Are you wanting to adopt a more strategic and pervasive vision for budgeting and forecasting in their organisation? You should be.

A good implementation of a budgeting and forecasting system can save you many staff days of effort. The problem is that budgeting and forecasting is seen as an efficiency issue and worst still, it is seen as an individual productivity tool for the finance department. If that is the case, most Budgeting & Forecasting systems on the market will do but the lack of usability as discussed here, will ensure that your new system will just end up disused on the shelf.

A good budgeting and forecasting system needs to do far more than budgeting and forecasting. It needs to be a business platform; a place to go for many different purposes, a place to plan and to support decision making. It is not uncommon to find budgeting systems where the user logs show very little usage on a day-to-day basis.

The new system needs to delight users into interacting with it. It is a perspective that web designers are all too familiar with. If it’s too difficult to navigate and get the outcome they need, people will just go elsewhere. I see the system as a unifying business platform, providing an intuitive, visual and attractive interface, not a place just to update some budget numbers.

This is beyond budgeting. It is the impact that a unifying technology platform can have in creating business value, by changing negative cultures, stimulating growth and innovation of an organisation.

The issue, with many of the solutions on the market place now, is that they are either too complex and require a high maintenance overhead from both the vendor and your internal resources, or they are too simple and need you to fit your needs into its template approach. Either approach leads to high cost of ongoing ownership, lack of uptake of the new system and a system that can remain in its pre-defined state for many years.

Your job in evaluating a new system therefore needs to focus on how it deals with enabling pervasive usage throughout the organisation, not just how it fulfils a list of requirements. Below, we discuss two vital features of systems to enable this. First we look at a toolkit approach to building modern budgeting applications and then a modelling tool for simplifying complex processes.

Lack of user adoption

A rule of thumb is how thick the user administration manuals. There are manuals the size of small books on how to administer a system.

This is one of the biggest issues for any system but especially so for a Budgeting and forecasting system where, in its simplest form, budgeting activities are carried out once a year with maybe some infrequent updates through the year. If this is your aspiration, then the cheapest Budgeting system will do but if you want to make budgeting a worthwhile exercise, then it is worth looking further and higher.

In this solution called BOARD, you create customised screens which have a ‘mash up’ of data views, dashboards, graphs and process information. It can be tailored quite simply to the end user’s needs.

These screens behave like web pages not a heavy business application.

figure 1. Customised screen example
figure 1. Customised screen example

 

Building modern applications

To encourage pervasive use we need the means to create an interface which allows intuitive and easy navigation.

This example shows a toolset approach which provides interface customisation tools.

figure 2. Ribbon bar
figure 2. Ribbon bar

It shows a visual modelling toolkit that enables you to create business applications from within the end user interface itself.

The system effectively becomes a content management system (CMS), whereby end users can control the content of the interface instantly. This allows the end user to define the content, position, the text, the data visualisations in the front end, make the change and hit save. You get the exact look and feel you want in guiding end users in making it the most satisfying experience possible.

Business applications in this respect have lagged behind consumer IT, where users have grown accustomed to apps and intuitive websites.

The difference between consumer and business applications though is that typically, business applications operate in a much more complex and diverse environment, pulling data from multiple data sources and adapting to the widely varying needs of the organisation.  There is no one size fits all and for this reason, it necessitates a customised solution that is adapted to your users, your core systems, and your organisational approach and culture.

 

Process modelling

So how do we manage to remove the complexity from the end user and create a consumer-style experience, without resorting to coding our way out of the problem?

The starting point is simplifying and breaking down complex processes. In this example, we see how a process can be visualised into a step-by-step routine. Many other tasks such as integrations, complex reporting routines and workflows can be broken down in a similar way.

Procedures need to be deployed without the need for technical specialists and on-going maintenance. Here we see how a process modeller works.

The procedure, shown here, breaks down into a series of steps a process for copying actuals to budget and applying user defined driver uplift factors at the same time.

figure 3. process modelling
figure 3. process modelling

 

Typically this requires long scripts which would have to be debugged by a developer if a fault arose or a change is needed.

The procedure is then put behind a button using simple wizards to guide the user as in the example below, in figure 4.

This enables procedures to be deployed with very little training and documentation for the organisation.

These can then be built into screens such as this, where the interface consists of buttons with notations and textual tool tips to guide the users. This example is a screen which gives the user complete administrative control of the integration to the core system.

figure 4. Buttons remove complexity for users
figure 4. Buttons remove complexity for users

 

Straight jacketed by technology

The final aspect of features of a modern application is the ability to be flexible and adapt to a high rate of change.

Change is not just where there is structural change but more often it is where you recognise your evolving needs. Mostly users resort to spreadsheets at this point as they know it will be too difficult to represent in the system. Some

of the features in technology to mitigate this have been discussed above.

The other major aspect to change is change in the software itself due to ongoing development by the international software developers.

Upgrades for these types of systems are often an extensive exercise. As a consequence, many companies get locked into a pre-defined environment for many years and miss out on the new features and performance of the new system, wasting your expensive annual maintenance.

It is the product development of the software that is the cause of straight jacketing by technology. Many systems are based on a patchwork of different products and technologies as a result of multiple acquisitions which are then forcibly integrated. With an integrated technology, major upgrades are completed in a matter of hours with minimal awareness or involvement of end users.

 

Finally

In my next blog, I will be looking at the workflow and process aspects involved in application building. Process is a vitally important component for breaking down organisational silos. We will be looking at achieving this through a process visualisation toolset, again with no coding. I will also be looking at implementation methods which maximise the value and opportunities afforded by these agile type technologies.

I would like to end now on the challenge I posed at the beginning, with a call to raise expectations beyond a budgeting requirement.

This vision is for a tool to be the go to place for users to carry out many different tasks. It is a tool for the different roles and needs of users in the organisation; for the executives, management, business analysts and the everyday information workers.

If you are fully utilising the software in this way, you are generating the maximum value of your investment, as buying three or four different applications to do the same thing as one will result in much greater expense and low user engagement. Providing an application that people actually use has got to be the number one success factor in any procurement decision.

 

You can read other budgeting and forecasting blog posts here. 

You can read more about Professional Advantage and Board here.

 
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