What’s New in Finance Transformation?  EPM, Cloud, Big Data and More

To gain a better sense of the pulse of the market, earlier this year Planful sponsored a survey that was executed by Radius Global Research.  The survey was taken by roughly 250 Finance executives in North America.  The key areas of focus included the mission of Finance, key Finance and enterprise performance management (EPM) initiatives, and attitudes toward cloud-based EPM solutions.  Here’s what the results revealed.


Primary Mission of Finance

When asked about the primary mission of Finance, not surprisingly, the top response was to Maximize Company Value (25%).  This was followed by the traditional missions of delivering Timely and Accurate Financial Results (22%), and Allocation of Resources (19%).  But coming in a close #4 was becoming a Strategic Partner to the Business (17% overall, but 25% in large companies).

Most Important Roles as Business Partner

This notion of Finance as a better partner to the business has become an increasingly important role, so the survey included several questions on this topic.  For example, when asked, “What are the most important roles that Finance should play as business partner?” 22% of respondents (27% in large companies) said Improve Financial and Operational Planning.  This response was not surprising as many of our customers are placing a lot of focus on this area.  Other important roles included Identifying New Revenue Opportunities (19%), then Supporting Key Business Decisions (18%).

What Prevents Finance from Being a Better Business Partner?

In this survey, we also wanted to understand what prevents Finance from being a better business partner.  Not surprisingly, the top response here was Lack of Systems and Tools at 50%.  This was followed closely by Difficulty Accessing the Necessary Data and Reports (48%), then Lack of Time (35%).

In looking at the survey results by company size, a higher percentage of small and mid-sized companies cited Lack of Systems and Tools, while larger companies more often cited Difficulty Accessing the Necessary Data and Reports.


In the next section of the survey, we focused more tactically on key Finance initiatives.

Top Finance Initiatives

Here, I was expecting Finance Transformation to be the top response, but was pleased to see Financial Modeling coming in as the top initiative at 49% of responses.  This was followed closely by Forecasting with Predictive Analytics (26%), then Financial Transformation (41%).  The next four responses broke down like this:

  • 32% – Scorecarding and Dashboards
  • 30% – Continual Planning Processes (rolling forecast)
  • 28% – Use of Big Data or Non-Financial Data
  • 25% – Zero Based Budgeting

Barriers to Achieving Top Finance Initiatives

When asked the question about the top barriers to achieving their top Finance initiatives, again, Lack of Systems or Technologies (22%) was the top answer, along with High Staff Turnover (22%).  In looking at the survey results by company size, the number of respondents indicating Lack of Systems was even higher in smaller companies. The third most common response was Difficulty Accessing the Necessary Data and Reports (21%).


The next section of the survey was more tightly focused on EPM initiatives.

Top EPM System Priorities

When asked about their top EPM system priorities, 55% of respondents indicated Planning and Budgeting.  This was followed closely by Financial Reporting and Disclosure (48%, but 56% in mid-sized companies), then Analytics (38%).  This response was consistent with what we’ve seen in other surveys and with what we’re seeing with customer demand.

Most Popular EPM Tools (Excel Still Dominates)

When asked what software tools are being used for EPM, not surprisingly, the top response was Excelat 57%.  Respondents could select multiple answers to this question, so this use of Excel includes standalone usage and Excel alongside dedicated EPM solutions, as well as ERP systems.  We did see fairly high usage of Dedicated EPM Solutions as well, at 49% overall, and 71% in mid-sized companies. ERP (35%) and In House (32%) were also common responses.

Excel as Part of the EPM System (Excel Is Here to Stay)

It appears that Excel is here to stay.  When asked about the role of Excel alongside EPM systems, 43% of respondents said it plays a significant role today, and 46% said it would play a significant role over the next 3 – 5 years.  Another 36% of respondents see it as a desirable front-end.

Use of Big Data Increasing

According to this survey, the use of Big Data in planning and reporting is fairly low at 28%, but 71% of respondents indicated plans to leverage big data in these processes over the next 1-3 years.  In terms of what type of Big Data is most often used in financial planning, Sales data was ranked the highest at 73%, followed by Web data at 67% and Inventory data at 65%.


In the last section of the survey, we took the pulse of the market in regard to usage and interest in cloud-based EPM solutions.

Use of Cloud-Based EPM Solutions

When asked about the usage of cloud-based EPM software, a surprisingly high 41% of respondents indicated they were already using cloud-based solutions.  This was a bit higher than other market surveys, but very encouraging.  Another 29% said they were evaluating cloud solutions and 28% plan to move in the next 3 years.  This percentage was even higher in small companies – at 41%.

Attitude Toward Cloud in Past 2 – 3 Years

When asked about their attitude toward the cloud, 88% of respondents said they had become much more open (41%) or more open (47%) to cloud-based solutions in the past 2 – 3 years. Only 12% reported no change. This is another good sign of the increasing comfort with the cloud in the market.

Top Concerns about Cloud-Based EPM & Attitude Toward Cloud Security

When asked about their concerns with cloud, 63% cited Performance, and 61% cited Security.  However, when asked about their attitude toward Cloud Security, 88% said they had become more comfortable. Only 11% reported no change. The third and fourth cited concerns were Functionality (44%) and Integration (41%), respectively.


Again, these results were encouraging and validated what we’re seeing in the market with increasing interest and adoption of cloud-based EPM solutions.  More and more Finance executives are getting over their fears of cloud security and seeing the benefits this approach delivers in terms of faster deployment, more Finance autonomy from IT, lower up-front costs, and lower ongoing cost of ownership.

In summary, the survey validated much of what we’re seeing in the market:

  • Planning/Budgeting is the #1 EPM priority for most companies
  • Excel is the most popular tool for EPM
  • Lack of systems and access to data are top barriers to effective EPM processes
  • Adoption of cloud-based EPM solutions is increasing


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