I’ve focused attention of integrated business planning for the past several years as our benchmark research on business planning and other related topics consistently finds companies are not getting enough of a return on the considerable amount of time and effort they spend on budgeting and planning. Moreover, the current economic climate makes substantive contingency planning more important than ever. Our research finds that there is a great deal of planning going on. Most managers and executives participate in multiple planning exercises, although these are focused on their own business silo and do not have a firm, ongoing connection with other plans. Unfortunately, this leads to a lack of coordination between various parts of the organization because the plans in one area are only vaguely understood by others. Moreover, when changes take place in the future outlook of one part of the business, they are not immediately communicated (or communicated in sufficient detail) to everyone that would benefit from this knowledge. The main form of integrated business planning is the annual budget and the periodic budget review and re-forecast. However, this is relatively short-term and financially focused, usually does a poor job of projecting the operational aspects of a changing business landscape and is not always in sync with the company’s various operating plans. Even when companies do some integrated operational planning, it often does not do a good job of measuring the financial impact of changes in the operational forecast because the models use simplistic financial assumptions that can quickly become outdated.
Using the wrong software is one reason why companies have a hard time doing contingency planning in an integrated enterprise framework. One of the vendors offering software explicitly for integrated planning is Jonova, but unfortunately its small size makes it easy to overlook. The company’s Explorer Software Suite is designed to enable companies to quickly do detailed scenario planning in order to understand both the operational and financial consequences of various assumptions and conditions. It supports driver based planning, a necessary capability for quickly understanding the consequences of changes to volumes, configurations and prices. As such, companies are better able to determine, for example, the impact on margins and cash flow from different set of changes to a plan in order to optimize a trade-off between profitability and market share. It has built-in dashboards, charts and graphs but can be adapted to any existing software a company may have for this purpose.
Jonova’s software is not designed to do daily or monthly tactical business planning such as sales and operational planning (S&OP) – its focus is on enhancing the quality of decisions that affect a one-plus year time frame. Traditionally, companies use planning tools that force them to greatly simplify their scenarios and therefore provide only limited insight into the financial and operational consequences of different courses of action.
Companies usually don’t go out of business because they fail to plan as well as they could. However, they routinely fall short of their potential because in scrambling to deal with a crisis situation they don’t react fast enough or make the best decisions or respond in a coordinated fashion. Rather than being able to use turbulent time to gain competitive leverage, they at best will match their rivals. The economic turmoil of the past three years is unlikely to go away soon. Managing successfully over the next several years will mean doing a better job of anticipating the unlikely and unusual. The tools that facilitate more rigorous, complete and integrated business analyses are readily available. Now, more than ever, companies need to make it a standard piece of the operational and financial planning. If you’re considering buying such a tool, I would suggest looking at Jonova.
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Robert Kugel CFA - SVP of Research