Planning for the unexpected

learn to plan successfully for change


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Published by Charlotte Taylor March 23 , 2017 02: 07 PM

Tags: finance change

The unexpected is guaranteed to happen

 Learn more about planning for the unexpected, in an uncertain world


Change is constant

We all know “Change is the only constant”, but speed of change seems to be on the increase.  There are some fundamental changes going on in global business world

The waning of globalisation - 

  • Between 1990 and 2005 the international sales of KFC and McDonald s grew by 400%. Since 2012 the international profits of both have fallen by 20-30%

Share of trade represented by cross-border supply chains has stagnated as a percentage of the total since 2007

  • Political tectonic plates are on the move with Trump powered USA making new moves in relation to China, EU and Russia
  • Mood of protectionism will influence the global flow of business
  • E-Commerce enables smaller players to compete for a higher percentage of the global market against multi-nationals.
How do these macro-economic effects impact on your organisation and how can you best manage them?
  • More and faster business decisions need to be made. How do you support this?
  • Access to more information, available on the move anytime.
  • More frequent re-forecasting needs to be done, with more radical alterations than just a little tinkering with sales or overheads – how feasible is it to manage and control evermore spreadsheets, can you keep up?
  • New Scenarios are needed to show the effects of potential decisions – how quickly can you generate these, and at what expense?
  • Finance now has to synch performance metrics to financial information, joining up Financial, operational and other data to ensure the business has ‘one source of truth’. Do you really have it?
  • More effective communication with the whole company to effect change. Have you the tools to paint the picture?

We’ve condensed these common challenges into 5 key tips for building a robust forecasting systems.

  • Structured for change

  • Automate for speed

  • Accessible Data

  • Keep improving

  • Communication for all



Structured for Change

The structure of your forecasting solution needs to be able to expand, contract, hone in on detail and expand to the big picture easily.

Companies end up supporting a web of spreadsheets with hidden formulas and many iterations. This means change is difficult to effect. Even more of a challenge is sharing and collaborating.

Structure is grown up over many years, often in response to need rather than want or a strategic view.

Considerations that can affect your planning complexity and structure:

  • Company architecture - multiple companies, countries and currencies all impact complexity
  • Detail v big picture – how much detail do you really need.
  • Need to share collaborate and communicate anytime and anywhere.
  • Reporting for better access to information
  • Trading type, project based v cost center

Many of the considerations above will lead you to look at cloud versus on premise applications. Whether spreadsheets will provide you with the capability you need, and what other data you’d like to integrate into your planning solution.


Automate for ease and more analysis time

Modern forecasting solutions incorporate many features which allow for automation of certain planning processes. These save time, speed up turnaround of forecasts and reduce the amount of repetitive work for the finance team; whilst giving the head of finance more power to create new scenarios and more time to analyse results.

On the list of functionality and benefits automation offers:-

  • Use of drivers which calculate according to a pre-configured set rules, and make the formula’s visible to others so they can see how they were calculated.
  • Use of pre-built scenarios allowing FD’s to flit between possible future outcomes.
  • Automated uploads of data and updates all ease the burden of finance and speed up the process of producing a forecast or budget.
  • Automation which drives reporting and dashboards to improve communication and deliver different and tailored types of information.
  • The bottom line is to gain more analysis time you have to get the figures faster, and automation will speed things up.


Accessible data – If you can’t get to it, you can’t use it.


One of the big trends today is to move towards rolling forecasts. This ensures your plan is always fresh, and you’re not always working from old data. To achieve this effectively, having functionality like drivers, which use pre-configured formulas, and pre-built scenarios, which update forecasts based on assumptions; whilst easily accessible data makes rolling forecasts a whole lot easier.  

Accessibility of data has fast become a bit of a headache. Many companies have data held in many platforms or silos, and pulling these many strands together can be challenging. Solving this issue through integration using a planning tool which is built to connect easily with other systems and allows for the automation of data updates goes a long way to solve these headaches, and future proofing your planning solution against change.  

Uploading and then manipulating data into the right formats and tables can soak up days for finance, and makes rolling forecasts difficult to achieve.


keep improving, so you’re never wrong footed


All too often companies build a plan, and fail to update, revisit or improve it over time. A plan which is built for a particular set of circumstances or problems will quickly pass it’s sell by date.

Plans need to be active. Mirror the growth of the company and stay current. An example often seen is plans built based on cost centres, when the business is structured around projects.

Staying active in your planning means you are forced to keep questioning and re-visiting it so it represents the way the company trades, or even its core business, which can change quite fast in some companies.


Communication for all


Today the FD’s role is becoming so much more about communication, and being capable of doing that effectively means information needs to be in formats everyone can understand:- graph’s, pie charts, using colours, pictures, you name it.

Building pretty reports has always been possible in Excel, although producing them, does take time. The more difficult end of the equation is getting the data out of systems, in the right format to create the report.

Reporting has always been a bone of contention. What one person wants to see is irrelevant to another, and so the list of reports grows, until it’s so vast, no-one really uses the majority of them.

Today, more people are involved in the decision-making process, and need to understand the numbers, which requires a different way of communicating. Faster decision making is driving the need for more flexible reporting, such as self-service, driven by the people consuming them.

To ensure reports are easy to produce and can communicate to the whole audience being able to produce them using a connection to your normal report writing function, or displaying key metrics in dashboards will all help.


Forecasting for change, next steps


Ultimately a modern corporate planning solution which delivers reporting, dashboards and data integration and planning, in a cloud application will offer the best functionality, but not everyone can move to this.

Although cost is much less a barrier in this type of application as they are SAAS and much lighter on delivery than adding functionality to say your ERP, or a bespoke solution.

Other ways to achieve some of this is to ensure processes which support the ability to act fast and build in flexibility. This may mean challenging the need for levels of detail in data, or re-look at the reporting landscape.

Ensure that systems are being chosen and implemented in a joined up approach, otherwise you’ll never achieve a single version of the truth.

Finally, remember that software solutions are only half the story, even the best looking software can fail to deliver value if it isn't built to meet your business needs. So choose your partner carefully. 


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