Dynamic Collaboration: Changing How FP&A Works

We update our products each month to ensure that our customers are always benefiting from the latest features. In each release we enhance existing capabilities, add new features, and make upgrades behind the scenes to improve speed and performance. But before these upgrades hit your application, we talk with customers and use that feedback in our planning, architecting, and development for months or quarters, sometimes longer. It’s this dedication to solving the challenges of FP&A that allows Planful to continue delivering visionary Continuous Planning solutions. 

Our recent Summer20 release is proof. It offers a redesigned Workforce Planning experience, improved speed and performance, and the industry-first Dynamic Collaboration. We’re laser focused on helping FP&A compress cycle times, raise the financial IQ in every corner of the business, and work collaboratively. Summer20 featured a bit of each.

There’s a lot for our customers to be excited about in this release, but let’s focus on Dynamic Collaboration and how this innovation will fundamentally change how FP&A works. Yes, it’s that big.

Usability is Everything 

What excites me about my role at Planful is, first and foremost, building a great team. We’ve brought together an amazing R&D team that continues to innovate alongside, and ahead of, our most passionate customers. With companies accelerating their digital transformation efforts in response to the pandemic, and with FP&A under pressure to change every model, plan, and forecast, Planful is giving our customers the tools they need to build a modern finance function. We were building collaborative features into Planful well before the pandemic, so our customers have been able to quickly transition to remote work and rework their planning efforts as they rebounded from the chaos. 

But just delivering the best technology is not good enough, in our opinion. More critically, we need to be sure our customers use those technologies. User experience is everything. Part of our mantra here is to only put usable, intuitive, and beautiful products in front of our customers. Our new Workforce Planning experience is a perfect example because it hits all three of those. 

Our moves to constantly improve the user experience aren’t just about aesthetics. It’s about usability, value, and even freedom. Freedom from drudgery, frustration, errors, tedious manual efforts, and even freedom from your desk. The freedom you get with consumer apps is what people expect at work. You can watch Netflix on your television as easily as your laptop or your phone, in your house or on the road, whenever you like. 

Technology has to be usable, above all, but then it must deliver value to your business. Which brings us back to Dynamic Collaboration.

Collaboration is Critical

We’re all still somewhat shocked by the fallout from COVID-19, and the ripple effects will be felt for years. But two immediate results of the pandemic were instantly felt: the move to remote work and the need to revise everything FP&A did prior to March 2020.

Companies that already had some level of digital transformation underway had an easier time transitioning to remote work. Cloud-based solutions and modern communications tools enabled people to work from their kitchen tables—all they needed was an internet connection. Work could still take place. FP&A that had already moved out of spreadsheets and email were somewhat prepared. Those who hadn’t were struggling. 

Throwing out playbooks and plans, however, caused FP&A specific pain. Planful customers, however, could quickly jump in, work together, and start revising plans. Usage of our platform skyrocketed during the first few months of the pandemic as teams revised plans again and again. The frequency at which companies needed to change accelerated rapidly, so the speed at which FP&A had to work increased in parallel. Those with modern tools managed to keep up and even thrive. Now they’ll never go back because the reality is clear: planning must be continuous.

Today, FP&A needs more of everything, especially information. Not just data, but information. The “why” behind the numbers and the story behind the decisions, in context, right now. 

That’s not collaboration, it’s Dynamic Collaboration.

FP&A as Storytellers

FP&A are storytellers. Their job is to understand and communicate the why behind the numbers. Helping them tell that story is something we’ve been working on for quite a while, and now it’s coming to fruition with Dynamic Collaboration. We expect this to be a groundbreaking new capability for FP&A, and the feedback we’ve gotten so far is that this is where FP&A is heading. 

The analogy I like to use for storytelling is, whatever you can do on a whiteboard, you should be able to do in Planful. As you tell the story in person and on a whiteboard, you point to other information, create connections, assign owners and tasks, add new information, list action items, and more. You create the story by pulling in all of the bits and pieces necessary for the listener to connect the dots as you go. 

For FP&A, the base story is budgets versus actuals. But that’s a one dimensional story. Anyone can see the variance, but why is there that variance? Why was our actual performance materially different than what we thought it was going to be? What conditions or decisions led to that variance? Who made those decisions? What other information did they have, or what missing information would have led to a better decision? 

Dynamic Collaboration adds rich conversations, in context and in real-time, to the numbers. It’s a new way of thinking for FP&A and it’s a powerful new capability that, after using it for a few days, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. Searching through emails or scanning spreadsheet cells to find a comment is incredibly disruptive as you’re building your plan or forecast, and it’s also incredibly cumbersome when you need to reassemble the story. With Dynamic Collaboration, all of this information is available right in Planful. 

As Planful’s CTO I’m frequently asked by our CEO, Grant, about my budget numbers. With Dynamic Collaboration, Grant can tap a specific value, type his question right there, and tag me with an assignment. I’ll see the question in context with the numbers and be able to answer, right there. A week or month or year from now, when we wonder why we made a decision or why we spent less here or more there, we can go back and read that conversation for more color. 

Modern FP&A, of Course

Dynamic Collaboration captures the granular story behind numbers and decisions so FP&A can tell a better story. This new, easy to use feature is groundbreaking, not only for Planful, but for FP&A. It fundamentally changes the collaboration workflow, removes friction, and keeps everything in a single app and tied to the data in question. 

My team of developers, engineers, and technologists at Planful is constantly looking for ways to modernize how FP&A works. We’re thinking years ahead so our customers get access to innovative tools and technologies before they even realize they need them. Dynamic Collaboration is one such capability, and we are confident that it will change the way that FP&A works.

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