Podcast Review: The State of FP&A, Forecasting, and Excel
I recently listened to a great episode of AFP Conversations, a podcast for corporate treasury and finance professionals. As a finance buff, I was eager to tune in to speaker Bryan Lapidus’ thoughts on FP&A and where it’s headed.
Since most people don’t have 40 minutes to spare, I decided to outline my favorite highlights and talking points from the podcast.
FP&A is the home of the question “where do I put my next dollar?”
Significance of FP&A
Where do I deploy that next person in order to get the best return for my company?
Everything that happens in an organization is worth learning from. When it comes to financials, FP&A leads the direction of an organization by filling in decision-makers on what happened in the past, how to optimally place their dollars in the right place, and how to account for them correctly. By doing so, FP&A supports decision-makers in answering the crucial question of:
What do we do with what we know and what are our next steps?
What changed in FP&A in the past 5 years?
This won’t come as a shocker, but technology has greatly impacted the field. It used to be the case that in order to succeed in FP&A you could be an Excel jock and that was enough. That’s a thing of the past, as new tools are being integrated and novel skills are being required. Today, the quantity of information available is both exciting and terrifying, and bringing with it significant organizational changes.
FP&A provides necessary foresight for decision-makers. But if the function fails to adapt in a modern world, the information it provides may become archaic along with it.
Organizations should walk, not last-minute run, towards the future of finance
“The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet” – William Gibson
Many organizational functions are slowly adapting to modernity. But it seems that FP&A functions are lagging far behind. Organizations need to adopt a futuristic perspective of where FP&A is going, effective immediately. There are some people who can sense that future but are concerned about what it means, or are alternatively simply resistant to change. From a long-term perspective, this is not a wise or reliable approach.
What present-day changes are we witnessing?
Macro-level changes in the economy and secular changes across society have given rise to new capabilities, among them blockchain, AI, and machine learning. The ramifications of such phenomena? A considerable one is that they are putting new paradigms in place. In business for example, decisions such as whether to build internally or outsource R&D by purchasing companies are being heavily shaped by modern capabilities.
Finance is facing new challenges
Some of finance’s newest challenges include:
1. The emergence of new business models in the space of finance
2. Intensifying talent wars
3. Secular macro changes in the market giving rise to new capabilities
What does it take today to be good at your job, and how do you constantly upskill yourself?
4. New career paths are paved
Less full-time workers will be employed as we will see the rise of freelance workers and the integration of bots. We will see knowledge and intelligence from different areas working together intricately and forming new kinds of teams.
5. The pace of innovation continues to increase
This will drastically fuel changes in business and personal career structures.
As finance professionals, we need to be well-informed and capable of adequately answering the following questions:
How is business changing?
How should careers be managed in a fast paced, on-demand, automated world?
What will career paths look like?
What do teams of the future look like?
Integrative Intelligence: A novel sort of team
Integrative intelligence refers to the partnering of in-house employees with part-time workers and consultants/specialists.
We will see less full-time workers employed and witness the rise of freelance workers as well as the integration of bots. Knowledge and intelligence from different areas will come together to unleash previously untapped potential. Teams will be much more fluid and will assemble for specific assignments, focusing on a particular task, project, or process in order to deliver value for the company.
Wanted: a savvy triple-threat
Today, it’s not enough to be solely good at crunching numbers- a combination of financial acumen, knowledge of technology and data, and personal and team effectiveness are all necessary to succeed.
The massive bump in the road My budget is killing me, takes me 9 months to do my budget- what am I doing wrong?
Roadblocks are inevitably encountered when you try to do two seemingly opposing things at once, such as gently reaching for the future while at the same time continuing to attend to and getting the basics of today down. But reaching for the future without causing a commotion in current teams or shaking up existing processes is virtually impossible. Many organizations find themselves wanting to take strides towards the future, but not at the expense of today.
This conundrum is irrespective of company size or industry. As such, businesses need to learn how be both good today as well as not be left behind, because there’s no knowing what’s coming tomorrow.
In light of the big questions that were brought up, I’d like to explore a few potential solutions.
Here’s my two cents:
How can you immediately address these changes? What can you actively do to prepare today?
1. Dedicated systems are the way to go
If you don’t have one in place already, implementing an ERP system is a great way to stay on top of all your information by providing one source of truth. ERPs such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 can help you keep track of actuals from across your business including from marketing, sales, and HR departments.
2. Hybrids make for excellent middle ground
If you already have an ERP system in place or are put off by the idea of a total overhaul, consider leveraging what you’ve already got. For example, there are many ways to maximize the functionality of Excel. One way to do so is to leverage DataRails, a platform that automatically consolidates your Excel-based data onto a structured database without changing the way you work. This lets you tap into the hidden power of your information, extract insights, and easily monitor work processes while continuing to work as you always have.
3. Increase and support cross-functional collaboration
Cross functional collaboration is when people with different functional expertise come together to work towards shared goals. This can mean people from different departments across the business working together, or alternatively the adoption of integrative intelligence. Either way, these sorts of teams possess the potential to drive significant improvements and insights as they involve diverse people working together. Consider creating such teams in order to drive innovation and innovative solutions.
4. Employee training
Boost employees’ performance by providing orientations, lectures, computer-based and skills-based training. In addition to business skills, invest in behavioural and technical training. Focus much attention on ensuring employees feel comfortable and proficient with novel systems prior to their integration- it would be a shame to introduce new systems only to find that no one is using them as intended.
If this article piqued your interest, you can check out the 40 minute podcast at https://www.afponline.org/ideas-inspiration/discussions/afp-conversations-podcast/Details/the-state-of-fp-a-forecasting-and-excel-with-bryan-lapidus/