Why it may be worthwhile to rethink the budget process and look for changes
From time to time I realize that certain tasks I perform, mostly personal and some professional, are harder to do and take longer than they should. It is, however, comforting to know that these familiar tasks will get done, albeit not in the most efficient and cost effective way. My logic is that next time, before I have to start working on one of these tasks again, I will first try to find a better solution. This seldom happens, although I’ve gotten better at it over the years.
Several years ago I was visiting a client, a mid-market direct marketing company on an internal control audit engagement. I noticed that the finance group employed three full time budget analysts and a budget manager. These four people dedicated almost 100% of their time to the budget preparation, consolidation and periodic maintenance. Their data for input was received from many department managers representing business units, divisions and locations.
Several other persons in the finance group also participated in the budget process, mostly during the review and approval phases. The finance VP was the process owner and the entire organization used Excel spreadsheets to compile the budget. There were hundreds of them, many linked together and miraculously consolidating everything into a set of worksheets that once printed and bound became the official corporate budget.
When I interviewed the Finance VP about his internal controls I asked him how comfortable he was with the budget process, its accuracy and amount of time and effort it took to complete it. His reply was: “I’m not sure how accurate it is; I know there are errors in formulas and links and it is very hard to update, but this is what we have and we know the process well. It was designed years ago and we don’t feel we have the capacity right now to completely troubleshoot these Excel workbooks, or change the process”.
Coming from a finance department person, I was not surprised with his answer. It often seems easier and simpler to work harder and longer instead of taking the initiative and changing the way we do things by replacing the tools we use and the processes we employ.
You often hear that costs of new IT systems, software and other tools are what prevent organizations from optimizing their processes, achieve higher efficiencies, etc., while at the same time, the reality is that not incurring these costs and putting off making the additional effort to design an improved process is often much more expensive (especially long term) than the cost of the proposed process change.
To use this budget process as an example, most finance managers know that using spreadsheets is not the right way, which is why there are specific software solutions designed to remove spreadsheets from the process. Yet they continue to do it the hard way, while their organizations do not get the benefit from using available new technology.
As often is the case, change must be instilled by management with vision and focus on company objectives. Lower level managers are less likely to initiate or suggest change, even though they may realize its ultimate benefits.
In our example here it should be the company CFO who must initiate this change as we see in several of the blog entries on this site. A good example is “Become your Company’s Chief Future Officer”.
As for me, personally, I would like to think that I am more motivated now than before to find better ways to perform some of my tasks, even though I realize I might step into new territory and perhaps encounter temporary difficulties. What I do know is that changes well planned are worth making.