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Blog header image showing a dashboard with financial report drill down for the Monthly Reporting Process Best Practices blog for Solver CPM

Monthly reporting is the natural culmination of the planning process, but it is not the end goal of the planning process. In fact, the planning, reporting, and decision-making cycle is the foundation for sustaining a healthy, growing business because it helps you better plan your next steps… and the following steps… and the steps after that (see image).

Whether your business is large or small, there is a high probability it can benefit from better, more streamlined reporting processes, so you can plan your next steps with confidence. This document is meant to help you achieve that goal.

When you finish this document, you will understand the leading best practices for the modern monthly reporting process, and you will gain a glimpse into where reporting practices may go in the future. You will also understand how you can transform your company’s performance by shifting the focus of your monthly financial review meetings.

Lastly, this document will give you resources you can turn to, so you know who to ask about further refining your monthly reporting practices.

What This Document Is… and Isn’t

This document from the financial reporting experts at Solver is geared to help you improve your monthly financial reporting processes, so your company can make better, more agile decisions in response to surprising situations (such as a pandemic or recession). This document will not cover the basics of the month-end close process.

Instead, this document focuses on sharing the latest monthly reporting process best practices that can make your reporting faster and easier for everyone involved in its preparation, approval, and analysis.

As the team behind one of the most flexible and complete Corporate Performance Management solutions integrated across a wide range of ERPs, we at Solver deeply understand the importance of the month-end close process – and we know you do too.

To help you do more with your month-end close, this document helps you speed up the reporting process, improve efficiency, and better support corporate decision making and performance at every level and in every department.

Let’s dive in.

The 6 Latest Best Practices Behind the Monthly Reporting Process

Leading global companies understand the importance of a timely and accurate reporting process. They also understand that to achieve true usability for financial reporting, transactional and forecast data must always be up to date and reliable – every minute of every day.

This is hard to accomplish in our time-strapped world, which is why the globe’s top companies use the following monthly reporting process best practices to save time, increase agility, and improve business resilience:

1. Deliver useful, accurate data weekly

It seems that nearly everything in the business world runs faster every day – which means your financial reporting needs to be faster as well.

In the past, simply running monthly reports was sufficient for the expected speed of enterprise, but the modern, tech-driven, global business landscape requires a much faster timeline. These days, companies should plan on weekly reporting for certain key items if they want to maintain the competitive edge.

Of course, saying you need weekly reporting is quite different from achieving that goal. Most global Finance department leaders are already burning the midnight oil to complete the month-end close process on time, and they would be hard-pressed to quadruple their reporting frequency.

The time-saving solution to this issue lies in ERP-integrated budgeting and reporting tools, such as a Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution. A CPM helps optimize your reporting process by eliminating the clunky, partially-Excel-driven tasks that slow your company down.

Through integration and targeted tools, CPMs reduce or eliminate slow and error-prone manual data entry, freeing up potentially hundreds of hours of your accountants’ time every year and speeding up the reporting process, so it can be completed weekly. To support trends of more analysis and less manual work, leading CPMs like Solver also deliver hundreds of ready-to-use templates that make reporting a breeze on any timeline.

2. Make up-to-date data available to key decision makers and stakeholders at all times and in all places

To drive a company forward in uncertain times, it takes an “all hands on deck” approach that requires every one of your team members to understand where the corporation is going and why.

 

Power BI mobile dashboard revenue kpi

Mobile, self-service reporting helps all stakeholders stay up to date everywhere

Studies have proven that tracking measurable progress against goals can be a great motivator on both an individual and team level, which is why many companies are choosing to make financial data available to all team members. At the very least, leading companies are sharing financial reports with Line of Business and departmental leaders in addition to key decision makers.

This approach offers strong benefits:

  • It empowers the CFO and Finance department to easily collaborate with operations leaders to determine appropriate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will drive positive results across the company.
  • It gives Line of Business leaders and other employees a stake in your company’s success. In the past, Line of Business and departmental leaders often complained that they were held to a standard generated entirely by the “intuition” of the Finance department, as opposed to what they felt was more realistic from their “boots on the ground” perspective.

The process of drafting, printing, and distributing reports has typically been a cumbersome, costly endeavor. However, enterprises that rely on a Corporate Performance Management solution like Solver can easily generate anywhere/anytime, paperless self-service reports and scheduled, auto-distributed reports that include full drill down and built-in security measures. These reports deliver the right information to the right stakeholders at the right time – especially if you choose a CPM that delivers reports on mobile!  

3. Leveraging automated ERP integration to eliminate time-consuming export/import processes

In today’s world, no one has time for manual data entry or report export and re-formatting – especially not your busy company.

By choosing to closely integrate your ERP with your financial reporting solution, you can do away with cumbersome, spreadsheet-based, export-import procedures and simply enjoy attractive, understandable reports with the click of a button.

ERP integration also empowers you to meet monthly reporting process best practices because it helps you switch away from the old method of spending 80% of your time preparing reports (with only 20% of time to spend analyzing them) to a new model of reducing your report preparation process to just 20% of your time. Imagine what you could do if you had 80% of your time left to spend gleaning key insights from analyzing your financial reports.

ERP is not the only data source you can connect to your financial reporting solution to save time. Recent trends in monthly reporting process best practices suggest that additionally integrating relevant external data sources into your financial tools can help decision makers at your company act on key information faster than ever before.

Another key practice for your monthly reporting is to integrate your planning and analysis processes seamlessly into your reporting process. This takes ERP integration to achieve and replaces the old, outdated method of having separate systems for your ERP Report Writer, your spreadsheets, your dashboard tools, your budgeting tools, and other third-party tools.

In other words, one of the best practices you can implement is to use a Corporate Performance Management system like Solver that integrates all these activities together under a single system that is tightly integrated with the company’s source data (ERP system) for easy, continuous updates of data.

4. Deliver timely reports in a self-service format, as well as on a schedule

On-demand data is the new differentiator between successful, market-leading companies and everyone else.

In our nanosecond-driven world, it is simply a fact of business that the faster your decision-makers can access key data, the faster their analysis and action phases can be. Lightning-fast action helps your company achieve desired results more quickly than your competitors – and that is what gives you the leading edge.

One of the best ways to ensure that your enterprise can access on-demand data is to choose financial planning and reporting software that makes it easy for various stakeholders to run their own self-service reports quickly and easily. Of course, on-demand reports should be available in addition to receiving monthly scheduled reports and participating in financial presentations.

One of the past challenges to self-service financial data lay in the fact that it was hard to track down the most recent version of a report without asking for help from the Finance department. Luckily, with new, cloud-based Corporate Performance Management financial reporting solutions, any authorized user in your company can instantly access key financial reports from anywhere, all of which will draw from a single source of financial reporting truth.

The modern business world rests on highly volatile foundations: the speed of change, the pace of globalization, and the resulting complications from each of those factors. These make it all but a necessity to use a Corporate Performance Management solution that delivers the financial data you need at your fingertips at any time.

5. Remove complexity from financial reports to make them readily understandable to all stakeholders

A great business is composed of the many brilliant minds that drive its success. However, not all people are trained in understanding accounting terminology.

As you know, great ideas come from every area of your company – and that means you need to empower every key stakeholder and potential problem solver with understandable financial information.

To deliver the best in understandable financial reporting, look for these key features in your CPM solution:

  • The most commonly run reports (Profit & Loss, Balance Sheets, Cash Flow) are presented with user-friendly graphical options, like dashboards and charts that highlight key variances and trends.
  • Your CPM integrates with a popular dashboard solution, such as Power BI or Tableau, so users can generate or access their own most important on-demand KPIs.
  • The solution offers drill down capabilities that simplify the appearance of the often overwhelming complexity of financial reporting, while providing accessible access to additional information.
  • Your CPM can automatically generate a narrative account of critical financial information, using descriptive adjectives and other language that changes in response to the most current financial data.

When choosing your Corporate Performance Management solution, ask to see these features during your demo, so you can get a clear view of how easily stakeholders and decision makers can create fully understandable financial reports.

6. Implement a strong, well-organized reporting process

The full, end-to-end monthly reporting process involves a lot of steps which must all be completed in a precise order to ensure that reporting is accurate, timely, and supports rapid decision making.

Monthly-Reporting-Process-Best-Practices-Planning-Tool

Choose a solution that integrates your monthly reporting process checklist with your CPM for best results

Some Finance departments rely on paper or digital checklists to keep them on track, but checklists only clarify what needs to be done, ignoring the equally key information of who needs to do it and when. Without specifying who is responsible for a task, accountability is lost – and your monthly reporting process will be in danger of falling behind.

Enterprises with an eye on efficiency can choose to stay organized and follow monthly reporting process best practices by using a planning checklist tool that is integrated directly into their financial planning and reporting software. This not only saves time with the monthly reporting process, it also eases the strain during planning, budgeting, and forecasting activities because an integrated checklist tool can make it fast and easy for your team to stay on top of your company’s finances.

In particular, with finance teams working from home or being located at different offices, having an online, integrated, month-end checklist tool can be of invaluable help to support a faster close and to let all constituents easily follow each stage in the closing and reporting process.

An integrated checklist planning tool such as the Solver Process Manager (image above) can help your team develop repeatable processes for monthly reporting, annual budgeting, and other frequently completed, complex tasks that rely on accountability and firm deadlines. Using a tool like the Solver Process Manager helps companies keep everything on track every month, so you can count on a smooth monthly reporting process all the time.

How Businesses Succeed with the Latest Predicted Monthly Reporting Process Best Practices

Over time, accounting practices evolve and change. Many emerging trends later become best practices. Here at Solver, our financial reporting experts have noticed a few recent trends that we suspect will become best practices for all Finance departments in the very near future.

These include:

  • Increased reporting transparency

Smart solutions can come from any department or area of a company, which is why large and small organizations are now encouraging a greater number of employees to read and analyze monthly financial reports.

The financial reporting and planning experts at Solver predict that this trend will grow in popularity due to the ease of scheduled report delivery, understandable reporting flexibility, and self-service reporting capabilities that make it fast and easy to securely share financial data across the company.

  • Cloud-based systems for reporting, even if you have on-premises ERP

The COVID crisis and the rise of the home-based workforce accelerated the leap to the cloud for many enterprises, but not always with a cloud ERP migration. Instead, savvy business leaders from a range of industries chose to leverage cloud gateways and connectors that enabled on-premises ERP to seamlessly integrate with a cloud-based CPM solution for real-time reporting and planning capabilities.

To help, our experts developed the Solver Hybrid Cloud Connector, which makes it easy and elegant for companies to securely access anytime/anywhere financial planning, budgeting, forecasting, and reporting capabilities without having to rely on slow and clunky integration processes.

Solver Hybrid Cloud Connecter integrates a wide range of on-premises ERP solutions with the cloud-based Solver Corporate Performance Management solution.

  • Linking month-end reports to financial dashboards

By offering structured financial reports that include drill downs to transactions and visual interactive graphical dashboards and charts, your company can better ensure that authorized users can perform appropriate trend analyses.

PowerBI_Dashboard_01

Each of these dashboards link to the corresponding financial report

Our experts predict that this practice will be especially important for remote working environments in which the Finance team will not be available to provide explanations and context for financial data at all times.

Properly built dashboards are flexible, useful, and deliver at-a-glance information that leaders can easily drill down into.

Here are a few samples:

  • Managing the business with KPIs and letting financial statements be the backup in monthly financial review meetings

While core financial statements including Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow are essential and required for monthly decision making, they are not necessarily the best tools to drive a performance-focused culture for a company.

The key to implementing and maintaining a performance-focused culture at your organization is to shift the focus from financial reporting to KPI reporting.

Here at Solver, we predict that the trend of managing the business with KPIs will have a significant impact for companies that implement it properly.

To best drive performance, you will want to use carefully selected KPIs in the monthly executive financial review meetings. Appropriate KPIs should link to the goals supporting your corporate strategy.

To help you get started with this transformative practice, we have outlined steps below that can assist you in effectively using KPIs to drive your monthly executive financial review meetings.

Before you begin tracking your KPIs, however, you will want to make sure you have clearly outlined your top KPIs and goals. Corporate Performance Management solutions are geared to help you create and track your KPIs, which is why Solver offers an easy-to-use strategies and goals input form to get you started.

4 Steps to Driving Performance Using KPIs in Monthly Executive Financial Review Meetings

A leading company with a performance-focused culture will have department managers or Line of Business managers review the KPIs they are responsible for prior to each monthly executive financial review meeting. (This means that the first step for the meeting actually occurs a few days before the meeting.)

Step 1: Annotate KPIs before the meeting

Using a good CPM tool like Solver that allows for input of comments tied to KPIs and variances, department managers or Line of Business managers should enter comments while reviewing KPIs.

Comments should:

  • Explain KPI issues (issues are indicated by a red “traffic light” on the report)

Before commenting, the department manager should “read the traffic lights,” meaning that they should drill down into KPIs that display red traffic lights, which indicate an issue. A good Corporate Performance Management solution will provide relevant information in the drill down, including financial statements, operational reports such as sales reports, and other key data so that managers can appropriately analyze the issue and explain their findings.

As an example, a Profit & Loss report could help explain why the profit margin KPI is below the set target (and thus shows a red traffic light). The department manager would use the related drill down information to explain the reasons for any issues.

  • Make suggestions for resolution and indicate the expected resolution timeline

After performing their analysis, the Line of Business or department manager should additionally supply supporting commentary that suggests HOW the issue should be resolved, as well as WHEN they expect that resolution will show an effect.

This documentation helps place the issues in context and creates accountability for issues to be taken care of without requiring time-consuming executive involvement.

A good CPM should offer various commenting capabilities, including:

Step 2: Use Annotated KPIs in Monthly Executive Financial Review Meetings

Once the analysis and recommendations have been entered, the company can begin monthly financial review meetings that leverage the company’s annotated KPIs.

Typically, the meeting should start with a KPI report/dashboard that shows the status of all the corporate level KPIs. In the image below, traffic lights indicate issues with KPIs. Additional useful KPI reports include:

Solver-KPIs-Monthly-Reporting-1

Traffic lights indicate issues with KPIs

Step 3: Review Significant KPI Variances Instantly

When a KPI shows an interesting variance from target (very good or very bad variances), the meeting leader can drill down from the KPI and into the underlying financial statements.

Making KPI drill downs immediately available during the monthly finance meeting can drive agility because specific KPIs that require review will have the supporting data they need to prompt discussion and decision making.

KPI variance reports are critical tools for your business, so you should make sure your Corporate Performance Management solution offers a wide range of these reports, including:

 

Solver-KPIs-Monthly-Reporting-2

Drill downs provide relevant information that instantly answers questions about KPI variances

Step 4: Clarify Actions and Reinforce Accountability

At the end of the meeting, the leader should run a report that summarizes all action items from the KPIs that required action, thus ensuring that each team member clearly understands the issues and proposed resolutions. The report should also improve accountability across the company by clearly naming who is responsible for each action.

Solver-KPIs-Monthly-Reporting-3

KPI status reports help you keep an eye on your progress toward better performance

As you can see, using annotated KPIs can make monthly executive financial review meetings faster and more efficient because all comments and suggestions from Line of Business or department managers will already be available before the monthly finance review meeting begins.

With this annotation in place, the monthly meeting can move forward swiftly and maintain focus on the big issues that truly require executive feedback. The documentation will also help with a review of issues from the prior month and make it easier to assess the status of planned resolutions.

When done in a manner that supports monthly reporting process best practices, shifting the focus to KPIs for the monthly finance review meetings should significantly drive performance for mid-sized businesses that do not have a team of analysts. Monthly executive finance meetings using annotated KPIs will help these companies leverage the cutting edge in monthly reporting process best practices, acting more decisively in response to their monthly reporting results.

Summing It All Up – How to Improve Your Monthly Reporting Process Best Practices

In our “new normal” of working from home, cloud technology creates the foundation for seamless, effective, and rapid financial reporting. Cloud technology also makes it easier to implement the 6 key monthly reporting process best practices mentioned in this article.

To improve your company’s reporting processes, make sure that you:

  1. Increase reporting frequency
  2. Improve data accessibility for all stakeholders
  3. Save hundreds of hours with automated ERP integration
  4. Ensure accurate reports are always available
  5. Remove complexity from financial reports
  6. Encourage accountability with a reporting process

The CPM you choose to help you perform these tasks should also integrate cleanly with user productivity tools like Excel or dashboards like Power BI or Tableau for professional, interactive visualizations that make your month-end reports easy to understand and easy to act on.

In addition, companies can boost their agility by shifting their focus to KPI reporting during their monthly finance reviews. This transformative practice encourages a performance-driven culture across the organization.

Need Help Getting Started? Just Ask the Financial Reporting Experts at Solver

Now that you have read this document, it is time for you to make a change and transform your monthly reporting processes. But updating your traditional processes to align with monthly reporting process best practices can be a challenge.

Fortunately, you have help.

With Solver, you will have access to hundreds of financial planning templates and reports, plus our extensive template glossary and experienced staff who are always happy to share their expertise and help you along every step of your financial transformation.

If you have questions about how you can streamline and improve your monthly reporting process, our support experts are ready to help you get the most out of Solver’s flexible and robust financial planning and reporting tools. Solver is committed to helping you set up your business practices for success, so you can proceed confidently into your business’s financial future.

 

Learn More about Monthly Reporting Process Best Practices – Ask the Experts!

 

 

 

Budgeting_Process_Best_Practices_White_Paper_Solver

The unexpected events of 2020 — and the resulting economic uncertainty — demonstrated that financial leaders across the globe must be able to operate with greater agility. But many finance leaders are still struggling to gain insight into their business futures.

Outdated processes, time-consuming input methods, and overly complex Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are just some of the many issues resulting in unclear decision making and a feeling that all future financial plans are simply “guesswork.” Added together, these issues are likely to result in unsuccessful and unrealistic Annual Budgets.

Savvy financial leaders understand that today’s rapidly and drastically changed business landscape requires rapid and drastic changes to the budgeting process in response… but it can be difficult to determine what the best steps are when the future is so uncertain.

If you are ready to transform your Annual Budgeting process to a more agile, more responsive, and more streamlined set of procedures that you can leverage for greater planning confidence, check out these budgeting best practices compiled by experts.

cash flow trended rolling financial report

Cash Flow report that dynamically displays the past 13 months

What You Will Learn in This Document

After reading this document on budgeting process best practices, you will be prepared to handle uncertain economic futures with greater levels of confidence. You will know what steps to take, and in which order, to set the stage for a successful Annual Budget process – and you will have a good handle on the various approaches you can take for budgeting at your company.

This document is detailed and lengthy, meant to guide you every step of the way through this year’s Annual Budget process and beyond. You may prefer to print out the full document or save it directly to your tablet, so you can use it as a reliable reference piece for the next few months and years.

Ready to get started? Let us begin by talking about why having a strong process matters for your Annual Budget activities and what may be “broken” in your current process.

Year-End Forecast in the Solver Process Manager shows one example of how you can follow budgeting process best practices to stay ahead in uncertain economies

Situation Analysis and Year-End-Forecast sample budget process flow

Understand the Power of Strong Process Management

Processes are powerful. In fact, effective processes often form the essential difference that gives many of today’s leading companies their competitive advantage. When implemented properly, a strong process will lead to strong action and strong results.

Most companies can strengthen their Annual Budget process. Doing so leads to numerous benefits, including:

  • Faster, more informed decisions
  • Improved accountability
  • Significant resource and time savings
  • Revenue and profit acceleration

Do those benefits sound like a fantasy? They are actually relatively easy to achieve – as long as you and your team are ready to put in the work focusing on budgeting process best practices that help you develop strong processes.

Best practices recommend that you have:

  • Well-defined Corporate Performance Management processes
  • Clearly stated process owners
  • Precise due dates for tasks and/or processes
  • Transparency – meaning that processes are easy to access and view by stakeholders
  • Full accountability

This document will explain how you can set up a strong Annual Budget process for your company – but let us first look at the obstacles you may come up against while trying to set up your own processes.

budget accuracy comparison

Compare budgets from prior years to analyze ACCURACY before the new budget process.

Find Out Now: Is Your Annual Budget Process Broken?

No matter where your company is located globally, your finance department shares at least one commonality with every other finance department in the world: you are extremely busy.

Due to a massive workload, constantly looming month-end-close deadlines, and a staggering number of manual processes, finance departments often delay process and procedure reviews or updates. This means you may be maintaining cumbersome, outdated standard operating procedures for far longer than necessary.

Traditional financial planning processes rely on analyzing historical records and trends, entering data manually into Excel, and running quarterly reports on what already happened to see what might come in the future. These processes are slow and, to be frank, today’s finance departments do not have the time or economic certainty to place much trust in sluggish processes.

Working in today’s rapidly shifting economic environment, slow processes are likely to “break” your budgeting process.

Is Your Budgeting Process Flow “Broken?”

Find out if your budgeting process is broken when you check to see how many of the following warning signs your process exhibits:

  • You are using Excel almost exclusively
  • You do not have a central database for Annual Budget data
  • You run into broken links too often for comfort
  • You have limited security due to the ability to freely share Excel files
  • You have multiple versions of the same Annual Budget and have troubles determining which one is the final one
  • Your users and stakeholders miss deadlines (lack of accountability)
  • Your process delivers limited, if any, guidance on goals and strategies that impact the annual plan
  • Your input process does not allow supporting details to be entered for context
  • You experience a lack of communication between departments, leading to siloed planning in a synced-up world
  • You suspect that some department leaders may be focusing on their own interests and participating in gamesmanship or sandbagging

Did any of these warning signs sound familiar? By using a Corporate Performance Management solution like Solver, you can easily fix these problems with:

  • A cloud and web browser-based platform that encourages full collaboration
  • Line item detail and comments for context and other information
  • Capture and display of strategy and KPIs for clear guidance
  • Process management and workflow tools
  • Protected web forms for solid data security
  • Automation for scenarios and more
  • Top down/bottom up planning flexibility
P&L variance report with charts and KPIs profit & loss

P&L variance report with modern design gives users quick KPI highlights with charts.

9 Budgeting Process Best Practices

The key to solving issues and fixing your “broken” Annual Budget process is to be prepared to accomplish more agile, streamlined, and modern budgeting. Best practices suggest that you begin your preparations with clear steps, to be completed in precise order.

In the next sections, you will learn the budgeting setting process step by step.

1. Begin Your Preparation Checklist

Preparation_Checklist_Process_Manager

Make sure you complete a preparation checklist before starting on your annual budget

Success is much more likely if you have prepared for a successful outcome. When you feel you are ready to transform your budgeting process to achieve success in times of economic uncertainty, simply return to this section and write down each step in this Preparation Checklist.

Pave the way to success for your Annual Budget by following these steps:

  • Finalize and communicate your strategies, goals, timelines, and targets
  • Create a “project plan” for your Annual Budget
  • Complete an end of the year forecast (see the next section for details)
  • Empower managers with the ability to manage their own department financials
  • Modify and test any templates, and make sure they are available to all team members who need them
  • Add any new users and verify their security settings
  • Confirm all data is appropriately accessible
  • Start early – we all know that the early bird gets the worm!

You can do all this manually of course, but it is much easier and faster to complete these steps using a purpose-driven tool like the Solver Process Manager.

The Solver Process Manager makes it easy to create checklists, assign tasks to various personnel, and enjoy full transparency and access with secured, cloud-based checklists that are readily available to authorized users.

2. Complete Year-to-Date (YTD) Analysis and Forecasting

financial management software dashboard

P&L report with actual, budget, last year and variances.

To know where you are going, you must start by knowing where you are. In a time of economic uncertainty, this is easier said than done – but it is certainly not impossible.

When you take a deep look at your current performance, you can then gain a reasonably accurate initial glimpse into your future by forecasting potential scenarios and performing a fundamental analysis.

Not sure where to start with this process? Here are some tips drawn from best practices recommendations:

Look at Your Current Performance

  • Have department managers review their financials
  • Understand current and future headcount needs
  • Determine Sales team productivity
  • Dive into Marketing effectiveness

Run a Realistic Forecast

  • Perform a 7+5 forecast in August (with 7 actual + 5 predicted months)
  • Set corporate strategies and goals for next year (see the next section for details)
  • Forecast through next year to provide vision and insight
  • Check your forecast accuracy and identify any potentially overlooked areas

Perform a Fundamental Analysis

  • Start your analysis now to ensure that you are ready for your Annual Budget process in time
  • Review assumptions and the accuracy of your prior year’s budget
  • Review all contracts, especially ones for recurring revenue
  • Assess how current and future strategies may impact your new hires and promotions

When you are ready to begin your YTD Analysis and Forecasting, a Corporate Performance Management solution like Solver can assist by delivering a range of easy-to-use templates and reports, including:

3. Set Your Strategic Goals

budget strategy target goal KPI

Enter strategies and then enter the associated goals.

One of the most important budgeting process best practices tasks lies in setting strategic goals for the next year. This is a task largely for Executives and Board members, who must set goals based on strategies and initiatives and take various factors into account.

When setting strategic goals, Executives and Board members should make sure to carefully consider:

  • Revenue growth
  • Cash flow
  • Profitability
  • Investments
  • Unique critical financial areas

Once strategic goals have been set, they must all be clearly communicated to the management team and special care should be taken to ensure that all managers are on board. All feedback should be taken in by the Board and Executive team, with willingness to modify the goals as needed.

After goals are agreed to, the Executive team should work with the management team to set specific departmental goals based on corporate targets. Both groups are likely to gain more from this exercise if they concentrate on the “how” when determining initiatives, instead of simply focusing on the “what,” as they may have done in prior Annual Budgeting cycles.

Note: Budgeting process best practices recommend that Annual Budget planning should NOT start until this last step is finalized and agreed to.

It can be difficult to set executable strategic goals in times of deep economic uncertainty, but a Corporate Performance Management solution like Solver can help by providing various reports and forms that help you capture multiple scenarios (e.g. “High,” “Low,” “Mid”) and communicate your strategy and goals clearly and concisely.

When assessing a Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution for your strategic goal-setting process, ensure that the tool you choose includes, at the very least:

budgeting software dashboard for businesses

KPI report for analysis of budgets vs strategic goals.

4. Select Your Best Budget Input Process

Once all prior steps and preparation tasks are complete, it will be time for you to officially begin your Annual Budget process.

You have two ways you can approach your budgeting process: top down or bottom up. It is important to note that neither of these approaches is “better” than the other – they each simply address different ways of looking at the same budget planning puzzle.

In best practices organizations, both methods are used:

  1. First the office of finance creates the top-down budget and disseminates it to department managers as a “baseline” budget.
  2. Then each department makes a bottom-up budget, either by revising the top-down budget or as a new budget version in the system. The latter is recommended, as managers can then later compare the two versions and see where there are differences.

Top Down

The “top down” budget process focuses on modeling expected outcomes at the senior management level and working down to the details from there. Top down forms a more “high level” view, which can be useful if departments don’t have the time or precise details to build a “bottom up” budget.

During situations of economic uncertainty, top down input can help senior management save significant time in generating a budget. By using top down methods, you can create an initial budget that reflects your initial assumptions, and then regenerate your budget quickly and repeatedly in response to fluid, rapidly changing circumstances.

Three important areas to focus on in a top down input method would be:

1. Workforce Modeling

payroll workforce headcount budget input

Enter key information and let the form calculate monthly salaries, benefits, taxes, etc.

In this modeling scenario, you would generate an analysis of your future workforce needs. In uncertain economies, it is of the utmost importance that you understand precisely how much staff you can and should afford, and that you know which staff members and functions are critical to your strategic goals.

Workforce modeling helps you achieve clarity on your workforce requirements by challenging your assumptions with hard data and presenting crystal-clear Profit & Loss reports based on specific workforce drivers.

2. Profit & Loss Modeling

Profit and loss P&L forecast revenue expense driver breakback

Enter target Net Income and the form’s algorithms automatically creates the forecast.

In this scenario, you would enter in your profit targets and then break them back into Revenues and Expenses, so you gain a clear understanding of whether or not your profit targets are realistic.

3. Cash Flow Modeling

Power BI dashboard liquidity cash simulation forecast

Simulation of cash flow with sliders where the user can increase/decrease any component.

In this scenario, you can use your Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet items to arrive at a target Cash Flow that can help you gain planning insight. The benefit of utilizing a scenario in this process is that you can easily reiterate your Cash Flow expectations based on your evolving strategy and likely outcomes.

Simplify your top down budget input process with a range of top down, driver-based forms from Solver, including:

corporate forecasting software dashboard

Input of expenses at the GL account level. Includes line item detail, spreading, etc.

Bottom Up

Bottom up budgeting includes more details and departmental input and can open the door for Zero-based budgeting at the micro level, which may be of significant benefit during times of uncertainty. The detailed numbers that go into a bottom up budget can help departments and management gain precise insight into exactly where spend is going and revenues are coming from, helping you to tighten margins while planning necessary expenditures with confidence.

There are two approaches you can take for your bottom up budget input. Of course, choose the method that works best for your needs.

1. Waterfall Approach

In this methodology, certain stages must be completed before others can be started. First, your Sales and Marketing plans will be completed, including your pipeline and headcount/expense data. After that, you’ll move to your Revenue plan.

Once all these plans are completed, you will have the data you need to accurately plan your department budgets, which you can review and revise as needed once they are finished.

The Waterfall method is more time consuming, but it has the potential to deliver deeper insight due to its comprehensive, staged approach.

2. Concurrent Approach

In this methodology, all departments enter their plans concurrently, based on strategies and goals.

As plans are entered, they are consolidated into one master version, which is opened up for review and revisions as needed.

The Concurrent method is faster to complete, but it may result in more superficial insight. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, superficial insight may be more beneficial than taking the time for a deep dive if you are dealing with constantly changing numbers that you expect to update.

Whether you choose the Waterfall or Concurrent approach, a Corporate Performance Management solution like Solver can help make your bottom up budget input faster and easier with a range of input forms and workflow tools.

A good Corporate Performance Management solution should provide budget input resources for:

P&L estimate report forecast budget profit & loss

Compares actual to forecast and budget, and compares full year budget to actual + forecast.

5. Plan Carefully in Times of Uncertainty

Of course, there is an elephant in the room here as we discuss budgeting process best practices. Namely: Can a company expect accuracy from an Annual Budget process if they are basing all their numbers and planning on what seems like guesswork?

The answer, you will be pleased to learn, is YES.

In fact, following budgeting process best practices is even more important in times of economic uncertainty, or in times when it feels like you are relying on “guesswork.” Only by using the scientific method of critically thinking about the possibilities, modeling scenarios based on your assumptions, and using those models to plan for a range of possible outcomes can you prepare for success in an uncertain future.

In business, the future is often uncertain. A global pandemic is not the only economic uncertainty you will experience throughout the life of your company – in fact, it is simply one of many unexpected situations, including:

  • Heavy M&A activity
  • Paradigm shifts
  • War
  • Recessions

The key to “weathering the storm” no matter what the future may bring, lies in adequately planning for all possibilities. Therefore, best practices for your budgeting process should include the following stages:

  • Seek feedback from business units prior to setting targets.
  • Plan “static” items early and delay highly variable items. (It will be easier to guess the future with more accuracy when the future is closer.)
  • Allocate most of your time to high value areas, such as Revenue and Cash Flow.
  • Consider starting off with quick, high-level budgeting and then moving to monthly forecasting. This can lead to higher accuracy in your budgeting process.
  • Use contingencies for budget assumptions (e.g. if/then).

The great news is that, if you plan and prepare properly to transform your Annual Budget process, you can achieve phenomenal results, even in times of economic uncertainty.

kpi report budget last year forecast variances

Detailed KPI report with actual and budget variances.

6. Enjoy 4 Key Outputs of a Successful Annual Budget

As you know, you must make your own success. By following the budgeting process best practices in this document, you will be well prepared to ensure that your Annual Budget is successful even in times of economic uncertainty.

You will know you have transformed your Annual Budget process for the better when you achieve these 4 key outputs:

  1. Your managing team joins together in a “rally cry” to meet operating targets with a monthly review that keeps them accountable and on track for success.
  2. Your plans are aligned across the company and are fully executable on both a macro and micro level, and you achieve outcomes for the company and by department.
  3. You measure and address performance continuously using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
  4. You see positive results from your regular budget reports and analyses, including:
    • Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet, Cash Flow
    • Key Performance Indicators
    • Workforce plan
    • Departmental budget details (revenues and expenses)

With a market-leading Corporate Performance Management solution like Solver, you can track your success using targeted budget reports and KPI tools, including:

Budget_Process_Analysis_Process_Manager

Analyze your budget with reports and dashboards

7. Treat Your Annual Budget Like a Project

Considering the level of continuous measurement, tracking, and accountability involved in the budgeting process best practices covered in this document, you may think that the modern and resilient Annual Budgeting process sounds more like project management than pure financial management.

Guess what: It is!

In times of uncertainty as well as during “business as usual,” you have the opportunity to streamline your budget process flow, improving both accuracy and agility, if you follow good project management discipline.

Therefore, make sure you follow these best practices during your planning process:

  • Create a clear project plan using the Solver Process Manager or another tool.
  • Maintain short cycles for deliverables.
  • Hold stakeholders accountable for delivering by deadlines.
  • Complete weekly management team reviews on progress.

Make sure that you do not stop there. You must also keep a close watch on what the shifting numbers and weekly reviews indicate.

8. Always Challenge the Numbers

One of the best methods for maintaining Annual Budget planning agility is to keep all stakeholders engaged with the budget at all times. This means that your entire management team should stay active in not only meeting their own goals but should also be active in helping other departments across the company meet their goals better.

Increased cross-departmental engagement can reduce potential gamesmanship, sandbagging, and other competitive tactics within the company, helping the entire enterprise achieve success in the best, most holistic manner possible.

Encourage cross-departmental teamwork by having everyone challenge the numbers:

  • Managers should review their own department as well as interrelated departments.
  • Be sure to set up isolated initiatives to accurately assess granular incremental return (ROI) and track initiative results closely.
  • Question everything to ensure that everyone fully understands and agrees to the final budget and strategic tactics for meeting budget expectations.
  • Create different scenarios and assign probabilities to each. Try to align scenario probabilities to Board expectations, such as in the following examples:
    • High growth: 60%
    • Special event (like acquisitions, recessions, etc.): 20%
    • Break even (e.g. because of likely recession): 20%
Scenario_CFO_Board_Planning-SubscriptionSales-1

When you plan scenarios and challenge the numbers, make sure you keep a careful record of what you decided.

As you will see, using the tools included in Corporate Performance Management solutions like Solver will make challenging the numbers easier:

9. Invite Executive and Board Feedback Early On

These budgeting process best practices should help your finance team and the entire company create a better budget, more quickly and accurately than you would if you were using the “broken” processes and methods we mentioned earlier – but remember that creating the Annual Budget is only one part of your total task.

In times of economic uncertainty, it can be nerve racking to present your finished budget to the Board and Executive team and to elicit feedback from them. By following the best practices outlined throughout this document, you can improve your process, your outcomes, and your confidence levels… and with these final tips, you can also improve the success of your Board approval process.

Here are three tips that can help you better ensure that your Annual Budget will be approved:

  1. Be prepared with all of the numbers, as well as the “how” and the “why” behind those numbers.
  2. Include the Executive team and Board members early on in the process, using active communication to minimize noise at the approval stage.
  3. Accept Board and Executive challenges to revenue or expenses if you know that the “how” of achieving them can be developed once the budget is approved.

A Corporate Performance Management solution, such as Solver, can help you ease the Executive and Board feedback and approval process using a unique combination of software features and capabilities, including:

  • Executive comments
  • Department feedback
  • Status tracking
Budget_Comments_Resolutions-1

Plan for various scenarios, so you are more likely to be prepared for whatever happens.

Get Started Today with a Sample Budget Process Flow Calendar

Ready to get started now? Smart choice.

Here is a sample budget calendar that you can use to begin setting up your streamlined process. Feel free to model your own calendar after this one. Make sure to include all applicable stakeholders and realistic deadlines to encourage full accountability.

Budget_Calendar_Example_Solver

Using the Solver Process Manager, Budget Managers can easily and quickly create reasonable budget calendars that hold staff accountable to deadlines.

Now Is the Time to Start Your Annual Budget Process

As they say, there is no time like the present. When it comes to crafting your Annual Budget in times of economic uncertainty, this advice is more important than ever before.

To ensure the most successful outcomes for your Annual Budget process, follow these summarized steps, in order:

  1. Start preparing now
  2. Execute your Annual Budget planning like any other internal project
  3. Challenge all assumptions, so you can align goals and expectations
  4. Communicate with all stakeholders at every step
  5. Ask questions early

And, of course, make sure that you ask for help when you need it so you can stay on track when you run up against unexpected obstacles.

For that last one, and for every step along the way, the budget planning experts at Solver have got you covered. With Solver, you will have access to hundreds of financial planning templates and reports, plus our extensive template glossary and experienced staff who are always happy to share their expertise.

If you have questions about how you can streamline and improve your Annual Budget process flow with budgeting process best practices, our support experts are ready to help you get the most out of Solver’s flexible and robust financial planning tools. Solver is committed to helping you set up your Annual Budgeting process for success, so you can maintain more certainty about your business’s financial future.

Reduce uncertainty and fix your budget – here’s how.

Blog header image showing a woman with binoculars for the Solver blog on how to use monthly rolling forecasts to gain insight in unpredictable times

According to the 2020 Wisdom of Crowds Enterprise Performance Management Market Study, adoption of enterprise management software increased in 2020. Nearly half of all surveyed organizations now use enterprise performance management (EPM) / corporate performance management (CPM) software, and 78% of survey respondents rated this software as “critical,” “very important,” or “important” to their organization.

Of course, enterprise and corporate performance management software is always useful for Finance and Operations planning, especially during the annual budgeting process, but in a time of economic uncertainty, the budgets that your organization created 12-18 months ago can seem stale and out of date.

Flexible monthly rolling forecasts, which are almost exclusively found in market-leading EPM / CPM software, help keep your Finance and Operations planning fresh and on track throughout unpredictable times, so you can enhance your budgeting agility and maintain your competitive edge.

View templates for forecasting and other critical planning processes.

Why Use Monthly Rolling Forecasts?

“Enterprise performance management software can help organizations manage short-term uncertainty and plan their strategies for the ‘new normal’…” – 2020 Wisdom of Crowds EPM Market Study

Rolling forecasts empower business leaders to continuously plan for the future with insight into the next 12-18 months. Using up-to-date historical data, rolling forecasts can help cultivate more agile organizational planning that helps illuminate how short-term disruptions and adjustments may affect long-term objectives.

In essence, monthly rolling forecasts help companies plan their strategy to overcome economic uncertainty by providing a continuously updating glimpse into the potential future.

Compared to the typical annual budgeting process — which relies heavily on assumptions generated in the past and marches steadily into an unknown future somewhere past the “fiscal cliff” — it is clear why rolling forecasts are critical to success in uncertain times.

Rolling Forecast Usage Is Likely to Increase Due to the Events of 2020

The Wisdom of Crowds study reports that 64% of respondents use rolling forecasts today, and 16% say they have now replaced annual budgets with rolling forecasts (an increase of ~15% YoY). Considering the ongoing disruption caused by COVID and global economic uncertainty, the adoption of monthly rolling forecasts is likely to increase more in 2020.

Would rolling forecasts be right for your organization? Here are a few reasons to consider utilizing this critical tool as a budget manager or executive:

  • Monthly rolling forecasts deliver timely insight based on the recent past.

When you planned your 2020 budget, no one had heard of a coronavirus – and you certainly did not expect a coronavirus to shrink the GDP, disrupt global supply chains, or quarantine your workforce in home offices. It is time to recalibrate your numbers.

Now that all this has happened, a monthly rolling forecast can help you strategize what to do next, whereas that annual budget will offer little to no help.

  • Rolling forecasts can report on current usage of allocated budgets.

Considering the myriad changes listed above, there is a high probability that your company expenditures have strayed significantly from expectations. For example, your company has probably spent less on conferences and travel. Can you re-allocate those budgets?

Department managers may be hesitant to initiate a conversation with you about the amounts still available in their allocated budgets, but a monthly rolling forecast can shine light onto usage (or lack thereof), so you can plan properly.

Why Not Use Rolling Forecast Tools Built into Your ERP System?

If you are running cloud ERP systems like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance, your company has a great accounting system. So, why not use the rolling forecast tools built into your ERP system? Simply put, there aren’t many available. That is why more than 90% of the organizations create their forecast models outside their ERP in manual Excel spreadsheet models.

Now, if it fills your needs, there is cash-flow forecasting and sales forecasting included with some ERP systems, including Dynamics 365 Finance implementations, but no forecasting is available on Government Community Cloud (GCC). If you are a Government agency or you want to use rolling forecasts for a wide variety of Operations and Finance areas, it is a smart idea to invest in a purpose-built, flexible and robust market-leading corporate performance management solution that can provide you with the in-depth insight you need immediately.

Next year’s annual budgeting process is here now, yet leaders across the globe still have few answers or concrete plans to address our uncertain future. The best way for you to plan your organization’s budget is to develop your own glimpse into the future… and the best way to do that is with monthly rolling forecasts.

Make Smarter Decisions Now Using Monthly Rolling Forecasts from Solver

With the current situation, you cannot wait to “see what happens.” Forecasting templates from Solver help you get started with this helpful tool quickly, so you can take a proactive role in your Finance and Operations planning processes.

Rolling forecasts from Solver are fully integrated with a number of ERP systems, including Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance (f/k/a Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations), and they provide an easy way for you to look forward into what you can expect next year, so you can plan appropriately.

 

Discover the facts on forecasting during economic uncertainty with this handy how-to from Solver.  

hybrid cloud

There are more than 200,000 companies running on-premise ERP systems from Microsoft, Sage, SAP and Acumatica world-wide and many are not planning to move to the cloud yet. However, if you are one of them, this does not mean that your company can’t start taking advantage of modern cloud-based reporting solutions today to drive better and faster decisions for yourself and your management team!

Hasn’t Cloud-based reporting for on-premise ERPs been available for a long time?

Yes, vendors like Prophix, Solver, Vena, Adaptive Insights, and Planful (formerly Host Analytics) have offered both cloud-based financial reporting and budgeting for years. However, all of these vendors have typical corporate performance management (CPM) architectures that require data to be loaded from the on-premise ERP and into the cloud CPM tool before the user can run reports. 

The process requires a “refresh” of data from the ERP database into the CPM database which means that the data users see in reports is not real-time. This also mean that the drill-down on any number is only as detailed as the lowest level data that was loaded into the cloud CPM database. 

Your executives are often ok with this because they want to wait on their report analysis until the accounting team has closed the books. However, the accounting team that is posting transactions in the ERP system almost always prefers live ERP reporting because they want to immediately see the impact of journal entries in their reports. They don’t want to refresh data into a CPM reporting database first, and then wait one minute, ten minutes or significantly longer to run reports after the data has been transferred to the CPM tool.

How do I get true live reporting for my on-premise ERP GP data?  

The obvious answer is that you use the report writer that natively comes with your ERP system such as  Management Reporter, GP Report Writer, Smartlist or SQL Reporting Services (SSRS). However, at best, it would be safe to say that these tools have aged “gracefully,” and they are just not comparable to many modern cloud reporting tools.

Key weaknesses of on-premise report tools include:

  • Not particularly user-friendly for accounting staff to design reports.
  • Lack of easy and professional formatting.
  • Typically requires VPN or Terminal Server to connect to the ERP in order to run reports from outside the office network.
  • Maintaining multiple report writers for different data (e.g. for formatted financial statements versus sub-ledger transaction reports).

In order to overcome these weaknesses and help on-premise ERP customers maximize the value of their data a modern, cloud-based reporting platform, Solver has now launched what they refer to as “Hybrid Cloud Reporting.” You can see it live in this video. This is a unique integration technology that enables you to:

  • Use your web-browser to run beautifully formatted reports (looks like Excel formatting).
  • Benefit from true real-time reports on your ERP data without any data transfer to a separate reporting database.
  • Drill-down from any number in the report directly into your underlying GP transactional data. 
  • Easy internet and browser-based access with no need for VPN, or software like Terminal Server.
  • Enter budgets from user-friendly forms (looks like Excel) in the cloud and have the transactions stored directly into the GL budget table in the ERP database.
  • Be better prepared to move to a cloud ERP later because the reporting and budgeting solution is already in the cloud. 

In other words, now your accountants and reporting end-users get the best of two worlds by only needing a web browser to run live ERP reports and drill-down.

Below is a simple architecture diagram to explain how it works:

hybriddiagram

What about budgeting and forecasting?

Like many other cloud-based CPM solutions, Solver also offers budgeting and forecasting. With the new Hybrid Cloud technology and Solver’s cloud-based Planning Module, users can store budget data directly back from Solver’s budget forms in the cloud, into the General Ledger budget table in the ERP database. 

So, if you struggle with manual Excel-based spreadsheets for your budgets, you can save a lot of time by eliminating emailing files between users, linking between spreadsheets, and put better controls in place for the entire budget process with workflow and approvals. 

As an example, users can access budget forms like the example below with their browser and instantly, until you close the budget process, update their department’s budget in the ERP system. Since Solver’s Hybrid Cloud updates are real-time, reports can immediately be run to see the impact of these changes on the budget.

Enjoy Faster and Better Decisions in the 2020s

Companies like Solver, Prophix, Vena, Adaptive Insights, and Planful are driving the next generation cloud-based reporting and planning technology. However, with the lack of live reporting and live budget write-back to on-premise ERP systems, accountants and very active ERP users have been left with their legacy tools for their real-time reporting needs.  

With the release of Solver Hybrid Cloud, these users now get the best of both worlds and can start ushering in the 2020’s by enabling themselves and other users with faster and better decisions.  Learn more about the benefits of choosing Solver CPM solutions by contacting us today or requesting a demo. 

Supported ERP systems are: Microsoft Dynamics GP, SL, and NAV, Sage 100 (SQL)*, 300* and 500*, SAP Business One (SQL)*, and Acumatica*.

*) Direct budget writeback not offered for these ERPs.

 

This entry will recap the Biz.ONE User Group Conference, held in Garden Grove October 23-25, 2017 – and what’s on the horizon for SAP Business One.
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