On the Being Planful podcast, I was recently joined by Robert D. Kugel, SVP & Research Director of Office of Finance and Business Research at Ventana Research. Rob has over three decades of experience and expertise in finance and related business processes, and a favorite topic of his is integrated business planning. In fact, Rob coined that term more than a decade ago to describe technologies that enable rapid planning cycles, break down siloed planning and budgeting, and support high levels of collaboration.
In this episode, Rob explained how FP&A has been forced into rapid planning cycles by the chaos of the pandemic, but many still struggle to be effective because their underlying processes can’t keep up. Rob also talked about how remote work has actually benefited FP&A cycles, and how the nirvana of Continuous Planning has to start from the top.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation.
Agility is Key, But It Requires Data
It’s hard to start any conversation these days without mentioning the challenges we’ve all faced this past year. Most FP&A teams found out very quickly how much they needed, and potentially lacked, agility and speed. When the pandemic first started to take hold, every planning and budgeting cycle had to be accelerated. Many companies, however, just couldn’t keep up.
Rob pointed out that few FP&A teams had the ability to speed up their processes, deliver rapid responses to the business, and quickly revise their what-if scenarios. The constant uncertainty during 2020 made scenario planning both necessary and difficult. One contributor to the stress, Rob said, is the inherently siloed planning processes many companies have. Another is the lack of data.
“Companies find it challenging to do that kind of scenario planning because the data they need to come up with quantitative answers to these kinds of what-if questions, they just don’t have,” said Rob.
Research that Rob has done at Ventana shows that just 12% of companies actually have access to all the data they need to create the necessary what-if scenarios. The majority, 58%, say they have little or no ability to measure what-if trade-offs because they lack the data to do so.
“What a lot of companies do, it’s only adequate under steady-state conditions,” added Rob. “And when I say adequate, it’ll do, but it isn’t by any means ideal. I really do hope there’s a change in expectations, especially at the senior levels.”
Uncertainty and Change Are Here to Stay
The pandemic was a so-called black swan event because it was unexpected and its severity was extreme. But even before 2020, businesses were seeing massive change happening quickly. Technology drove most of that, but shifts in policy, culture, international relationships, and other areas have been happening more often and creating more ripples in the business world. The pandemic added to those shifts, but the expectation is that those types of fast and unforeseen changes will continue.
“It’s not just black swan events,” said Rob. “We’re going to go through any number of different scenarios a year from now, two, three years from now, and they’re all going to have the potential to have a pretty significant impact.”
That means FP&A will need to run what-if scenarios at a higher frequency to help the business stay informed, be better prepared, and make better decisions.
Remote work was another drastic shift caused by the pandemic, but which also altered our expectations of work, FP&A included. Here at Planful, we saw a drastic increase in the usage of our Continuous Planning, Workforce Planning, and other products as the pandemic forced teams to not only run more models and what-ifs, but do so remotely. Rob pointed to the benefits of integrated business planning in supporting remote FP&A and increasingly rapid planning cycles.
“The planning process is just going to run a lot more smoothly and a lot more seamlessly because the technology is there to support that kind of a dispersed and distributed planning process,” said Rob.
Continuous Planning Can Unify Your Organization
I like to say that planning is a team sport. It’s inherently cross-functional, and it only performs well when FP&A can work together with every corner of the business. Rob’s views on integrated business planning echo that team-based mindset. But, he adds that there’s a need for individuality out in the business to plan how they want to plan, yet also a need to see each others’ plans to make sure they all work together.
“Integrated business planning breaks down the silos and unifies the planning process cross-functionally, where you plan just the way you want to plan as a business unit,” explained Rob. “But, the information from other plans is also there to inform what you’re planning. To do that, of course, you need to have it all on a single platform.”
It all comes down to communication and collaboration. “It’s a dialogue,” said Rob. Successful planning requires constant communication between everyone involved, and when uncertainty increases, that communication has to increase and become more accurate. Again, that’s why the data needs to be unified and accessible by FP&A and every corner of the business.
There was a lot more to our conversation, from accountability to business continuity to change management, but you’ll need to listen to the podcast to get all of Rob’s valuable insights.
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To hear more of Rob’s insights, listen to episode #5 of Being Planful.
This podcast series explores the benefits of adopting a “Planful” mindset by inviting your FP&A peers, analysts, industry experts, and more, to share their experiences and insights. Podcasting also lets us stay socially-distant while giving you a more flexible way to learn about Continuous Planning, whether it’s watching it on your phone, listening during your morning run, or tuning-in whenever it’s convenient.
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