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Why Have a General Ledger in a Budgeting Software?

A seemingly strange concept turns out to be a brilliant idea

At first this looks rather strange. A general ledger with both automated and manual journal entries capabilities is common place in all accounting software applications or in the ERP solution’s financial section. But why do they have that in a planning and budgeting software? After all, it’s not an accounting solution, there are no “real” transactions; all we are trying to do is project revenue and expenses and then monitor actual performance as communicated by the company’s financial statements and other reports against the agreed upon and management approved budget. Or is there something else going on?

I am referring here to Budget Maestro budgeting software by Centage Corporation (www.centage.com). A straight forward solution for SMB (small & medium size business) with built in business rules and logic where users never have to enter formulas or link worksheets together in the budget process. All this is great and really transforms the traditional, spreadsheet based process into a much more streamlined, more secure process and without the endless maintenance and troubleshooting of bad formulas and links so common with spreadsheets.

However, there is something else very important to consider. When you prepare your company’s annual budget or any other timeline based financial forecast, your primary goal is to propose to management, through the budget process while ultimately seeking approval, an anticipated company performance, communicated through reports. These usually consist of a forecasted P&L and maybe other financial reports, and some form of a cash flow projection. Very few budgets will also have a rudimentary balance sheet, almost always incomplete and rarely accurate.

Few finance professionals and managers would disagree that the forecasted Balance Sheet is a critical financial statement essential to understanding the future financial health of the organization and one greatly needed by management to make sound decisions.

However, the reason you usually don’t see a complete and accurate forecasted Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows is that you need a General Ledger (GL) to be able to compile these statements, and in my experience there is only one planning and budgeting solution that employs one (Budget Maestro).  Any actual accounting system keeps track of all account balances through both automated and manual journal entrees made in the GL.  This is how all account balances are maintained from period to period (Those Debits and Credits blog entry). Shouldn’t a budgeting solution use the same approach?

Anyone who claims they can do this accurately in a spreadsheet are underestimating the task at hand or simply mistaken. Your spreadsheets are not designed to accept journal entries from various areas in your budget. You cannot practically tell the spreadsheet to subtract a certain amount from the cash account balance when your fork lift operator in the Dallas regional distribution center got paid, or that your payroll tax liability just got higher due to that same paycheck. So you have to approximate or use other high level formulas (hoping there are no errors in them or bad assumptions, and that everything is linked together properly); a very bad idea.

On the other hand, having a GL that does all that tedious work, automatically in each budget period, taking into account every single attribute of every single budget item doesn’t sound like a bad idea anymore. In fact, those who use this approach think it’s a brilliant idea. I agree with that and hope that other software vendors in this space will adopt this GL approach. The way I see it, every organization deserves to benefit from their budget process using tools and reports that are identical in format and appearance to their actuals counterparts and using a similar workflow as their actual accounting process which means the budgeting software solution should always have a general ledger at its core (Budget Maestros Future Journal Entries).

The last day of the accounting period phenomenon

Is shipping on the last day of the month that important and at any cost?

In my work in management consulting in the areas of accounting and finance I get involved with many client companies’ financial statement preparation, disclosure work and internal control (plus internal audit in several of the larger companies). What is common to all of these companies, regardless of size and industry, is the fact that in the last few days of any accounting period there is this frenzy of activities, mostly shipping, with several of these companies stuffing trailers with products until midnight of the last day of the fiscal period.

What seems odd to me, although I perfectly understand the motivation behind this, is that all of that hard work in shipping and accounting on that long Friday (or Saturday) night will only result in these trailers being hauled away by the common carriers the following Monday. I always questioned the fact that this behavior does not really comply with GAAP rules as to me the earning process is not complete if these trailers are left in the rain or snow to sit there for more than 48 hours while the customers who ordered the products hidden in these containers have no idea that ownership had already been transferred to them.

Besides, If I am the seller who recognizes revenue on the last day of the month, it is implied that my customer must recognize the inventory in transit as well as a liability to me on the same day (which may or not be the last day of their accounting period). Is that what the customer really wants? Probably not, unless their requested ship date happens to fall on the last day of the seller’s accounting period.

Of course, this assumes that revenue recognition can take place when products are shipped and there are no other conditions that must be met (such as installation, or training and acceptance by customers, among other things) before the seller of the goods can include these amounts in gross revenue for the period.

While I have no problem endorsing the fact that a “for-profit” business must make every effort to maximize financial results and increase the value of shareholders’ equity, I question this type of behavior as it implies that in the first two or three weeks of each month there is no urgency to get things done, or to follow customer delivery request dates that are captured on company sales orders that drive the entire manufacturing process. If there are approximately 22 working days per month, shouldn’t manufacturing and especially shipping activities be spread more evenly across those days?

So now that these last minute shipments have made it into the trailers, I don’t think there will be much left to do on Monday, the start of a new accounting period, and we will need to wait for finished goods to appear on the shipping docks, once again late in the month, for this process to only repeat itself.

As for billing these shipments, unless the earning process is really complete, I would wait for that to happen, and who knows, this might increase the real sales in the following period. What do you think?

I realize that management puts pressure on operations to perform in order to deliver the forecasted (and desirable) financial results, but I think that more important is to follow a strategic plan, coupled with a solid budget and meaningful analysis year round, while focusing on customer demand (including following the very important customer requested delivery dates) and not just on “how much more can we get out the door before the clock strikes midnight”.

CFOs in the Spotlight

I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails from Proformative.com reminding me of the CFO Dimensions conference, held this year in New York City in Mid October and targeted at senior finance professionals from many industries. The focus of this year’s event, as listed on the Proformative.com website was: “The evolving role of technology and leadership in finance”, with the theme of this conference being “The CFO as Chief Future Officer”.

I didn’t plan on attending this event but can imagine that a good portion of the discussions was centered on why and how CFOs should pay careful attention to available data, using analytics, in order to arrive at reasonably accurate and reliable predictions of the future financial health of their organizations.

CFO Dimensions is just one recent example. There are many more activities, seminars, webinars, white papers and other information, mostly contributed through the Internet, informing readers of the important role CFOs have in leading their financial organizations and in partnering with their organizations’ CEOs and other executive management members, helping their companies navigate their charted course, at times through rough waters, but with confidence and decisiveness, only possible with access to and proper interpretation of reliable data.

I’ve been in finance and accounting for a long time now and don’t remember the use of the CFO title when I first started. In fact, none of the C-Suite titles, as they are known today, existed.  I was recently amused to learn about a technology company that had, in addition to its CEO, CFO, CTO, CIO and COO, also a Chief Talent Officer. I assume this is the head of Human Resources but not sure if it is also abbreviated CTO, or maybe CTO2?. The company also had a Chief Digital Officer (the Analog days must be over for good).

I suppose these C-Suite titles are only limited to one’s imagination, but there is an important message here: The creation of specific and defined organizational leadership roles in certain areas where the organization’s excellence as a whole is the combination of the levels of excellence of each of these areas with the “Chief” in charge defining and maintaining that excellence. The CFO’s office is such an area, arguably one of the most important in any organization.

I’ve been writing about the changing CFO role on this blog for a while now. The entries titled “CFO’s Revised Job Description“, “The Ideal CFO Skills”, “The CFO’s Big Picture” and “Why CFOs Need to Adopt Financial Analytics” are good examples and are reflections of the gradual change of the role from purely accounting to everything finance, accounting, reporting, legal and compliance. To that add HR and IT which also are starting to become the responsibility of the CFO and you’ll begin to realize how much a company is dependent on its CFO, his or her skills, experience and attitude toward the job.

As seen by our readers in prior blog entries, there is one area that CFOs must pay close attention to and do it continually and consistently: Analytics.

The information technology has advanced to a point that any data generated by the organization, in any areas of operation, plus all the data generated through the execution of a strategic plan, an operational plan and a budget, plus re-forecasting of that budget data, is available to be presented to the CFO in exactly the format and presentation style he or she desires. Now the CFO can have insight into past, present and the anticipated future performance of the company, and with that, also into the future financial health of the organization.

Modern day software solutions can provide such insight. Budget Maestro‘s Analytics solution, Analytics Maestro is such an application. By using and relying on such a solution, CFOs will certainly be in the spotlight.

Are you Still Forecasting Only your Revenue and Expenses? Part 2

Can you tell if the budget you just put together is achievable?

In part 1 of this series we saw why a forecasted Income Statement is insufficient when preparing a corporate plan and budget. In this installment we will learn how we can make this plan and budget complete and useful to management on all levels.

The real question is how to reliably and consistently forecast a Balance Sheet given all the difficulties associated with this task. By now I believe most readers of this blog realize that using a spreadsheet is the wrong approach to forecasting a Balance Sheet, see Forecasting a Balance Sheet in a Spreadsheet World. In fact, this effort will be futile, as many finance professionals have discovered. There are companies that have a rudimentary forecasted Balance Sheet done in a spreadsheet; however, all critical numbers are a rough approximation of budget period GL account balances, and should not be relied on.

Many dedicated planning and budgeting applications allow their users to construct a forecasted Balance Sheet, however, users are required to program formulas, functions and links just like in a regular spreadsheet, and the results are the same as what you would get from doing this in a spreadsheet application (e.g., Excel). It seems to me that allowing users to program their balance sheets was an afterthought by the designers of these planning and budgeting applications. The result here, however complex the model, will only show rough approximations of key account balances (e.g., Cash, A/R, A/P).

I’ve looked at many planning and budgeting software applications that claim to be a departure from spreadsheets. In many ways they are.  In other ways their functionality is just like using spreadsheets: Tedious and time consuming programming of formulas and links, troubleshooting of errors, and the inability to arrive at an accurate and complete set of future period financial statements.

There is one main reason why most planning and budgeting applications cannot deliver a complete and accurate Balance Sheet: They do not treat the budget as an extension of the actual accounting system into future periods and they cannot accomplish that due to design deficiencies. To be successful at delivering an accurate and complete Balance Sheet, the planning and budgeting solution must operate like an actual accounting system and have its own General Ledger and subsidiary ledgers (revenue, expenses, fixed assets, debt, equity, etc.).

This can only be accomplished by having the planning and budgeting software make journal entries in its own “General Ledger” in response to all budget line data that has accumulated from all business units. A more detailed explanation can be found here, Those Debits and Credits. This GL must be linked to the actual accounting GL and mirror its accounts.

With the forecasted Balance Sheet accounts updated in each budget period with debits and credits, automatically posted by the software and reflecting all activity as dictated by the budget, you consistently get a complete and accurate Balance sheet for each period defined in the budget. The Statement of Cash Flows will be just as accurate and complete since it is generated from the forecasted Balance Sheet and Income Statement.

When you work with Budget Maestro from Centage Corporation you realize why automatically obtaining forecasted Balance Sheet (and of course an Income Statement and a Statement of Cash Flows) is possible. It is the only software solution I am aware of that employs this future period automated journal entry approach to generating accurate and complete forecasted financial statements. And they do it by design and not as an afterthought.

Financial Planning & Analysis – Art or Science?

How technology reduces the “art” element in successful FP&A activities

This morning I received an e-mail from Proformative.com inviting me to a webinar titled “The Art (and some Science) of Great FP&A”.  I am glad to see a resurgence of such an important facet in any company’s finance department and the increasingly stronger endorsement of this function by executive management.

FP&A stands for Financial Planning and Analysis. This function is performed in the finance organization and consists of preparing financial plans and budgets based on strategic plans and historical data, gathering actual and current data and comparing with budgeted data and doing re-forecasting during the budget year. The analysis performed is used to provide upper management with information they need to make strategic and operational decisions.

Historically, and to a certain degree even today in many organizations, FP&A is only performed annually, during the so-called “Budget Season”, with little attention to analysis (the “A” in FP&A). There are several reasons for this:

a. The planning and budgeting processes are complex and very tedious. In the past, each iteration of the budget required an enormous amount of work to update data and correct newly discovered errors and omissions. By the time the budget was completed and approved, it was in many cases already obsolete.

b. The budget data had little or no correlation to the actual data. In fact, many budgets had a structure that did not tie directly to the actual accounting data structure; there was no 1 to 1 relationship between specific budget items and actual accounting general ledger accounts.

c. Due to existing technology, planning and budget data resided primarily in spreadsheets.  Eventually, this data found its way to more “purpose designed” applications, which initially borrowed from the spreadsheet model, albeit in a more robust database environment. The results were inaccurate, incomplete and often suffered from serious logical and computational errors stemming from the budget model as implemented using spreadsheets and other software.

The end result is often a budget that is not used for its intended purpose. Management does not get the benefit of having the insight into the company’s future financial health, due to the disconnect between the budget data and the actual results as produced by the accounting department. Often, bad business decisions are made, not supported by solid data, as intuition and prior experience, if available, play a major role in making these decisions, a risky behavior at best.

When true analysis is performed, all of the data used resides in the analysis module representing actual and budgeted data, with separate budget data for each version of the budget where applicable. The analysis system will then display the required data, either visually via graphs and charts or in tabular format, all of which can be printed or forwarded to a pre-defined distribution list.

The content and format of this data can be pre set according to management’s needs and for clarity, only the required data should be conveyed. In a properly set up environment, FP&A’s software solution is linked to the ERP software and data is automatically available as soon as an accounting period is closed. This allows the decision process to start sooner and since the data can include specific indicators about future period performance (e.g., forecasted financial ratios), management can make tactical and operational decision with greater confidence.

Today there is a lot more science and less art in FP&A activities. To me the “Art” in all this is having vision and recognizing what technology solutions are available and pairing the technology with company processes and existing systems. Once properly set up, the technology will do the rest, allowing FP&A to successfully do its job.

Why you Must Forecast your Balance Sheet – Part 2

It is not as hard as you think and the results will greatly justify the effort

In the first part of this series we saw why we need to be able to forecast our company’s balance sheet.  In this installment we will see examples of how a forecasted balance sheet is constructed and a software solution that allows its users to produce a forecasted Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows automatically from their budget data.

Here are a few examples:

Your sales on credit generate accounts receivable in the period products were shipped or services were provided.  The forecasted balance sheet (A/R balances, and Retained Earning – Current) needs to reflect that, taking into account all of your credit sales to all of your customers, at the right prices and the right terms.  Then forecasted cash and A/R must automatically reflect collections from these customers, according to forecasted payment terms, which may differ from customer to customer.

At the same time, your forecasted expenses on the P&L will require cash.  This cash will have to be disbursed according to forecasted purchases and their specific payment terms as dictated by suppliers. Your other cash disbursements to employees, taxes, purchases of assets and other expenses shown on your forecasted P&L will also need to be considered and shown on the forecasted balance sheet (and Statement of Cash Flows).

Only then, when you have your forecasted cash receipts and cash requirements (represented by the ending cash balance in each forecasted balance sheet period, as well as the output from a forecasted Statement of Cash Flows), will you know whether or not your plan and budget are feasible and what you need to do in order to prepare for execution of the plan.

Another example is projecting in advance whether or not you will be able to meet your loan covenants Make a Covenant to Properly Plan your Company’s Financial Future or being able to forecast any financial ratio during the planning and budgeting period Why Financial Ratios Should be part of Your Budget and Forecasts.  That alone is worth the effort of having a forecasted balance sheet.

The above example can be carried through to all other sections and elements of the balance sheet.  As in actual accounting, every forecasted activity that appears on the budgeted income statement, must automatically find its way to the forecasted balance sheet and from there, automatically contribute to the creation of a forecasted Statement of Cash Flows.

We saw how hard it is (actually impossible to do it right) to create and maintain a budgeted balance sheet in a set of spreadsheets. Similarly, it is as hard to create and maintain a meaningful balance sheet in most dedicated planning and budgeting applications that rely on user supplied formulas, functions, links or any other user programming.

For these reasons I am a great believer and supporter of Budget Maestro from Centage Corporation which is the only planning, budgeting and analysis solution I have seen so far where the balance sheet is automatically derived from the budget and is automatically maintained; it actually evolves in real time as the budget is built. The secret to this remarkable ability lies in the unique design of the software to behave like an actual accounting system for all future periods. This concept is described here Those Debit and Credits.

Not forecasting a complete balance sheet is a dangerous and risky proposition. I seriously question the validity of the entire process when the future financial health of the company cannot be forecasted.  Every organization that engages in building and maintaining a budget should have visibility into its future balance sheet. This balance sheet must be accurate and complete and above all, must automatically follow all budget input and pre-set business rules.  Not being able to do that due to lack of technology tools is no longer a valid excuse why this should not be done.

What Criteria do You Use to Select Your Planning, Budgeting and Analysis Software

Why the obvious solution may be your worst choice

About a year ago I was looking at various software solutions that assist companies with the planning, budgeting, forecasting and analysis processes. I was surprised to see how many choices were available, even in the SMB (Small & Medium Business) market. There was a mix of server based (on premises) and web based solutions and certain applications claimed to be suitable for larger enterprises. Cost of licensing, subscription and software renewal fees varied among the different products and labor and consulting fees to implement these systems also ranged from modest to very expensive.

What I also realized during this analysis was that the most common tool in corporate planning and budgeting is still the spreadsheet (more accurately a set of spreadsheets or workbooks). Microsoft Excel dominates this, and the level of sophistication ranges from simple revenue and expense worksheets with basic consolidations, to extremely intricate systems containing hundreds of workbooks and worksheets, linked together and having certain reporting capability.

I attribute use of spreadsheets for planning and budgeting to the early days of personal computers when dedicated budgeting software did not exist. Spreadsheets are also very common in the workplace and all finance and accounting personnel are familiar with them.

As dedicated software solutions became more available more and more finance managers and professionals began to realize that spreadsheets are not the right tool to use in these processes and for good reasons as explained in these blog posts: Replace Excel with a Dedicated Planning, Budgeting and Analysis Solution and Forecasting a Balance Sheet in a Spreadsheet World.

The strong arguments against use of spreadsheets are the main reason for the existence of dedicated, database-centered applications intended for implementation and maintenance of a corporate budget and analysis process. This approach has become quite popular even in smaller companies and there are a variety of applications available to choose from.

Unfortunately, in designing many of these budgeting software solutions, their designers, while doing away with use of traditional spreadsheets, and adding important security and workflow functions and controls, failed to realize that their users were still required to enter formulas, functions and links into their plan or budget models. In fact, many of the traditional drawbacks found in spreadsheets are also present in these budgeting software applications.

Those who implement these types of applications quickly discover that building and maintaining a budget is not much different than using a set of spreadsheets. The risk for errors creeping into the model is the same as in traditional spreadsheets; maintenance is just as hard, change management controls are mandatory and rather complex; adding drivers and allocations, and configuring the system to output even a rudimentary Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows requires much knowledge and experience, often resulting in significant consulting work, services gladly provided by the software vendors.

Fortunately, there is another approach, providing the best of both worlds: A complete departure from the spreadsheet environment, while allowing budget and finance managers to build a budget without using a single formula, function, macro or link. This approach employs built-in business logic and rules and the ability to employ an unlimited number of drivers, setup to suit the specific needs of every organization.

Of particular importance is the automatic system generation of all future period financial statements, including a Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows, besides an obvious P&L.

Examples and explanations of this approach can be found here: 10 Must Have Features of a Budgeting & BI Solution, Those Debits and Credits, or A Modular and Automated System for your Annual Budget Process.

It is good to know that there are several choices when it comes to selecting a planning and budgeting software application. It is, however, wise to realize that applications that seem natural for this function may not be the best choice and in the case of the most obvious solution, the spreadsheet, the worst possible one.

Are Financial Planning and Cash Processes High Priorities on Your List?

See what industry experts and companies’ finance executives think

I recently read the results of the 2015 Finance Priorities  survey conducted by the global business consulting and internal audit firm Protiviti which confirmed my observations and experience working with clients in a variety of industries. To quote the first three most important findings, which also represent the top priorities of finance executives:

1.       Finance functions are striving to gain greater visibility toward the “cash” horizon.

2.       Finance executives are placing more importance on strategic planning, risk management, executive dashboards, profitability analysis and other strategic areas of financial analysis.

3.      Finance functions want to manage and improve related processes in a comprehensive manner.  Strategic planning, budgeting and forecasting rank among the highest priorities in the entire study, which demonstrates as intent to strengthen overall corporate performance management.

This clearly confirms that corporate strategic and financial planning is not only essential but also greatly recognized as such by the 372 participants in this survey who are a good representation of finance executives and managers across many industry sectors.

The conclusion is that strategic planning, budgeting and analysis must be an integral process in finance, with its results clearly and timely communicated to executive management, the Board of Directors and certain shareholders.  I am encouraged that the survey participants have recognized this and correctly voiced their opinions.

As the number one finding in this survey indicates, Cash remains the most important component in finance.  It is cash that allows a company to grow and achieve its objectives, but also to survive in difficult economic times.  A company can be very profitable according to its income statement, yet suffer a chronic shortage in cash and lack the ability to meet its cash obligations or finance its basic operations.

As a business owner, CEO, CFO or finance executive, you must be able, at all times, to forecast the cash balance at each accounting period and how much cash will be required in each period in order to meet obligations arising from business expenditures, purchase of inventory, incurring payroll and related expenses, acquisition of assets, loan and line of credit payments and other cash related transactions.  The sources of cash are from customer account collections (AR), borrowings from lines of credit, issuing of long-term debt, selling shares in the company, and from sale of assets.

Since there are many accounting transactions affecting cash every day, its balance will fluctuate during the accounting period and over a period of time you will notice an upward or downward movement of this balance as measured at the end of each period.  Similarly, if you rely on a bank line of credit to finance your operations, you may have a zero balance in your operating account and your line of credit balance will fluctuate.

Whether it’s the cash balance, the line of credit account balance, or any long term loans, you need to know and well in advance what these balances are going to be and whether or not you will have access to this cash and how much.  This is part of a prudent and disciplined planning and budgeting process, every responsible finance organization should employ.

Those who use traditional methods to forecast cash and other budgeted data, by using spreadsheets with their inherent limitations and likelihood of errors, or perhaps, upgrading to a purpose designed planning and budgeting solution that requires users to perform extensive programming and provide formulas, functions and links, have discovered that cash planning and forecasting is not trivial.

The fact is that many organizations are not able to forecast cash, credit line utilization, loan covenants compliance and other key finance ratios and operational KPIs despite the fact they have implemented expensive and seemingly powerful software solutions.

My blog entry titled: “Cash Flow Statement: One of your Most Trusted Tool” demonstrates how the finance organization can obtain a complete and accurate Statement of Cash Flows for all budgeted accounting periods, using the existing planning and budget data.

The second and third findings of the Protiviti survey provide clear evidence that many finance organizations are still struggling with achieving timely and meaningful financial analysis, using both planned and actual data.  This implies that spending money and effort on sophisticated systems may not be the right solution if these systems fail to provide the required output or the outcome expressed as highly desirable in these top three survey findings.

Several of the blog entries on this site are focused on the importance of periodically planning and budgeting and continuously analyzing both actual and budgeted data; good examples are: Why CFOs Need to Adopt Financial Analytics” and A Physical and Mental Health Predictor? A Budgeting Analogy.

I continue to marvel at the accomplishments of Centage Corporation with its Budget Maestro with Analytics product line and have written about this solution and referenced it throughout this blog. The conclusion those familiar with this product must come to after reading the Protiviti survey results is that the Budget Maestro product line delivers and overcomes two of the most common challenges that finance organizations face:

1.      Providing a clear, accurate and complete visibility into the “cash horizon”.

2.      Allowing the construction of a strategic plan driving a financial plan, year after year, and real time analysis into the future, present and past Analysis of Everything.

Having these top priority challenges conquered is no trivial feat. I am glad that a sensible and effective software solution that does just that actually exists.

Why CFOs Need to Adopt Financial Analytics

And why they can’t continue to do their daily work without it

RK Paleru, Executive Director of the Systems, Analytics and & Insights Group at George Washington University recently authored the article “How can CFOs adopt Financial Analytics?”.  He touched on the reality facing the finance departments of so many organizations that are not adopting new technologies and therefore still relying on spreadsheets to deliver the results that support decision making.  While these departments know that these tools are flawed, they still continue to rely upon them.

In response to Paleru’s article, a great discussion ensued on Proformative’s website.  One member commented that accounting and finance departments are so wrapped up in the close process, financial statement consolidations, financial reporting generation and compliance activities, that there is hardly enough time to devote to analytics, especially with the inadequate tools many of these organizations possess.  I tried to reinforce the notion that upper management (the CEO, CFO and certain other management team members) must have timely, accurate and complete data in order to be able to make reasonably informed business decisions.  In addition, major changes have to be made in order for management teams to be able to see and understand their company data immediately, as actual data becomes available and in conjunction with existing and updated planning, budgeting and forecasting data.

My general observation is that many existing planning and analytics software solutions do not provide CFOs the data they need.  This is due to the fact that the majority of the software solutions today cannot produce accurate and complete future period financial statements, and especially the Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows.

This is why I am excited by a new generation of Planning, Budgeting and Analytics software which I call:  “SmartBudget Driven Future Period Financial Statements and Analytics”.  I’m sure this definition will be refined as this software category matures but for right now the essence of it is:

Generating future period financial statements and other reports, driven by a smart budget, prepared using built-in drivers and system pre-defined business rules, automatically consolidated across the enterprise that provides the CFO (and the CEO) with the insight into the future financial health of their organization.

Using this type of software, all the traditional potential errors and omissions are completely eliminated or greatly reduced due to the fact that no spreadsheets are employed in this process and users are never asked to provide formulas, functions, links, macros or any other programming.

The software should also perform analytics in particular areas of interest such as sales and expenditures and respond to any other custom requirements the organization might have.

Another desirable feature is the ability to “drill back” into the source GL containing the actual accounting period results.  By pulling in any required detail data from the GL (as detailed as actual transactions, if the ERP software GL is set up to post into in detail), the analyst can examine specific variances and anomalies, not visible on the summary level.  The root cause of these variances or anomalies can be investigated and any found issues can be quickly remediated.  The CFO, equipped with this information will have the opportunity to make process changes, or make timely and informed decisions.

Analytics Maestro, used in conjunction with Budget Maestro can provide:

  • Sales analytics, using both actual and budgeted data
  • Expenditure analytics
  • Future period Balance Sheet for each budget period
  • Future period Income Statement for each budget period
  • Future period Statement of Cash Flows for each budget period
  • Many other specific reports, tailored to the company’s needs

The future period financial statements can be consolidated or filtered by any entity or level in the enterprise entity hierarchy.

With this data, CFOs can have a pretty good idea of what the financial health of the company is going to look like.  They can see the predicted cash balance, receivables, inventory, payables and other liabilities.  They can easily obtain forecasted future financial ratios determine whether the company will comply with loan covenants whether or not it will be able to utilize its credit lines, whether or not it will be able to retire debt and other obligations in future periods and more.

By using a software like Budget Maestro, CFOs can have a pretty good idea of what the financial health of the company is going to look like.  A CFO can perform his or her job with peak performance when relying on intelligent data in real time.  Not relying on analytics can be a costly mistake. Luckily, there is a new technology available that can change all that.

The CFO’s Revised Job Description

How the CFO’s position is evolving and why IT must be his or her responsibility

Tradition dictates that a CFO is someone tasked with managing all finance and accounting functions.  I remember not too long ago that one often had to be a Certified Public Accountant to be considered for the job.  That has all changed in the last 15 or so years.

The CFO position, which still stands for “Chief Financial Officer” (although I have heard references to “Chief Future Officer” and a couple more I can’t remember) has a different scope and meaning these days.

A while ago I wrote a blog article titled “CFO’s Big Picture”  about how the CFO can leverage available data and technology to help the management team steer the organization on its planned course, minimizing costly mistakes that frequently occur due to lack of data, bad data, or often ill-timed data.

I recently read an article on TechTarget, titled  “Should the CFO sit at the top of the IT Reporting Structure?” authored by Rob Livingstone of Rob Livingstone Advisory.  In this article, the author explores why IT departments in many organizations still report to finance and not directly to the CFO.  His conclusion is that in organizations where IT systems and technology are critical to the daily operation of the business and are pervasive throughout the company, IT reporting to finance may no longer be appropriate.

My observation is that Information Technology is rapidly becoming the backbone of nearly every organization, regardless of industry, company size, company culture, or geographic location.  I don’t know of many business transactions, marketing activities, sales operations, manufacturing, or inventory and product fulfillment that do not involve IT.   In fact, turn the IT infrastructure off and you will paralyze even the smallest company.

Since Information Technology can be innovative (when allowed by management and properly managed) and is crucial to the success of any organization, it is upper management that must be directly responsible for this function and the CFO is the position it must report to, and in my opinion not just in companies where IT is pervasive.

Areas such as Planning and Budgeting, Business Performance Management / Business Intelligence, Enterprise Resource Planning, Manufacturing Automation, Advanced Planning and Scheduling, Supply Chain Management, Human Resources and several others are now 100% dependent on Information Technology.

It is the CFO who should, through vision and a close partnership with the CEO, define the IT policy and drive the organization to excellence through embracing the right technologies and solutions to closely match the organization’s needs.