4 Ways Multi-Dimensional Technology Enhances EPM 

4 Ways Multi-Dimensional Technology Enhances EPM 

For accurate and agile budgeting, forecasting, modeling, and reporting, enterprises need to think outside of Excel’s limited dimensional framework and move toward cloud technology that can truly handle multi-dimensional views.

Multidimensional analysis

Within any enterprise, financial and operational data includes a Planful of variables and is required to be analyzed in a variety of ways.  These variables are what we call dimensions and are items such as products, departments, legal entities, accounts, scenarios, regions, time…and the list goes on and on.  In order to perform this complex analysis of the data, technology that is multi-dimensional in nature is required. 

Multi-dimensional analysis tMultidimensional EPMechnology (a.k.a.  On-Line Analytical Processing or OLAP) allows you to gain a richer view of your business results by visualizing the unique combination of data points. Here are some of the main ways multi-dimensional technology will enhance your enterprise performance management (EPM) processes.

1. It offers unlimited possible dimensions.  Excel offers limited dimensionality and there comes a point in time when deeper analysis is not possible. For complex business requirements, using this limited dimensional framework will prove to be incredibly tedious and exhausting, and the more unique data points there are, the more difficult it will be to envision multiple slices of your data in Excel. Multi-dimensional technology allows users to view and analyze their business from unlimited perspectives, so they can gain a deeper understanding of the data and obtain new insights.

2. It significantly reduces error.  Since Excel has limited dimensionality, complex businesses typically need to manually link separate spreadsheets together to achieve multidimensional analysis. As variables increase, the manual work becomes even more exhausting, and consequently, even more prone to error. By leveraging a software package with multidimensional capabilities, you can eliminate a lot of the manual work and reduce human error. It also allows for greater visibility and control over your data.

3. It reduces the workload.  UExcel for EPMsing Excel for EPM processes such as budgeting, forecasting, or reporting is incredibly labor-intensive. Not only is Excel error prone but what about the manual process of sending out and collecting spreadsheets?  The data quickly loses the single source of truth as version control issues become widespread. For smaller companies, it may be a little more practical, but as an enterprise grows, there will be more variables that need to be factored into the business. With EPM software that supports true multi-dimensionality, you can conquer more work in much less time.

4. It improves accuracy.  Even assuming you were to never make a single manual error in Excel, it remains unlikely Excel could ever provide the same level of precision and accuracy as true multi-dimensional applications. With multi-dimensional technology, every dimension of your business can be stored independently in the database, and the software allows you to utilize any combination of those dimensions to generate your reporting and analysis. This not only gives you more control over your data, but it also provides a much greater depth to the analysis of data. 

For large enterprises, performing EPM processes such as budgeting, forecasting, modeling, and reporting in Excel simply isn’t practical. Being limited by dimensionality requires you to link countless spreadsheets together in attempts to manually create your unique data perspectives. Not only is this incredibly time-consuming, but it’s also prone to error. With multi-dimensional EPM software, you can easily generate your reports and views with all necessary dimensions, while drastically reducing labor and eliminating human error.

Read more about the benefits of multi-dimensional technology in this whitepaper, Demystifying OLAP with Enterprise Performance Management.

Download the Free White Paper

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In the case of finance transformation, it’s often talked about in terms of re-engineering people, processes and systems to reduce costs, reduce cycle time, and make finance more strategic, ‘transforming’ it from a back-office scorekeeper function to a true business partner to the CEO and to the organization.

This topic is so broad, I’ve divided the information into two articles. In this part, I touch on the traits of modern CFOs, then define finance transformation vs modernization and how the two work hand-in-hand.

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Improving the Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting Cycle

Improving the Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting Cycle

Budgeting, planning and forecasting is a challenging ordeal. For large, dynamic enterprises, it can be incredibly difficult to accurately forecast and allocate budgets across departments.

budgeting

Traditional spreadsheet-based budgeting and forecasting has numerous limitations and is often prone to error. In a recent webinar sponsored by Planful entitled “Best Practices in Planning and Forecasting,” Rick Odom, Senior Manager and FP&A of Welch Allyn, and Ben Tang, Senior Director and FP&A at Planful, weighed in on this very issue.

Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting with Enterprise Performance ManaBudget cyclegement (EPM)

Dynamic businesses need to streamline the budgeting cycle, while improving accuracy.

EPM software solutions help businesses link together all of the processes in their management cycle, creating more seamless execution. The primary steps include:

  • * Modeling
  • * Planning
  • * Closing
  • * Reporting
  • * Analyzing

EPM software can improve the efficiency of the process, while minimizing errors and increasing the accuracy of forecasts.

Why Are Businesses Moving Away from Excel?

Excel has long been the go-to approach to improve the budgeting, planning and reporting cycle. It’s comfortable and familiar to financial teams, which has led many businesses to cling to that model longer than necessary. However, Excel is prone to error, and it doesn’t provide the same level of agility and advanced modeling as EPM software can provide. It also leads to multiple versions of the truth, as well as errors in reporting and forecasting, so businesses can’t be confident in their numbers.

Moving Away from Excel for More Accurate and Efficient Planning

In the webinar, a poll was taken regarding the current method most enterprises are utilizing for their planning and forecasting. Nearly 49 percent said they relied exclusively on Excel, while 38 percent were using a combination of Excel and an additional software application. As a result, many of these businesses are failing to conquer budgeting tasks with the efficiency and accuracy that’s achieved through alternate budgeting approaches.

Many organizations are still utilizing an annual budget, which is tedious and often inaccurate. Tang says that at Planful they utilize a rolling forecast approach, which allows them to update their budget more regularly, stay on top of finances, and achieve greater accuracy from their forecasts. He says his EPM system can help bring all of the numbers together so they have a better view of where they currently are compared to their targets.

How Do Businesses Shorten the budgeting cycle?

As businesses strive for efficiency in budgeting, they need to find ways to streamline their approach. Odom says with his business, they had about 700 different cost centers and 700 different accounts, and preparing a separate budget for each account was needlessly time-consuming and convoluted.

Instead, they began grouping accounts together and created budgets for the groups of accounts, rather than each individual account, which has greatly improved productivity, while providing the same level of accuracy. At Tang’s company, he’s discovered that an EPM system can greatly improve accuracy by providing a single source of truth, while connecting all aspects of the budgeting cycle together to optimize efficiency.

Adopting Rolling Forecasts

As businesses focus on improving the efficiency and accuracy of budgeting and planning, rolling forecasts are rapidly enhancing the traditional annual budget. Odom says that his business now does quarterly forecasting, while laying out an 18-month plan. With the 18-month plan, his business is thinking beyond the current year, while still having the flexibility to regularly update the budget as needed.

Are There Benefits to a Cloud-Based Software Solution?

With cloud-based EPM software, businesses can leverage the data-sharing qualities of the cloud, while making it easier and more cost-effective to manage and organize financial data. Odom says his company outsources their IT to IBM, and utilizing a cloud-based technology allows them to easily reach remote and outsourced workers, while saving time on upgrades.

Budget cycle

The cloud eliminates on-premises systems and makes it easier to connect with remote workers.

Tang says the biggest advantage of cloud-based EPM software is avoiding the installation and maintenance costs associated with on-premises software. Planful Cloud-Based EPM Suite also provides a spreadsheet experience in the cloud. Since many finance employees are familiar with Excel, having a spreadsheet interface in the cloud provides a sense of familiarity, allowing employees to master the technology more quickly.

As businesses become more dynamic, spreadsheets are no longer effective in and of themselves, when used to support a corporate process. Businesses need to be turning toward new software to streamline the budgeting cycle and improve the accuracy of forecasting. With cloud-based EPM software, businesses can manage their budgets and plans in the cloud while accessing a variety of tools to enhance analysis. They can also create rolling forecasts easily, which is ideal for rapidly changing businesses.

To learn more, read our free white paper, Best Practices in Rolling Forecasts.

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As the role of the CFO has transformed in recent years, so too have the relationships between finance and other lines of the business — particularly marketing and human resources.

While yesterday’s CFO was known as the barrier between a department and their ability to explore new initiatives, the modern CFO is being hailed as a partner to the business, providing departments with the resources and structure to drive growth.

CFOs are quick to affirm the benefits that their newly supportive role provides to the business, but do other executives agree? Do other lines of the business feel that the CFO is a true partner to them and their team?

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Attracting and Retaining Top Finance Talent

In today’s fast-changing and competitive market, it’s important for Finance teams to attract and retain the best talent possible in order to stay agile while managing costs.

With this in mind, the New Jersey Chapter of the CFO Leadership Council recently Planfuled a panel discussion on “Attracting and Retaining Top Talent.” The panel was moderated by Karyn Egeland, Regional Director of Corporate Consulting at Randstad.

The panelists included a number of executives with experience in talent management including Sandra Clarke, VP of Finance and CFO at Daiichi Sankyo; Anthony Graziano, Regional Managing Director at Randstad; Andrew Reich, Chief Financial Officer at Pearl Media; and Barbara Toscano, Founder and Owner at Evolution.  This lively panel discussion touched on many important topics facing Finance today.

Challenges in Building an Effective Finance Team

One panelist spoke about a recent reorganization at her company that impacted Finance, and their recently acquired talent. She highlighted the shifting roles of the Finance team as a result of this reorganization, which included redefining roles and relationships. In light of the reorganization, the company has made the decision that going forward, they will put less focus on recruiting and more on retention of talent. While there are some Millennials on staff at present, most of the team is more experienced. One key challenge in retaining Millennials is creating a work environment that is more casual and appeals to younger staff (e.g.  casual dress code, collaborative work areas, flexible hours, etc.). The panelist expressed concern that the CFO needs to balance creating an organizational culture that is both attractive to Millennials and one that is not offensive to older staff members.

Another panelist mentioned that Millennials have different expectations, therefore the CFO must use creative strategies to keep them motivated and engaged during changes in leadership. Culture is a big factor in retaining talent – and this is a key selling point for small, innovative companies.  Communication is key in creating a culture that appeals to Millennials and improving retention of Millennial staff members.

Others on the panel agreed that Millennials have a different attitude and expectations in comparison to prior generations of staff members. Many panelists pointed out that Millennial expectations don’t always match reality – regarding promotions, for example. For this reason, when hiring candidates with limited work experience it’s crucial that the hiring committee get to know the individual on a personal level, exploring their interests and activities in high school and college. This will tell the committee a lot about what motivates them and make it more clear whether that individual is a good fit for the culture of the organization.

Younger staff often question existing processes and procedures, which is welcome. But this can be perceived as a threat by older workers and must be managed carefully. The CFO needs to balance solicitation for suggestions and new ideas with ample training and education on existing procedures.

Finding Qualified Hiring Candidates for Finance

The unemployment rate in Accounting & Finance is lower than the national rate, suggesting that there is a dearth of qualified individuals in the market. Hiring processes don’t always match market trends, thus CFOs must have realistic expectations about how many candidates they can expect to see for a particular position. Instead, by focusing on quality over quantity, CFOs can quickly identify the best candidates and make hiring offers. Demand is strong and supply is limited, which means that going forward it may take longer than expected to fill an open position.

Focus on Retention in Tough Hiring Environment

One of the keys to retention is identifying top talent and using coaching and mentoring to develop these staff members. The focus of these efforts should always be rightsizing to ensure that the right people are in the right roles. Putting the wrong person in a given role can be toxic and unproductive. In fact, one toxic staff member can have a negative impact on the entire team and can even make it more difficult to retain other valuable team members. In situations like this, the CFO needs to take immediate action to mitigate the negative impact.

Development and training programs for key staff — sometimes using outside programs — can go a long way towards improving rates of retention. Mentoring and coaching programs for younger staff are also effective. Reflecting on this and incorporating it into the annual performance review process has also been shown to have a positive impact on retention.

Another factor that can influence retention is having a strong HR group that can help change executive mindset on talent retention. CFOs can make a choice: invest in talent retention or invest in recruiting and hiring. Luckily, this is typically not a hard sell — most executives understand the need to retain top talent and HR is often supportive in this endeavor.

Identifying Problem Employees and Making Changes

There are many reasons for employee underperformance: manager issues, lack of appropriate skill set, skewed expectations, etc. If an employee is not performing well, it is imperative that the CFO identify the cause and address the problem right away. One possible solution is coaching an employee either to improve or to transition out of their role. If the correct approach is taken, the employee can be an asset in this transition and work with management to develop an effective solution.

Sometimes changes in management can lead to performance issues. Getting employees to build rapport with a new manager can be challenging. In situations like these CFO’s need to be supportive, but monitor the situation closely and be ready to take action in case the group fails to become cohesive. In other situations, making a change in senior management can be positive change that sends a supportive message to the team, especially if the previous manager was a bad fit or there was a toxic situation between the manager and some of the employees.

How to Stay Ahead on Talent Management

Having a strong relationship with a company’s HR or talent acquisition group is key. Establish clear guidelines regarding Finance talent needs and make sure they are always on the lookout for new talent. CFO’s can also leverage the existing team for referring new talent. Another strategy is using a rotational approach, which gives employees new experiences, builds new skill sets, and improves employee retention as employees who are cross-trained are more likely to understand and engage in a given organizational culture. This is especially true in FP&A functions – rotating LOB assignments and providing exposure to different functions (e.g. Sales, Marketing, MFG etc.) can be a very effective tool in identifying talent and improving efficiency.

Conclusion

This was a great panel discussion on a topic that is clearly relevant in today’s competitive hiring environment. The influx of Millennials into the workforce creates an opportunity to engage fresh minds that will challenge existing processes and suggest new ideas for improvement. At the same time, companies must help Millennials manage their expectations about the work environment, job responsibilities and promotional opportunities in order to keep the peace with the more senior staff.

One way to engage and motivate younger staff is for the organization to stay current with the latest tools and technologies. Not just for the sake of impressing Millennials, but to truly improve key business processes and make Finance more effective and productive.

Tools such as Cloud-Based EPM applications for modeling, planning, consolidation and reporting can reduce the drudgery of day-to-day Finance and Accounting tasks and allow Finance staff to focus on more value-added analysis that will better support the organization.

To learn more, check out this white paper “Holding onto Your Top Talent:  Why Infrastructure is Key

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Improve Your Financial Reporting and Closing Processes in 2016

As your business brings its 2015 financial reporting to a close, you've likely identified a number of inefficiencies that could be improved in the coming year.

A recent webinar entitled “A Leap Forward for Finance Leaders: How to Shorten Your Company’s Financial Close and Reporting in 2016,” provides excellent tips to organizations looking to streamline their closing and reporting process.

In the webinar, a poll was conducted in which attendees were asked whether they closed their books in a timely manner. About 28.5 percent of respondents claimed they didn’t close their books efficiently. This is an alarming number, but fortunately, there are easy ways to improve the speed and accuracy of the closing process.

Top Priorities Prior to ClosingFinancial reporting

Streamline your procedure, so your team can close the books quickly.

You need to have a list of priorities in place prior to closing, so you can approach the process as strategically as possible. According to Warren May, Comptroller at the International Association of Firefighters, his organization is more focused on the budget than actual reporting. As a nonprofit, virtually all of their money that comes in as revenue is later used on expenses. He cites the need for punctual recording of all transactions, so the financial analysis at the end of each month is more accurate, and they can easily alter their budgeting approach if needed.

Improving the Efficiency of the Closing Process

To speed up the closing process, it helps to identify the areas that are most problematic to your approach. Gary Wong, the Corporate Controller for Planful, says his aim has always been to close the books within a 5-day timeframe, which is an achievable goal provided you’re approaching the closing process methodically.

Wong says, however, that the speed of closing largely depends on the type of business and their processes. Companies providing services will likely take longer to close, as will companies utilizing labor-intensive closing strategies. With cloud-based enterprise performance management (EPM) software, tracking company expenses is more efficient and accurate, which can drastically decrease the timeline of the closing process.

What Should Multinational Businesses Consider During the Reporting Process?

Brad Tingey, the Corporate Controller of Golden State Foods, says that considerations will vary among different organizations. For multinational businesses, they need to manage both the local and global reporting and closing procedures. With large businesses, it’s essential to gain a single source of truth, so remaining consistent across all branches and departments is imperative. With a cloud-based EPM solution, large enterprises can easily share data in the cloud, allowing all departments within an organization to follow the same procedures.

Financial reporting

Streamlining the Financial Close for Nonprofit Organizations

Reduce paperwork and improve organization with cloud-based reporting.

By streamlining the closing process, nonprofit organizations can improve efficiency, while maintaining accuracy. May says that his team relies on automating certain closing tasks to streamline their procedure. Automating voucher approval, expense reporting, and other routine tasks has allowed his team to expedite their closing process, while reducing manual errors.

Eliminating data silos has also been critical. With cloud-based closing and reporting software, businesses can consolidate data from across departments to eliminate data silos, providing them with a more accurate view of company finances.

Financial reporting processes can always be improved upon. Tingey says that it’s imperative to have a strategic process in place, which is the most critical lesson he learned from his 2015 reporting. In 2016, his team intends to acquire new talent and continue to improve their process, while strengthening the key roles of team members. The best way to expedite reporting and closing is by eliminating inefficient tactics like Excel, relying on tasks automation when possible, and utilizing cloud-based software that promotes data consolidation and data sharing.

Watch the webinar, A Leap Forward for Finance Leaders: How to Shorten Your Company’s Financial Close and Reporting in 2016, to learn more. Then take the time to view a demo to experience the Planful EPM solution.

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EPM Rock Stars Getting Ready to Meet at Planful World 2016

In less than 66 days, #HAWORLD kicks off in San Francisco on May 9, 2016. Planful World in San Francisco delivers more than 60 sessions, workshops and more than 50 speakers over three full conference days.

We are ready to meet and greet our EPM rock stars at the Cloud EPM Event of the Year, with the theme focused on “Navigating Change”.  Join us as we take a closer look at the challenges finance teams face in navigating their organizations to success in today’s rapidly changing business environment. Customers and partners will share how they are leveraging Planful to increase agility in modeling, planning, reporting and decision making.

Here are 5 reasons to pack your bags and join us in San Francisco for Planful World:

#1 Hall of Fame Keynotes – Get Inspired!

steve_young.jpgHall Of Fame Quarterback and Super Bowl Champion Steve Young will Keynote along with popular favorite, Planful, CEO Dave Kellogg. These 2 All Stars will not only set the tone for the conference but for the theme “Navigating Change”.  These are 2 sessions not to be missed!

#2 Learn from the experts – Share experiences and learn from peers!

Sessions are presented by some of the most innovative finance folks and experts there are. This is your opportunity to learn from real-world experience and get answers to your product and business questions straight from the sources.  Our Planful Experts will be on hand in the expo area to answer any burning questions you have to help you.

#3 Make the most of every opportunity – Networking!

HA_World_2015.jpgPlanful World brings together the best finance mavens from all industries. Throughout the week, we have a bunch of opportunities for you to meet with fellow finance professionals in your industry and hear about their challenges, insider tips, and secrets to success. Each year attendance has grown, with Planful World playing Planful to more than 800 finance rock stars.  You all come together to share stories, network, and learn not only how to transform your organizations, but to inspire in your roles within your organizations. Our video from last year’s event shows the highlights. 

#4 Listen, Learn and Get Hands On: Be the Best!

Listen to case studies from fellow peers and learn finance transformation tips from the experts. Hands-On Modeling and Analytics Workshops will leave you with valuable skills and new ideas on how to take it to the next level.  Whether you’re new to Planful, a seasoned expert, or someone considering Planful, we’ve designed a packed agenda on May 10 – 12 that will help you prepare, plan, and tackle your finance woes.  Bookmark our conference website so you can review the agenda and check back often for the latest updates on keynotes, breakout sessions, and speakers.

#5 Find solutions to solve your specific finance issues.

Learn how to tackle your own finance issues as you see Planful Products in action in the Learning Lounge. You’ll leave with specific skills, best practices, and strategies you can put to work immediately back at your desk.

Don’t miss your opportunity to learn from the best. Check out our 2015 Highlights Video to find out why attendees raved so much about the event and why you should be in attendance this year.

Don’t forget to register for Planful World 2016 in San Francisco – it’s all happening May 9- 12, 2016.  Contact us for a special discount code to get you signed up!

Register for Planful World

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Migrating Oracle Hyperion EPM Applications to the Cloud

Accounting and Finance is well on its way to moving away from on-premises software to cloud-based ERP and enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions.

The IT industry analysts have been predicting this shift for a few years and in 2015 – following the lead of their peers in Sales, Marketing, and HR – it is clear Finance is now making the move.

In fact, in a 2015 survey by Gartner and FEI, almost half of the respondents indicated increasing adoption and interest in cloud-based applications.

  • Integrated Financial Management:  53% (up from 47% in 2014)
  • Management Reporting:  49% (up from 45% in 2014)
  • Financial Consolidation & Reporting:  46% (up from 41% in 2014)
  • Budgeting, Planning & Forecasting:  45% (up from 38% in 2014)

While Oracle Hyperion remains a market leader in EPM software, that role comes with a hefty price tag and poses some hidden risks that are causing companies that use it to re-evaluate their planning, budgeting, and consolidation needs. Whether used individually or together as an EPM suite, Oracle Hyperion Financial Management (HFM), Hyperion Planning, and Essbase burden finance departments with high costs of ownership, from server costs and consultants to dealing with the complex integration between products and the different interfaces.

As Oracle Hyperion users start to evaluate the cloud, they need to understand how the benefits and functionality of cloud-based EPM solutions compare to on-premises software.  And they also need to understand the benefits of “real” cloud-based EPM applications vs. Planfuled versions of legacy on-premises applications.  See my recent blog article on this topic.

To learn more about the benefits of cloud-based EPM solutions check out our free white paper “Is it Time to Move from Oracle Hyperion to the Cloud?”  Also, learn more about our Oracle Hyperion Migration Program.

Download White Paper

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