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Transforming FP&A teams from planners to trusted advisors

The events of the last year have caused a shift both in the plans organizations made for the future, and the way in which they’re now created. Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) leaders and teams are seeing increased pressure to provide more comprehensive scenario planning and business strategic input. But achieving this requires a step-change in the way FP&A teams work. To better understand how FP&A teams can elevate their position within the organization, ICAEW Insight spoke to Alistair Gurney, Group FP&A Director at Unit4.

Financial Planning and Analysis is well placed to have a seat at the table when it comes to the future strategy of the enterprise. But according to Unit4, until very recently, the path has been blocked by a variety of operational obstacles.

To provide meaningful insight, models, and contingencies of the future, FP&A teams must have both up-to-the-minute access to business-critical data and the tools with which to interpret it. And moreover, the people capable of creating the complex scenario plans that C-suites now demand must be allowed to focus on these business critical tasks rather than spending their time in the weeds of data entry, collection, and cleaning.

This means that to make the transformation from a financial number cruncher to a business advisor, the FP&A team must break its addiction to spreadsheets. It’s worth saying that spreadsheets aren’t at fault – we simply use them for jobs for which they were never designed. While they’re a great personal productivity application, they’re not an effective analytics tool. And the demands of the collaborative workspace mean that spreadsheets are simply not capable of maintaining data quality and facilitating instant access. 

For instance, if you’re trying to make judgements about business profitability,  measuring the various influence factors such as people talent, sales, and even external factors such as geo-political or environmental impacts even the most committed and capable team will not be able to provide a clear picture in an Excel or Google sheet. And regardless of the assignment, speed and accuracy are critical in a world where today’s data is tomorrow’s historical footnote – a spreadsheet simply can’t deliver the dimensionality and interactivity necessary for effective analysis.

Instead of continuing to labour under 20th century FP&A limitations, teams can now embrace technologies to transform. In October 2020, the analyst BARC in their Topical Survey, Sound Decisions in Dynamic Times, found 56% of organisations are actively working to introduce and modernize their software and as many as 76% of leading organisations now intend to use specialist software for corporate planning, simulations, and scenario analyses.

These tools allow you to analyze data from different perspectives, identify time-series trends, and set up alerts when values exceed set parameters. Statistical techniques are now embedded into applications that allow simple forms of correlation. You can use these to build predictive driver-based models. This will allow your organisation to access more data (particularly unstructured data and data from outside your own systems), synthesize better insights, and accelerate your decision making.

For those of you working for enterprises that span different geographies and time zones, they can also bring your teams closer together. Especially with cloud-based solutions that can be accessed in any language and on any device. This advanced flexibility and collaboration will allow your people to leverage new capabilities – embracing continuous planning beyond budgeting and rolling forecasts and providing automated reports and alerts to managers.

Leveraging new technology can have huge transformative effects on your teams’ ability to deliver useful insight and modelling to the organisation – and radically elevate the level of trust and respect they command as a result. And with these changes new roles are arising within the FP&A team.

Empower and evolve your planning teams’ capabilities

Complete the form below to download our whitepaper “Make your move from planner to trusted advisor – Transforming FP&A”.

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