Anaplan offers a cloud-based business planning platform that incorporates a modeling and calculation engine. The tool makes it relatively easy to add or expand the scope of plans that can be connected and monitored on a single platform. This Integrated Business Planning (IBP) approach enables organizations to use the software for financial planning or budgeting, sales, supply chain, workforce, marketing and IT planning. These are the types of plans in which companies often need to create models that incorporate their specific requirements, business systems and strategy. I expect that by 2025, one-fourth of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) groups will have implemented IBP.
Environmental, social and governance issues have grown increasingly pressing over the past few years as investors and government entities urge organizations to measure and disclose ESG metrics. I’ve already covered the broader topic as it relates to external reporting and how financial planning and analysis groups are likely to own this mandate going forward. (It’s mainly been a marketing and public relations effort up to now.) FP&A departments are also likely to be charged with responsibility for internal ESG analysis and reporting, because to achieve environmental and social goals, organizations will need to assign specific objectives to individual business units and their responsible parties. I assert that by 2025 more than one-half of corporations required to comply with ESG reporting will centralize responsibility for preparing related reports and filings with FP&A to achieve accuracy, control and efficiency objectives. To do so, FP&A groups must immediately establish a data management strategy consistent with its targeted ESG analysis and reporting approach.
Although the digital transformation of the finance department was a topic of discussion before 2020, it became a front-and-center issue as organizations locked down and in-office interactions became impossible. Finance and accounting departments were immediately confronted with a challenge because of their limited adoption of technology that would support a virtual working environment. As our 2019 Office of Finance Benchmark Research found, they are technological laggards: 45% are at the tactical or lowest level of competence in using technology across multiple processes and functions, while only 12% are at the highest. In my experience, many finance and accounting professionals and those running the department do not necessarily think that such competence is necessary, but this thinking is outdated because, increasingly, technology is the only practical way to address the department’s responsibilities (for example, the new revenue recognition for contracts accounting standards). To gain full advantage of technology, finance and accounting organizations must become “fast followers,” avoiding the bleeding edge but breaking the habit of waiting until the last possible moment before adopting proven advances.
Since its inception 20 years ago, Ventana Research has advocated for a shorter accounting close because it can improve the performance of the entire organization, not just finance and accounting. An important benefit of a shorter close is increased staff time for analysis and the preparation of reports and narratives that improve communications with the board and outside investors. Similarly, the department can provide those in operating roles the financial and managerial accounting results to highlight opportunities and issues they must address.
We conducted our recent Smart Close Dynamic Insights Research in part to assess to what extent the substantial disruptions of the pandemic have impacted the accounting close. When office lockdowns began in the first quarter of 2020, many finance departments were challenged by having to do their quarterly close remotely without their normal face-to-face interactions. In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission was so concerned that corporations would be unable to meet their filing deadlines that they gave registrants carte blanche to extend their filing if necessary. As it turned out, only a relative handful did, and all but one of those was based in China; but for many, that first calendar close required a heroic effort. Since then, organizations have made concerted efforts to adopt and use technology to enable them to operate resiliently under any conditions. Our research finds that while organizations have to some extent adapted to operating a more remote working environment, progress toward a faster close has been elusive. The research also confirms that organizations that use technology effectively to automate processes are better able to complete their close sooner.
OneStream offers a platform designed to serve the needs of accounting and financial planning and analysis organizations. The software handles financial close and consolidation, planning and budgeting, analysis and reporting. For me, the most significant announcement at the company’s recent user conference was the unveiling of its Sensible ML (Machine Learning) offering, which is in limited general release. I’ve commented on the importance of artificial intelligence in business applications, and Sensible ML is a promising and important step in that direction.
A few years ago – somewhat tongue in cheek – I began using the term “data pantry” to describe a type of data store that’s part of a business application platform, created for a specific set of users and use cases. It’s a data pantry because, unlike a general-purpose data store such as a data warehouse, everything the user needs is readily available and easily accessible, with labels that are immediately recognized and understood.
Artificial intelligence using machine learning has passed through the bright, shiny object stage and software vendors are well into the process of making the concept a reality in their offerings. Ventana Research defines AI as the use of technology to process information in much the way humans do, including improving accuracy in recommendations, actions and conclusions as more data is received. I like the alternative term “augmented intelligence” because it emphasizes that these systems enhance – rather than replace – the capabilities of the humans employing them, especially through improved decision-making and eliminating the need to perform repetitive work.
Kinaxis is a sales and operation planning software company headquartered in Ottawa, Canada. Its RapidResponse is an S&OP platform for concurrent planning, designed to integrate an organization’s supply chain planning silos, accelerate planning cycles and optimize supply chain execution to match customer demand.
Organizations need to use external data in planning and budgeting, both data and third-party forecasts. This need also extends to external data in training artificial intelligence systems to assist in planning and for predictive analytics. Companies do not live in a vacuum and things occurring outside physical facilities have a direct impact on how an organization performs. Incorporating external data and third-party forecasts in any systemic fashion is really only practical if you’re using dedicated planning and budgeting software. And increasingly, planning and budgeting software will be incorporating AI capabilities. Watch this brief video presentation by Ventana Research SVP and Research Director Robert Kugel to uncover the benefits of organizations using external data.