Tag Archives: Corporate Performance Management

Use of CPM Analytical Tools in the Budget Process

What really matters in the budget preparation and analysis process and why it should be implemented

I was just reading an article on TechTarget.com by Barry Wilderman of Wilderman Associates, titled: The Benefits of using CPM (Corporate Performance Management) analytical tools for budgeting. Here the author walks the readers through the benefits of using CPM data and specific analytical tools throughout the budget preparation process and during the entire budget period where the budget data is compared to the actual performance of the company as communicated by its accounting system reporting data.

The author also emphasizes the importance of using a central database where all of the organization’s business entities (divisions, departments, revenue centers, cost centers, etc.) have their individual budgets which consolidate to the corporate budget but with the ability to process each individual budget separately, arrive at individual approvals for the entity level budgets and then roll up to the corporate budget. This recommendation implies that there are software applications written specifically to handle these budget requirements and using a relational database as the storage medium for all the data.

I particularly like Mr. Wilderman’s assessment that there is great value in storing all data in a multi-dimensional structure, in addition to the implied row and column format that each relational database table provides. Additional data dimensions can be geographical territories, product lines, customer classes and others. The advantage of doing that, and assuming the budgeting application allows additional data dimensions, is that analysis of data can be more meaningful and lends itself to greater visibility and clarity of data and reports, when communicated to senior management.

Another important feature according to the author is the ability to employ drivers within the budgeting solution, as well as availability of financial modeling were KPIs (Key performance Indicators) can be created in the planning process, based on actual, historical data, as well as desired forecasted data.

Finally, Mr. Wilderman mentions the importance of data visualization, where CPM data can be visually displayed, using both actual and forecasted data, and communicated in a manner that is simple to read and understand by managers and those in charge of the organization (CEO, CFO, etc.).

While I was reading this article, I was thinking to myself that these important points are what really matters in a planning, budgeting and analysis environment, where senior management must be given exactly the data they need to make informed decisions. This data must be communicated periodically and timely, so these decisions can be made in response to actual accounting data compared with anticipated results (represented by the budget) plus all relevant economic and market changes as they unfold during the budget period.  The formatting and appearance of this data must be such that management can easily see and understand the data.

The points raised by Mr. Wilderman are exactly the points delivered by Budget Maestro / Analytics, commercially published by Centage Corporation, an application I use regularly and recommend to organizations in various industries. Many of the blog entries here make reference to it and why its design and implementation provide CPM data and aid company managements in making more timely and accurate decisions and with greater confidence.

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.

Make a Covenant to Properly Plan your Company’s Financial Future

How not having the right tools can be disastrous

A while back I wrote on this blog about forecasting the likelihood of a company meeting its loan covenants with its lenders Will you Breach your Loan Covenants?.  I normally wouldn’t repeat this or be redundant unless I thought it was of great importance to the readers of this blog.

I recently visited a high mid-market company on the West Coast where I have done internal control work in the past. During my engagement I was made aware of the fact that the company had failed meeting one of its loan covenants with its primary lender for the second year in a row. The first year they came pretty close to meeting the value derived from a formula dictated by the bank, but the second year it appears that the value had further drifted apart from the minimum required number.

As it is usual in cases like this the company entered into negotiations with its primary and other lenders in an effort to remediate the situation. Without going into great detail, this was not a pleasant experience for those involved, although a solution was found and agreed on. Using actual accounting data this company knew they were going to blow the covenant, but they were not able to forecast it early enough in order to make changes in anticipation of the worsening of their financial health, of which this particular loan covenant was an obvious indicator.

What makes the situation worse is that this company, despite having a solid management in place, good and dedicated workforce, including the accounting and finance organization, great work ethics and an incredible array of information technology hardware and software solutions, has no ability to properly forecast their balance sheet, where key data elements can be extracted and used to calculate forecasted financial ratios and in this example use the exact formula needed to determine the specific loan covenant they failed to meet.

The software application used in that company to perform all planning, budgeting and other corporate performance management (CPM) functions, is considered a Tier 1 application in its category, along with a popular Tier 1 ERP solution; however, management was just not capable of answering two simple questions:  “Will we be able to meet our loan covenants, and at what safety margin?” and, “Will there be a deterioration or strengthening of our future financial health and at what rate?”.

Finance professionals know that a company’s financial health does not deteriorate overnight. It often takes years of bad performance by certain business units, bad management decisions about acquisitions, product development, marketing efforts, etc., to put the financial health of the company on a noticeable decline. The sad part is that you often can’t easily detect that from reading financial statements and management disclosures to these statements, even when they are prepared in compliance with GAAP rules or meet SEC reporting standards.

As the link above shows, there are technology products that were designed to address these major challenges that so many organizations face.  It is clear to me that just investing in expensive IT solutions without completely and clearly defining the needs of the organization (e.g., ability to forecast a complete and accurate balance sheet) can lead it down a path where due to lack of visibility can cause unnoticeable worsening of the financial health of the company until it becomes apparent that something is very wrong.  This, often, it is too late and frequently results in either the failure of the business, or an unplanned acquisition at a deep discount.

As the title of this blog post suggests, I urge you to seriously look at what matters in your finance organization and equip it with the right tools that can make a clear difference between meeting or blowing your loan covenants. If loan covenants are not applicable in your business, the strength of your balance sheet certainly is and should be regularly forecasted.

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.