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8 Red Flags Your Annual Budget & Planning Cycle Needs to Change

11/22/2018

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Fall is one of my favorite times of the year in East Tennessee. It’s the time of year when the Smoky Mountains boast vibrate colors as the leaves transform from deep greens to a variety of red, yellow and orange. For outdoor enthusiasts like myself, it’s a great time of year to enjoy hiking, biking or taking a scenic drive. As the leaves change colors and the weather cools, it also signals that the time for families and friends to gather together to give thanks is drawing near.

Sounds like a relaxing way to start the season, right? Yet for many finance and accounting professionals, fall signals the beginning of the annual budgeting season and along with it, the activities and the headaches associated with ensuring organizations are prepared to meet their current and future financial goals. A time of year, far from a relaxing walk in the park.

According to the an APQC’s Open Standards Benchmarking survey for Planning and Management Accounting, the cycle time to complete an annual budget cycle ranges between 25 days or fewer for experienced companies, approximately 57.5 days for lower performing companies, with the median timeframe set at 32 days. To add some complexity, the APQC also reported that it takes between 4 and 8 budget iterations before getting to a final budget. Or final, final, final, final budget.

Creating Budgets and Business Plans

For many small to medium sized companies, Excel is their go to tool for budget and planning. In fact, 90% of companies with 50 to 200 employees use it to budget and plan. For companies with one budget owner, simple requirements and few complex issues, Excel may very well be a good fit.  However, as organizations grow, challenges with using Excel arise when there is a need to collaborate between departments, share data or calculate more complex formulas. Challenges escalate when the need to share documents between departments causes version control issues. Productivity plummets once files get so large that enterprise PCs crash right before the last save can be made, while the risks of sharing sensitive information around email or on shared drives leaves your company at risk.   

When these time consuming, administrative challenges surface, they can have a dramatic impact on company performance, productivity and results and are key indicators that it’s time for a change. Today’s financial leaders need to take control of the budgeting process and look for ways to streamline planning, increase collaboration, and run a more strategic process so they can complete their budgets in time for the New Year.

Red Flags - Efficiency, Accuracy, and Security Issues

You don’t trust the accuracy of your data.

1. "I just pulled an all-nighter—again—to get ready for the management meeting"
Managing budgets in Excel requires lots of tactical work—downloading CSVs, cutting and pasting, rolling data up, updating formulas and links, building and updating forecasts and models, emailing files, and more. If you're consumed with these activities, or worse, having to spend your nights and weekends to manage plans and budgets, an easy-to-use budgeting and planning solution can streamline the process and help you get your life back!

2. "Joe is the only one who understands the model"
When you've got complex forecasting and what-if models and only one person in your company knows how it works, you're exposing yourself to risk if that person moves on. What is the cost to have someone new diagnose, understand, and update the models if he leaves? You can ensure your continuity with a solution that allows you to define models that consistently operate on the data you pull in from your plans, budgets, and actuals.

3. "Oops, sorry, that's a formula error"
We've all been there. You thought you double-checked everything, but you got that last-minute change and forgot to update the link in your formula before the presentation to management or —yikes—the board. Your business is depending on you to get the numbers right, and errors reduce their confidence and could lead to misguided decisions if not caught. With a budgeting and planning solution you can easily calculate metrics such as cash flow or model headcount expenses--without spreadsheet errors.

4. "Oh @#$%!, did I just send the one with the salary info?"
Budgets usually include sensitive data such as salary info. Or you may want to prevent groups from seeing other group's budgets. Keeping or sending files around via email or on shared drives creates a risk that the information could be seen by unauthorized people. A budgeting and planning solution that secures plans, budgets, or specifically sensitive protects you from the risks of inappropriate access.

Collaboration Issues

5. "Wait, that’s not the version I've been managing to"
Changes are often made to budgets throughout the year to realign to changing business priorities and conditions. Version control issues can have significant consequences beyond just confusion. It means that key parts of the business can be operating from the wrong information, making decisions and spending money in ways that aren't aligned to your business goals. A budgeting and planning solution provides one source of truth for everyone. You know who updated the budget and when. Everyone is bought in and aligned to the same plans, budgets, and forecasts.

6. "When did you send it out? I can’t find it"
Using Excel and email to send out spreadsheets means maintaining distribution lists and digging through email to find budgets. It makes you the go-to person for even the smallest things because department heads don't trust that they have the right data, can't find what they need, or need you to make an update. With a budgeting and planning solution, everyone has one place to go to find their data. You can easily invite department heads to enter and update their own plans, budgets, forecasts and scenarios. You're no longer the bottleneck for everything budget related.

Strategic Issues

7. "It's halfway through the month and I don't have last month's data yet"
If you do it like many companies are, every month you have download the actuals to a CSV file and then cut and paste the data into Excel. Or maybe you are more sophisticated and have lookups that pull your data in from the CSV, but then you have to chase down the errors. Then you've got to roll it up. In the meantime, everyone is waiting on their reports to see what the actuals were from the last period, potentially delaying operational and strategic decisions. A budgeting and planning solution that integrates to your financial solution can update that information with a couple of clicks and provide immediate access to stakeholders.

8. "I have no time for analysis"
If managing budgeting and planning is so time consuming that you're only focused on looking backwards, you're missing the value of budgeting and planning for your business—to look forward and figure out how to meet your short-term, medium term and long-term plans. Budgeting and planning solutions automate every day budget, plan management and forecasting. They provide templates for what-if analysis can help you shift your focus to the strategic and contribute to the growth and success of the business. 

How to Address the Red Flags

Any one of these signs might be enough to cause you to consider moving away from Excel for your planning. But if you're experiencing three or more of these signs, it’s time to consider another solution.

Until now, most budgeting and planning solutions have been built to handle the needs of large companies. They simply aren’t a good fit for most smaller organizations. They require big company budgets and resources to deploy, integrate, and maintain.

If you’ve been holding back for those reasons, we've got some great news for you! Sage Intacct just announced a powerful, yet easy to use and deploy budgeting and planning solution that addresses the pains above.

  • Fast deployment – Pull in your chart of accounts, dimensions, and actuals from Sage Intacct and get up and running in a few days.
  • Collaborate across the organization – Easily work with department heads on their budgets.
  • Seamless workflow with financials – Get actuals from your financials into your budgets and plans with just a few clicks.
  • Lower Price – Sage Intacct budgeting and planning is priced for smaller businesses like yours.

Is your company struggling with the budget and planning process? Do you need help addressing these red flags in your organization?

Request a Free Consultation Today

To learn more about the budget and planning module available from Sage Intacct, please register to join LBMC Technology Solutions at one of our New Release & Hot Topics Training events taking place in December.  This course will help you accelerate your skills and technical knowledge, while earning 2 CPE credits.

About LBMC Technology Solutions

LBMC Technology Solutions, LLC is an award-winning, comprehensive IT and business consulting firm. Ranked #37 in Accounting Today’s 2018 VAR100, LBMC  is one of the nation’s top resellers and implementers of accounting software. For over twenty years, LBMC has serviced clients throughout Tennessee and across the nation. LBMC's services include implementation, training, and support of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Content Services/Document Management software solutions as well as network systems engineering, remote managed IT services, business intelligence, and custom software development. LBMC differentiates itself from other providers by offering a consultative approach to each company’s needs in order to provide a “best in class” solution that helps them improve productivity, reduce complexity, and strengthen ROI.