Essential Budgeting & Planning System Components – Part 5: Tactical Planning Dashboards with Visualizationsby Dwight deVera
For my final post in this series, I’ll cover tactical planning dashboards as a component that shows planners where they can make the changes that have the biggest impact on the plan.
Data visualization has struck a chord with many executive decision-makers as a way to condense large amounts of information, format it in a way that’s easy to digest and understand, and most importantly, reveal vital business insights that can help them make better decisions. Thankfully, visualizations are not reserved for executive decision-makers; similar types of visualizations can be beneficial for planning managers too.
Planning dashboards allow planners to see the whole picture at a glance, determine whether their plans are favorable or not, and provide guidance for where to direct their attention. When budgets are out of alignment or plans are going astray as the year progresses, the visualizations on a planning dashboard say, “look exactly here – this is your problem – this is where you can make an adjustment that will have a real impact – the other changes you’re going to make are a waste of time.”
If you weren’t already familiar with what to look for when buying budgeting and planning software, tuning into this series has shown you that it’s a long list! There are many capabilities that should be considered essential to your system. So far I’ve covered the importance of workflow, spreading, and offline planning. Today I’ll explain why supporting detail and commentary should to be added to the mix.
Supporting detail is the content that supports the plan data existing below the system grain. The system grain may be the department, account or cost center level. Supporting details tell an additive story that literally supports the higher level numbers in the plan.
A couple of use cases for supporting detail: (1) Depending on how large your organization is, sometimes the submitted budget values are fairly large numbers. For instance, the finance director may question why you, the VP of Sales, have asked for $250,000 in travel and entertainment expenses for the 2013 budget. Supporting detail capability gives you the opportunity to tell that story below the account level and explain what makes up that number.
So far in this series – a planning software buyer’s guide – I’ve written about the benefits of workflow and the interesting ways our customers are using spreading to automate plan creation. Today I’ll address another key component of modern planning systems: offline planning, which is particularly helpful for a geographically distributed workforce.
Whether planners are in remote locations or simply travel frequently, there is value in being able to access a planning system offline. One of our non-profit customers has staff responsible for project-based budgeting located in Africa – in areas with limited bandwidth and a sporadic internet connection at best. Spotty internet isn’t an excuse for a late budget. In this situation, it’s easy to see why their arcplan planning system needs to be functional for offline staff. Once they reach an access point, they can sync their plans to the centralized repository and their supervisors can proceed with suggesting edits or approving the plans.
Perhaps this is more relevant to your company…
In Part 1 of this series – a planning software buyer’s guide – I covered the first essential component of a modern planning system: workflow. Let’s keep the ball rolling with another component that is vital to your next planning solution.
Spread methods are an efficient way to automate plans for a period without starting from scratch every time. Simply defined, spreading is the system’s ability to take a budget value and spread it over a range of periods based on a divisible operator (like percent per month, for example). Your planning system should include built-in spreading functionality, especially the more popular methods – even (the most used method in practice), spread like last year, and spread like last year +/- a dollar value or percent.
Essentially, spreading is a fast data entry method. It will save time to have your system manage and centrally control your corporate spread methods. Users should also be able to create their own. A nice-to-have feature is color changes where data has been entered. Click to expand the image above and you’ll see an arcplan Edge system, where blue cells indicate areas where data can be entered and yellow cells indicate that data has been entered during this session.
Note: The terms “spread” and “allocation” are often used interchangeably, but at arcplan we make a distinction between the two. To make it easy for our customers, we say that spreading is bottom-up only and occurs horizontally across financial periods, while allocation is vertically rolled-down spreading. For example…
An efficient budgeting, planning and forecasting process is a cornerstone of successful organizations. Software goes a long way in driving that efficiency – and I’m not talking about Excel. If you’re outgrowing spreadsheet-based planning and will be evaluating dedicated planning solutions to facilitate more accurate, timely and agile planning, over the next few articles, I’ll be laying out the system components, or specific features, you’ll want to look for. You can see these components demonstrated in my recent webinar on Budgeting and Planning in 2013, but here I’ll write about them in more detail and explain why they’re important to the success of your planning initiative.
Enterprise workflow is what separates your financial planning or corporate performance management system from simple data collection and reporting systems. Planning systems with workflow allow planners to follow a series of steps to bring the plan from initiation to completion. Workflow logically orders tasks and enables managers to keep an eye on where their team is in the planning cycle.