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  • CFO Magazine

An Acquired Taste

Many new software applications combine budgeting, forecasting, analytics, business intelligence, and collaboration. About the only thing this software can't do is make employees use it.

No one will deny that the latest generation of budgeting and planning (B&P) software is capable of doing great things. These Web-enabled systems are designed to help companies radically speed up the planning process, even as they allow many more people to participate. They import data points with ease, whether from within an organization or without. They keep managers apprised of who has filed a budget and who has not, and how closely various departments are sticking to plan.

But there’s one thing that even the newest B&P systems can’t do: make employees use them.

In fact, the last thing many workers want is more involvement in the budgeting and planning process — too often a four-to-eight-month exercise in disillusionment, marked by back-and-forth reviews, back-room negotiations, “land-grabs,” and gaming to manipulate forecasts. “People hate budgeting because they think, ‘There’s nothing in it for me,’ ” says Lawrence Serven, a principal in Buttonwood Group LLP, a Stamford, Connecticut-based management consulting firm specializing in developing planning solutions. “Or there’s a sense of futility, that management is going to slash the numbers anyway. Or they don’t even hear back from management on what was approved and what wasn’t.”

Couple this aversion to the process with the ubiquitous resistance to change, and B&P software implementations become an enormous challenge for all but the most enlightened organizations. Indeed, half of the companies surveyed by CFO magazine said that half their purchased seats go unused or underused — a sizable proportion, even considering that companies may buy bigger-than-needed licenses to accommodate user growth.

“Technology will support a culture change,” concedes Chris Leone, vice president of product marketing for applications at B&P bellwether Hyperion Solutions Corp., in Sunnyvale, California, “but it can’t create a change.”

Pockets of Resistance

Resistance to change is by far the biggest impediment to widespread adoption of B&P software. Most companies rely on some combination of Excel, E-mail, and paper for budgeting, and many users aren’t eager to have their comfort levels challenged.

At BankAtlantic FSB in Fort Lauderdale, Timothy Cooke wasn’t surprised to encounter some resistance to the installation last year of an SRC Software B&P system. The bank’s staff includes some 30-year veterans, says Cooke, manager of financial systems. “We’re not talking about technically sophisticated people. They know their jobs well, but they don’t want to mess with new software packages or learn any new software,” he says.

When the San Diego Unified Port District implemented Comshare B&P software in January 2000, budget administrator Robert Graves says he encountered pockets of resistance among senior management who were used to completing their five-month-long review of the budget entirely on paper. “No one likes change unless they can see a tremendous benefit for themselves, and a few people just didn’t want to change,” says Graves. “They didn’t want to do things online. They like paper.”

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