Tag Archives: CFO’s

Don’t Deprive your Company Management of Meaningful Financial Information

Why you must make sure financial information is periodically, timely and properly communicated to those who really need it 

There are many blog posts here that focus on how important accurate and complete data is in assessing the financial health of any organization, past, present and future. I’ve also written on more than several occasions on how critical it is to employ the right tools in analyzing financial data spanning historical periods, the current fiscal year and all future periods presented through a plan and budget.

All these data, when correctly used, can provide insight into the company’s performance and even project the financial direction it is headed in and influence the decisions that management must make along the way, such as:

  • Will the company be able to continue and sustain its growth (given that marketing and sales opportunities are executed according to plan)? Are specific changes needed to achieve that?
  • Will it have the cash required for this growth? Will it require additional financing? When? In what amount?
  • What additional employees are going to be needed? In what departments? When?

Or conversely:

  • Will the company have to restructure its operations anticipating a downturn in the economy? Will the workforce have to be reduced? How? When?
  • Will new financing be required in order to be able to weather this economic downturn?
  • Will selling of certain assets be required? When?
  • Is the company facing new competition? Will it need to change its strategic and operational plans?

There is little doubt that such important decisions must be supported by reliable facts; this is true both personally and in business. Simply relying just on experience, intuition or speculation usually does not work. We all see how even large organizations make poor choices and decisions (this is usually discovered months and sometimes years later). We witness badly executed acquisitions (or acquisitions that should not have been made in the first place) and expansions into new product lines and new territories without proper research and analysis of existing data and business intelligence. We observe decisions that were not based on facts or reliable data, or due to inability to properly read and understand that data because of lack of a structured analytics process or poorly chosen tools for this job.

Yet finance executives and professionals are tasked with providing management with this needed information, delivering presentations that are both complete and accurate and also easy to understand.

I’ve seen organizations that had the need and opportunity to set up financial tools that would achieve analysis and reporting excellence, but decided not to. They were simply too wrapped up in their daily work, period end closes and delivery of internal and external reporting. Added to that was tradition and taking the path of least resistance which was often doing the same thing they have always done and were comfortable doing.

This is when finance leadership, driven by a progressive CFO, Why CFOs Need to Adopt Financial Analytics) can make a tremendous difference. They must break the old pattern of doing what they have always done, usually limited to collecting and compiling budget data only pertaining to revenue and expense items, while frequently not even comparing it to actual results and certainly not in a timely manner. A much more progressive approach, which surprisingly does not take more time or resources to complete, yet affords management the right information they need: Why you Must Forecast your Balance Sheet Part 1 and Part 2, every accounting period and in concert with actual accounting results for each closed period and immediately after each close.

When company CEO’s are measured by their organizations’ results and often are replaced when expectations are not met, it is vital that those who lead the organization are given the best possible view of their organizations’ performance, through meaningful reports and presentations obtained from a comprehensive data delivery system, Analysis of Everything that draws from past, present and future (forecasted) data. With a proper system setup, there is no reason why company managements should be deprived of critical information needed for them to successfully lead their organizations.

Head in the clouds

Get Your Head in the Cloud

An easier approach to budgeting, planning, and forecasting

I recently started using Microsoft Office 365 with both on-premises and web based versions and cloud storage of data, accessible from any computer, anywhere as if the data were stored locally. I must say that after a few days and as my skepticism subsided I began to really like this approach (I have been exposed to web-based software solutions for several years now but only in large corporate environments). My experience with certain web based software applications was far from pleasant and with the not very intuitive user interface where hundreds or even thousands of menu items and options were scattered across many web pages I constantly ran into a serious navigation challenge each time I was logged into these applications.

When I found out that Centage Corporation was offering a Cloud version of Budget Maestro I decided to try it. I was assured that the user interface was identical to the desktop version, and all I needed was an Internet connection. I was sent an e-mail with the download link of the VMWare Client which I had to install on my desktop computer, or any device I wanted to be able to access Budget Maestro from. I downloaded the file and installed the VMWare client and within minutes I had access to the latest version of Budget Maestro that looked very familiar and ready to go.

Then, with a simple copy and paste function I moved all my plan files to the directory I chose on the network and from there I was able to restore each plan into Budget Maestro (Cloud Version). This whole process was easy as all I had to do was copy files in a familiar environment.

Then I installed the VMWare client on an additional computer, my MacBook Pro. Same great experience as before. This time I didn’t have to copy any plan files since everything was already there. Within minutes I was up and running.

Today, when I started Budget Maestro (Cloud Version) I had a pleasant surprise. I was prompted that my plan version was older than the application and whether I wanted the program to upgrade my plan file in order to make it compatible with the latest maintenance release of Budget Maestro. I replied with a yes and within a few seconds my plan was upgraded and I was able to enter it. I confirmed that the cloud version was higher than my desktop one and realized how great it is to always work with the latest release and have my data files always compatible with this release. Now I have to download the latest version to my desktop computer and reinstall the software, a slight inconvenience.

My next endeavor will be installing the client application on a tablet and maybe on my phone, although I can only imagine that using a phone to access Budget Maestro is mainly meant for viewing data and not for serious data entry and editing.

It’s been over a month now and I can’t speak highly enough of this software solution’s delivery method. Now I have the latest version of Budget Maestro always there and one set of data files – always the most recent versions. The user interface is identical to the desktop version – nothing new to learn. There are no IT issues to be concerned with and access is available globally, anywhere there is an Internet connection. I also verified that the software works great with slower Internet connections (lower bandwidth) which is occasionally the case when I travel.

Is It Time to Switch from Spreadsheets to Business Budgeting Software?

Spreadsheets are common in the workplace and are the most used tool for preparing corporate budgets and forecasts mainly in small enterprises, but surprisingly also in larger organizations. With their familiar user interface, low cost of ownership and readily available functions and a powerful formula builder among the many tools these spreadsheets comprise, it is very tempting to use spreadsheets in the planning and budgeting process. This, however, becomes an increasingly more difficult task as companies grow larger, with more complex operations, more product and service lines, as well as more sophisticated reporting needs. CFOs and other finance executives and professionals soon discover that spreadsheets are not the right tool to use in this process for several compelling reasons. Among them are the inability to effectively scale the model without major redesign, the high risk of errors and omissions and of course the inability to generate complete and accurate financial statements such as a Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows. More and more CFOs are starting to realize that and switch to a software-based business budgeting solution.

Your Company Involves Many Departments

Even small and medium size organizations have multiple departments and often several or more locations, with distinct product or service lines, often organized in dozens or more business entities, departments and cost centers. Each reporting entity is expected to propose and maintain its own management approved budget, while a consolidation of all the individual budgets is performed in the finance organization according to the company hierarchy. This cannot be reasonably accomplished with a spreadsheet due to the numerous individual worksheets and workbooks linked together to accomplish the consolidation. As many finance professionals have experienced, the slightest change to any of these worksheets can wreak havoc in the budget consolidation, requiring tedious troubleshooting and repair of broken links, displaced formulas and functions and dealing with other issues. This can bring the entire budget process to a halt, usually when there is a process completion deadline on the near horizon.

Collaboration Requires Dealing with Multiple Time Zones

With different reporting entities located in different parts of the country or even in different foreign countries it becomes apparent that a centralized database must be used in conjunction with a dedicated planning and budgeting solution. Reliance on a spreadsheet is no longer an option even if there are only a few persons involved with accessing the data files.

Maintaining a Single Production Version

Maintaining document control for spreadsheets is a difficult task in any corporate environment even if there are only a few users of the master budget set of spreadsheet files. It is common to find that multiple persons are working on multiple versions of the same spreadsheet while there is no one file containing the latest data. It is much more preferable to use a database application to perform the planning and budgeting functions.  Purpose designed planning and budgeting applications can allow many users in many reporting entities to be in the same database while simultaneously update data. Review and approval of the budget by finance management is done using one set of data which is always the most current version.

Exceedingly Large Revenue and Expense Budget Lines

As companies grow their accounting and reporting needs become increasingly more sophisticated. An increase in the number of revenue and expense accounts usually dictates a similar increase in the number of revenue, cost and operating expense budget lines. Organizing a large number of budget lines across multiple reporting entities makes the use of spreadsheets impractical. The purpose designed budgeting software with its dedicated database can naturally hold and maintain a much larger amount of data with division of data into logical and functional modules such as revenue and cost, operating expenses, fixed assets, personnel, liabilities and others.

International Operations

International operations add additional challenges when using spreadsheets to create and maintain corporate budgets. One obvious challenge is maintaining and calculating currency translations from local currencies to the functional currency of the consolidated budget. This can be much easier handled in a corporate planning and budgeting software solution where all local currencies are defined and can easily be maintained as they change during the budget preparation period as well as during the forecast period. Other challenges such as multiple time zones, many reporting entities and large and increasing budget lines were mentioned above.

Numerous Product Offerings and Locations

The greater the number of company locations, divisions, departments and overall reporting entries, coupled with a large and increasing number of product or service lines the more difficult it becomes to prepare and maintain a corporate budget in a spreadsheet or a set of spreadsheets. This is a perfect example where finance executives must look for a dedicated budgeting solution with an underlying database, where multiple product lines, across multiple locations, and other data dimensions can be reliably set up and maintained without the worry of constantly updating and troubleshooting spreadsheets.

Government Regulators to Report to?

When a company is required to undergo an annual audit of its internal controls, end-user computing is one of the topics external auditors examine for proper design and effectiveness. Spreadsheets rarely have an internal control framework mitigating the inherit risks that they present. A change management process, as applies these spreadsheets, is very rare and often doesn’t exist which implies that the results produced by these spreadsheets cannot and should not be relied on. A dedicated planning, budgeting and analysis software solution with its built-in logic and pre-defined options and calculations is a much more robust alternative to the use of spreadsheets in this process.

Using business budgeting software such as Budget Maestro™ is inevitable as your business grows. The only question remaining is, how soon?

 Businesses of every description rely on the Budget Maestro™ family of software solutions by Centage Corporation to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their business budgeting and planningfinancial forecastingfinancial consolidation and reporting processes. For more information, take a tour of Budget Maestrocontact Centage, or call 800-366-5111 now.

You Should Not Rely on Spreadsheets for Cash Flow Forecasts

Finance executives and professionals must rely on purpose-designed planning, budgeting and analysis software solutions that will deliver complete and accurate forecasted financial statements for all budgeted period. Use of spreadsheets or pure guessing of anticipated future results can never deliver this level of completeness and accuracy and any cash flow projections done in this manner will be a gross estimate that should not be relied on.

How is Cash Flow Affected When Your Company Records Revenue and Expenses?

Most companies use the accrual method of accounting. This means that all revenue is recorded in the period it was earned and all expenses are recorded in the period they were incurred. Both activities, however, do not usually coincide with cash receipts and cash disbursements due to varying payment terms extended to customers and received from suppliers. These can be 30, 60 or even 90 days and each customer or supplier may have different payment terms. This makes cash flow projections very difficult and actually impossible to implement. Use of spreadsheets for cash flow projections will typically produce results that are grossly inaccurate. The solution is to employ a planning and budgeting software application that has all the business logic built in where all payments and cash receipts are automatically applied in the correct budget periods. This will help generate a much more complete picture of all future cash receipts and cash disbursements.  The generated forecasted Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows will allow finance executives and professional to evaluate future cash requirements or cash surplus.

Inventory and its Effect on Cash Flow Forecasting

Inventory purchases often represent the highest cash outflow in many businesses. Forecasting cash needed for inventory purchases can be a daunting task unless proper planning and budgeting tools are used. Each forecasted sales transaction will affect inventory levels and require the purchase (or making) of additional inventory, affecting the forecasting of cash needs. Sale of inventory will also create a future in-flow of cash that must be part of the cash flow analysis built into the planning and budgeting process.

Formulas, Functions and Links

Formulas, functions, links and other user programming done in a spreadsheet environment often results in undetected errors, broken links and other programming issues that can have an adverse effect on the integrity and accuracy of the work performed. Maintaining large and complex spreadsheet files used in corporate planning, budgeting, and especially scaling the models is often an exercise in futility. Cash flow forecasts that rely on these spreadsheets are usually unreliable, grossly inaccurate and can seriously mislead management into making wrong tactical and operational decisions.

Forecast as an Extension of Actual Period Accounting

Similar to financial statements of past accounting periods, a properly prepared plan and budget should  also include a Balance Sheet and a Statement of Cash Flows, in additional to the commonly seen forecasted Income Statement. Using a software solution (either In the Cloud or On Premises) that was specifically designed to be an extension of an organization’s actual accounting system will allow company managements to gain visibility into their organizations’ future financial health.

Don’t guess with spreadsheets. Upgrade to business budgeting software such as Budget Maestro™ instead.

Businesses of every description rely on the Budget Maestro™ family of software solutions by Centage Corporation to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their business budgeting and planningfinancial forecastingfinancial consolidation and reporting processes. For more information, take a tour of Budget Maestrocontact Centage, or call 800-366-5111 now.

Replace Excel with a Dedicated Planning, Budgeting and Analysis Solution

But make sure that moving away from spreadsheets doesn’t land you back in the same spot.

I read a recent article on TechTarget.com titled “How to know when it’s time to dump Excel for BP&F software”, authored by Linda Rosencrance. It lists and explains seven distinct signs showing that it is a good idea to move away from spreadsheets to a more robust and dedicated planning, budgeting and analysis solution.

The seven compelling points mentioned in this article should be enough to convince any person who is responsible for developing and maintaining a corporate budget that other, much better tools exist for use in this important process. Finance management should also recognize the drawbacks inherent in a spreadsheet-based process and push for an immediate change.

In recent years I’ve seen many organizations of various sizes make the transition. I’m also seeing an interesting phenomenon developing:  While the change away from spreadsheets is fundamentally good and meant to result in positive benefits to many individuals and several finance functions in the company, there are solutions on the market today that, in my opinion, entirely missed the point of developing a non-spreadsheet, dedicated planning, budgeting and BI software application.

On the surface it seems that moving the application into a database environment is the right thing to do; however, beneath the surface there seems to be something very obvious:  Users are still required to design and place formulas, functions and links in various places in the application in order to build a model and get meaningful results. In a sense, this is quite similar to working in a spreadsheet-based environment with its many pitfalls and shortcomings, some of which are:

  1. Substantial programming of formulas and links, with or without the help of outside consulting. Inevitable introduction of programming and formula errors into the model.
  2. Complex and cumbersome maintenance of the model, especially if there are changes to the business (e.g., new product lines, locations, mergers and acquisitions).
  3. Systemic and comprehensive internal control environment (change management) must be maintained in order to mitigate risks inherent in use of formulas, functions and links in spreadsheets used for financial applications. This is unlikely to exist even in larger organizations.
  4. Costly implementation, considering substantial outside consulting and company employees’ time.

For the reasons mentioned above I always encourage users to fully evaluate the different options they have once the decision to move away from a spreadsheet method has been made. Just moving away from spreadsheets may be very compelling for the seven reasons given in the referenced article, but unless the alternative is carefully researched, companies may find themselves in the same situation they were trying to get away from in the first place.

Readers of this blog know that I’ve been writing about a specific solution I like: Budget Maestro from Centage Corporation (www.centage.com), and for a good reason (actually many good reasons).  One of the main reasons I like this application is that it is a true departure from use of spreadsheets.

It is evident to me that the designers of Budget Maestro made a conscious decision to not only rid this process from use of traditional spreadsheets (for the obvious benefits listed in the above TechTarget.com article), but also to never force users to apply a single formula, function or link in the entire product. To me this is a very significant departure from the traditional process, including many of the database-based solutions. The four solution shortcomings listed above simply do not exist with the use of Budget Maestro.

Knowing that Budget Maestro is a comprehensive product with several pre-programmed dedicated business modules, and not having to input a single formula, it makes it so much more appealing to anyone thinking of moving away from spreadsheets.

And this makes it very hard to come up with a reason why this product, and perhaps other solutions (I personally have not seen any yet) that are a true departure from spreadsheets should not be selected.

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.