Tuesday Mar 26, 2013

Best Practices in Profitability and Cost Management

I recently had the opportunity to run some roundtable discussions on best practices in profitability and cost management with financial executives attending the CFO CPM Conference in Philadelphia and CFO Rising East Conference in Orlando. The attendees represented companies in different industries ranging from manufacturing, to transportation, real estate, insurance, telecommunications and healthcare.

The premise for the roundtable discussion was this; For most organizations, aggressive cost-cutting and management were critical to remaining profitable while top line revenue was flat or shrinking during the recession. However, now many organizations taking a more “surgical” approach to profitability and cost management, by understanding which products, services, customers and channels are truly profitable and which ones are draining value from the business. In these roundtable sessions we discussed best practices in profitability and cost management, including how to accurately allocate revenue and costs to individual product lines, services, customer segments, locations, channels and other lines of business in order to improve decision-making. Here’s a summary of the feedback I received from attendees at these sessions:

At what level does your organization analyze and manage profitability? The answers to this question varied by industry and company: Insurance - region, state and products.  For example:


+ Real Estate Brokerage - offices, products
+ Healthcare Providers – hospitals, business units, departments, services, patients
+ Healthcare Insurance – products, markets, customers
+ Transportation/Freight – ship level, market (car rentals), customers
+ Manufacturing – location/site, products, major customers, projects
+ Retail – store level, regions
+ Telecommunications – business units, products


Are there any regulatory requirements driving detailed allocations of revenue and costs in your industry or organization? Based on the roundtables, the primary industries where there is a regulatory driver behind cost allocations and profitability analysis are Telecommunications, and Healthcare. (The latter as a result of the Healthcare Reform legislation and need to report on Medical Loss Ratios)

How are allocations performed to distribute revenue and costs down to the appropriate level in the business? What allocation techniques is your organization using? Here the participants indicated they are using a variety of techniques ranging from standard costing based on headcount, square footage, and revenue contribution to activity-based cost drivers and allocations for certain areas, such as customer service.

How frequently are detailed cost allocations performed? The frequency of allocations varied across individual companies. Some are performing this task on a quarterly basis, some semi-annually, one bi-weekly, and most of the participants are doing detailed allocations monthly. One company, in Transportation, mentioned they were doing this on a daily basis, running detailed P&Ls for each of their ships (pretty impressive).

What tools are used to perform the allocations and report on profitability at the line of business level? The tools used to perform detailed allocations, cost and profitability analysis included spreadsheets, ABC tools, multidimensional OLAP tools (i.e. Oracle Essbase), and in some cases, the general ledger system.

Who consumes the profitability reporting in your organization? The consumers of this information varied by industry and company, for example:


+ Insurance – product line managers, actuaries, regulators
+ Real Estate Brokerage – branch managers (with compensation linked)
+ Healthcare Providers – doctors, marketing campaign managers
+ Manufacturing – senior management, controllers, sales managers, business unit leaders, operations managers
+ Telecommunications – finance, business unit leaders


Is profitability reporting and management linked to the annual budgeting process? The answers to this question were more varied across the participants. Some leverage this information in their long-term strategic planning process, some link to their annual financial budget, and some are just starting to create a link to their planning processes.

Overall I was impressed with the feedback I received from participants in these sessions. Every company who participated was performing cost allocations and analyzing profitability at some level other than the corporate summary. Some were doing this at a very detailed level (i.e. daily ship P&L), and others at a more summarized level but looking to get more granular over time. I was also impressed with the frequency of profitability reporting, with most of the participants doing this on a monthly basis, some less frequently. And it was clear that the information being generated was actively shared and utilized beyond the finance organization to business unit leads, product managers, sales managers and other line of business decision-makers.

Areas for improvement that most participants identified included moving this process from spreadsheets to analytic tools and applications designed to automate and support detailed allocations and costing on a more frequent and repeatable basis. The good news here is that there are a number of packaged applications available in the market designed to support detailed allocations of revenue and costs. These applications include powerful reporting and analysis tools to provide insights and support improved decision-making regarding resource allocations, product/service mix, pricing, customer service and campaign strategies. Some of these are available as standalone solutions, while others are delivered within Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) application suites and provide seamless integration with EPM planning and reporting applications.

For more information about the profitability and cost management applications offered as part of Oracle’s EPM solutions please go to www.oracle.com/epm.


 

Monday Mar 25, 2013

Optimizing the Business as a Whole: The Case for Enterprise-Wide Planning

I recently interviewed David Jones, Director in PWC’s Consulting Services EPM Practice, and Simon Kenney a Senior EPM Consultant also from PWC, in a podcast about their successes in enterprise planning implementation and their research on finance effectiveness.


Initially, we discussed the research they have been conducting around planning and forecasting effectiveness; they call it the Finance Effectiveness Benchmark. For 2012, some issues were consistent with previous years. Planning, budgeting and forecasting is taking too long to pull together, it’s still too manual and requires too many resources or effort to get it done. But the interesting headline this year is that 80% of the respondents declared that the accuracy of their forecasts is critical to the running of their business, but only 45% said that their forecasts were actually reliable. This result is very concerning as this deficiency will prevent companies from making the right critical business decisions.


So what are the causes of this large deficiency?


According to Simon, a lack of integration across the entire planning process – front office to back office is a key issue. The business functions are just not engaged enough as the forecasting is mostly finance led. Sales and marketing are essential to any forecast, but they are often not engaged properly. Ultimately, those that generate the opportunities and the revenue need to be involved with the forecast.


No wonder the forecasts are not accurate!


How do companies to fix this deficiency and move to an integrated more inclusive world of forecasting? Simon suggested the following three steps are a good start.


Step 1: Identify why the forecasting process is failing (Is each function independently running their own processes? Is there a lack of clearly defined accountabilities?)


Step 2: Determine if/when the company is ready to integrate their processes. (Does it have the required level of sponsorship in place to move to an integrated planning process? Are the functions prepared for change?)


Step 3: Define a blue print or target “n” state (Design the integrated process. Determine which technology can help support the new integrated process)


These steps sound fairly simple, so I asked David what some of the more difficult or challenging things are that he sees when undertaking these steps with his customers. David indicated that there are challenges specific to each industry, but some common ones to watch for are:



  • Lack of executive sponsorship across functions (Very Key!) The drive to implement change must come from the top and be a collaborative process.

  • Miss-aligned performance measures that drive the wrong behaviour.

  • Too much granularity or unnecessary detail in the financial plan. Requests for more detail and more clarifications lengthens the process (without sufficient benefit) taking too much time and effort.


Simon shared his experience working with a large UK based motor car manufacturer – the challenges and success they had experienced.


Car manufacturers are a more traditional type of company with lots of legacy systems. Being so entrenched in these systems meant that they were not sure if they were really ready for a big bang approach to integrated planning and forecasting. They, therefore, decided to work on one area of the company at a time – in waves – so they could prove it was the right thing to do by demonstrating success and showing value to drive further change.


I asked David how real the benefits were that could be obtained through integrated planning and forecasting. David said that he sees real results in more accurate forecasts and a much better understanding of what goes on in the business, how it behaves, and the impact each business function has on delivering the optimal level of profit. These are real and tangible benefits. Individual functional areas need to understand their role in the overall plan and not behave independently.


What can organizations do today to evaluate their planning and forecasting processes? Simon suggested the following:



  • Look at your existing processes – are they collaborative and integrated?

  • How accurate are your forecasts? If you are not sure, take a retrospective look and find out.

  • How effective are the different business functions in forecasting accurately?

  • Take a look at benchmarks and case studies outside your organization and see how you measure up and what else you can achieve.

  • If you are in the spreadsheet world, re-evaluate the process and take an honest look at how it is working for you. How accurate are your forecasts?


It became quite apparent from speaking to David and Simon that it’s all about optimizing the business as a whole and not the individual parts; without enterprise planning integration, this is simply not possible.


To listen to the webcast, click here.

Monday Mar 04, 2013

Bridging the Gap Between Project Management and the CFO’s Office

Organizations undertake numerous projects and initiatives to generate revenue,  improve productivity and increase profits in the hope that they will have the desired effect. But in large and multi-national companies, how can they sensibly and efficiently decide which projects to undertake, how to assign resources, and how to fund them?

Aligning organizational plans (long term and short term) with financial plans and forecasts while enabling the various Lines of Business (LOBs) to lead the projects might sound like it would be next to impossible, but with proper project financial planning tools, it can work really well!

Whether you have indirect (or administrative projects) that generate cost but not revenue, capital projects or contract projects (that generate cost and revenue), or a combination of them, having a well defined, easy to navigate process for documenting, evaluating , funding and approving multiple projects from many LOBs is crucial for forecasting cost and revenues, and booking resources and staff.


Consider these steps:


Step 1: Plan for expenses and revenues (where appropriate), by individual project – and by groups of projects

Step 2: Generate and analyze project financials for individual projects and groups of projects

Step 3: Analyze the funding requirements and revenue generation potential for individual projects and groups of projects

Step 4: Analyze and approve workforce requirements and asset requirements for individual projects and groups of projects

Step 5: Enable the analysis, and approval process by Business Unit Leaders and Finance managers for individual projects and groups of projects within the overall financial plan

Step 6: Enable intercompany project planning and reconciliation to get a complete corporate view of projects within the overall financial plan

Step 7: Enable continued monitoring of project financials within the overall financial plan


Oracle Hyperion Project Financial Planning embraces these steps and provides the needed structure and automation to simplify an otherwise complex set of processes.

When proposing and planning new initiatives, understanding the financial implications on corporate financial plans and objectives and gaining consensus among all concerned parties are a major challenge for many organizations. Without good financial and operational information for both proposed and current projects, it is difficult to analyze and make decisions on new projects to undertake. Oracle Hyperion Project Financial Planning provides the ability for all involved parties to help with this decision making.

It bridges the gap between the detailed task oriented project plans that a project manager within each LOB maintains, and the overall impact of projects on corporate finances and resources. Management can get a holistic view of how their assets and resources are allocated, and then monitor performance and receive information about return on investment (ROI).

Oracle Hyperion Project Financial Planning bridges the gap between LOB project management and the financial plans and forecasts within the CFO’s office.

For more information, click here to read Oracle’s new whitepaper on Oracle Hyperion Project Financial Planning: Aligning Financial and Project Plans.

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