Budgeting is budgeting, right? A critical component of managing business performance, but invariably one where everyone breathes a sigh of relief once complete. “Phew! That’s that done for another year! OK, well, maybe for another nine months as it takes three months to complete it each time.” It’s a process which is annual, homogenous across the organisation, time-consuming and dare I say, a distraction from the day job.
But is there really much that can or should be done to revitalise the process? Organisations already have a range of different methods they can deploy to make it work for them. They can choose zero-based or incremental, top-down or bottom-up and maybe even throw in some drivers.
Now, I’m not here to debate the relative merits of these concepts. In fact part of my take on the subject is that these methods all invariably manifest themselves in the same type of process anyway. Instead, I’m curious about whether people are really making the most of the technology they have at their disposal. This is all prompted by the number of times I’ve seen people sleep-walking into recreating an old process in a new tool, under the illusion that it will all suddenly come good.
If you’re going to rethink elements of the process, then a good place to start is with clarity on what that process needs to achieve. Ultimately it is there to set the baseline on which resources the organisation wants to deploy over the near future, who has responsibility for these resources and what the organisation hopes to achieve with them. With that in mind, here are a couple of good process characteristics:
Turning to how technology can help deliver on these characteristics, let’s first recap on the tools. Without getting into a nostalgic review of what’s come and gone over the years, the recent story is actually quite straightforward. There were the budgeting/forecasting tools of the early noughties, which one by one, were absorbed into mega-vendors and then put into stasis. More recently an array of cloud-based technologies has been brought to market, each with their own value proposition. And then there is the ever-present Excel spreadsheet. I’ve seen all of these deliver a similar process. And I’ve lost count of the times I’ve come across the scenario where at face value the organisation has a budgeting/forecasting tool, but in reality it is the place where the results get captured, once the offline working has been complete.
Amongst this mix of technologies, I don’t need to hide my affinity to Anaplan, which is a full modelling and connected planning platform in which many different data intensive processes can be realised, including budgeting, which is just one of them. When it comes to budgeting though, Anaplan really can unlock new options for the process. Here are some examples:
I could identify more and more examples of new ways of working the process in Anaplan, but the point is probably made. I should also suggest that it doesn’t have to be a case of ripping up and throwing away the current process. There will be good practices which need to be retained, and perhaps also a phased introduction of new ideas rather than a big bang.
In conclusion, the next time you find yourself thinking ‘I would be great if we could do things differently, but there isn’t much room to move,’ then think again. Likewise, if the thinking is ‘We’re going to buy and implement some new technology but not really revisit the underlying process,’ then again, challenge that notion!