The role of the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) department has moved from being a cost-controlling center to a profit-enhancing, business partnering, and decision-making function. Traditionally, the FP&A team has been focused on preparing budgets, reporting what has happened, and communicating the information to the leadership.
Gone are the times when the FP&A department was a scorekeeper who was expected to focus on compliance and carry out endless cycles of financial reporting.
Next-level FP&A teams are positioning themselves as trusted business partners instead of being historians and custodians of information.
They’re becoming collaborative influencers who provide granular and actionable insights to decision-makers. Although the transition is ongoing, one thing is clear. FP&A professionals must add value by being a catalyst between operations and strategy.
FP&A automation in the form of tapping into new data sources, implementing integrated software, and launching new reporting processes will empower them to work faster and smarter and make bolder moves.
What happens in absence of automation in FP&A?
The month-end madness
Finance, accounting, and FP&A professionals agree that manually preparing month-end reports is one of the most stressful activities for the department.
Every month, it can seem like your department is under high pressure to present month-end numbers. It’s excruciating to have to verify your data and calculations to make sure they are accurate, more so when there’s critical information missing. Although you would like to close the books faster, accuracy cannot be sacrificed for speed.
The finance and FP&A organization ends up chasing down information from multiple departments and endlessly verifying everything with a fine-toothed comb.
Information is inaccurate and outdated
When organizational data is dispersed across business applications and multiple departments, FP&A leaders are left with outdated and inaccurate information.
Furthermore, this data is stored in spreadsheets that are updated and edited over time, resulting in different versions of the same information that affect the reliability of data.
One of the most common challenges faced by FP&A teams is the inability to ensure real-time reports which in turn leads to operational inefficiencies and delays in preparing accurate forecast and budget reports.
Why do companies seek automation in the FP&A department?
There are many flaws in the existing financial planning and analysis processes which are done manually.
- Manual collection and validation of data is time-consuming and prone to errors
- Lack of cross-departmental collaboration
- Lack of data flow between business sources
- Manual data entry and data cleaning
- Data and security risks persist
- Financial modeling and scenario planning over spreadsheets has limited functionalities
The new era of finance business partnership calls for FP&A automation. To help finance drive business forward and establish a successful CEO-CFO relationship, the FP&A organization needs to be agile, integrated, and analytical.
Key areas to adopt automation in FP&A
Data processing and integrations
Planning and reporting processes mainly depend on access to accurate and real-time data from different departments across the organization.
For instance, ERP and accounting software gives an up-to-date and predictable view of runaway and cash balances and customer acquisition costs.
For planning and forecasting, the CRM gives insights into sales performance, customer cohort analysis, and the impact of your pipeline on all aspects of your business.
Similarly, the HRIS and ATS gleans insights into headcount planning and full cost per employee.
By unifying your data sources, the FP&A team can set financial targets, analyze monthly/weekly results, and prepare accurate budgets that align with the key performance indicators.
Integration with key data sources is one of the biggest benefits of automation for FP&A as they can collect accurate data in real-time and rely on a single source of truth. Even better, FP&A software can integrate with your existing tech stack to free up the team's time that otherwise goes into data consolidation and data transfers.
As an FP&A professional, you have built highly accurate forecasting and budgeting reports. Now, you can’t wait to show your output to the boardroom.
When it comes to sharing those insights to predict, plan, and forecast the future with the leadership, FP&A teams face a critical challenge: manually copy-pasting this data into spreadsheets and slides.
If you are looking for a way to replace manual data exports and reformatting them into rigid charts and updating presentations automatically, integrated business planning platform Pigment provides a native Google Sheets connector.
Here’s how you can level up your presentations and analysis on Pigment:
- Not only do you leverage all data integrations into a single repository, but you can also build views that can be exported into sheets and decks.
- Your data is presentation-ready within a few clicks, in minutes.
Automation of the FP&A function enables the finance team to assess the key drivers of the business and the latest trends and understand their impact.
An important part of automating FP&A workflows is to run what-if scenarios within minutes to prepare dynamic financial models using business planning software.
A native scenario planning tool built right within your business planning platform analyzes any number of scenarios or models you create. To prepare your organization for all eventualities, you can even run what-if scenarios comparing model data across multiple future paths.
You can run scenario planning using existing scenarios, change assumptions to analyze best and worst-case scenarios, and compare scenarios using waterfall charts, bar charts, and more.
FP&A automation for scenario analysis ensures that you no longer have to manually add dimensions on hundreds of metrics during implementation.
Predict and plan the impact of business decisions on your bottom line using Pigment’s distributed planning feature.
Budgeting and budget approvals
Automation of the FP&A organization enables hassle-free cross-departmental communication. It eliminates the need of having to write lengthy emails for budgeting or budget approvals.
The single source of truth breaks down the silos and aligns the whole organization. You can share quota assumptions, insights on updated data, and tag colleagues in live conversations. In addition, the FP&A software ensures data consistency and integrity across your models. For improved transparency, everyone can see the dependencies of your formulas to understand what lies behind the numbers.
Lastly, automation in FP&A using an integrated business planning software Pigment covers all use cases including budget variance analysis, revenue planning, collaborative budget planning, rolling forecasts, and more.
While the challenges for FP&A are foreboding, they can be managed with automation. By implementing automation in FP&A, finance professionals have seen:
- Reduced human error
- Shorter cycle times owing to faster decision-making
- Redirecting human talent to decision-making and insight generation
- Increased productivity as automation leaves more time for process improvements.
How to adopt an automation mindset: Building the operating model for FP&A automation
While a lot has already been said about automation bringing a complete revolution of FP&A within the organization, the part discussed far too infrequently is how to adopt an automation mindset.
Invest in a business planning platform
An integrated business planning platform like Pigment automates data collection and validation in real-time and runs analytical processes to enable FP&A teams to plan, budget, and forecast business strategies.
Ranging from running flexible what-if scenarios, creating unbreakable formulas to flexible financial modeling, the business planning platform allows decision-makers to make the most out of data analysis by automating repetitive, time-consuming, and error-prone FP&A processes.
Start small but start somewhere
Instead of automating all the functions of FP&A in the beginning, find out which aspect of financial planning and analysis will make your work more efficient or accurate.
For instance, you may want to start with automating scenario planning or building accurate forecasts. Then, build momentum to strategically identify where it makes more sense to automate.
Say once you have automated scenario planning, the next step could be to consolidate and aggregate large amounts of data from all your business applications. Next, you could make dynamic models and create reports in real-time by connecting business cases across the organization.
Set higher standards for your team
It is not enough to provide granular insights to the board members: next-level FP&A leaders can help the company when and how to steer financial resources for the highest-value activities.
For this, as a leader, you need to build a forward-looking mindset where the team is encouraged to ask questions like “what-if’s” and “so-what”. It is the responsibility of modern FP&A professionals to provide stakeholders with options, scenarios, and projections, rather than historical data analysis.
Position the FP&A team as a strategic business partner
Finance business partnership is in a unique position to drive performance by:
- Analyzing financial information,
- Providing strategic insights based on macroeconomic trends, and
- Serving as a center of intelligence, data, and decision-making.
Automation of FP&A teams allows the finance team to provide data-backed insights, figure out the story the financial data conveys, and influence business peers to make better decisions.
FP&A automation is becoming a fundamental part of the financial planning process
There are two parts to automation in FP&A: adopting an automation-first mindset and implementing business planning software to shift focus from historical reporting to becoming a strategic business partner to other business functions.