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?

February 2, 2015

Insights Into the Value of Better Business Planning

Nick Ochoa

Business PlanningBusiness planning today is a largely disjointed affair. Most plans are built in relative isolation, with little or no direct input from other parts of the enterprise. Yet organizations that engage in integrated, collaborative business planning tend to produce plans that remain relevant throughout the planning period.

These are some of the intriguing findings in “Next-Generation Business Planning: Utilizing Information and Technology to Improve the Planning Process,” a new benchmark research study from Ventana Research. The report, whose complimentary key insights report is available here, outlines a series of insights culled from surveys of 261 executives and senior managers at companies of all sizes.  Ventana asked respondents to assess how well their organization executes 11 types of business planning across various competencies, including plan accuracy, the ability to drill down to view underlying details, and the use of what-if scenarios. The report also considers how next-generation business planning solutions, including the use of mobile technologies, are impacting corporate planning.

Among the many insights shared in the Ventana report:

  • The most robust plans are produced by organizations whose various planning processes — such as capital planning, sales forecasting and workforce planning – are linked to one another and to the overall budget.  When plans are linked, changes to one automatically are reflected in others.
  • Plan accuracy is crucial, yet fewer than half of those surveyed say their plans are accurate or very accurate. Accuracy grows when planning processes are managed well; in fact, four out of five respondents who rate their plans as accurate or very accurate report that their organizations carefully and efficiently manage the planning process.
  • Virtually all companies that use advanced analytics extensively throughout the entire organization report they have accurate or very accurate plans.  Even in the face of this success, four out of five companies aren’t using advanced analytics extensively in their planning processes.
  • Most companies use spreadsheets for planning, though half of executives surveyed say spreadsheets make planning more difficult. Even after excluding small businesses, seven of 10 organizations surveyed still use spreadsheets for a wide range of business planning.
  • A variety of process and technology obstacles, including the limitations of traditional planning platforms, are keeping half of all organizations from truly understanding the impact their plans have on the business, with just 14 percent saying they can accurately measure that impact. But two-thirds report that a dedicated planning solution that’s easy to use can help decision-makers throughout the company understand how plans impact their departments.
  • While nearly two-thirds of those surveyed recognize the productivity advantages from using mobile devices to access planning platforms, just as many report they have limited or no mobile planning capabilities.

The Ventana report spotlights another important theme, one that may be familiar to Tidemark customers: Decision-makers recognize how collaboration is necessary for fully identifying risks and developing plans with realistic goals. In fact, 85 percent of respondents who say their organization collaborates effectively also say they do a good job managing the planning process. So it follows that planning collaboratively can produce a competitive advantage. Yet since only half of organizations surveyed say they plan collaboratively, the report should serve as a motivator for business leaders to seek out planning platforms built for collaboration – as an integral feature, not an add-on.

For a glimpse at how one company has transformed its own culture to make planning a participation sport, be sure to check out our complimentary replay of a recent CFO.com webcast sponsored by Tidemark and featuring Kimberly Gerard, senior director of financial planning and analysis at healthcare software innovator Cerner, and Colby Moosman, Tidemark’s vice president of finance and operations.

Meanwhile, you can get a feel for how your planning processes compare to those surveyed by Ventana Research for “Next-Generation Business Planning: Utilizing Information and Technology to Improve the Planning Process.” Download the key insights today, and start planning your next move.

January 29, 2015

Be Creative, Then Rigorous

Caroline Japic

In a recent Harvard Business Review webinar hosted by Tidemark, Roger Martin, the influential dean of the Rotman School of Management, presented some fascinating insights on how businesses can build and execute a winning strategy.  Since then we’ve seen tremendous demand for viewings of the webinar replay and the executive summary authored by Martin, who co-wrote the award-winning Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works.

If you’re trying to figure out what’s next for your company – or if you just want to examine whether the strategy you’re following is sound – I urge you to view the replay and read the summary. Both are complimentary, and both are very much worth your time.

In each, Martin describes the fundamental best practices for developing and implementing any strategy. Procter & Gamble, for instance, used these best practices to successfully broaden the market for P&G’s Oil of Olay skin crème products.  Best of all, the Playing to Win methodology is applicable to any company, of any size, in any industry, and at any stage of development. The fundamentals of strategy development may always be the same, but they are easily applied to unique circumstances and the particular choices every business leader makes along the way.

Strategic Choice MakingWhen I consider how the Playing to Win methodology applies to the experience of the companies we work with, I immediately zero in on Martin’s assertion that “making a successful strategy combines rigor and creativity.” At first, it seems like a strange combination. Wouldn’t one cancel out the other? Isn’t rigor the enemy of creativity?

Not at all, says Martin. They work hand in hand. “Strategy should be creative and scientific,” he writes in the summary. “Effective strategy development involves generating and testing hypotheses.”  In other words, you’ll need your creative juices flowing to conjure up new ideas and directions for your business, but you’ll need to exercise rigor to assess these potential avenues accurately and execute them effectively.

We see this every day from Tidemark customers. These companies are using our flexible platform to model a wide range of what-if scenarios that might define their future direction. Then they set the parameters, or conditions, that must be met for the strategy to succeed. Using predictive business analytics, they can test those assumptions against real-world data culled from dozens of sources. And then, once they make their strategic choice, they can monitor and measure key indicators of their performance to determine if they’re executing their strategy successfully.

Creativity and rigor. They really do go hand in hand. Want to learn more? View the replay and download the summary, and find out how you can make the strategic choices that will shape the future of your business.