Finance function and EPM opportunities post Covid-19
“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower
Covid introduced substantial macro-economic changes, and no sectors were left unaffected. Some businesses thrived, while others faced annihilation. What were previously considered to be reliable clients with steady revenue streams became critical risks in accounts receivable cycles. Reputable suppliers closed temporarily or permanently, affecting whole supply chains, especially in finely-tuned just-in-time (JIT) logistics operations. Both of these elements had a substantial impact on cash conversion cycles, with cash flow already strained by the additional personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 prevention measures.
In a world where these fluctuations now seem inevitable, many ask whether long-term planning is still worth it.
Advisors in the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) domain ask the same question but in a different tone…
- If the planning cycle was shorter and more accurate, would the organisation be better prepared for future volatility?
- If financial close, statutory, and management reporting were completed faster, would our organisation be more adept at recognising the early signals of a changing business environment and, therefore, more agile to respond?
So what does the organisation’s finance technology landscape look like after COVID 19? We are still in the battle with a global pandemic, but the reality is that digital transformation has been forced upon many businesses that were only slowly adopting it at the time (OECD – Digital Transformation Outlook). According to McKinsey & Co, many digital services have experienced a seven to ten-year increase in development (source). This means that dependent on the business model, organisations have to take a scalpel to operations and support services that could be improved to gain efficiencies, manage risk, and offer a better customer experience. The pandemic was devastating on many levels, but it reminded us that now is the time to act in order to be ready for new challenges and future uncertainty.
The beauty of this movement toward digital services and increased automation is that a lot more data could be mined and analysed to support planning and forecasting. Adoption of e-commerce, services, and interaction means organisations will gain better insights into customers’ behaviour, which in turn, offers a better forecast for revenue estimates. By using integrated planning processes that harness the customer data to lead to increased accuracy in revenue planning, many of the driver-based planning processes are enhanced and planning and scenario confidence increased.
STEP TOWARD IMPLEMENTATION
Firstly firms need to take stock of current processes and their relation to the finance function. This first step allows the firm to pause and evaluate what works well and where significant opportunities for improvement lie. It is essential to think ahead to ensure the complete solution works on paper before implementation, especially with the notion of using discovery masquerading as agile development. What might be helpful in this phase is to keep the end goal in mind and identify the firm’s most important metrics so that the approach may be simplified as far as possible.
Secondly, the firm should assess and leverage technology elements already set up within the finance function and the organisation at large and what is needed to unlock additional value. This means that the implementation team must consider the entire IT landscape of the firm before considering the EPM solution to be implemented. Only by understanding what is available, can one move on to improvement.
Thirdly, it is fundamental for the implementation team to consider potential integration points with the new EPM solution. Some areas which need to be considered are:
- Reconciliation between source and target data
- Understanding the existing solutions
- Replacing legacy applications
- Tracing, mapping, and auditing data flows
Data integration is a critical cog to the implementation wheel, as it brings processes such as financial consolidation, planning, and budgeting together. A good starting point for this step is to understand the data requirements of the firm. Furthermore, IT and Security teams should be included in the data integration process to allow the relevant permissions and apply necessary changes.
The fourth step involves drawing a holistic roadmap for integration and implementation based on value, cost, and risk. This roadmap should consider the findings of the previous three steps and mobilise the relevant resources needed to ensure the successful implementation of the EPM solution.
Fifth and lastly – Implement and track accordingly. The new EPM solution should meet the following criteria:
- Flexibility: Companies change and evolve, and therefore the immediate needs of the business will change as the firm grows. It is vital that the solution implemented is not static and encompasses both the short and long-term needs of the firm.
- Maintainability: The solution implemented is to be used by various employees of the firm. Therefore, the solution needs to be user-friendly and easy enough to maintain to ensure additional added value to the organisation.
- Scalability: The EPM solution implemented should meet current and long-term needs regarding the volumes of data required and the number of users needed.
- High-Performance: The EPM solution should be “fit-for-purpose” since most EPM processes play a vital role in the organisation’s operation.
Inconsistent or informal processes. Without having a holistic view of the customer, supply chain, and operational processes, it is pretty challenging to have a good idea of the value that could be derived from the data generated by these processes. To substantially strengthen the planning process, processes must be documented and analysed with a lens to understand the potential of the data from a planning perspective.
Monolithic technologies and architecture. One of the most significant impediments faced in digital transformation and the adoption of integrated planning is being weighed down with systems and processes unable to adapt. For example, during our recent projects during the pandemic, we have observed IT teams scramble to cater for remote working for employees, rolling out new customer-facing experiences, and speeding up reporting timelines for areas like the supply chain. Unfortunately, many of these actions have led to a flurry of disintegrated applications and systems, still not integrated into the core system and without any overarching system bringing the parts together. Organisations would be well-served to have a proper integration strategy whether these components are considered and integrated to leverage the value of the data currently siloed.
People stuck in the past or taking unnecessary risks. There is much talk of transformation being held back by old-school managers and employees who are still stuck in the old way of doing things and unwilling to evolve. Although there is much to be said for resisting change, there is another part to this problem. Many are concerned with moving too quickly to unsupported, unproven, fancy tools that do not have a strong business case. Unfortunately, we encounter this in every engagement. The problem is not that the old-school folk are stuck; it stems from the game-changers not articulating the value proposition well or not highlighting how risks and pitfalls would be addressed. We believe that people are fundamental to transformation. The pandemic forced change onto people and organisations, and the resistance is only exacerbated when the change case is not well positioned and received.
Jigsaw Advisory specialises in guiding CFOs and finance teams through their digital transformation journey. We value and nurture our niche position as a trusted transformation advisor to many top-level CFOs and are so confident about our recommendations that we choose to implement the solutions ourselves. That way, we fully understand the business context for the challenge and use that to serve as the focus throughout the implementation and benefits realisation process. Get in touch with our senior team here.
Written by Marinus Heymann