As Businesses Continue to Move Faster, Finance is Running Out of Time

As Businesses Continue to Move Faster, Finance is Running Out of Time

Is it hyperbole to say the business world is more dynamic than ever?

Everything happens so quickly, even when compared with the recent past. A new brand can be launched from a laptop today and, with some high-profile social mentions, be a million-dollar business tomorrow. And, just as fast, a unicorn darling can be preparing for their IPO one day and a near-worthless company in turmoil the next. News travels instantly, billions of dollars can shift hands based on a tweet, and the right data can make or break a business overnight.

This dynamism applies to society as well, where real-time access to news makes an impact on markets as the news unfolds. Where politicians can influence entire economies with a few words. And where pundits can change an industry’s outlook in the time it takes to utter a soundbite.

Business today is more dynamic than ever. Both externally, in how fast things change, and internally, in how fast we work and how well-informed we can be. Suppliers can share real-time production data with customers. Devices can report current status to support teams. And Artificial Intelligence can tell us which lead is most likely to close.

So how can a business win in the face of this unprecedented and fast-moving change? You need the speed, agility, and responsiveness to quickly identify and react to change, and the information to know what to do. Without it, you’ll miss opportunities, suffer real economic damage, and get left behind.

Financial Insights and Data in Real-Time

Business leaders first need insights on their business—in real-time—and they need to be continuously capturing data, analyzing and re-analyzing it for opportunities and threats, and adjusting their plans accordingly.

If it takes weeks for today’s data to make it into your systems, and weeks or months to put together plans, develop budgets, and build forecasts, you’re already at a disadvantage. Those delays force you into making decisions with stale data and old assumptions. You lose the ability to quickly adapt to business changes and you lose confidence in the decisions you eventually do make.

Making a decision is, essentially, planning. Executives have a set of data that informs them about the future, they make plans based on that data, and then they commit to act. Those plans then define how every department makes their own plans. If something changes, your plans need to change, too. But if you’re in a cycle of planning just annually or even quarterly, that’s not enough to keep pace with today’s business environment.

Another issue compounding the challenge to maintain pace is the constant generation of new data. We currently create a collective 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data each day. That’s 2.5 million terabytes! Decisions are continuously being made or requested. It’s no longer effective to treat planning as a static, point-in-time exercise. The planning process has to be dynamic, able to change with new information, and flexible enough to help teams adjust.

The Planning Processes of Tomorrow

In other words, the planning process is due for an update. The ability to plan, execute, and analyze in a continuous cycle is what executives—and the managers on the ground—have always wanted. So not only does planning have to be continuous, everyone in the organization has to be involved so leaders at every level can analyze new information and react instantly.

Of course, this requires a platform for data, workflow, and collaboration to support a continuous, dynamic planning process in one place, accessible by anyone, from anywhere.

And, of course, you see where this is going. Stay tuned for our series on the planning trends you need to keep up with the speed of business.

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Culture and Technology – Top 5 Reasons To Rethink Your Mix

Culture and Technology – Top 5 Reasons To Rethink Your Mix

We’re a technology company, obviously. Getting customers excited about our technology and how it can transform finance and evolve their business is something we love to do. In conversations with thousands of organizations over many years, we’ve noticed some clear signs indicating when a finance team needs to first focus their efforts on how their organization operates. In other words, technology can’t fix a company’s culture.

Company culture may seem like a fluffy term that’s thrown around only by expensive consultants and highly-paid keynote speakers. Whatever you want to call it, it describes the environment in which you work. Better yet, it describes how workers act when the boss isn’t looking. For example, a “bad” culture is one that stifles creativity, rejects change, or hides problems. This eventually leads to unhappy workers, poor output, and angry customers. On the contrary, a “good” culture is one of collaboration, transparency, empowerment, and yes, even fun. It keeps workers motivated to constantly improve, to look for solutions, and to go out of their way to help customers.

The point is that new technology isn’t going to fix a broken process, isn’t going to force workers to embrace change, and isn’t going to magically improve your business once it’s switched on. So before you embark on any new technology-driven project, here are five things to consider.

#1 – Technology can’t define your culture

Part of what defines your culture is how you do things. Maybe speed is critical above all else and you have a “fail fast” culture. Or maybe you work in a culture of continuous improvement, so every process step offers an opportunity for reflection, analysis, and potential optimization. Whatever your culture might be, the technology is there to support it, not define it.

The better approach, assuming you’re happy with your culture, is to let it define how you choose and use new technologies. A fast, nimble culture needs software that can keep up, that has mobile and work anywhere capabilities, and that is accessible anytime. A collaborative culture needs solutions that have robust communication tools, cross-departmental workflow capabilities, and broad reporting and analysis features.

Companies driven by their culture make a concerted effort to hire people who have the right cultural fit over those who have a better resume. The same effort should be made when “interviewing” technology solution providers. You’re going to have to live with and love any technology for years to come. The technology should not only meet your base needs, it should meet them from the same perspective you take, be it speed, excellence, or whatever mantra you choose. Your culture should also mesh with the vendor’s culture, since you’ll likely be working side-by-side with them during deployment but also with their service and support departments over the years. Their culture has to fit with yours for the project to be successful.

#2 – Technology must support your mission

Company mission statements and their creation process tend to be the butt of corporate jokes. But no matter if you’ve spent millions of dollars on big-name consultants to deftly craft your mission statement, or if your company founder has been saying it since day-one, it’s an important way to keep everyone in your organization focused and moving in the same direction.

A mission statement is sort of a company’s compass. When you’re searching for a solution to a challenge or trying to make a decision, the mission statement should be your guide. It lets everyone know where you’re going and where you want to be. A great example is that of Patagonia, which states, “We’re in business to save our home planet.” It’s simple, comprehensive, and crystal clear.

If your organization doesn’t have a mission, consider creating one or at least working with your leadership team to broadly define what you stand for and where you’re heading. Or, create a mission statement for finance to outline the same things for your department. Even a few bullet points are a good place to begin.

Your mission statement can then be used to help guide how you select and use technology. You should also look into the vendor’s mission statement as well. It can shed light on how they do business and where they might be in a few years.

#3 – Better collaboration is imperative

There’s rarely a situation where less collaboration and communication is the answer. The reality is that most organizations yearn for more, faster, and better ways to get teams and people working together. The rise of workplace messaging apps is just one example of how companies are using technology to break down those workplace silos and barriers.

Culture again comes into play here. If a culture of secrecy is how your company operates, technology won’t help break down interdepartmental walls. But if your company thrives on communication or is already working to improve and expand collaboration, then a technology solution can help to accelerate and improve that process.

Technology can enhance and improve an existing culture of collaboration, but it will never help you create one. Working to break down barriers and then ease the collaboration is the better approach.

#4 – Take a phased approach

Your organizational culture undoubtedly has a stated or implied hierarchy. Maybe you’re a sales-driven organization that puts most resources towards helping the sales team. Or maybe you’re driven by R&D or engineering, and most decisions are based on your clever products and your market differentiation. This hierarchy can be embedded in the culture, which then translates to how priorities and expectations are set, how success is defined, and even how technologies are deployed.

Understanding how your culture prioritizes projects can help you build a phased approach to rolling out a new technology solution. For example, prioritizing sales as the first team to see the benefits will incent them to support the project earlier and push other teams to follow. Giving the first quick wins to the sales reps in the field will further help with adoption, internal support, and help managers see the benefits firsthand. But first, you have to understand how this prioritization should work in your organization.

Those quick early wins are also critical to the ongoing success of any technology project. If you think user adoption might be an issue, prioritize the aspects of the project that will give them the most benefits in time saved or frustration avoided. You should also consider both the dollar value and the culturally-significant impact of how project success is measured. Technology can save time, save money, or help you make more money. Whatever is most important to your organization should be prioritized.

#5 – Learn, iterate, improve

We mentioned above the “fail fast” approach to culture. What that term doesn’t capture is the learning and improvement aspects of that approach. To fail fast means to cut your losses when something isn’t working. But that doesn’t mean you just move on and try something else. Failing fast is a learning opportunity so you know what doesn’t work, the mistakes you made, and the things that could have made a difference. Then, as you build the next version of your product, marketing pitch, process, or whatever, you use that knowledge to increase your odds of success.

Every organizational culture has an approach to the concept of failure. The spectrum runs from rewarding those who take risks to firing those who make mistakes. Understanding where your culture lies on that spectrum should guide you in your technology selection. It could be the difference between trying a promising new technology or looking to more proven offerings from vendors with longevity. But your culture should quickly eliminate any technology vendor who lies outside of your comfort zone.

The technology itself should also fit your company’s learn, iterate, and improve mantra. If there’s little room for failure, find a technology where workflows can be completely locked down and rigid, allowing no deviation. If there is more flexibility, then look for technology that offers more options or easy configurations to help mold the application as your needs change.

Let your culture drive the technology

Talking about company culture may seem fluffy and unimportant, but whether or not you have a defined culture, every company does, in fact, have one. It may not be written down but you and your coworkers know what it is.

As you look for any new technology, consider first how you can work that solution into your existing culture. Don’t view it as a silver bullet to change a culture. But if your culture does need a bit of redirection, maybe try working on that first. It might be the best thing for you and your company.

For more information on how modern CFO’s can influence company culture for better business performance check out our latest on-demand webinar. 

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Top 5 Career-limiting Mistakes Everyone in Finance Should Avoid

We all make mistakes. But the expectation is that we learn from our mistakes and try to avoid repeating them. Of course, that’s not always the reality. So when mistakes tend to pop up again and again it might be time to seek out some help.

For those of us in finance, mistakes can result in reactions that span the spectrum of “oops” to “we’re done for.” Even oops-level mistakes can multiply into career-limiting (or ending) catastrophes. Just consider how a small spreadsheet calculation error could over- or under-inflate sales or profits or costs. It could force companies to change direction, cancel projects, or spend money it doesn’t have. If those mistakes make it into regulatory or other critical reports, it could lead to financial, reputational, or legal repercussions that resonate for years.

Okay, enough doom and gloom. Let’s focus on the career-limiting mistakes that are easily avoidable. Ones that can be easily eliminated or reduced through improved processes, managed approvals, or even just a bit of automation. So let’s look at the top five career-limiting mistakes in finance and potential solutions to keep you from ever worrying about them again.

#1 – Using the wrong numbers in financial calculations and reports

The root cause of the wrong number issue is human error. If you’re entering data, there’s the risk of a typo. If you’re exporting and importing data, there’s the risk of an incorrect sort, an errant header, incorrect formatting, and more. If you’re copying-and-pasting data, there’s a chance of missing parts of a column or row or pasting it a cell or two off.

Planful lets you easily and quickly integrate data from where it resides in your existing systems directly into your reporting, analytics, financial planning, and close processes.  Any data source (ERP, CRM, data warehouse, spreadsheets, and more) will then send the required data, automatically, with a range of automation options. Source data can be on-premise or in the cloud, and anything from GL summary balances and transaction details to operational data and even users, employees, leads, opportunities, and more. This automation removes human error from the equation, and provides structure and control to ensure that the numbers are always correct.

#2 – Yet another missed deadline

We’re all busy. But missing deadlines again and again, especially for deadline-driven reports and compliance documents, can separate you from your next promotion. The best protection against missed deadlines is a robust and reliable process management tool, with task management, workflow, visibility and communication for all collaborators, and alerts and reminders to keep everyone aligned, on track and on time. Email follow-ups and spreadsheet checklists just don’t cut it anymore.

The Planful platform not only automates the collection of data, it gives you workflow, collaboration, and process management capabilities to keep everyone aligned and on schedule. It provides dashboards to keep finance projects moving forward, allows flexible control over tasks for unique needs or one-off requests, and provides a centralized control panel from which finance can orchestrate activities within their team or across the enterprise. Along the way it keeps everyone focused on deadlines and aware of roadblocks.

#3 – A constant refrain of “I don’t know”

Finance is looked to as the single source of financial truth in an organization. Your answers not only need to be accurate, they need to be fast. But if you’re more often responding to requests with a lack of answers, the business might start to question your strategic value. At worst, they stop asking questions altogether.

Planful gives you the power to answer more questions accurately and quickly. By providing insightful analytics and comprehensive planning capabilities, it empowers you to be both the strategic core of the organization and the single source of financial truth. That makes finance the go-to source of business information and turns your I-don’t-knows into here-you-gos.

#4 – Taking 20 days to close the books

Financial consolidation shouldn’t be a never-ending cycle of closing. In other words, it shouldn’t take as long to close the books as the period itself. If your close process is taking too long and too much effort, the business will start to wonder why you haven’t taken steps to make it better. Another strategic opportunity missed and another anchor on your finance career.

Planful offers a robust consolidation and close platform to help you capture, consolidate, and report every period. Built-in journal entries and reclassifications and built-in workflows automate tedious and time-consuming steps to speed up close cycles. Even complex corporate structures can be easily mapped to a single chart of accounts. The result is fast, flexible, and accurate reporting so you can cut days or weeks off of your close process. In fact, some of our customers have cut more than 90% off of their manual close times!

#5 – Not sticking your landing on the aircraft carrier

Managing a budget is a big responsibility. The leaders of the business have entrusted you with the company’s capital, and they’re expecting you to successfully and responsibly use it to execute the company’s strategy. But managing that budget can be tricky business – overspend and you’re in hot water with your bosses, underspend and you’re likely losing that money in next year’s plan. It’s a bit like landing a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier – you have to stick the landing. Miss that landing by too big a margin too many times, and your job might not be so secure.

Planful MyPlan is a planning interface specifically designed for budget owners, so they can easily see where they currently stand compared to their budget, and where they’re going to land at the end of the period. Users can quickly and easily update their forecast and re-allocate resources as the quarter progresses, ensuring they’re on track to hit their number. Planful MyPlan makes it easy to stick the landing every time, and keep your job in the process.

Start making career-growing decisions

As we mentioned in the beginning, we all make mistakes. If those mistakes are noticed and yet still reoccur, it can become an even bigger problem. Recognizing mistakes but doing little to eliminate them means the only one to blame is yourself.

These top five mistakes above are all very common yet very avoidable. The technology exists to automatically gather data, enforce and track processes, and eliminate tedious manual work. And, it’s less expensive and easier, faster, and less disruptive to deploy than you probably imagine.

Planful can eliminate these 5 mistakes from your life, and in the process, make you look like a finance hero. Besides, aren’t you overdue for a promotion? Yeah, thought so.

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For many routine tasks, the need to just get it done tends to overshadow the inefficiencies and pain along the way. Then, once the task is complete, those irritations are quickly forgotten and your mind moves onto the next task. That is, until the offending task pops up again.

Periodic financial reporting is a great example.

Most organizations put a great deal of manual effort into their periodic reporting. They throw finance bodies at the task of requesting, gathering, collating, and organizing the required data. They manage the process via email and yet another spreadsheet. They struggle to keep data current, struggle with last-minute edits, and struggle to stay on time. And when the report is finally published, they breathe a sigh of relief…and quickly move on to the next task.

“A goal without a method is nonsense.” – W. Edwards Deming

Think about your current reporting process and start counting the number of ways you could improve upon it. Go ahead, we’ll wait. It probably didn’t take you more than a few seconds to come up with a few ideas.

The manual efforts that plague the typical reporting cycle are ripe for automation, especially in 2019. Just the act of collecting the data can easily be automated. The data you need from the business already lives in another application, right? It’s digital and easily transferred, yet you still go through a slow, tedious, manual process to get it. You make a request to a business manager over email, they add it to their to-do list, eventually download it to a spreadsheet, email it to you, and you copy-and-paste it into your master spreadsheet. 

That’s just one simple example. Our customers love to tell us how many inefficiencies they had in their reporting process before they started using the Planful Platform for financial reporting. There was the time wasted waiting on busy executives to get back to them or reminding business owners of pending reporting deadlines. There were the arguments over versions, mistakes, formula mismatches, untracked edits, and even formatting changes. And there was the constant dependence on email, a notoriously inefficient, unreliable, and easily avoidable technology that was invented nearly 50 years ago.

There is a better way. In a world where a $250 smartwatch can stream music (from a third-party source), count your steps (using artificial intelligence), and give you directions (using signals from a couple other third-party sources), shouldn’t your business systems be smart enough to eliminate — at the very least —  the need for manual data requests and transfers

Reporting in the Planful Platform removes all of the pain from your reporting process and lets you focus your time and energy on what’s really important – generating new insights and turning those insights into action. Planful can automatically gather data from other systems, organize it for your specific reporting needs, and automatically generate and distribute presentation quality, compliant reports. For reports that require more input and involvement from finance and/or the business, Planful Reporting lets you collaborate with stakeholders, incorporate reviews, reminders, and tasks, and keep everyone working towards important deadlines. 

Planful gives you a robust library of report templates to build the foundation of GAAP and IFRS-compliant balance sheets, income statements, statements of cash flow, and other financial and statutory reports. It integrates with other on-premise and cloud-based business systems to eliminate cut-and-paste tedium and human error. It also ensures every bit of data is accurate and up-to-date because it’s always pulling directly from a single source of truth. So any last-minute changes or updates are automatically included. 

Then, without coding or even help from IT, you can further create unique and ad hoc reports that fit your business and your needs. You can combine text, charts, and data into a formal PDF or PowerPoint document.  When it’s time to distribute, the reports can be automatically published and instantly distributed to recipients (yes, even via email). Along the way, the entire reporting process is tracked to highlight potential risks, reduce compliance and audit costs, and improve efficiency and accuracy. 

Planful Reporting has even helped some of our customers reduce their reporting times by 90%! That’s huge, and it’s easily attainable. 

Are you ready to build a better reporting process in your organization? 
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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