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Key Challenges to Planning System Implementation

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FP&A
  • Published: 4/20/2020

finance IT

When implementing new planning systems, the common advice is to “know what you want” from the project. That may sound easy, but it is actually very difficult for companies to do because they do not know all the capabilities of new technology, or the potential to redesign processes.

During a FinNext Virtual Series roundtable last week, sponsored by QueBIT, a group of finance practitioners discussed their struggles to move up the technology ladder. They also weighed in on whether organizations are continuing implementations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

TECHNOLOGY CHALLENGES

The group candidly explained some of the key challenges to planning system implementation and how to overcome them. When it comes to “knowing what you want,” companies often work with consultants—some who are implementers and others who guide organizations through processes but are not implementers themselves.

  • Timing: Are practitioners thinking about short-term versus long-term needs? There is usually an immediate need the creates a short-term imperative, but finance should not sacrifice the long-term roadmap. Generally, an incremental deployment allows for learnings that can bridge the short/long-term divide.
  • User experience: One practitioner described his key needs as “ease of use” so individuals can back each other up, get started quickly and get up-to-speed quickly.
  • Departmental needs: The data required by one department will be different than another. If you default into bringing all data from all groups into a new system, you will slow your system to a crawl and heighten maintenance efforts. Modular design is helpful here.
  • Flexibility: Customization versus “modelization.”Choosing a tool that allows you to model your business allows the flexibility to adjust to changing business conditions quickly but should allow for easy upgrades. This is different than customizing underlying software code, which can result in time-consuming and expensive upgrades down the road.
  • Industry appropriateness: One practitioner used a consultant to wade through 18 different vendors; key early criteria included size, criteria below, and recommendation from people in a similar industry.

Understanding and modeling your data is critical. This seems simple, yet it was an underlying factor in each of the above points. Determine the level of aggregation, the location and the flows of your data. This will be an outcome from the above conversations (and others) about understanding what you want.

Beth Thomas, General Manager and Vice President of QueBIT Financial and Operational Performance Management, reflected on the conversation’s themes and advised that, while cost plays a factor in any business decision, going with the lowest price may not get the company to its vision of success. “Focus on a solution and partner that can help solve the business problem rather than features, functions and price. Think about what you are trying to achieve and keep this in the forefront as you choose the solution and partner,” she said.

IMPLEMENTATIONS IN THE CURRENT ENVIRONMENT

The greater question right now is whether companies are really going forward with new planning implementations during this COVID period.

Cathy Jirak, Principal and COO of QueBIT, noted that FP&A teams tend to fall in one of four groups:

  1. A small percentage of companies are stopping implementations as non-essential projects are frozen.
  2. Most practitioners that have projects “in flight” are continuing with them, although at a slower rate.
  3. Projects that have not begun may be delayed but seldom are canceled.
  4. Companies that are experiencing significant activity due to upticks in demand (e.g., certain CPG companies, pharmaceuticals, paper manufacturers, nursing managed service providers, etc.).

Separate from implementations, many companies are reaching out to their implementation partners for assistance in creating new scenarios/versions or modifying existing ones, as that has become the must-have tool/skill in our current environment.

For FP&A professionals, investments in new planning platforms historically has been difficult to support as they struggled to compete for funding against revenue-producing or information security projects. This current environment recasts these projects from “nice-to-have” tools to essential for risk management and agility.

The full agenda for the FinNext Virtual Series can be found here. And for further reading, download AFP’s two-part FP&A Guide to Implementing a Planning System.

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