I have never done a budget myself, so I am not really qualified to write this article. However, I do know of the pain of having to get everyone to get their figures in. I do not know the pain of reworking all that data to fit into the form you need, as people will not give it you in the form that you need it.
I do not know the pain of trying to answer those seemingly simple, innocent questions that mean that you that to wrestle the data into another shape to get the answer. Inevitably, the answers to the first questions lead to a second set of seemingly simple, innocent questions, that lead to another round of data wrestling, and this can go on for quite a while.
I have heard people talk about this kind of thing though, as you can probably tell. We offer a solution that makes this sort of thing a lot easier. Instead of one person sitting in finance who is the master custodian of the spreadsheet and the only one trusted not to break it, you can have a robust unbreakable platform where users are expected to go in and enter their figures. All the data-wrangling is handled by the financial model on the platform.
People often know that this sort of thing is probably available, so people like me often wonder why people facing Excel-budget-hell do not seek it out. There are lots of reasons for this. If you are too busy with the day to day firefighting, building a business case for investment for improvement can seem like an extra job when you do not have the time as it is. People are also a little wary of something that might not work or be worse than the current process i.e. “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it”. There are also lots of other requirements for expenditure, so it can seem like a battle that you might not win.
But how broken does something have to be before it is time to fix it? It is often good to be aware of what solutions are available, so that when you reach the stage where the current process does not work for you anymore, you know who to call. We will often talk to people months before they are ready to go ahead with a project. Timing is not always right for a new project. Sometimes, there needs to be an internal dialogue before a consensus is reached.
Some surprisingly large companies still run a lot of their decision making on spreadsheets, even if enterprise systems are used for transactional data. Excel is something that everyone is familiar with, and although there are a wide range of skills with it, there is a benefit to it being easy to make changes with. A bit like if you run a process with a wall board and post it notes. It is easy to understand and easy to adapt. Some legacy planning tools are not flexible, so although they may be used for the high-level figures, all the detail is still done in Excel as it is more flexible.
However, keeping a lot of it in Excel makes it cumbersome to make changes, so it is tempting to leave things as they are. Excel struggles with big data sets. This means that you need to decide what you are going to leave out. The more you do in Excel, the more likely you are to have complex interlinked spreadsheets that must be handled very carefully. Excel is great as a swiss army knife, but you may reach the time when you have to admit that you need a dedicated, robust planning tool, like a saw if you want to cut down a tree. It is not that Excel is bad, it is just not always the right tool for the job.
Often, we talk to people who know the pain of budgeting in Excel or a legacy planning tool, so they look at Anaplan, and it looks amazing; almost too good to be true. The people who are going to use it, can see the value straight away and they know the benefits it can bring. They know about the value to the organisation, how it will enable new and better processes. They know that their life personally will be much improved.
That is not the tricky bit. The tricky bit is getting enough people on board with the idea, and for the timing to be right, and there not to be another priority.
Often what it takes, is one person to drive the project forward, and others fall in line carrying the momentum through. It is about taking a leap of faith. Doing nothing may seem like the safe choice, but that can be quite an expensive decision in the long term.
Doing the budget as an annual process can be a nightmare, but it does not have to be. We can help. It may be too late for us to help you with this year’s budget – that ship might have sailed. However, no doubt you have a 2021 re-forecast just around the corner and it might be time to start thinking about how you could make it easier. What is the cost to your organisation of not doing anything about it?
At Mentat Technology we work with Organisations to help them re-invent their planning and budgeting processes using Anaplan. If the ideas shared in this article resonate with you, please get in touch so that we can help you make it better.