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May the Field Be with You

Cloud-based applications are pushing out planning and forecasting to workers in the farthest reaches of the company.

Simplifying the decision-making process is a fundamental goal for CFOs, given the competitive necessities of agility and speed. Unfortunately, many traditional planning, budgeting and forecasting systems see the business world as local and linear, not global and cooperative, frustrating this imperative.

New mobile, cloud-based technologies that connect wide-ranging business signals and voluminous data seek to alter the paradigm. While organizations are awash in data, finance chiefs by and large cannot capture it, make sense of it and base timely decisions on it. Through the cloud, however, data from across the enterprise can pulse toward finance, where it can be turned into information for decision-making purposes.

“If prosperity is saved time, then this is the pot of gold,” declares Steve Player, North American program director at the Beyond Budgeting Round Table, a learning network with more than 50 corporate members. Player is referring to the ability to marry Big Data, mobility and the cloud to provide nimbler assessments of performance versus the forecast. This, in turn, permits faster adjustments in resource allocation, project priorities and other budgeted initiatives.

In some cases, the new tools are part and parcel of the underlying enterprise resource planning system, which is tethered to other IT systems and the fast-growing network of business apps. But a growing number of cloud-based vendors like Adaptive Planning, Host Analytics and Tidemark have upped the ante with laser-focused data analytics for planning, budgeting and forecasting needs. Other providers marketing more earthbound, on-premises tools include Centage and Prophix Software, each with their own value propositions.

They’ve all taken on the big ERP/business intelligence players like Oracle Hyperion, SAP OutlookSoft and IBM Cognos. Christian Gheorghe, Tidemark founder and CEO, claims that the technology upstarts are better at “getting the right people involved in managing business processes.” By the “right people,” Gheorghe is referring to employees in the field, at the perimeter of the enterprise.

“These people are your generals at the front lines, the ones who can provide a real-time view of what’s actually going on in the business,” says Player. “Arm them with mobile devices to report their findings to cloud-based systems, and then beam it up to FP&A [financial planning and analysis] for their analysis and insight.”

Think of it this way: Who knows best how to quickly move the line of customers through a supermarket checkout aisle—the checker at the cash register or the owner? “Planning, budgeting and forecasting is collaborative and cross-functional,” says John Herr, CEO of Adaptive Planning. “It used to be that five or six people in a large organization put together the forecast and analyzed the actuals. Why not thousands of users across the company weighing in on their iPhones?”

That’s the power of “rank marginality,” a term describing people at the middle and lower rungs of the organizational ladder who often know more about business performance than those in the C-suite. Get them to type in a few operational measures on their smartphones or tablets, and the future becomes clearer for finance, loosening more-confident, bolder decisions.

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