of functionality, including:

  • Cloud-based platform
  • Pre-integration to Sage Intacct and Sage Intacct approval as a certified add-on vendor
  • Complete workflow functionality to manage submissions, reviews and approvals of the budget
  • Highly flexibly budget form design to completely replace the company’s manual Excel models
  • Strong native report writer for variance reporting and budget consolidations
  • User administration and security that allow for any person to participate in the budget regardless if they are users of Sage Intacct or not
  • Usability features like spreading, break-back, lien items with comments, and more.

I am planning to implement Sage Intacct. What is the best timing for budgeting tool?

Accounting teams always have a lot on their plate. Therefore, it never seems to be a great time to implement another software. However, the best time seems to be in the 2-3 months after the most recent budget cycle. Not only will issues and needs be fresh in mind, but it also allows for plenty of time to select, implement and test a new planning solution before the next budget cycle starts. Some organizations even do a “dry run” of their new budget solution during the year for one of their forecasts.

Carefully selecting a CPM vendor is important

Turbulent Mergers & Acquisition (M&A) market

For example, when a vendor gets acquired, it usually ends less than good for customers. The most typical reason that issues arise is that acquiring companies are much larger than the target company. Therefore, politics and other internal priorities at the parent company tend to drive employees away, disturb the focus of product development, increase prices and more.

Eventually, many acquired products die slowly, and customers end up switching products and vendors. Comshare, Adaytum, SRC Software and Clarity are a few vendors that suffered this during the M&A spree that took place in the CPM space about 15-20 years ago. Over the past 3 years, another wave of M&A has happened, including Workday acquiring Adaptive Insight, a PE firm acquiring Host Analytics from its old investor, Wolters Kluwer acquired Tagetik, and PE-owned Insight Software acquiring Jet Global, Atlas, BizNet and other players in the game.

Protecting the significant financial investment

There are more CPM solutions that are cloud-based. Customers can sign up for one or more years of subscription versus having to purchase the software upfront. However, even if a subscription is reasonable, the amount of time and effort from the internal staff (often with the help of costly consultants) has to be put in to get a CPM solution fully up and running. Also the reports, budget model and dashboards that management need are very significant. You can expect anywhere from twenty thousand dollars and to several hundred and thousands of dollars in direct and indirect costs for full blown implementations. In other words, picking the right vendor and the right product carries a much larger costs than simply a year’s worth of subscription.

Protecting your job

While a good vendor selection and successful implementation can be a significant boon to the careers of project management, it can be the opposite if it all does not work out well. Let alone the stress and long hours that often come from enterprise software implementations,  should it not end well,  can be a scar that follows you for a long time in your career.

Be Strategic

Whether there is too much pain from spreadsheet budgeting or a tactical hint for competitive advantages with faster and better decision-making that drives your search for a CPM solution, a final piece of advice is to be strategic about it. Don’t look at a CPM solution as a temporary band-aid, but view this technology for what it can be when properly chosen and implemented with care. One of your most important decision-making tools that can help drive growth and success for your organization in the 2020s.

It is easy to predict the future when it is business as usual. However, if your business environment is suddenly impacted by something like the coronavirus, a delayed product launch or an unplanned acquisition, your corporate budget may become obsolete very quickly.

How Do I Know it is Time To Replace the Budget with a Forecast?

Sometimes unexpected events happen and it is clear the company’s actual performance is moving so far above or below the annual budget that it no longer provides value in the following ways: 

  • A cost control tool
  • A target for employee compensation plans
  • A detailed financial break-down of corporate strategic goals
  • A financial plan for various corporate initiatives

There are many signs that you need to create a budget reforecast because it is becoming obsolete due to unexpected events, such as:

  • Management comments why a revenue or expense budget variance is occurring
  • Complaints from sales teams that their targets are too high due to XYZ event
  • Lack of budget ownership from department heads

In addition, you will start hearing from executives that the budget column in the financial statements is “useless” or that the budget target figure in a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is no longer valuable. 

Some organizations have a predefined monthly, quarterly or semi-annual reforecasting process, and when the unexpected happens, they simply take this into account next time they reforecast. These companies often have budgeting and forecasting software such as Solver, Adaptive Insight or Planful to speed up and automate the time and effort it takes to create budgets and forecasts.

Other organizations’ forecasting techniques only include a single annual budget version as a baseline, and for these companies a “forced” reforecast due to unexpected events might involve a lot more arms and legs and interruptions to people’s work schedules.  

What to do When the Corporate Budget Becomes Obsolete?

Companies generally do one of the following when their budgets become obsolete: 

  1. Do nothing and live with the undocumented comments and questions until next year’s budget is launched
  2. Leave the budget as is and use report comments to explain big budget variances (see sample screenshot below).
  3. Reforecast the rest of the year and replace the now defunct budget with the new forecast

Most companies enter their corporate forecasts at a higher level than the annual budget, and often it is only done at the Profit & Loss account level and sometimes also for Balance Sheet and Cash Flow.

In most cases, smaller organizations with well organized, home-grown Excel models can forecast in their spreadsheet and then re-import the forecast into their ERP system or third-party reporting tool. In mid-sized and larger organizations even forecasts at the GL account level may require a lot of work due to requirements to do this by division or department. These companies either have more human resources available to perform the work or they use a budgeting tool to automate it.

Picture1

How to Reforecast Your Budget?

Whether your forecasting requirements are simple enough to be handled in Excel or your company is using a modern budgeting tool, there are ways to avoid the painfully slow bottom-up data entry process. The problem with the latter is that the new forecast may already be old by the time you are done. In these cases, the unexpected event that led to the reforecast could have changed again, leading you to start all over.

Budgeting and forecasting software automation typically means that your input model is highly formula driven. For example, your forecast model can rapidly calculate all the required entries automatically such as % Revenue Increase, Target Net Income, Reduction/Increase in Headcount, etc. This functionality has many names such as:

  • Top-down planning
  • Driver-based modelling
  • Break-back modelling (see sample screenshot below)
  • What-if analysis

Picture2

Regardless of what you call it and the type of planning tool you use, an automated reforecasting model can create an entire forecast in minutes or hours versus days or weeks with manual methods. 

 An automated model also allows you to create multiple scenarios. For example, armed with a “Best Case”, “Worst Case” or “Likely” forecast scenarios, you can be prepared for unexpected events without rushing to reforecast. Instead, you replace the “Likely” budget version with the already created “Best Case” or “Worst Case” scenario and you are done. 

If the situation calls for a brand new scenario, you adjust the drivers in the automated model and it will recalculate and store the underlying account-level forecast transactions.  

When your company has the right tools and plans ready for a budget reforecast they will be prepared for a virus outbreak, stock market crash or exciting acquisition of a competitor. Planning ahead will reduce stress and blood pressure for the organization’s finance team.

liquidityriskanalysis

Nobody likes a budget that is far off target, especially when it could result in a liquidity crisis. Luckily, most companies rarely have to experience such a stressful event. Although, in a turbulent economy where interest rates and stock indexes move up and down like yo-yos and news about corporate layoffs are part of daily news headlines, strong financial clarity does not seem like a bad idea.

So, what does a cash flow forecast mean to most people?

Here is a definition: A cash flow forecast is a plan that shows how much money a business expects to receive in, and pay out, over a given period of time. 

Based on the definition above, it seems logical that all businesses should have a cash flow forecast perfectly ingrained in their corporate processes, but is that the reality? Let’s take a closer look at this.

Are All Businesses Doing Cash Flow Forecasting?

As much as it seems to make perfect sense to have a good estimate of your future cash outflows and inflows, many companies never get around to doing it. This is especially true in small and mid-sized businesses. Some of the reasons for the lack of cash flow forecasting models are the following:

  • The finance staff don’t have time to prepare it
  • Lack of tools that automate cash flow forecasting
  • Complexity in creating a good cash flow model
  • Lack of accuracy in past models leading to reduced appetite to repeat it
  • Other business tasks or fires keep executives focused in other areas
  • The financial planning team is exhausted after then annual budget process with no time or motivation to re-forecast the budget during the year

Regardless of the reason for not doing a cash flow forecast, healthy cash flow is the lifeblood of all businesses, so there is no lack of motivation.

Let’s look at the potential benefits of accurate cash flow forecasting.

Why Do Companies Want to Project Their Future Cash Outflows and Inflows?

Most executives know they would sleep better at night if they had a mechanism that fairly accurately could tell them if the liquidity of their business is healthy or not in the months ahead.

Below is an example of a report using simple color indicators and charts to help managers analyze the company’s projected cash position based on underlying cash flow forecast.

liquidity risk analysis

There are several very logical reasons why a company can benefit from regular cash flow forecasts, including:

  1. Reduce the risk of insolvency – by having a clear idea of any upcoming liquidity issues, management can react early and avoid drama and stress
  2. Move faster on investment opportunities – if you, thanks to a cash flow forecast, early on know that the business will be flush with cash in the months ahead, you can start planning acquisitions, down payment of high interest debt, purchases of strategic capital assets, etc.
  3. Satisfy bankers to enable debt financing or other bank-backed financial transactions

In other words, solid cash flow forecasts can be of tremendous value to a management team. However, if many financial teams dread the additional work of doing planning and performing a cash flow analysis, how can companies still get it done?

How to Automate Cash Flow Forecasts?

As in many other cases, technology can help automate laborious tasks. In the case of cash flow forecasting, there is a cloud software category often referred to as Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions that includes vendors such as Adaptive Insights, Centage and Solver that specialize in planning, budgeting and forecasting.

Benefits of CPM tools include scenario forecasting to predict “great”, “good” and “bad” scenarios so managers can plan accordingly. In other cases, CPM solutions provide entire driver-based forecast processes. Driver-based means that the forecast includes assumptions that help automate and simplify creation of sales, payroll, expenses, balance sheet and cash flow forecasts.

Sometimes managers don’t have the time or the need for a full forecast to analyze projected liquidity, in which case they can use simulation models to quickly adjust elements of their cash outflows and inflows to see the impact on the cash position as seen in this example:

cashflowanalysis

Most executives would agree that accurate cash flow forecasts provide numerous benefits to their business. During economic turmoil cash flow forecasts can help lower the risk of running into liquidity problems and increasing the chance to be ready to jump on investment opportunities. Regardless of the motivation, there are good tools available to help automate and simplify such financial planning processes.

At Solver, we offer Corporate Performance Management Solutions that help you establish cash flow forecasts and analyses and prepare for uncertain times. Contact one of our expert team members to learn how we can help you improve your cash flow processes.

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Workforce Planning

One of the most significant changes to businesses during COVID-19 has been  the large-scale work-from-home policies that almost all companies implemented. While some businesses may have partially or fully practiced this for a few years already, it has never in the history of the world been at this level. 

As many business owners are eager to get their staff back in the office, they may find that a majority of their team members have enjoyed their newfound freedom of working from home with zero commute time and no travel costs.

Some companies have already announced that they will be completely work-from-home going forward. Some employees may switch companies to find a more flexible employer if pressure to show up in the office five days a week is too high. 

Chances are that the remote work trend that was accelerated by COVID-19 will not fade away. There will be other trends that will continue to shape work-from-home habits such as:

  • Virtual reality technology
  • Video and collaboration technology (Teams, Slack, Zoom, etc.)
  • Longer commute times due to re-emerging traffic congestion
  • Hassle of all the new “cleanliness rules” when coming into the office
  • Real estate prices driving workers to live further away from work  
  • Commercial real estate prices and parking rates
  • Security concerns as home internet often is less secure than being in office 

If work-from-home is becoming the new normal for many organizations, a number of new questions arise including: 

  • How do companies assure that their team members are as- or more efficient as they were when working at the office? 
  • How do managers operate when they rarely ever meet their team members other than virtually on video calls?

Let’s take a closer look at both of these important items.

Efficient Workforce Planning Strategies and KPIs

Increasingly, executives are doubling down on two-way transparency. In other ways, the sharing of how you are doing as a company and how each team member is performing against agreed upon goals. In order for this to work, employ performance-based compensation plans and processes. 

Next, tools must be implemented to track metrics and provide reports. Imagine dashboards and scorecards with personal KPIs  and traffic lights. This is the recommended approach according to many management gurus.  Use top down sharing of strategies and goals that support the KPIs, broken down from company to department to individuals. Then, as results come in, bottom-up sharing of how team members as well as departments performed versus goals. 

Specifically, with likely strong growth in work-from-home trends, executives are already pondering how to ensure that employees are engaged, efficient and goal driven as they conduct their work from their bedroom or living room. With limited oversight and old-school micromanagement quickly fading, personal KPIs for work are rapidly growing in popularity. However, setting the best possible goals for employee KPIs can be a bit of science in itself.

Often attributed to the management guru, Peter Drucker, and first used by George T. Doran in 1981, the acronym, SMART, is used to guide goal setting.  Here is an overview of SMART goals: 

  • Specific – simple, sensible, significant
  • Measurable – meaningful, motivating
  • Achievable – agreed, attainable
  • Relevant – reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based

In the years ahead, organizations both in public and private sector, will increasingly explore and try out individual KPIs, and those that are most successful with it are better equipped to build thriving organizations that are “future proof”. 

Key Elements of Remote Workforce Planning 

Managing and growing employees successfully has always been an area that can put a company ahead of its competitors. Companies spend money on benefits, training, education, and compensation plans to improve their staff. However, organizations promote from within, without experience, and do not train the new managers. This was a failing process and the future will require better managers with a higher percentage of employees working from home.

Define Job Descriptions 

The starting point is the most important. For each position, a manager needs a job description with the six to eight main responsibilities of the role along with the KPIs that will be set each year. Define what makes a successful candidate and a candidate that would fail in the role. Each employee receives this document from the manager and then the manager reviews it in a meeting to ensure both understand the expectations.

There are many ways of coming up with the main roles and responsibilities of the position. Interview people currently in the role, research online, talk to the HR department, and discuss with other managers. Keep the list of responsibilities concise, but include details. The more details around each role will enable the employee to understand the role and improve their chances of success.

Pinpoint the KPIs that will Define the Role.

The manager should explain how he/she will measure each KPI in the role and what is a success or a failure. Describe where the data comes from and how the KPI is calculated. Then sit with the employee and document what the goals for each KPI by a specific period will be. Ensure that the employee is onboard and agrees that they can achieve their goals. If numbers are set that they do not believe in, then you may lose the employee early on in the process.

Review and Finalize the KPIs 

Historically, managers would have an annual review that tried to encapsulate what happened over the year, but typically only highlighted the last few months as that is all that most remember. In a year like 2020, it becomes even more difficult with the rapid shift to remote work. 

Start now – meet with the employee monthly, show the KPI goal, the results to date, and a variance. Include a traffic light on each KPI to show whether the employee is succeeding (green), failing (red), or in the middle (yellow). For all yellow and red items document action items that the employee needs to do to improve upon those that are below the goal. 

Now, when you meet, the manager simply reviews the numbers and the prior action items. Many of the work from home efficiency concerns go away and it is all about productivity.  Below is an example of a simple scorecard for a manager to review with a consultant that includes actual data, the goal, variance with traffic lights, and goals for the next four quarters.

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 1.03.39 PM

By doing this across the board, the culture changes to become a highly productive workforce. Good employees want to work with other good employees. This culture helps build a profitable company with high growth. Terminate the employees that regularly do not meet their goals, but in a way that is clear from day one. 

 

Benefits of Automated Workforce Planning Software and KPI Management

Whether your KPIs and workforce planning requirements are simple enough to be handled in Excel or currently using a modern planning and budgeting tool, now may be a good time to think about ways to combine budgeting, workforce planning, reporting and KPI management into a single solution. 

So, whether caused by an unfortunate virus outbreak or technology trends affecting your industry, having effective workforce planning tools and plans to be ready for a reforecast is always going to reduce stress and blood pressure for the organization’s management team.