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Tidemark Systems offers a suite of business planning applications that enable corporations to plan more effectively. The software facilitates rapid creation and frequent updating of integrated company plans by making it easy for individual business functions to create their own plans while allowing headquarters to connect them to create a unified view. I coined the term “integrated business planning” a decade ago to highlight the potential for technology to substantially improve the effectiveness of planning and budgeting in corporations, and it remains true that integrating business planning can produce superior results. Companies that maintain direct links between functional or departmental plans more often have a planning process that works well than others. Our next-generation business planning benchmark research shows that two-thirds (66%) of those that maintain such links have a planning process that works well or very well, compared to 40 percent that copy information from individual plans into an overall plan and just 25 percent in which plans have little or no connection.
Businesses commonly do a lot of planning within individual silos: There are sales plans, marketing plans, manufacturing plans, R&D plans and various others. However, in most companies the only unified plan is the corporate budget, which is a financial plan used mainly for allocating resources and controlling spending. Because they are focused almost exclusively on monetary consequences, budgets are not especially useful for planning the operations of a company, which requires attention to the things of a business (such as head count, numbers of purchased parts and tons of materials).
Tidemark has made significant progress with its software that I have previously assessed with how it unifies business planning and the company’s Fall 2015 release includes a new feature, Tidemark Complete, that enables companies to benchmark their performance against that of competitors. In almost all organizations, performance reviews compare results against the current plan or the previous quarter or year. While this is essential, it’s insufficient because business is not an “us-vs.-us” game; it’s an us-vs.-them competition. Even so, most companies don’t assess their results against the market because they find it too difficult and time-consuming to assemble the data. Tidemark Complete addresses this issue. The latest release also adds packaged configurations and metrics tailored for the insurance, hospitality and retail industries that enable such companies to accelerate their implementation of Tidemark. In the Spring 2015 release the company introduced packages for higher education and subscription commerce. The subscription commerce app is especially useful for companies with recurring revenue businesses for two reasons. One is that managing these types of businesses requires using metrics that are not directly available from the accounting process. These include the annual recurring revenue (ARR) and annual and total contract value (ACV and TCV). Typically, the finance staff assembles data from one or more sources in desktop spreadsheets to do the calculations, analyze the results and create reports. As well as time-consuming, this method is prone to errors and incompleteness in the data. The second reason is that revenue recognition in subscription businesses is often complex. For planning purposes, it’s useful to be able to automate the translation of booking events into reported revenue because it saves time and results in more accurate projections of future financial statements.
Ventana Research rated Tidemark a Hot Vendor in our 2015 Business Planning Value Index. Tidemark’s software offers all of the capabilities necessary to support state-of-the-art planning. That is, it offers engaging visualization and reporting functionality that enhances understanding and insight in developing plans as well as communicating results. It has workflows to manage plan creation and periodic updates that cut the time and effort required to supervise the process and thus shorten planning cycles. It offers integrated analytics to support the planning and review phases of the process as well as Storylines and Playbooks, methods that present an organization’s performance in narrative form with engaging data visualizations. An important reason why companies invest time in creating plans is to set objectives so they can periodically review their performance to those objectives. By organizing all business planning on a single platform, Tidemark allows each planning unit to review its results faster and headquarters to review the overall financial and operational performance sooner. Our research finds that companies that use a dedicated third-party planning application such as Tidemark are more able to uncover details during a review meeting because they can drill down to uncover underlying details while the meeting is under way. This enables managers and executives to get to information that can promote agility and provides an environment that encourages action in the whole organization.
Tidemark also offers built-in social collaboration capabilities in context. Collaboration is essential in the process of planning in corporations because it helps ensure that activities are coordinated. Companies have multiple objectives for their planning processes. Chief among these is accuracy. But since things don’t always go to plan, companies need agility in responding to changes in a timely and coordinated fashion, and collaboration facilitates this also. In a small business, planning can be informal because of the ease of communications between all members and the ease with which plans can be modified in response to changing conditions. In larger organizations the planning process becomes increasingly difficult because communications become compartmentalized locally and diffused across the enterprise. Facilitating collaboration across geographies or business silos addresses the communications issues. Tidemark’s collaboration capabilities address this issue more readily and completely than email or instant messaging. Setting and changing the company’s course require coordination to ensure that the actions of one part of the organization complement (or at least don’t impede) the actions of others. Better communication across the organization promotes coordination because it enables better understanding of the impact of policies and actions in one part of the company on the rest of it. Yet only 14 percent of companies are able to accurately measure that impact, and fewer than half (47%) have even a general idea. Integrated business planning coupled with a collaboration capabilities addresses that issue.
Using the most capable technology also helps. Using limited tools is a major barrier preventing companies from integrating their planning efforts; spreadsheets in particular are a major culprit. Our research reveals that across the spectrum of corporate planning activities, seven out of 10 organizations use spreadsheets to manage their planning processes. Tidemark’s common planning platform for individual departmental and functional plans, plus built-in analytics and reporting and its focus on ease of use, provides a compelling reason to switch from spreadsheets. Also, compared to using spreadsheets, Tidemark’s applications can make the planning process far more interactive by utilizing in-memory processing to speed calculations. When even complex planning models with large data sets can be run in seconds or less, senior executives and managers can quickly assess the impact of alternative courses of action in terms of their impacts on key operating metrics, not just revenue and income. Furthermore, having the means to engage in a structured conversation with direct reports can help executives implement strategy and manage their organization more effectively.
Integrated business planning applications are changing the conversation from a finance-centric approach to one that supports planning operations and finance in parallel. Companies that are dissatisfied with their current approach to business planning and are looking to improve important aspects of it including accuracy, insight, speed and alignment should consider dedicated business planning tools. When they do that, they should consider the kind of software that will enable them to support a better process. We recommend that they include Tidemark in their evaluation.
Robert Kugel – SVP Research
Our benchmark research on next-generation business planning finds that a large majority of companies rely on spreadsheets to manage planning processes. For example, four out of five use them for supply chain planning, and about two-thirds for budgeting and sales forecasting. Spreadsheets are the default choice for modeling and planning because they are flexible. They adapt to the needs of different parts of any type of business. Unfortunately, they have inherent defects that make them problematic when used in collaborative, repetitive enterprise processes such as planning and budgeting. While it’s easy to create a model, it can quickly become a barrier to more integrated planning across the business units in an enterprise. As I’ve noted before, software vendors and IT departments have been trying – mainly in vain – to get users to switch from spreadsheets to a variety of dedicated applications. They’ve failed to make much of a dent because although these applications have substantial advantages over spreadsheets when used in repetitive, collaborative enterprise tasks, these advantages are mainly realized after the model, process or report is put to use in the “production” phase (to borrow an IT term).
Host Analytics Modeling Cloud is designed to address the needs of people who – often working alone – create representations of the business or portions of the business used in a collaborative planning process. These individuals often create analyses and reports that complement the planning process. To date most dedicated applications have been far more difficult than spreadsheets for the average business user to use in the design and test phases. To convince people to switch to its dedicated application, a vendor must offer an alternative that lets users model, create reports, collect data and create dedicated data stores as easily as they can do it in a desktop spreadsheet.
Modeling Cloud is designed to integrate individual businesses unit plans with a company’s financial planning, forecasting and budgeting. It attempts to address the spreadsheet problem by enabling individuals in business units to create and update plans and budgets and their underlying models in a way that is consistent with what they are used to doing, but also makes it easy to tie these together to achieve an integrated company-wide view. Compared to desktop spreadsheets, this approach better enables a company to analyze and refine plans and budgets. It also facilitates advanced modeling capabilities such as rolling quarters forecasting and contingency and what-if planning. Compared to desktop spreadsheets, with Modeling Cloud it’s much easier to consolidate the plans from multiple contributors and then drill back down into individual plans and their underlying assumptions. The software also has mobile features that enable individuals to review, contribute and approve plans and budgets on the go. Each of these capabilities increase the business value of the company’s planning and budgeting.
People and businesses plan in order to be successful. Companies do a lot of planning – some formal and some informal – about all aspects of the business including sales, production, headcount, distribution and the supply chain. Done properly, planning is the best way to get everyone organized in executing the plan. At that point they can take advantage of collaboration, which is essential to effective planning and budgeting. Our research finds that in the large majority (85%) of companies that collaborate well in their planning and budgeting processes participants regard it as well managed. Dedicated applications work better than desktop spreadsheets when it comes to bringing individual models, plans, budgets and forecasts into an integrated companywide view. In contrast it’s difficult and time-consuming to combine desktop spreadsheets into a consolidated view, and it’s even harder and more tedious to look back into the underlying data in seeking a better understanding of important differences between individual plans and models.
Modeling Cloud is designed to address an important need in corporate planning – closely tying all aspects of business planning to financial planning and budgeting and helping organizations collaborate across business silos. Our research shows that integrated planning works better, as I have written : Two-thirds of companies in which information in individual plans is directly linked have a planning process that works well or very well, compared to 40 percent in which the information must be copied and only 25 percent where there is little or no connection. As a rule, providing users with a familiar environment in which to create business models, create and compare different business scenarios, analyze actuals and create reports goes a long way toward mitigating the difficulty of having to learn to use a new tool that has been a barrier to the use of dedicated planning software across an enterprise and makes it easy to directly link plans. Business planning can be more effective if individuals have software that gives them a high degree of flexibility to create models and plans in a way that works comfortably for them yet also facilitates the integration of everyone’s plans into a consolidated view. Our research shows that dedicated planning applications can help users align their plans with strategy and the rest of the organization. For example, companies that use them said twice as often that they are able to estimate accurately one plan’s impact on others as those that use spreadsheets. In addition, two out of three that have dedicated applications said they are satisfied with their planning process and that their plans are accurate.
Information technology has the potential to make business planning more useful, as I have noted, enabling it to improve a company’s performance and increase its competitiveness. One of the necessary tools for more fully integrating business and financial planning is a software and data environment that enables business people to plan their part of the business in a way that is familiar, productive and useful to them in achieving their objectives. That environment also must enable them to communicate the financial consequences of their business plan to inform the financial forecasting, planning, budgeting and review processes. Host Analytics Modeling Cloud is designed to do that. It’s not a perfect substitute for spreadsheets, which still excel in their ability to help people quickly translate their thoughts into models and reports. But because Modeling Cloud eliminates most of the hassles and defects of spreadsheets (for example, the ability to quickly store, retrieve and consolidate data from a single authoritative source), it is ultimately a much more attractive alternative. I recommend that Host Analytics customers assess using Modeling Cloud in their organization and that buyers of dedicated planning applications include this type of capability in their evaluation of vendors’ offerings.
Robert Kugel – SVP Research