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The importance of continuous planning for finance teams


The events that unfolded during the pandemic highlighted one truism to finance teams—that financial plans need to be managed on a continuous basis. The impacts to the economy have radically changed the financial outlook for most organizations and the evolving situation has required financial planning and analysis (FP&A) to revise and update plans on an accelerated basis. While continuous planning has been a conceptual goal for many finance organizations, many have not had the technologies in place to achieve that end.

Continuous planning drives agility across several areas of the FP&A spectrum. First, it enables quick reforecasts based on macro/micro economic events, changes in demand and competitive pressures, to name a few. Second, it facilitates the creation of multiple scenarios.

Effective scenario planning enables companies to model impacts to revenue and expense, explore new workforce strategies, mitigate business risk, and make more proactive decisions based on data. These scenarios can be rapidly implemented into the plan. Third, it provides the ability to serve up the latest data and analysis in the form of reports and dashboards to stakeholders and the executive team.

Continuous planning requires several elements in order to be performed efficiently. These include:

Finance Planning technology

The predominant technology for planning since the 1980s has been the spreadsheet. As most finance professionals are painfully aware, spreadsheet-based planning processes come with issues such as static data, version control, input errors, broken formulas, etc. With spreadsheets, FP&A teams spend an inordinate amount of time and effort managing and auditing worksheets, rather than focusing on strategic initiatives. Updating plans becomes an onerous and often error-prone process with iterations being emailed to stakeholders.

With the advent of cloud planning software, the barriers to continuous planning have progressively eroded. Teams across departments such as finance, HR, operations and sales can collaborate on plans, employ workflows to enable seamless reviews and approvals, update budgets and forecasts that are immediately reflected in the plan, and provide self-service reports that enable executive decision-making. All the data resides within the system, not siloed in a spreadsheet on one or several individual’s computers.

Integration​ between finance systems

Continuous planning requires integration, often bi-directional, between the core systems that feed the plan. A dynamic planning model incorporates data from ERP, CRM, PSA and other systems. If manual effort is involved in extracting and uploading data between systems, inefficiencies, and often errors, arise. Manual entry or upload of data is not scalable and certainly not possible when reforecasts are performed on a weekly or more frequent basis. Integration workflows can be scheduled on a regular basis, so that even daily refreshes with the latest data should be possible. Timely, synchronized data is crucial to effective planning and reporting.

Finance Automation

A key component of continuous planning is the ability to automate finance processes wherever possible. Repetitive, transactional and data-driven tasks that require manual data entry are generally good targets for automation.  Examples of these time-consuming tasks include the loading of invoice and collections data as well as board reporting. When manual processes are automated, finance teams are freed up to focus on more value-added activities.

These times of disruption have shone a light on the importance of continuous planning. Agility in planning and being able to make better decisions with timely data are more important than ever. Continuous planning should be a priority for organizations and Alight has the experience and expertise to help get you there.

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