March 24, 2015

Where Big Data and Finance Meet

Tony Rizzo

For many finance organizations, just the thought of Big Data can generate anxiety. It’s too large to harness effectively, and too diverse to process with existing relational databases and analytics tools. With uniquely complicating factors like ever increasing data volume, velocity and variety, Big Data overwhelms the systems and technologies today’s companies have in place to manage business performance.

All this is reflected in a recent BPM Partners survey of 250 enterprise decision-makers. BPM learned that when it comes to understanding what really drives a business and how to gain insights that help improve margins and operational performance, nearly half (47.5 percent) of those surveyed said the same thing:

We have a Big Data challenge.

And it’s finance that feels the challenge most. BPM found roughly seven out of 10 decision-makers say financial data is causing their most significant Big Data problems as they pertain to performance management. It’s not hard to imagine why. Data volumes are exploding to petabyte and exabyte levels, and making use of them requires tying together financial, operational, transactional, machine, social and benchmark data into a cohesive whole that enables better business decisions.   It also means moving from a quarterly or monthly view of performance to daily, hourly and even real-time.  That’s a lot to take on when you’re accustomed to making decisions about your business based on historical top-line numbers pulled every few weeks from your transactional and ERP systems.

data creating performance management Big Data challenges

Craig Schiff, president and CEO of BPM Partners, recently dug into these survey results in a webinar discussing how finance organizations can use Big Data to develop more accurate plans and forecasts, reliably predict future outcomes, and help shape the decisions made at the edges of a business. I joined Craig in the webinar to illustrate his points with examples of how companies are using Big Data in the real world. You can view a replay of the webinar, “Big Data Finance: Unlocking the Door to a New World of Business Planning,” to learn what organizations should be focusing on as they try to find their way in a Big Data world.

View the replay to discover what organizations want from Big Data, and where their current solutions fall short. Among the findings:

  • Collaboration makes all the difference. BPM found three out of four (74 percent) of respondents say they’d use collaborative features in their performance management platform – if only their current solution offered them. Even those who don’t yet have these capabilities recognize that when people outside of finance contribute to planning and forecasting, they end up with improvements in budget creation and development, forecasting accuracy, performance reporting and analysis, strategic planning, profitability optimization, consolidation, and even the monthly close.
  • Data visualizations should be interactive. For about 70 percent of organizations, static dashboards and simple bar charts don’t cut it. Decision-makers want to drill down to see performance data at granular levels – by product, part, SKU, ticket, employee, etc. And if they adjust an assumption or parameter, they want to immediately see the impact that change would have on everything else – and 73 percent want those capabilities baked into their performance management platform.
  • Too few executives grasp the importance of predictive analytics – but that will change. Only 22.7 percent of respondents view predictive capabilities as “essential” to forecasting, with another 52.2 percent calling it a “nice to have. But Schiff argues that the “essential” slice of that pie will grow rapidly as more companies realize how advanced predictive capabilities with such features as causation, correlation, and root cause analysis can help them better align labor resources with demand, anticipate disruptions in supply chains, and forecast the impact of weather on consumer buying behaviors for example.   Predictive analytics is no longer a “black box” when it is part of an integrated performance management system.
  • Ease of use is now a given. We live in a Turbo Tax world, which has taught millions of users that a well-designed experience can turn a previously complicated task into something virtually anyone can do with little or no training. Even as performance management software ingests, analyzes and visualizes Big Data, it must remain intuitive enough to push insight and analysis to every corner of the organization, while providing the same experience on any device an employee uses.
  • Context is everything. Enterprise data alone isn’t enough to enable truly data-driven decisions. Organizations need to understand the meaning of their raw performance metrics by integrating structured, behind-the-firewall data with unstructured, external data from dozens of sources, from Bloomberg to Twitter to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The webinar explores other findings as well, including the benefits of conducting what-if scenarios at a Big Data scale, and what’s keeping most vendors from tying multiple scenarios together so decision-makers can appreciate the total impact of their actions. And there are detailed examples from leading retailers and restaurant businesses, that reveal how using advanced analytics can determine who is your most profitable customer segment or which products sell best together.

View the complimentary webinar replay today, and find out what Big Data Finance could mean for you.

March 6, 2015

Calling All Higher Ed Professionals: TideMarch Madness is Here!

Michaela Dempsey

TideMarch MadnessTired of trying to balance ever-higher expenses against always shrinking budgets? Worried that legislators, administrators or trustees will be forced to cut operating budgets again? Sick of navigating the politics of who gets the cube with the window?

Sounds like you’re ready for TideMarch Madness.

Created just for Higher Ed professionals, TideMarch Madness offers you a chance to win big for the Higher Ed School or charity of your choice – and it won’t cost you a penny.

We’ve Got Your Bracket

Just enter the TideMarch Madness Bracket by March 16, flex your predictive muscles by filling out your bracket, and then watch as the TideMarch Madness unfurls!

Participate in our online bracket and make your best guess at who will go all the way.  Your goal is to be the player with the most points after the Championship game, and if you are, you’ll win the Grand Prize:

  • A $500 donation from Tidemark to the Higher Ed school, institution or charity of your choice
  • An official NCAA basketball to call your very own

Here’s how it works.

  1. Fill out the form. Just fill out this brief form no later than Noon EST March 16. (Enter early to receive your bracket Sunday, March 15.)
  2. Join our bracket. After you fill out the form, you’ll receive an email from CBS that includes a link and a password so you can join Tidemark’s TideMarch Madness CBS Sports Bracket.
  3. Try to go all the way. Each round is assigned an increasingly higher point value. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. In the case of a tie, Tidemark will use the Championship game’s total score as a tiebreaker. If a tie still exists after the Championship game, Tidemark will randomly select the winner from the pool of tied players.
  4. Make sure you’re eligible. To be eligible to win the Grand Prize, you must be 21 years of age and a U.S. citizen, and you must work for a HigherEd organization. Limit of one bracket per participant.
  5. Not in Higher Ed? No problem! You’re welcome to play even if you’re not employed by a Higher Ed organization. Though you won’t be eligible for the Grand Prize, you’ll be placed into a pool where you can compete with Higher Ed players for a 2nd place prize, a gift certificate to Rickshaw Bagworks. Tidemark employees are encouraged to participate but are ineligible for the Grand Prize.

We’re in Your Court

When it comes to Higher Ed, Tidemark is keeping its eye on the ball. Take our Tidemark Financial Planning for Higher Education app, which is becoming increasingly popular with colleges and universities aiming create a modern, real-time planning and budgeting environment.  Interested in seeing our Higher Ed app in action? View our recent demo here.

And remember, March 16 will be here before you know it. Register today to get in the game, and let the TideMarch Madness begin!

February 25, 2015

The Power of Starting The Annual Budget Process Later

Michaela Dempsey

“We were starting way too early,” recalls Tina Workman, vice president of accounting and assistant treasurer at Shelter Insurance Companies, as she describes the financial planning and budget process Shelter had lived with for years. “Prior to Tidemark, we set up Excel templates with lots of manual calculations to gather our budget information from about 150 different departments and cost centers.”

This paradigm describes what many organizations are going through as a result of legacy planning technologies. In fact, Insurance Networking News reports the new Towers Watson’s North American P&C Insurance CFO Survey Program’s study shows half of the CFOs polled said, “They plan to deploy capital in analytics, data or technology-related areas over the next year or two.”

Shelter Insurance Companies, which operates in 18 states and collects more than $1.5 billion in premiums annually, realized the advantage they would gain by upgrading to a cloud-based planning software. After considering other vendors in the market, they selected and quickly implemented Tidemark in the midst of Shelter’s preparation of the 2015 budget.  After using Tidemark, Shelter now sees the potential of reducing the time it takes to prepare its annual budget by half in the coming year due to Tidemark’s ability to integrate financial and operational data from the various departments, provide real-time collaboration, deep analytics capabilities and actionable visualizations on any device.

Gone are the manual, spreadsheet-based processes. Today’s Shelter is collaborative, analytical and real-time. “With Tidemark, we’re finding we can start a lot later,” says Workman. “That means more time for strategy and other crucial work.”

In the new press release and video, Workman explains why Shelter Insurance chose Tidemark, and why starting later is a very good thing. Check it out below.

February 16, 2015

Everyone’s Talking About Transformation

Ryan Chan

innovation summitWe talk a lot about transforming FP&A processes. We explore how timeworn, largely manual and highly restrictive planning and analytics processes are simply no longer relevant in today’s enterprise. We discuss how new, collaborative FP&A approaches offer finance teams (and the departments that interact with them) to plan using real-time, real-world information and in ways that reflect the business processes they have in place today.

We’re not alone. A recent Genpact survey of executives at 150 companies found 80 percent of those polled said they see plenty of room for improvement in the quality and timeliness of their insights. In other words, they see a need for transformation.

Perhaps this explains why more than 250 FP&A executives are expected to gather in San Diego Feb. 18-19 for the FP&A Innovation Summit.  Decision-makers in every industry are trying to get a fix on how they can implement data-driven planning and budgeting – the kind of continuous forecasting that ensures plans are always up to date and surprises are rare.

Fortunately, they’ll get a lot of answers at the FP&A Innovation Summit, where Tidemark is a sponsor. In addition to conference sessions on finance transformation, modern analytics, and breaking out of Excel hell, attendees can visit the Tidemark booth to see our modern planning and analytics applications can power their own unique transformation.  They’ll also hear how Cerner, a leader in healthcare software, jettisoned disjointed and manual spreadsheet planning in favor of Tidemark’s collaborative, cloud-native platform – with remarkable results.

If you’re attending the FP&A Innovation Summit, stop by and see us. And join the transformation conversation.

February 12, 2015

Fifty Shades of FP&A

Caroline Japic

Fifty Shades of FP&AThe CFO sits opposite me in the boardroom. Long shards of light slice through a bank of tall windows, illuminating half of his chiseled features and leaving the other half in darkness. He’s talking about the pain of old-school financial planning and analysis (FP&A), and he’s just getting to the good stuff.

“FP&A is a discipline for masochists.”

Oh my. Can I get a glass of water over here?

Of course, he’s right. There’s something uniquely torturous about the old way—even the not-so-old way—of planning, budgeting and forecasting. The CFO enumerates them and I listen because I can tell he’s been around.

This is what he says.

“Closings are painful and our old systems and disconnected Excel spreadsheets are cumbersome at best, and that’s what most companies are living with.  The whole process takes way too long, leaving you with no time to take care of your own needs. It’s a form of abuse that finance folks sign up for every 90 days.”

Makes sense. Tell me more.

“In most organizations, the factors that really drive a company’s business remain a mystery to the people in charge. It’s as if they’re wearing blindfolds and have to make decisions based on what they’re told. Can they trust that information? Are they just guessing? What happens to them if they guess wrong?”

I know, right? It’s enough to make you sweat.

“Traditional plans are largely built on backward-looking data, and because information always has a freshness date, that means much of your plan is built around obsolete information. So you set yourself up for some nasty surprises that sting the bottom line.”

Holy cow. I could listen to this guy all day.

“Some companies got themselves free from spreadsheets and they adopted actual FP&A platforms, but by now most of those are outdated and inflexible. They’re not designed to operate the way modern businesses do. So you have thousands of companies out there, bound by these old legacy platforms, struggling to get free. I’d like to help them.”

Beautiful.  So do I.

At this point the CFO starts talking about the real freedom of planning the way today’s businesses work, about collaborating and using real-time data to succeed in a real-time world. It all makes perfect sense and it’s exciting, and I find myself consumed with one thought only: Geez, if this is what the first Fifty Shades is like, how soon can I get my hands on the next Fifty?