Timing & Speed of Modern Planning and Budgeting Solution Implementations
For decades, many executives avoided software implementations. High project failure rates, cost overruns, etc. made many of them balk of these activities. It’s why so many of them deferred these efforts for years. They also avoided patching, upgrading and maintaining many of their applications for fear of an adverse outcome. The result of this overly cautious (in)activity was the accumulation of a mountain of technical debt (i.e., the cumulative maintenance costs of deferred software updates/upgrades or replacements) and the continued use of obsolete technologies.
Yes, these executives did have valid concerns. But, continued use of obsolete or risky technologies does expose a company to a number of technical, functional and security risks. Eventually, changes in technologies must happen.
A New Time and New Ways to Implement Software
The good news? Many of today’s better technologies now come replete with new, fast implementation methodologies some of which are even mandated by vendors for use by their implementation partners.
Why are these new methods popping up now? Newer solutions are being offered via multi-tenant cloud platforms. As such, software vendors and/or implementers can instantiate a new customer in a day or less with some solutions needing as little as an hour or two. In that short timeframe, a new instance is created with the new customer’s tables/files created, key configuration settings chosen and activated, security established, etc. Older, on-premises solutions often required weeks or months just to get the hardware, systems software, application software, security software, backup software and more ordered, received, installed, debugged and configured. With true cloud solutions, most of those implementation steps (and costs) are gone.
An implementation today is often more straightforward. Customers often use more of the standard processes and best practices as newer solutions are more robust and most cloud solutions do not allow modifications to their software. Customization, if you will, is gone while customers can still do some tailoring of the application to fit their needs. The more the customer adopts a standard approach, the faster the implementation will generally proceed.
Vendors now provide templates (often via spreadsheet format) so that users can upload data to the new solution.
Integration tools now make the connection of the new software to other applications very quick and painless. Many integrations can be accomplished via users, not IT.
The Right Time to Implement New Planning and Budgeting Tools
Picking the right time to implement new software applications is more art form than science. Customers must balance a number of factors to identify the right time for such an event.
While many firms want to implement new planning and budgeting tools well before year-end, they may find this timeframe conflicts with other IT and business requirements. For example, many firms have their annual benefits enrollment starting in October and running up to the middle or end of December. Depending on when your fiscal year end is, you may want to complete your planning software implementation well before this happens.
The best time to implement new budgeting solutions is:
- Before the new fiscal year begins
- After material changes to the chart of accounts are completed
- While implementing a new financial system (but not just before)
Great timing ensures that the budget accounts and general ledger’s chart of accounts for the next fiscal year are in-sync and that management reports with planned and actual figures are appropriate. For many firms with a calendar year-end, a new budget solution may get implemented in late Spring/early Summer with planners entering initial budget data in August/September. That timeframe often aligns with the end of external audit and other year-end activity for financial accounting personnel.
The accounting calendar is frequently a constraint in these implementations. Accounting departments often lose a week or more each month to the closing of the prior month’s books. Quarter and year-end closes also consume notable blocks of time. And, the external auditors, regulators and others will pounce on the accounting team’s calendar, too. Fitting in a new system against an always full calendar is a tricky feat and is why many implementations rely on a third party to drive some of the effort and keep things moving forward.
The Change Variables and Their Implementation Impact
We are not big fans of a ‘package-ectomy’: a process where people pop out an old package and implement a new one that works and behaves just like the old one. When that happens, little value is created. Instead, all of the mediocre or obsolete practices and processes are enshrined once again. This isn’t progress and it certainly isn’t moving things forward.
Software buyers, being people after all, are comfortable with familiar things. We habitually get told by clients:
- “But that’s not the way we do that here at Company XYZ”
- “I’m sorry, but my great grandfather and founder said we should do it this way back in 1907”
- “Why are you making us change? We like things just the way they are!”
Employees and executives may not like change but your competitors thrive on it. They see opportunities within change and you should, too. Remember, nostalgia is not a strategy. It’s a liability.
Look for ways to dramatically improve your planning processes, add value to the firm and shorten planning effort.
Whenever a firm changes its planning and budgeting system, it should also use the implementation timeframe to really understand the solution and to design and/or radically re-engineer your planning processes. Are they competitively relevant? Are they driving the right kinds of questions re: capital and resource allocation? Are the corporate goals, needs and objectives part of the process? Are people committed to the new approach or are additional training and change management efforts required?
Your implementation is only successful if you’ve:
- removed considerable time, friction and cost out of the planning process
- enhanced the firm’s reaction time in the market
- created all-new insights into the operations of the company
- gained some competitive advantage
- brought a new measure of enlightenment re: operations to others in the firm
- taken the ‘chore’ aspects of planning away
And, of course, it’s a success if the effort comes in on time and on budget.
Don’t be afraid of new software technology. Newer products, especially the multi-tenant cloud products, are often quite rich functionally and can be implemented in record time. The better, newer solutions that come with a rapid implementation methodology are a good value and something you should request.
Relative to budgeting and planning software, a fast implementation is desirable given how taxed (no pun intended) the schedules of accounting staff can be. But be careful to not rush things. Make sure you take the time to reimagine and reengineer the planning process in your firm before selecting and implementing a new solution. You don’t want a new solution to mimic your current one. Value will only come from identifying new ways to plan especially methods that make planning more of a strategic tool rather than a tedious chore. Chores are something I have in abundance at home….
Brian Sommer is one of the titans of the technology services arena with more than 25 years experience in the field, 10 of which were served as the most senior director of Andersen Consulting's (now Accenture's) global Software Intelligence unit.
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