Wednesday Jan 08, 2014

Why Are My Numbers Different From Yours?

Happy New Year!

Organizations spend way too much time arguing about whose numbers are right, where they came from, and what they mean, rather than spending time discussing what to do about them.  I had the pleasure of interviewing book author and consultant Ron Dimon, Enterprise Performance Management Advisory Services Partner at CheckPoint Consulting – an Oracle Platinum Partner – during a Podcast, and he provided some interesting insights into this topic.




Ron and I have been involved in Performance Management in one way or another since about 1999 and it amazes me that organizations today still rely so much on spreadsheets to do their planning and forecasting, profitability analysis, and even to record and report their financial and operational results.  But, I am hopeful, as many companies and institutions now embrace the tools and processes of Enterprise Performance Management (EPM), that this will change, turning performance management into a discipline and a competitive advantage.To listen to the entire Podcast, click here.

I asked Ron to give his point of view on why people are still uttering “Why are my numbers different from yours?” With all the technology and systems we have now, why is this still an issue for many organizations?  He told our audience that he believes much of the issue can be attributed to spreadsheets. “While great for some things, they were never meant to be collaborative, controlled, enterprise-wide consolidation and reporting engines or reporting systems.  We have grown to rely on them, because they are pervasive and so easy to set up.”  Ron explained that it is relatively easy to whip up a customer profitability spreadsheet, for example, in less than an hour. You just need to collect the sales and expense numbers, take a stab at indirect costs and voila!  The problem, he suggested, starts after the report is set up and we need to share it, compare actuals to forecast, or include some historical trend data.  Ron explained that, “When Finance gets a look at the spreadsheet, they have to reverse engineer it and will probably quickly find that my basis for allocating expenses is wrong, or I haven’t taken into account commission splits, or I’m not including a foreign subsidiary of the customer in the sales results…the list goes on and on.”

So how can this be corrected? Ron talked about a way of still using Excel to create easy, on-the-fly reports – but rather, using Excel directly connected to the central repository of data to ensure that everyone creating reports is starting from the same set of data. The Oracle solution he has used for this is called Oracle Hyperion SmartView for Office and is part of the Oracle EPM System.  Because the spreadsheet is essentially connected to the underlying central repository of the EPM system, there is less time spent arguing about why numbers are different.

So is Oracle Hyperion SmartView for Office the answer? Does it solve the data problem all by itself? Ron explained to our audience that SmartView is the window to all that data; it’s one way to access it. But how and when the data gets into the central repository, and how it’s organized and transformed once it gets there requires an Enterprise Performance Management System (EPM). Oracle’s EPM system is both a collection of tools and a group of processes that govern how your data, especially financial data, is recorded, reported and used. 

Ron explained that an EPM profitability application, like Oracle Hyperion Profitability and Cost Management (HPCM), is a much more disciplined way to truly determine customer profitability – unlike the spreadsheet example mentioned previously. Instead of the finance person making up formulas, allocations, and deciding what is included in that customer number or not, HPCM does it for you.  So now you CAN spend more time on what do to with that customer: pay more attention, adjust prices, offer new services (or even fire them!) – and much less time arguing about why my numbers are different than yours.

To listen to the entire Podcast, click here.
To learn more about Oracle’s Enterprise Performance Management solution click here, and to learn more about HPCM, click here.

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.

Friday Jul 15, 2011

Independent Research on 1500 Companies Reveals Challenges in Performance Visibility – Part 2

My blog article on the first part of this study focused on profitability and cost management.  In this second blog I am going to look at the findings around planning and budgeting.

Just to remind you, or if you haven’t read my first blog here is some background: At the end of May 2011 I was joined by Professor Andy Neely of Cambridge University on a webinar, with an audience of over 700, to discuss the results of this extensive study which covered 13 countries and nearly every commercial and industrial sector.  What stunned both of us was not so much the number listening but the 100 questions they asked in just 1 hour.  This certainly represents a record in my experience and for those that organized the webinar. So what was all the fuss about?  Well, to begin with this was a pretty big sample and it represented organizations with over $100m sales across the USA, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It also delivered some pretty interesting results across a wide range of EPM subjects such as profitability management, planning and reporting.

For the planning section we started off with a question to get an idea of just how prevalent the use of spreadsheets actually is for planning and reporting. I guess we should not have been surprised when the results were consistent with what we have seen for many years with 71% - 80% (depending on company size) using spreadsheets for financial planning and budget control. There are many well documented consequences of this, one of which came through clearly in our results, with 54% of managers saying they spend more time gathering information that analyzing it. When we looked at how much of their time managers spend on spreadsheets, finance managers spent the longest at 45% but surprising the next was the CEO at 40%. Our conclusion is that organizations and more importantly their managers are still ‘drowning in spreadsheets’!

This was further confirmed when we looked specifically at ‘enterprise’ planning. Less than a third of organizations confirmed they had specialist software for any one of the specific categories of planning we defined. It gets noticeable worse when considering those that confirm they have specialized software for ‘all’ the categories, just 11%. The result is a catalogue of confirmed problems with planning that include - gaps in data, data not standardized, data being provided late and data inaccuracies.  In fact 95% of our respondents said they encountered problems of some form with their planning process. These results concur with what we hear when we talk to organizations about their planning and budgeting which are often described as a collection of ‘fragmented’ systems and processes most often stitched together with email and spreadsheets.

‘Fragmentation’ is confirmed in this study with only 16% of organizations saying their management processes are linked through specialist software and 71% actually stating that the links between strategic goals and operational plans and budgets are fragmented. This has an impact on communication and management commitment with 72% of managers criticizing communications from senior management and 89% of non-finance managers stating they would feel more committed if communication on performance were improved.

Given all of the above findings, when it came to asking about how long it takes to implement strategic change it is no wonder the average came out to 6.5 months. Fragmentation of management processes introduces time and errors that no organization can afford.  It reminds me of the situation often seen with fragmented operational processes 15 years ago before the wide adoption of ERP. It really is time organizations took a serious look at integrated Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) solutions to help them create consistent, end-to-end management processes.

If you want to read the complete report on the research go to: http://www.oracle.com/webapps/dialogue/ns/dlgwelcome.jsp?p_ext=Y&p_dlg_id=10077790&src=7038701&Act=29 Alternatively if you would like to know more about Oracle’s Enterprise Performance Management solution go to: http://www.oracle.com/us/solutions/ent-performance-bi/051191.html

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