7 Megatrends in Modern Finance: Hiring in Operational Planning

7 Megatrends in Modern Finance: Hiring in Operational Planning

Trend #3: Hiring in the operational planning areas is outpacing that of finance

Q3_2016_7_Trends_in_Finance_FINAL-3-741469-edited.jpg

Earlier this year, we polled 252 financial and accounting decision makers to determine what major trends they see emerging that will affect the corporate finance function.  In this seven-part blog series, we’ll examine each of these developments.

An emerging trend is the increasing number of FTEs in operational planning areas. Nine out of 10 companies surveyed now have at least one operational function within
their companies. These operational planning personnel are responsible for the planning, modeling, and analysis for their respective areas. The majority of companies identified sales operations as the most common.

3-Hiring-in-operational-areas-compared-to-finance.png
Interestingly, hiring for operational planning and analyst roles has outpaced that of finance in half of all companies surveyed. This highlights, and reinforces, the fact that increasingly more planning activities occur outside of finance. Such activities are enabled by the data and capabilities of systems like Salesforce and Marketo.

Read the Blog post on Trend #7

Read the Blog post on Trend #6

Read the Blog post on Trend #5

Read the Blog post on Trend #4

Read the Blog post on Trend #3

Read the Blog post on Trend #2

Read the Blog post on Trend #1

Check back next week for the next of the seven trends.

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What’s New in Healthcare Performance Management?

What’s New in Healthcare Performance Management?

Healthcare is clearly becoming one of the more challenging industries in which to operate.  The need to balance quality patient care with controlling costs and meeting regulatory requirements is stretching the resources of many healthcare providers. 

healthcare-bg.jpg

As a result, leading organizations in the industry are turning to business intelligence (BI), analytics, and enterprise performance management (EPM) software solutions to help them better monitor and manage their operations.

That was the focus of a recent event co-sponsored by Planful, along with our partners Waypoint Consulting and Qlik.  The event featured presentations by a number of leading healthcare providers and consultants.  Here are the highlights.

Christiana Care’s Triple Aim Dashboard

Donna Mahoney – Project Leader, Population Health/Applied Analytics, Christiana Care – presented their Triple Aim analytic solution, featuring a dashboard that integrates financial, clinical, and patient satisfaction data from over 17 disparate data sources.  The dashboard includes high-level trend charts with drill-down capabilities into patient-level detail.  This dashboard application is accessed by 350 users across the organization, getting over 30,000 hits per year.  More importantly, it has enabled 7 out of 9 service lines to improve their “optimal health” grade and has also reduced readmissions for several specific conditions.

PinnacleHealth System Using Predictive Analytics in Staffing

Steve Stepp – Director, Corporate Engineering & Intelligence, PinnacleHealth System – presented on their use of predictive analytics in staffing.  PinnacleHealth has been recognized as a forward-thinking organization with regard to its analytic capabilities.  During the session, Mr. Stepp highlighted how PinnacleHealth has deployed its predictive analytic solution to address readmissions and, more recently, staffing.

aspendental_site_01.jpgAspen Dental Using the Cloud to Improve Financial Planning and Reporting

Chris Duffy – Senior Manager of Financial Reporting, Aspen Dental Management – presented a session about their use of Planful’ cloud-based EPM platform to improve financial planning and reporting.  The users of the system include Accounting, FP&A, Support Center Department Leads, Operations VPs, and Directors. 

The solution was implemented in 4 months, replacing Excel and some legacy applications.  The solution has yielded a number of benefits, including improved usability, more user engagement, as well as increased flexibility and adaptability to keep pace with changing business conditions.  It’s also led to Finance process transformation, such as a shorter period-end close.

Rochester Regional Health Gains Big-Picture Focus as Well as Everyday Needs

David Meintel – Director of Business Intelligence, Rochester Regional Health – presented a session focused on their enterprise data warehouse project.  The daily appetite for clinical and operational analytics continues to increase at RRH.  Mr. Meintel presented how Rochester Regional Health is balancing their everyday analytic needs, including tool selections, while staying on track to deliver an enterprise information platform through their data warehouse.

Transparency with Cost Utilization: Getting Everyone on the Same Page

Sonia Barbosa – Director, Network and Risk Model Analysis, Healthfirst – delivered a session focused on managing costs and utilization.  The changes in healthcare are driving a new relationship between the plans, hospitals, and physicians.  There is a significant amount of data in the industry, different lenses to view the data, and a high demand for the data. 

The CUTS application was created with the collaboration of Healthfirst’s partner hospitals, their physician groups, and Qlik.  It has been well-received.  The risk-taking entities are enjoying having their financial information at their fingertips and the flexibility to drill down and better understand what drives their performance.

Big Data – Yep.  Big Results?  Not so Much. Getting to Executive Value

Andrea Coleman –  Former Hospital CEO & Regional President, Vizient Health (VHA) – wrapped up the day with some advice about getting more value from “big data.”  Too many hospitals lack internal human/team processes to utilize ever more powerful data.  Ms. Coleman provided her C-level perspective with regard to what is needed, at a hospital, to actually get somewhere with data.

Improving Agility in Healthcare

Overall, it was a great event.  The audience got to hear how all of these leading healthcare organizations are leveraging EPM, BI, and analytics technologies to streamline business processes, improve insights into their business, reduce costs, and navigate the changing landscape of the healthcare industry. 

To learn more about how Aspen Dental and other organizations are transforming their finance processes, check out this webinar replay.

Three views of finance transformation webinar replay

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Strategies for Making Budgeting and Planning More Effective

Strategies for Making Budgeting and Planning More Effective

Today, planning a corporate budget is more challenging than ever, as there is greater pressure on business than ever before.

With the fluctuating market, increased regulations, fickle consumers, and rapidly changing business models, managing business finances can present a lot of difficulties. 

Why Is Budgeting Such a Challenge for Finance Today?

The challenges with budgeting are both internal and external. According to Lee Feingold, Senior Associate at the Keystone Group, forecasting and budgeting has always been a challenge. It’s time-consuming and presents a lot of cross-functional struggles, since you need multiple areas of business collaborating on the same budget. However, today it’s more challenging than ever due to the number of external stakeholders involved as a result of the increasing complexity of business.

What Are the Key Trends CFOs See in Budgeting?

One of the biggest trends CFOs see in budgeting is zero-based budgeting, which has been increasing in popularity among financial analysts. Rodger Howell, Principal at PwC, says there are a lot of discrepancies regarding how to make the best use of zero-based budgeting, but doing it every few years to gain a fresh look at the business can be helpful. Integrated business planning is another key trend, and it helps to tie the long-term financial plans to the operating model, so businesses can bring the capital, operational, and functional planning together. Rolling forecasts are also rising in popularity, as they provide a more agile method of budgeting that can be modified as circumstances change.

How Can Technology Help to Address and Improve Upon These Trends?

Cloud-Accounting.jpgThere has definitely been an increase in the number of businesses leveraging technology to improve their planning and forecasting. According to panelist Sherri Liao, Senior Director at The Hackett Group, the cloud has been a tremendous help in increasing user adoption of financial technologies. There are a variety of tools that can help to address cost and time to deploy, as well as tools to improve scenario modeling. The other beneficial aspect of financial technology is its ability to improve the visualization of data, which promotes accurate analysis and gives businesses a clearer view of their finances.

Warning Signs That Your Budget Process Isn’t Working as It Should

There are a lot of warning signs that can help businesses identify when their budgeting process is no longer working. According to Howell, one of the key warning signs to identify is the time that the budget cycle is taking. If a business feels the process is taking longer than it should, then they’re probably right, and it may be time for a change. If it’s taking too long, it’s indicative that the process isn’t well-managed, and technology can streamline the process. Liao added that the tendency for an annual budget to be updated numerous times can often indicate that something in the process isn’t working.

What Are the Identifying Factors of an Effective Budgeting Process?

While it’s important to identify red flags in a poorly functioning budget process, it’s equally important to take note when your budget process is effective. Liao says that target setting can be a key indicator. It can change the process of how budgets are carried out. By looking at the target setting to see how clear the objective is, it can help to manage the efficiency of the budget. Feingold says that it helps to take a top-down and bottom-up approach, where the CFO analyzes the numbers from previous years and conducts a top-down analysis based on major assumptions from the previous year. Then, the CFO should conduct a bottom-up analysis to see if there is a good alignment between the two.

How Does Data Quality Impact Budgeting?

Data quality plays a major role in successful budgeting, and businesses need to ensure high data quality to gain the most accurate results. In Feingold’s opinion, redundant data can negatively impact budgeting and skew the results. Untimely data can also impact successful budgeting. By the time the budget is completed, some data may already be out of date. When data isn’t at the right level of detail, it can create issues as well, so maintaining quality data is essential.

How Can CFOs Increase Budgeting Collaboration Between the Finance Team and Business Leaders?

Collaboration between the finance team and business leaders is essential for successful budgeting, but it can be a difficult process to achieve. Howell suggests that the CFO help to drive the corporate strategic planning process. Implementing a year-round ownership of budgets can be helpful, as it creates an organization-wide schedule to hold team members accountable.

Financial modeling

Are Alternatives to Traditional Budgeting Helpful?

Traditional budgeting isn’t the only option for enterprises, and there are a lot of alternatives that can provide greater flexibility. Howell notes that many businesses use top-down high-level forecasting, as well as zero-based budgeting, which can help to gain a fresh perspective on the business budget. However, an interesting and helpful trend has been scenario planning, which can help businesses to understand the potential aftermath of a variety of business circumstances, so they can be more prepared for the future.

What Are Some Key Levers for CFOs to Employ to Improve Budgeting?

CFOs need to be thinking of strategies to improve the budgeting process. Feingold recommends that businesses keep the budget on their mind consistently throughout the year. This can be accomplished by putting together a weekly scorecard that every management meeting starts with. The scorecard will cover the key items impacting a budget to help everyone understand where the actual results are versus where the budget needs to be.

How to Increase Agility in Budgeting to Improve the Corporate Strategy

Agility is key to developing an effective corporate strategy. Feingold emphasizes that a weekly scorecard is essential to this aim, as it allows them to assess their goals and progress, so they can adjust more quickly when needed. Howell adds that simplifying data is essential. The data needs to be highly visual and easy to digest, so it can drive clear and evidence-based decision making.

Planning a corporate budget is no easy task, but there are a variety of ways that businesses can improve the efficiency and accuracy of their budget. With the right software tools, businesses can gain more agility in their financial budgeting by utilizing complex scenario planning. They can also break away from the traditional budget and explore more effective budgeting approaches, like driver-based rolling forecasts.

Learn about Zero Based Budgeting in the on-demand webinar, Beyond the Baseline: Best Practices in Zero-Based Budgeting.

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5 Easy Steps to Switching Planning Tools

5 Easy Steps to Switching Planning Tools

It’s that time of year – when leaves turn their fall colors, kids are back in school, and of course, budgeting season ramps up.

Are you spending a lot of time wrestling with data collection and not enough time with analysis? Is your company hitting limitations with its current budgeting and planning software tool? The crunch of budgeting season always puts these software tools to the test and makes shortcomings more visible.

If you answered yes to either, or both, of those questions, you’re not alone. The crunch of budgeting season always puts these software tools to the test and makes shortcomings more visible.

So maybe you’re thinking about switching budgeting and planning solutions, particularly if your company has outgrown its current tool. If you’re not sure whether now is the right time, see our prior prior post for the typical signs. The prospect of switching planning solutions, however, may feel intimidating – especially if you’ve been using the same one for a while, no matter how incomplete it has been.

But don’t let the idea of migrating away from your current tool to a new solution unnerve you. We promise – it can be quick and painless.

  • Remember, this is an opportunity to start with a clean slate and improve how you do your budgeting and planning, reporting, consolidation, and driver-based modeling.
  • It could even provide you with a platform that supports other processes, such as financial consolidation or operational modeling.
  • Moreover, Planful makes it easy and seamless to migrate. You don’t have to start from scratch, saving you time and effort.

Here are our 5 easy, proven steps to painlessly migrate to Planful

Step 1: Did you know that we can export your metadata (dimensions/accounts) and data out via the MS Office tools offered by your current solution? From modeled/budget data to historic actual GL data, we can move it all to the appropriate place for use in Planful. We’ll even be able to migrate the hierarchies!

Step 2: We connect and integrate all of your GL data to Planful for analysis (and one source of the truth!) from any number of your data sources. We have pre-built connections to over 100 GL, ERP, and CRM solutions, including NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics, SAP Business ByDesign, Salesforce, and Intacct.

Step 3: We haven’t forgotten about the work you put into templates and reports. We can export them and their associated mappings out of your tool – and into our solution. 

Step 4: Via our translation tool, we also translate formulas written in your prior tool’s formula language to Excel. Additional Excel models can be transferred via our patented AirLiftXL – translation: we do all the heavy lifting!

Step 5: Finally, we import security settings (users, user permissions, and roles) using our API, which has a security setting utility.

When you switch to Planful, you’re in good hands. The Planful Implementation Team has done this countless times for a diverse group of customers. They span a broad range of industries and company sizes, from pre-IPO start-ups to multi-nationals with over $15B in annual revenue.

For instance, iCIMS, I-TECH at the University of Washington, and Physio-Control all replaced their prior low-end cloud-based tools and spreadsheets with Planful and went live within 12 weeks. As a result of switching to Planful, these companies have dramatically improved their financial processes, from increasing user adoption to streamlining their planning. To learn more about other customers who made the switch to Planful, view our video customer stories here.

Finally, how do you know if your company could benefit from switching? Download our free LookBook to see the signs and benefits: “Signs You Are Outgrowing Your Planning Application.”

Download the Look Book

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7 Megatrends in Modern Finance: Lack of Data and Technology

7 Megatrends in Modern Finance: Lack of Data and Technology

Trend #2: Lack of data and technology are
primary barriers

Earlier this year, we polled 252 financial and accounting decision makers to determine what major trends they see emerging that will affect the corporate finance function.  In this seven-part blog series, we’ll examine each of these developments.

Whether trying to achieve their mission, partner with the business, or execute their initiatives, finance teams are hindered by lack of systems and data. Interestingly, CFOs and CAOs are 70% more likely than the rest of the organization to mention lack of data as the issue.

Reasons-preventing-finance-from-executing-their-initiatives.png

Unfortunately, almost 20% of respondents said the organization does not value input from finance as a barrier to partnering with the business. High staff turnover is a big reason finance initiatives are being slowed or blocked.

Reasons-preventing-finance-from-being-a-partner-to-the-business.png

Read the Blog post on Trend #7

Read the Blog post on Trend #6

Read the Blog post on Trend #5

Read the Blog post on Trend #4

Read the Blog post on Trend #3

Read the Blog post on Trend #2

Read the Blog post on Trend #1

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Easing the Struggles of the Annual Budgeting Process

Easing the Struggles of the Annual Budgeting Process

Annual budgeting is a notorious pain in the business world, taking up bounteous quantities of time, while still producing unreliable results.

In a recent webinar, Reducing the Pain of Annual Budgeting, panelists sat down to discuss the biggest problems with the annual budget and some ways to improve budget planning.

Watch the Webinar Replay

Budgets Are Simple and Yet So Complex

In the webinar, Surya Mukherjee, the Senior Analyst at Ovum, noted the strange phenomenon of budgets. On the surface, they seem so simple. After all, a budget is simply a financial plan for a set duration of the company, including the projected income and expenses of the business. It should be fairly straightforward to create, right?

However, the process is actually incredibly complex, due to the innumerable variables that can impact projected income and expenses. You need to consider all of the potential outcomes of scenarios, incorporate tax planning and capital expenditures, plan for potential alterations to the budget plan that could skew financial allocation, etc. When considering all of the variables involved, it becomes clear that budgeting is actually an incredibly complex endeavor.

The Biggest Problems with Budgeting

When it comes down to it, planning a business budget is not only complex, the process is also prone to inaccuracy. When relying on traditional budgeting methods, businesses often encounter a Planful of difficulties. Mukherjee outlines some of the key issues that businesses face with traditional budgeting.

  1. They’re inefficient. Between the need to create numerous iterations, the lengthy analysis cycles, and the resource-intensive nature, annual budgets are incredibly tedious and inefficient.
  2. They’re inflexible. Annual budgets are very rigid, and they can’t adjust to fluctuations in business processes, assumptions, or data. This leads to inaccuracies and a budget plan that can’t support dynamic business models.
  3. The data is unreliable. When relying on data that’s outdated or inaccurate, the budget becomes unreliable.
  4. There is a lack of collaboration. Due to poor data integration and poor internal collaboration, budgets often fail to take into account the needs of each specific department.
  5. They’re disjointed. With annual budgets, there is often difficulty arriving at common semantics, and data can become siloed within operational, financial, and strategic plans.

Budgeting Season Best Practices

The aforementioned difficulties make business budgeting challenging, while also reducing the accuracy of results. To create reliable budgets and plans, Mukherjee recommends implementing some best practices pertaining to budgeting.

  • Avoid spreadsheets as the primary budgeting tool,
  • Don’t rely on fixed forecast intervals,
  • Settle on a level of forecast granularity that fits your business,
  • Rely on benchmarks and external indicators to improve accuracy,
  • Automate menial tasks and data entry to improve efficiency,
  • And integrate operational, financial, and strategic planning together.

Use Cloud-Based EPM Software to Improve Performance

Many financial planners are moving away from spreadsheets and adopting a system that promotes collaboration, encourages automation, and integrates operations, finance, and strategic planning. A cloud-based EPM software platform can do all of these things, while offering advanced data tools that allow businesses to include as much granularity as needed in their financial planning. When searching for an EPM solution, Mukherjee notes that the key things to look for include reporting functions and dashboards, high data quality and governance, built-in automation functions, and a cloud-based platform that supports collaboration and data integration.

Businesses Thrive with Planful Cloud EPM Platform

Businesses across the world have been adopting cloud-based EPM software with exceptional results. Lee Johnston, the Senior Director of FP&A at LT Apparel, turned to Planful Cloud EPM platform in hopes of finding a financial planning solution that would improve efficiency and accuracy. Before adopting a cloud-based solution, their financial planning method was extremely inefficient.

It took a tremendous amount of time to update actuals. They had links stretched across multiple drives, which made compiling information tedious. His team started using Planful to conquer their budgeting and forecasting process. It’s enabled them to automate a lot of processes and improve efficiency, while accessing a cloud platform that unites operations and finance, and encourages collaboration across the enterprise.

Many enterprises are seeking to replace the annual budget with a more agile method. Cloud-Based EPM software makes it easier to implement rolling forecasts, which can improve the efficiency and agility of budgeting. It also comes equipped with data integration and analysis tools to improve data quality and increase analytic capabilities. With a cloud platform, businesses can achieve the collaboration and data consistency they need to thrive.

To learn more about improving the annual budgeting cycle, watch the complete webinar, Reducing the Pain of Annual Budgeting.

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7 Megatrends in Modern Finance: The Changing Role

7 Megatrends in Modern Finance: The Changing Role

Trend #1: The role of finance is changing

boardroom-675x3201.jpg

Earlier this year, we polled 252 financial and accounting decision makers to determine what major trends they see emerging that will affect the corporate finance function.  In this seven-part blog series, we’ll examine each of these developments.

Finance, of course, has to produce the financial statements. In the past that was enough. Today, however, the role of finance has expanded. It requires a lot more collaboration. It needs to involve everyone from investors to the business itself to ensure strategic goals are being met and company value is maximized.

the_role_of_finance_is_changing.png

The focus varies by company size. Being a strategic partner to the business is especially important to large companies, with one in four seeing it as the primary mission. In medium companies, finance’s mission is about maximizing company value with investors and the board. Either way, this is a big departure from the days when simply reporting the results was enough.

Read the Blog post on Trend #7

Read the Blog post on Trend #6

Read the Blog post on Trend #5

Read the Blog post on Trend #4

Read the Blog post on Trend #3

Read the Blog post on Trend #2

Read the Blog post on Trend #1

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Battling Data Silos: 3 Tips to Finance and Operations Integration

Battling Data Silos: 3 Tips to Finance and Operations Integration

Finance is often flying half blind.  Charged with tasks such as budgeting, planning, forecasting, and reporting Finance executives are often only able to see half the picture: the limited amount of data that they have.

This data is is usually limited to simply the planned or projected revenue and expenditures versus the actual revenue and expenditures. They often have no access to the data that tells the “how and why” that could lead to more accurate planning and forecasting.

What is the solution? The solution is to break down the data silos and combine the data from other applications into a cloud-based enterprise performance management (EPM) platform that is used for planning, reporting, modeling and analysis. Data silos are systems, files, and documents that exist across the enterprise and outside of the financial data sets. This includes all sorts of operational and business data that Finance often has limited access to. By breaking down those data silos and making all of the data readily available to Finance, you give them the power to budget and forecast like never before. Here’s how to get it right in your organization.

1. Conduct a Data Discovery Audit

Where is all the data? Basically all of the data collected by disparate systems in the organization should be accessible to Finance. This would include legacy systems, spreadsheets, and department-specific applications like HR systems, CRM solutions, and any business or operational software that is in use. Don’t forget to include any cloud-based applications your business utilizes, including IT Service Management (ITSM), email marketing, marketing automation tools, etc.

2. Develop a Plan for Consolidating Data

Consolidating your data silos doesn’t just help Finance. It also provides a single version of the truth for corporate data for users in other functions. There are numerous integration tools available to offload data from the original sources to a consolidated data store, such as a data warehouse or data lake. The most problematic offloading involves legacy systems that were developed in-house or by a vendor that has long since abandoned the product or gone out of business. It’s much easier to offload data from more modern applications, as most are developed to be compatible with other common business applications.  For purposes of planning and reporting, many organizations just integrate selected data from financial, HCM and CRM systems directly into their EPM platform.

3. Realize the Value of the Cloud for High-Performance and Scalability

Cloud-Based EPM software

Cloud storage is ideal, because it is immensely scalable, very affordable, and the cloud vendor usually takes over the responsibilities of data security, data backups, and other daily data storage issues. Once offloaded and consolidated, the data can be used to build a more comprehensive view of the organization and its financial picture and outlook via a cloud-based EPM platform.

Once all of the data is made available in the EPM solution, Finance has access to a more complete picture of the “why’s and how’s” behind what came in and what went out during any given fiscal period. Now, budgeting and forecasting can be more accurate, and the entire business can have more confidence in the projections Finance derives from the numbers. Plus, with a consolidated data store, everyone wins. Operations, human resources, customer service, sales and marketing — everyone benefits from breaking down the data silos and consolidating the entirety of the organization’s data.

How else can your organization benefit from breaking down data silos and creating a common view of your business through a cloud-based EPM platform? Learn how when you download our free white paper “EPM in the Cloud.”

Download the White Paper

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What’s New in Financial Planning and Analysis a.k.a. FP&A?

What’s New in Financial Planning and Analysis a.k.a. FP&A?

From what I'm hearing, Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) is becoming the “cool” department within Finance that many professionals seek to work in.  Why?  Probably because FP&A is less focused on the day to day transaction processing and more focused on forward-looking analysis and strategy for the business.

I recently had a chance to connect with Nilly Essaides, the Director and Practice Lead, Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) at the Association for Financial Professionals.  Here’s what she had to say about what’s new and what’s coming in FP&A.

John:  Please tell us about the AFP and your role there.

Nilly:  The Association for Financial Professionals is the professional society that represents finance executives globally. We provide career development resources and unbiased content and established and administer the Certified Treasury Professional and Certified Corporate FP&A Professional credentials, which set standards of excellence in finance. Our AFP Annual Conference is the largest networking event for corporate finance professionals in the world. We advocate for the finance profession and act as thought leaders in the finance arena, spotting new trends and providing a forum for the sharing of best practices.

John:  What are you seeing as some of the latest trends in FP&A?

Nilly:  FP&A is becoming the analytics hub of the organization. It sits in the center of multiple data flows and pulls information from multiple sources to run sophisticated analyses that solve real business problems. FP&A is instrumental in building a data-driven decision-making culture in the organization. Preliminary results of our 2016 FP&A Benchmarking Survey, conducted in collaboration with IBM, show that one of the main forces driving this is the accessibility of real-time internal and external data on demand.

FP&A is also becoming a true business partner. It works closely with business leaders to help them improve their financial results by getting deep into the operational metrics. I lead a 36-member FP&A Advisory Council. Nearly all of the members count business collaboration as one of their chief roles. To successfully perform this role, they must acquire new skills. They need to know how to tell stories about numbers. They need to have good communication and influencing skills, develop their business acumen, and learn how to build credibility with the business operators.

John:  How do you see the FP&A function changing now and in the future?

Financial Planning and AnalysisNilly:  FP&A is a very dynamic field and is going through rapid transformation. The function is becoming increasingly forward-looking. It’s using new techniques and technologies to focus not on what happened or even what’s happening but on why it’s happening and what’s likely to happen next. The ability to ask and answer tough questions, to spot and explain trends and to run what-if and scenario analyses is making FP&A a valued business partner. Going forward, the availability and accessibility of big data, combined with the trend toward integrated planning (the merging of operational and financial data for planning and forecasting purposes) as well as and greater reliance on predictive analytics will only enhance the role of the office of the CFO as a strategic partner to the CEO.

John:  How do you see new technologies impacting the FP&A function?

Nilly:  New technologies are changing the way FP&A goes about its daily work. While 50% of companies still rely primarily on spreadsheets, many others are migrating to dedicated financial planning systems that allow them to pull financial and operational data from across the enterprise and pull it into a single data warehouse and run it through increasingly sophisticated analytics engines that support smarter business and management decisions.

Financial Planning and AnalysisThese new tools began as cumbersome, on-premises solutions but are now delivered via the cloud. They are a cheaper and faster to implement, have friendlier interfaces and can be upgraded overnight. Most offer self-service options that help disintermediate the IT function and democratize the analytics and BI tools that were once available only to a handful of people. As a result, FP&A can ask better “why” questions and answer them faster. It can look further into the future, and it can offer greater value to the business and senior management.

While this ongoing transition is far from over, there are signs of a new paradigm shift. From using the cloud as a Planful, a handful of new systems are switching to using the cloud as a computational platform; they are relying on the same technologies as Google’s powerful search engine to pull together operational and financial, internal and external, structured and unstructured data to provide FP&A with a holistic view of the enterprise to enable true integrated planning.

They see through the layers and across functional silos, all the way down to the line-item level. Unlike the current cube-based applications, they have unlimited dimensions so they don’t have to rely on pre-processed data or averages and can easily handle millions of data points and leverage artificial intelligence to come up with even more sophisticated predictive models and pattern-recognition tools. That’s the future.

John:  What are some of the key resources AFP offers for FP&A professionals?

Nilly:  We advocate for the finance profession, spotting new trends and providing a forum for the sharing of best practices. Our unbiased content includes articles, in-depth guides and research reports.

Since communication is key for professionals, we also have a strong focus on networking opportunities. There are intimate, FP&A roundtables, as well as our larger event, the AFP Annual Conference.

We then have our career development resources. Virtual webinars and multi-day seminar focus on honing one’s skills and our Certified Corporate FP&A Professional credential signifies mastery of core FP&A knowledge and principles.

John:  Please tell us more about the FP&A Certification program, how does this work?

Nilly:  The financial planning & analysis profession has experienced rapid growth over the past decade and there is a significant amount of knowledge required to perform at the highest level. The FP&A Professional credential validates a unique skillset and signifies that the holder has the right education, experience and commitment to advancing their career in the corporate financial planning & analysis profession.

Candidates have to meet program entrance requirements and additional education and experience requirements, in addition to passing two exams. Exams use multiple choice and spreadsheet based questions to assess mastery of critical skills, knowledge and abilities involved in financial planning and analysis.

John:  How can readers learn more about the AFP and its services for FP&A professionals?

Nilly:  You can learn more about AFP’s FP&A resources by visiting our Financial Planning & Analysis topics page. Here’s you’ll find the latest articles, guides, videos and events.

To learn more about the Certified Corporate FP&A Professional credential, visit our dedicated certification site.

John:  Thanks Nilly, for sharing this information.  Very exciting times for FP&A indeed. Best of luck!

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What’s New and What’s Coming in Accounting Technology?

What’s New and What’s Coming in Accounting Technology?

Well it's that time of year – back to school time for students of all ages.  Have you ever wondered what students taking Accounting courses in college are learning about technology to prepare them for the business world?

I recently had a chance to find out the answer to this question first-hand. In early August, I was asked to speak at the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association (AAA).  The AAA has been around for 100 years and is a community of accounting educators.  Since its founding in 1916, the group has grown to over 7,000 members in more than 75 countries. Most of the attendees of the conference are accounting professors from colleges all around the country, but some were from outside the US as well.

The pre-conference event that I attended and spoke at was the 7th Annual Transformative Technologies in Accounting Workshop, which represents a sub-group of AAA focused on Strategic and Emerging Technologies.  Since my workshop session was the last one of the day, I had the opportunity to sit through all of the other sessions and to meet many of the attendees.

Here’s a rundown of the topics that were on the agenda for the workshop.

Hip, Cool, and Relevant Accounting Technologies

Brian_Sommer.jpgAfter some opening remarks, the keynote session was delivered by industry analyst, journalist, and accounting technology guru Brian Sommer, Founder TechVentive.  His session was titled “The Technologies that the Hip, Cool, Relevant Accounting Programs Will Have.”  Brian highlighted the evolution of accounting technology from the mainframe to the cloud, and some of the latest technologies that are disrupting the market, such as in-memory, big data, robotic process automation, visualization, and analytics.

His main message was that ERPs are no longer the center of the accounting universe. There are many new systems that generate data needed in accounting.  These new data sources and technologies are driving the need for new skill sets in accounting – skill sets that are much different from historic skill sets.

Blockchain and The Future of Trade

blockchain.jpgSpeaking of leading-edge technologies, the next session touched on the emerging Blockchain database technology.  This session was delivered by Bill McCarthy, Professor, Michigan State University, and the title was “Open Value Networks: A Third Coasian Alternative to Firms and Markets.”  Professor McCarthy highlighted his research into value networks as an emerging paradigm for trade.

There are some examples of peer-to-peer value networks in the world already – such as Linux, Wikipedia, and the NASA Mars Mapping project.  We’re also starting to see the emergence of open value networks – such as Sensorica, and Photosynq.  These networks rely on the collaboration of individuals, who create collective value and receive value back from the network.  Blockchain currently serves as a public ledger for Bitcoin transactions, but it could potentially be leveraged to keep track of transactions and help distribute value to participants in other public value networks.  Heady stuff and certainly an emerging technology to watch.

Continuous Accounting

The next session was delivered by Susan Parcells, Sr. Director of Finance Transformation and Product Expert at Blackline.  The title of Susan’s session was “Continuous Accounting: The Modern Approach to Finance & Accounting.”  Here, she highlighted the challenges organizations face in managing the financial close and reporting process – tracking tasks, handling account reconciliations, ensuring the right controls are in place, and improving accuracy of reporting.  She then highlighted the capabilities of Blackline to support “continuous accounting,” driving efficiency, visibility, and reduced risk in the “record to report” process through its cloud-based platform.

New Tax and Auditing Tools

Other interesting sessions included one delivered by Michelle Wallig, Executive Director, Tax Performance Advisory Practice, Ernst & Young, titled “Big Data Analytics-Impact on Tax Management.”

Michael Flynn, Principal, Advanced Risk and Compliance Analytics Group within Assurance Services, PwC,  presented a session titled “Transforming the Audit Through Data Analytics and Visualization.”

Mike Leonardson, Partner-Americas Professional Practice, Auditing, Ernst & Young, and Miklos Vasarhelyi, Professor, Rutgers University, presented a session titled “Is Analytic Technology Going to Revolutionize the Audit? The RADAR Initiative.”

Financial Consolidation in the Cloud

accounting_cloud.jpgMy session was the last one of the day and was titled “Financial Consolidation in the Cloud.”  In the session, I highlighted the challenges organizations face in the financial close and consolidation process, the technology alternatives that are available, and the emerging demand and interest in cloud-based financial close and consolidation solutions.  I also reviewed a number of Planful customer case studies, citing the benefits our customers have achieved by replacing spreadsheets and legacy applications with our cloud-based solution.

One of the questions I was asked after my session was how our cloud-based financial consolidation and reporting solution is positioned vs. the Blackline solution.  The answer is that the solutions are quite complementary – in fact, a number of companies use both.  These companies use Planful to collect, consolidate, and report their financial results, as well as manage budgeting, planning, forecasting, and management reporting.  They also use Blackline to manage the financial close process, including the management and execution of account reconciliations.

Key Takeaways

Overall, it was an interesting and enlightening day.  I got to meet a number of dedicated accounting educators who are truly looking to move the profession forward.  It was reassuring to know that these educators are making sure Accounting graduates are coming out of school with a strong sense of what technologies are available today to make accountants more productive, as well as what’s coming in the future.

To learn more about the American Accounting Association and its initiatives, visit its website.  To learn more about financial consolidation in the cloud, download this recent white paper.

Download the Free White Paper

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