Are You Prepared for Planning Season?

Are You Prepared for Planning Season?

If your reaction to reading “planning season” in the title was, “Ugh!”, then it’s time to rethink your approach.

We’re in an economy that moves quickly. Advancements in production, logistics, technology, and other areas have translated into faster times to market…for both you and your competitors. Companies can be run from a single laptop, manufacturing is on-demand, and new sales channels continue to pop up in places no one could have expected. Couple that speed with the current market volatility, geopolitical uncertainty, and not-so-promising economic outlooks and it’s going to be difficult for any company to plan effectively.

But one thing clearly makes planning less effective: a long, laborious, error-prone process that takes months to complete and results in a plan that’s stale before you click send on the final report. That can all be eliminated with a Financial Planning and Close Platform, and it’s easier to deploy and get started than you might think. In fact, if you’re starting to think “Ugh!” because planning season is getting close, you still have time to make this year’s planning an easier, less taxing, and more accurate endeavor.

Begin with the End in Mind

The results of your planning efforts drive next year’s investments and focus. It guides hiring decisions, influences market targeting, directs product direction, and so much more. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that it’s probably the most important thing finance does all year.

What frequently happens is that the cumbersome nature of building a spreadsheet-based plan severely hampers your ability to alter the plan as new information or new realities occur. As the months go by, it gets harder to roll new information into the plan and harder to alter the plan based on real business results. But things do change, competitors do change course, and markets do shift rapidly. A long, manual, cumbersome planning process makes adding any new information more difficult as each day passes.

Planful customers tell us that, before using Planful, their annual planning cycle runs 4 to 6 months. They also finished their annual plans around the beginning of February, when Q1 is almost half-way over.

Just think about how much work goes into that as well as how stale the data is by the time it’s complete. Organizations with a Financial Planning and Close Platform can reduce planning time by as much as 50%, plus work with real-time data, easily create and analyze what-if scenarios, automate data collection, and eliminate reliance on spreadsheets and email. The resulting plans are not only more accurate, they’re more useful for an organization and more indicative of the realities in the coming year.

Planning Shouldn’t Be A Drag

Forget about your own reaction to planning for a moment and consider the reaction of the rest of your organization. Do other teams resist the start of planning? Is it difficult to get timely data or even replies to emails? Do teams balk at the amount and cost of manual work required to supply the required information?

Now think about the impact your planning cycle has on finance. There are probably a lot of spreadsheets being emailed around and requiring tedious review and consolidation. Version control becomes an issue. Errors are made, mistakes are missed, and they both compound as you roll up the data into aggregate reports and forecasts.

Finally, consider the results of these months of work. If executives don’t consider the resulting plan as valid, or they just think of it as a marginally useful perspective, then what’s the use? If your months of hard work result in a plan that’s neither accurate nor appreciated, it’s time for a change.

Looking for more best practices for your upcoming planning season? Download our Best Practices in Financial Planning and Analysis white paper.

When the process is suspect, that suspicion trickles down to every team who should be using the plan as their execution roadmap.

Collaboration with budget owners, contributors, and stakeholders is critical to the planning process. A dedicated cloud-based planning platform lets those budget owners contribute easily and efficiently, has built-in workflow processes to manage tasks and deadlines, and keeps comments and communications in context with the data. It also lets teams update and revise plans anytime, from anywhere, even if they’re offline.

Data is the Key to an Accurate Plan

We used the word “stale” above. That’s a challenge for every planning cycle. As the planning cycle drags on, it’s more difficult to change or update any of the data or assumptions. So then you begin the new year with a plan based on data that’s already a quarter or two old. In Q2, you’re already discounting the data that you used because it’s simply obsolete.

A Financial Planning and Close Platform helps to solve that issue by integrating directly to the systems and data required for annual planning. That means instant access to real-time data that’s always current. So when a change is requested or a market shifts, plans can be updated with just a click. Plans then are more credible and the business puts more stock in the validity of those plans. 

Build a Better Plan with Planful

Planful gives finance the tools to fully engage and collaborate with budget owners along the entire planning process. It helps save everyone time, and results in better insights for better decisions. 

Interested in learning more? Join our next weekly Cloud Financial Planning & Close Platform Demo, which happens every Thursday at noon Eastern Time, 9:00 AM Pacific Time.

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When Economic Uncertainty Pops Up, Which Might Be Soon, Finance Needs Better Vision

When Economic Uncertainty Pops Up, Which Might Be Soon, Finance Needs Better Vision

As of this past July, the U.S. is officially in the longest economic expansion in our almost 250 year history. The current boom officially began in June 2009, which puts us past the 10th birthday of this ongoing economic growth spurt. But even casual news readers have likely noticed more and more financial pundits starting to say the same thing: the end is nigh.

If you’re under the age of 30 or so, chances are the next downturn will be your first. If you’re a bit more seasoned, you know the drill. Either way, finance will be in the hot seat as budgets are tightened, revenues and profits get squeezed, projects are evaluated with more precision, cash conservation and deployment becomes even more critical, production and operations are placed under a microscope, and nearly every other area of the business is impacted in some way.

But as with most economic change, no one knows for sure when this one will begin, how long it will last, nor what exactly it will look like. It could be anything from a minor bump in the road to a full-on recession. The only thing certain is uncertainty, and that makes life pretty tough for finance. But fear not! Because these are the times when brilliant finance minds shine.

How can Finance be Better Prepared for the Coming Economic Uncertainty?

First, you need more accurate, granular, and timely insights into your business. This gives finance the ability to quickly recognize changes and trends, understand their impact and size, and make better and faster decisions about what to do. Obviously the necessary data has to be found, collected, and consolidated before comprehensive insights can be developed. But then that data has to be easily analyzed, rolled up, and reported on without costing finance a fortune in money or hours.

Next, finance needs the ability to quickly disseminate those insights out to the business and the board. The business needs the granular insights to know when, where, and what to cut or pull back, and by how much. The board needs to see the bigger picture and know not only how to guide the organization through the uncertainty, but also how to set expectations with investors, shareholders, lenders, customers, and influencers.

Finally, finance has to continuously track and monitor overall business health while also analyzing the impact of any decisions. Standard reporting, periodic audits, and monthly closes won’t stop, so automation can help reduce the burden of those necessary activities while leaving more time for finance to focus on strategic items. Any actions taken as a response to a shifting economy should also be closely monitored to constantly evaluate effectiveness, determine if more or less changes are required, or if attention should be focused on different areas.

What Finance Needs to be Prepared for the Downturn

Finance needs all of this now so they’re prepared when a downturn eventually happens. An effective response to a changing economy isn’t a constant guessing game. Finance needs fast access to data and insights as the market shift starts to appear, and then changes course and pace, hits different sectors, or otherwise lives up to its intrinsic uncertainty.

“…introspective downside scenario planning, helped about 10% of companies, including Costco, increase earnings before interest and taxes at a compound annual growth rate of 17% on average during the 2007-09 recession, compared with zero growth for those that weren’t as proactive, Bain said.” – Wall Street Journal

The Planful FP&A Platform gives finance everything it needs to gain more insights on any economic eventuality. Our solutions accelerate and automate financial planning and reporting activities, while also giving finance real-time insights into how the business is performing. Planful lets you see more warning signs and see them earlier, but also gives you the vision to know which levers to pull as you steer your business through any economic storm.

But, hey, look on the bright side: every downturn has an end, and each one is full of hidden opportunities for those smart enough to know where to look. Just as the Planful platform helps finance minimize the impact of a slowing economy, we also give finance the ability to quickly recognize and capitalize on growth when the economy eventually turns around.

If you want to get ahead of the economy and your competitors, or simply want to cut days off of your monthly close cycles and have better insights into your business, give us a call. We can’t stop the economy from making unpredictable moves, but we can help you steer your business in a better direction.

For other best practices in modernizing your financial processes download our eBook, The Complete Guide to Modernizing Your Financial Processes.

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Summer19 is Here…and it’s HOT!

Summer19 is Here…and it’s HOT!

Our job as Planful’s product team is to continuously build more value into the solutions we offer to our customers. But what’s valuable to one customer may not be so valuable to another or may be an absolute must-have to yet another. Given that we have finite resources, we spend a considerable amount of time with our customers to understand what is truly important and what changes or advancements would make Planful solutions appreciably better with every release.

Over the past 18 months we’ve really doubled-down on product development to significantly increase the value our customers get from our solutions. Market influencers definitely see the value in these advancements, which is why we’ve been named a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrants for two consecutive years, continue to be a leader in the Nucleus Research CPM Technology Value Matrix for six straight years, and continue to lead the Dresner Wisdom of Crowds EPM Market Study.

But that all means little if finance doesn’t see the value that we deliver. What’s more important is that our customers continue to recognize — and take full advantage of — these product advancements. Since our customers do see immense value, our solutions drive our strong growth, give us the platform to confidently expand into global markets, and even helped us run our largest-ever user conference event this past spring, Perform 2019.

It’s now summer and we could look back at how we’ve improved the Planful platform, let that carry us through the rest of the year, and maybe take a couple of weeks to go to the beach or travel the world.

But that’s not how we do things here. We are relentlessly focused on giving finance the tools they need to not only do their jobs, but to evolve into the strategic center of every organization. That’s what gets us excited and that’s what keeps us pushing ourselves to take huge leaps and build features that can really change the way finance works.

Our Summer19 release, available today, keeps that momentum going with enhancements to Planful Task Manager, Planning, Dashboards, Modeling, Reporting, and more.

  • Task Manager now gives users more flexibility in how they design and customize their workflow processes. The Planful application now automatically generates tasks and approvals based on user roles and security permissions, saving users all kinds of time in setting new and recurring tasks.
  • For Planning, users can further personalize their workspace and more easily input data and approve budgets.
  • Dashboards gets additional personalization, comparison, and formatting options so you can create amazing visual dashboards just the way your company likes them.
  • Modeling now makes it even easier to connect data and models, offers more granular controls for filtering and adding variables, and comes with even faster performance.
  • For Reporting, finance now has more control over customizing report outputs, tables of contents, filenames, and more.
  • For Cash Flow Reporting specifically, automated cash flow reporting automatically captures cash movements at the account level, and provides activity-based reporting so users can quickly and easily analyze the components of cash balances and cash activity throughout the period.
  • And to our NetSuite customers, we continue to make enhancements to NetSuite Connect to meet all of your data integration needs.

If you’re a Planful customer, all of the Summer19 enhancements are available today. So now we get to take a vacation, right?

Nope! Our upcoming release calendar is jam-packed with new features and enhancements. We’re bursting with excitement about the changes it will bring to our customers and partners, and how Planful will radically alter the market’s expectations. Just as our corporate look has undergone a recent transformation, our solutions are transforming as well. These innovations will change how finance views and takes advantage of our products, and how IT and operational teams approach Planful solutions.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

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Planful Named a Leader in Gartner Magic Quadrant for Third Year in a Row

We’re on quite a roll, if we do say so ourselves!

We’ve already been named a leader (for the sixth consecutive year) in the Nucleus Research CPM Technology Value Matrix, won a prestigious CODiE award, and closed our acquisition by Vector Capital. Now, as the icing on our cake, we’ve just been named a Leader in the Gartner 2019 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Financial Planning and Analysis Solutions. This is the third consecutive year that Planful has been positioned as a Leader in this report.

You can download a free copy of the report here.

It’s always nice to be recognized, and the Gartner Magic Quadrant is widely considered one of the most important measures of a software company’s vision and ability to deliver great product capabilities. Every award we win or recognition we achieve is a reflection of the value baked into our solutions. We’re proud of the work we’ve put into our products, but our customers are the ultimate winners here. And since we develop cloud-based financial planning and close solutions, our customers reap the benefits of any improvements the moment we release them.

This Gartner report is based on capabilities as of the end of 2018, but we’ve accomplished a lot since then. Looking back at just the past 8 months (did we mention our Spring19 product enhancements, our new CEO, and our global expansion?), we’ve made a huge amount of progress. It might even be enough to justify coasting through the next few quarters. But not at Planful!

“We are laser-focused on developing great new products and capabilities for our customers, all with the goal of making our customers more effective, more productive, and more strategic. We are honored by this recognition, and excited to keep this momentum going with more exciting product releases right around the corner!” says Mark Bauer, SVP of Product Management at Planful.

Being named a Magic Quadrant Leader validates the strength of our product suite and the work we continue to put into new features and capabilities to meet our customers’ needs. It should give prospective customers confidence that Planful brings the financial expertise and industry-leading tools they need to lead the evolution of business within their organizations.

For our existing customers, thank you for your continued support and for working so closely with us to deliver these award-winning tools. We’re finance professionals, just like you, and we take pride in the work we do to elevate the strategic value of finance in every organization.

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Why Cash Is Still King

Why Cash Is Still King

Cash is the most important asset in any business. It’s the lifeblood. It’s what keeps the lights on, and fuels the future growth of the company. If you run out of cash, it’s game over.

Why Cash Is So Important

Cash keeps the business running. Cash is used for things like:

  • Paying expenses – the things that are necessary for the successful daily operation of the business like employee salaries, sales and marketing expenses, supplies, and inventory
  • Investing in new capital assets to grow the business
  • Expanding into new markets
  • Launching new products
  • Acquiring companies
  • Returning capital to investors

Cash is also one of the most important key performance indicators (KPI’s) upon which the health of the business is measured. It’s used to determine things like:

  • Company valuation
  • Capital efficiency
  • Runway – how much cash you spend each month, and how long it will last
  • Fundraising requirements – when you’ll need to raise more money before you run out
  • Fundraising ability – you’ll need to prove to investors that you are a healthy business that can provide an acceptable return on investment. Cash flow is one of the KPI’s investors look at to make that determination.

So, it’s no wonder that successful business leaders need to keep a vigilant eye on cash flow if they want to continue their success, grow the business, and outperform the competition. 

The Problem with Cash Flow

So what’s the problem? The problem is that calculating cash flow can be quite difficult, for a couple of reasons. First is the difficulty of the subject matter. Cash flow is one of the more sophisticated exercises within the accounting discipline. Go talk to a few freshly minted CPA’s and they’ll attest to that! Cash flow accounting rules are full of nuance and intricacies that can be tough to learn, and even harder to execute in the real world. Should I use the Direct Method or the Indirect Method? What do I add back? What do I subtract? What’s the difference between OCF and FCF? How do I handle foreign currency valuations and adjustments? It gets tricky pretty fast.

Second is the technical complexity. Building and managing cash flow balances and roll forward activity in Excel requires a complex web of interconnected tabs and formulas that can easily break and jeopardize the validity of your numbers. Technical software applications aren’t much better, as many software providers in the market today require customers to build custom code for cash flow reporting.

Ok, so cash flow is a critically important measure of business health and future success, and it’s really hard to do in the real world.

So what’s an accountant to do?

Automating Cash Flow Reporting

At Planful, we build innovative cloud-based financial software to help accounting and finance professionals with their biggest challenges – and cash flow reporting, planning, and analysis are at the top of the list. That’s why we’re excited to announce that Automated Cash Flow Reporting will be included in our Summer19 product release.

Planful Automated Cash Flow Reporting automates this complex process for you – so you don’t have to do or think about any of it. It has all of the financial intelligence and business logic built in to manage and track the periodic movement of cash, calculate those tricky accounting rules (including currency valuations and adjustments for international entities), roll forward cash balances from period to period, and provide an easy point-and-click UI to build cash flow statements and reports that show a bread-crumb trail of all of your cash flow activity in the period. This enables you to get right down to the important business of analyzing your cash flow and making those crucial business decisions faster.

Learn how to transition from a reactive role to a more proactive business partner with our Best Practices in Financial Reporting white paper.

And it gets even better! This new capability supports cash planning too. So now it’s easier than ever to forecast the impact that different business scenarios will have on your cash position, giving you the insight and confidence to know that you’ll have the cash you need to keep your business strong and growing.

Be sure to subscribe to the Planful blog to get the latest updates on our Summer19 product release to see a deeper dive into all the innovative enhancements in this release that are making the lives of accounting and finance professionals better and easier.

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