The Budget Inferno

The budget journey: inferno, purgatory, paradise

Midway through the journey of the fiscal year I found myself in the dark wood of the Budget.  I don’t know how I got here and I didn’t know how to get out.  I was lost amongst Excel spreadsheets, annualizations and unrealistic goals.  I was greeted by a fellow traveler who bade met to follow.  I was fearful but I followed hoping to reach the budget paradise.

The forest gave way to a clearing and then to a river. That’s where we met the IT department. I was encouraged that technology would be the answer, that IT and Finance would be partners. Everything would be solved.  However this is not our final destination.  It was only the start.  I found out that IT’s job was just to ferry us across the river. IT would put us in the boat and give us the hardware and then would go back to start some other project. The budget staff was going to have to administer and run the software on our own.

Once across the river I began to abandon hope. My guide made me go on. I needed to be shown how to avoid the Budget Inferno by facing it head on. If not I would make the same errors and face all eternity (or at least until retirement) suffering with the souls we were about to meet.

In the vestibule of the Inferno we meet the Budget Staff. These are the un-baptized if you will. They are not really in the Inferno due to any fault of their own. They do not belong in the pit, nor does anyone not in the pit want to be with them. I noticed how few budget staff there were in the vestibule. They were running about trying to answer questions, provide analysis and redesigning reports. We left them still scurrying about and not accomplishing anything.  

We descended into the first level of the Inferno where we came across the CFO. He was lying on a rack and his arms and legs were being pulled in opposite direction as he is being sliced open by the sharp edge of the envelope on which he does his calculations. He tried to explain that he does not belong in the Inferno. All he did was ask “What if?” and suggested that revenues be stretched and expenses cut. I start to feel sympathy and understanding towards the CFO after all we are in the same profession. My guide quickly takes me by the hand and tells me that nobody is in the inferno by mistake.  

We climb down a cliff of computers and calculators to the next level. Technology is all around, but the department directors don’t know how to use it. They are moaning in agony, trying to manually foot spreadsheets. For these department directors their biggest sin was to accept a promotion. The department directors have limited financial background and now are being asked to plan the next fiscal year.  They have a quench for information but don’t know how to satiate it. My human nature makes me reach out my hand again to help. My guide quickly pulls it back and chastises me. If I make contact I will be pulled into the pit never to escape. We need to move on.

The administrative VPs are on the next level down. While the CFO asks his “What if?” questions, the other VPs can be even more evil.  They will very often just want to change the rules.  A budget originally based upon an 8 + 4 projection can easily be changed to annualization of the last two months, if they think the numbers work out better for them.  They can work together but in the end each one of them is fighting over the same limited resources thus alliances are fleeting.   They will want to see the data cut and sliced in every possible way.  Somehow, even being so many levels down in the Inferno; they still are optimistic and think that everything is possible.  “All you need to do is push a button.”

And at the bottom of the pit is the ruler of the Inferno: the CEO his wings fan the fire.  Most will never get down far enough to ever have actual contact with the CEO, but his presence is always felt.  He likes the Budget to be presented is a simple but detailed way and may want the board package changed at the last minute. My guide sneaks me by the CEO as he pontificates and chews on the COO.  We crawl under his desk and come out the other side of the Inferno.  In front of us is a mountain. It needs to be climbed. Each ledge is a chance to build a better budget process. The sun is shining and the smell of torture, mistakes and failed budgets are left behind in the pit.  There is hope.

We needed a system that could be run by financial people; that would not require much in the way of maintenance would be easy to write ad-hoc reports.

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Tagetik for unified budgeting, planning and forecasting

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