Finance and the Tech Foundation: Making Collaborative and Continuous Planning a Reality

In the book “Future Ready,” renowned forecasting experts Steve Morlidge and Steve Player describe business forecasting like sailing at sea: “It makes sense to plan before you start the journey, but the original plan is often soon out of date because of changes in the weather or tides.”

The pace of change isn’t slowing down, so in order to remain competitive, businesses must continuously adapt and quickly take action. A critical element of that is having the right technology systems in place that enable continuous and collaborative planning.

Traditionally, the goal of planning has been to define targets or budgets to measure performance—comparing actuals to plan. But planning today requires more. Done effectively, planning can improve achievement of business outcomes and mitigate the risks of underperformance. Whether it’s modeling for potential opportunities such as mergers and acquisitions or identifying potential risks and competitive threats, planning—done the right way—can be a game changer.

How can organizations do this? First and foremost, it’s about having accurate and immediate access to business data—workforce, financial, and operational—and using it to continuously shape business plans. It’s all about speed and accuracy, since action taken too late or misapplied is ineffective.

Secondly, collaboration with stakeholders across the business in order to track progress against plan is essential. Planning by definition is an iterative process, requiring involvement from multiple teams who are responsible for meeting their own financial goals. By bringing them into the planning fold early and regularly, there is greater individual ownership of results.

Many call this approach continuous planning, yet executing this model is much easier said than done—especially without the right technology, processes, and access to data. Finance teams often get stuck in the administrative work of manual data gathering and reconciliation, taking valuable time away from what matters most—analyzing data in order to drive strategic decision-making. Without immediate access to accurate and real-time data, it’s impossible to respond to changes and opportunities as they are happening.

A Continuous Planning System that Drives Business Outcomes

When we set out to build Workday Planning, we wanted to tackle these issues head on and give businesses the flexibility, speed, and insights to help them drive their desired outcomes. Having the right technology foundation in place was key, and enabled us to deliver something no one else has—the ability to transact and plan in one system.

With this foundation, finance also has the capabilities required to effectively collaborate with stakeholders across the organization. Everyone involved in planning and decision-making has access to the same current data in one place, with dashboards and scorecards showing actual performance—revenue, spend, hiring, and margin—relative to the plan they are helping to shape. This removes any barriers to contribution or execution of a plan, and enables conversations to be focused on strategy and decision-making.

While there are other planning applications on the market claiming to support continuous planning, they share the same fundamental flaw—planning is separate from the transactional system of record. This disconnected foundation means that finance will always have to work across multiple systems, which results in the same issues organizations are trying to move away from: stale data, difficulties accessing information, and security risks. These challenges hold businesses back from using planning for greater competitive advantage and their future.

Looking ahead, Workday is also addressing the need for more non-financial data, especially industry-specific information, in the planning and forecasting process. In my previous blog in the “Finance and the Tech Foundation” series, I talked about Workday Prism Analytics and the ability to blend and analyze both Workday and non-Workday data for deeper people, financial, and operational analytics. This becomes even more important when forecasting and planning for the future. I’ll be sharing more about this in the coming year.

In my next blog in this series, I will look closer at how finance can help businesses prepare for and adapt to different kinds of change—from mergers and acquisitions to new regulations to IPOs—and why the tech foundation of a finance system makes a difference to how quickly and effectively they can do this.

(Read the first four blogs in this series: “Finance and the Tech Foundation: Making Sense of Enterprise Tech Concepts, Part 1,”  “Finance and the Tech Foundation: Making Sense of Enterprise Tech Concepts, Part 2,” “Finance and the Tech Foundation: Real-time Consolidation and a Shorter Financial Close,” and “Finance and the Tech Foundation: What’s Needed to Deliver Impactful Business Insights.”)