Budgeting is an interesting topic to discuss in the greater context of planning, forecasting, and decision-making in the 21st century. Corporate financial budgeting (as we know it) was born in the Age of Jazz, when flappers and sheiks ruled supreme.
By the time of the Vietnam War and the Great Society, budgets had become fixed performance agreements between management and staff, where budgets were primarily focused on predicting future revenue and disbursements. In time, budgets became the key drivers and evaluators of performance, the key fundamentals for an organization’s planning and control and the tool to put into practice agreed-upon strategies.
Fast-forward to today. The corporate budgeting process is most identified with the famous observation made by Jack Welch in his book Winning:
It [the corporate budgeting process] sucks the energy, time, fun, and big dreams out of an organization. It hides opportunity and stunts growth. It brings out the most unproductive behaviors in an organization, from sandbagging to settling for mediocrity.
Or, as I prefer:
Never base your budget requests on realistic assumptions, as this could lead to a decrease in your funding.” – Scott Adams, Dilbert
There are three major complaints about the traditional budgeting process:
1. It takes a long time, costs too much, and consumes too many corporate resources.
2. It’s fixed and inflexible, and can quickly become irrelevant.
3. Most companies tie executive and employee compensation directly to performance against the budget.
Budgets May Not Be Going Away
Although traditional budgeting has met with intense criticism, it is still universally used, and it seems that most companies do not have plans of abandoning it. Therefore, organizations can embrace technology to ease the pain and increase productivity.
For example, with automation, organizations can leverage access to new data to help project and predict how the business will perform. Inaccuracy can kill most budgets before the ink is dry on the paper, and relying on the wrong data will lead to poor decision-making. It’s as simple as this: Bad data leads to bad insights, which lead to bad knowledge, which leads to bad business decisions.
Organizations currently spend too much time on data accumulation, verification, and reconciliation. This is simply lost time, money, and resources. Organizations should be focusing their efforts on improving business processes, spotting opportunities, and contributing to strategy, not bean counting.
By leveraging the right technology, FP&A teams can free up more of their time to do what they really should be spending their time on: supporting their business partners to run their businesses better.
Using tools that can not only pull data (including real-time actuals from a multitude of sources), but can also apply business logic and rules, will take budgeting to a higher, more useful level. With so much data available – data is now basically free, immediate, and unlimited – FP&A teams should have the tools to be able to reforecast and run what-if scenarios in real time. This will allow organizations to become more agile and react to changes (both positive and negative) more quickly.
Organizations are increasingly understanding the importance of operating in a much more integrated and collaborative manner. By leveraging the sophisticated technology we have today, organizations can cut across silos in business units and data sources to make accessible what was once inaccessible. Now reports can be generated in real time and shared across departments all over the world, moving us closer to our ultimate goal, “SVOT” – a single version of the truth.
But Technology Can Make the Process a Lot Easier
Technology can provide decision-makers with real-time insights in more direct forms of communication to help remove more of the guesswork and highlight more of the information that really matters.
For most companies, budgets aren’t going away. But we can utilize the technological tools and processes available today to automate a great deal of the mundane, low-value activities, and free up our FP&A teams to provide the insights and foresight to truly enable our business partners and organizations to thrive.
I hope you will be able to join us to discuss forecasting, planning, and budgeting at one of the many upcoming FP&A events SAP will be hosting over the next several months, including the Financials 2018 in Las Vegas in February 2018, and Centric Financials in Dallas/Ft. Worth in March 2018.
Brian is Founder and Principal at Kalish Consulting. He is Former Executive Director – Global FP&A Practice at AFP. He has over 20 years of experience in Finance, FP&A, Treasury and Investor Relations. He previously held a number of treasury and finance positions with the FHLB, Washington Mutual/JP Morgan, NRUCFC, Fifth Third and Fannie Mae. He has spoken all over the world to audiences both large and small hosting FP&A Roundtable meetings in North America, Europe, Asia and soon South America. Brian attended Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, GA for his undergraduate studies in Business and the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech for his graduate work. In 2014, Brian was awarded the Global Certified Corporate FP&A Professional designation.