Why There Is a Need for More Speed in Finance

  • By Tom Peff
  • Published: 7/10/2017

Speed is at least half of the equation when it comes to corporate agility, and yet is seemingly underrated in its effect on corporate decision-making. At least that’s what some CFOs appear to be telling us. According to a recent survey of over 270 global CFOs, many believe their teams are agile enough for today’s economic environment, yet 77 percent of them also admit that major business decisions have been delayed due to a lack of timely access to data. Can there really be agility without speed?

Delayed for takeoff

As organizations make major business decisions around such things as capital expenditures, resource allocations, and other investments, they increasingly want access to a growing number of data points—from financial to operational and even competitive data—before pulling the trigger on any major project. With 57 percent of CFOs saying their board or CEO asks for competitive benchmarking data as part of their reporting, it is clear that stakeholders don’t just want a view of their own business, but their place in the industry.

With many CFOs fulfilling a dual role as chief data officer, they can smoothly pilot their organizations through the good times and the bad, but only if they figure out a way to manage this growing mountain of data without increasing the amount of time it takes to report on it and plan using it. To do that, however, will require them to overcome the well-documented challenges with reporting and data-gathering.

Alarmingly, CFOs estimate that over half (53 percent) of their teams’ time is spent on these two tasks alone, leaving little time for the value-added analysis needed to successfully chart a future course. And despite this time sink, they aren’t meeting their speed goals with respect to reporting or ad hoc analysis. Fully 47 percent of CFOs say it takes 11 days or more to get reports into the hands of stakeholders—a task which 56 percent would like to shrink to less than five days. Similarly, the majority (60 percent) of CFOs estimate that ad hoc analysis, such as running a new scenario for the forecast, takes up to five days. CFOs would like to shrink this time to no more than a day.

There can be no denying how critical scenario planning is to agility, as the consideration of multiple “what if” scenarios gives organizations a better shot at avoiding the knee jerk reactions that can negatively impact corporate sustainability and impede growth.

Accelerating time to decisions

When it comes to improving agility, CFOs identify analytics as key to their success and intend to invest in new technologies to bridge the speed gap. By 2020, 45 percent of CFOs say they will invest in dashboard and analytics technologies, followed closely by budgeting and forecasting tools (40 percent). This seems to underscore the desire by most businesses to stop looking back and start looking forward, charting multiple flight paths as they go.

But before taking off, CFOs really need to take a holistic approach to their financial planning and analysis (FP&A) solutions. Continuing to invest in legacy on-premises solutions, or disconnected point solutions that don’t enable cross-functional collaboration and data aggregation, will leave the FP&A function mired in a data fog that keeps them grounded.

Key to finance’s success will be the adoption of an end-to-end cloud corporate performance management (CPM) system that can be easily integrated with operational data platforms to support continuous, comprehensive, and collaborative planning practices—practices that enable thorough scenario analysis and the ability to explore every possible outcome. In doing so, they can accelerate the pace of finance, piloting their organizations to and through turbulent times.

Tom Peff is finance director for Adaptive Insights.

For more insights, survey results, and charts based on input from the 271 global CFOs in Adaptive Insight’s latest survey, download the CFO Indicator Q1 2017 Report here.

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