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The pandemic has highlighted one truism to finance teams—that financial plans need to be managed on a continuous basis. The impacts to the economy have radically changed the financial outlook for most organizations and the evolving situation has required financial planning and analysis (FP&A) to revise and update plans on an accelerated basis. While continuous planning has been a conceptual goal for many finance organizations, many have not had the technologies in place to achieve that end.
Continuous planning drives agility across several areas of the FP&A spectrum. First, it enables quick reforecasts based on macro/micro economic events, changes in demand and competitive pressures, to name a few. Second, it facilitates the creation of multiple scenarios. Effective scenario planning enables companies to model impacts to revenue and expense, explore new workforce strategies, mitigate business risk, and make more proactive decisions based on data. These scenarios can be rapidly implemented into the plan. Third, it provides the ability to serve up the latest data and analysis in the form of reports and dashboards to stakeholders and the executive team.
The predominant technology for planning since the 1980s has been the spreadsheet. As most finance professionals are painfully aware, spreadsheet-based planning processes come with issues such as static data, version control, input errors, broken formulas, etc. With spreadsheets, FP&A teams spend an inordinate amount of time and effort managing and auditing worksheets, rather than focusing on strategic initiatives. Updating plans becomes an onerous and often error-prone process with iterations being emailed to stakeholders.
With the advent of cloud planning software, the barriers to continuous planning have progressively eroded. Teams across departments such as finance, HR, operations and sales can collaborate on plans, employ workflows to enable seamless reviews and approvals, update budgets and forecasts that are immediately reflected in the plan, and provide self-service reports that enable executive decision-making. All the data resides within the system, not siloed in a spreadsheet on one or several individual’s computers.