Thoughts from a Planning Software Panel


According to Ventana Research, budgeting and planning typically eats up 10 to 15 percent of finance staff time; the process can take up five to eight months to complete in large organizations.  And even then, most business people view budgets as being out of date from the start.  

Ventana’s research also shows that almost 60 percent of companies still rely primarily on spreadsheets for budgeting and planning processes.

On October 21, I participated in a panel discussion on planning and budgeting with two other colleagues: Folia Grace, vice president of product marketing for Anaplan, and CJ Wehlage, vice president of high tech for Kinaxis. The panel was hosted by Robert Kugel, SVP and research director for Ventana.

The conversation focused on why we thought budgeting and planning seems to continually be stuck where it is, despite technology advances. Following is a quick summary of our conversation.

Why does finance continually struggle with budgeting and planning processes? I believe this is because companies struggle to look at planning software from a long-term perspective. When a problem arises to the point they want to act, most focus on solving the immediate problem at hand and pay little attention to potential limitations or broader needs. And the company does achieve success with the solution chosen – hooray! But inevitably, by not looking long term for the requirements, the purchased solution soon reveals shortcomings as the company tries to progress their planning process, maybe add cash flow planning, or maybe give more autonomy to their subsidiaries. So what happens? Full circle! They augment the process with – you guessed it – spreadsheets once again. And repeat.   

How do companies get out of this vicious cycle to successfully conquer the budgeting and planning process? We have worked with many successful companies that have gotten out of this spreadsheet nightmare, and importantly, have progressed their process to bring real value to their companies. Successful companies look beyond immediate problems when considering technology. Usually, these companies have a well-communicated, clear technology vision, or they have an individual who thinks strategically and looks beyond the immediate pain.

Successful companies also find ways to highlight the value of meaningful participation in the budgeting process and demonstrate transparency throughout. That is, they dispel the mysteries of the process and keep business users informed of changes and rationales throughout the process.    

I also think we, as vendors, can do a better job at explaining to company leaders as to what our solutions can truly do for them in the long run. We too often focus on the needs at hand and need to ask for the discussion about “what’s next”.

If you had a magic wand, what would you include overnight in your offering to help companies improve their budgeting and planning? The more intelligence that is built into a solution, the better chances it has of widespread adoption. Giving companies a starting point to start at for specific aspects of budgeting – say, headcount planning – leads to better understanding, and a quicker ‘win’ inside the company. The same thing goes for vertical industries. Offerings customized to the particular budgeting items and considerations relevant to a specific vertical also help companies realize the potential of the software. So while we have many of these already, my “magic wand” would be to have a prebuilt model for everyone, across all industries, tomorrow (let’s be real- if if I had a magic wand I’d be on a beach somewhere listening to Jimmy Buffet!).

Admittedly, I have a biased view when it comes to budgeting and planning. I know there are radically better ways to tackle these processes than through use of Excel. The right technology compresses the process, improves its accuracy, and improves other areas of finance.  If your company is caught up in a spreadsheet nightmare, I’d urge you not to take a Band-Aid approach. When you look beyond immediate problems and take a holistic view of available solutions, you’ll not only solve the pain at hand, but you’ll create real value for your company – something that is good for both the company and you.

What are your thoughts? Why do you think companies are still using spreadsheets for planning?


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