How Technology Can Help FP&A Bridge the Strategy Execution Gap
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Does your organization’s strategy seem like a mystery or a carefully guarded secret? Can it feel as if people's daily work doesn't relate to the direction where your business wants to go? Are people unable to access and understand your corporate goals easily? If you answered "Yes" to any of these scenarios, chances are that your organization is not as connected as it needs to be — in order to emerge unscathed from periods of uncertainty. Let’s explore how the right technology can help bridge that gap between high-level objectives and results on the ground.
As organizations chart a course through the pandemic and adjust to its impact, many are fine-tuning their strategies around digital transformation, the customer, the cloud, agility, efficiency, and growth. But despite all the change, one stubborn challenge remains — how to put smart strategic ideas into operation and know they're working.
Technology can help financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams solve this problem. But you need connectivity, data source integration, visibility, and the ability to strike a balance between rigidity and flexibility. As a result, your FP&A team can get actionable insights and exceptional, measurable outcomes.
The importance of connectivity and data integration
Connectivity means uniting people, processes, and data via a single, intuitive platform, usually via the cloud. This provides a place where everyone can access your strategy and stay aligned. Results can be tracked instantly, and corrective action can become an agile, seamless part of the process. You need to analyze, understand, and act — responding rapidly to change as it happens. Without this, companies can end up chasing spreadsheets, spotting trends too late, and getting caught off guard. Employees and the wider business can lose focus and drift.
To stay on point, organizations need accurate, timely data all in one place. And if your strategy extends across your enterprise — which it almost certainly will — you'll require a platform that works seamlessly with your ERP system. This is critical when it comes to capturing every key indicator and measuring the success of your objectives.
FP&A will need the option to dig deep because, so often, the tiny details reveal insights that have previously proved elusive. You must allow seamless navigation to the underlying data via a single pane of glass.
Your data tells a story
While data is essential, numbers alone are not an opinion or a strategy. A powerful FP&A platform will not only allow you to collect numerical information, but also support sentiment collection, and attach documents to start bringing the data to life. It will use self-service dashboards and analytics to give you actionable insights. They'll tell you the story, providing commentary, context, and sentiment. For this to happen, quantitative data needs to turn into qualitative insights.
For example, let's say you run a software company, and one of your goals is to prioritize cloud growth. This ambition is exactly that — an ambition, an idea. But you can only measure measurable things, like data. Connecting the relevant data to measure the success of strategy is only possible if the technology can support and hold both data (numeric and text) and objectives or outcomes. Making this information visible helps to anchor everyone to your strategy. It becomes meaningful and tangible — and underpins the role people can play in achieving your goals.
Organizations can take advantage of big advances in technology and the cloud delivery vehicle, in the form of artificial intelligence and forecasting. As a result, you don't need to wait until a problem arises. Instead, the system predicts and indicates that corrective action is required now. And it shows you where to act.
The beginning can be overwhelming
Deploying an effective FP&A platform is a big part of closing or mitigating the chasm between strategy and execution. But the starting point can differ between organizations.
The end goal is to have a broad and deep level of capability throughout the organization, from strategy to execution, from finance to operations. This is generally the vision.
You need to set and agree top-down targets, including explanations of what your organization wants to achieve. You’ll need to include people and gather opinions from the bottom up to understand what can be achieved. You’ll need to execute scenario planning for “what-if” analysis –trying out alternative scenarios to see which works best, and driver-based calculations to edge towards the world of optimization. FP&A can be a BIG topic. But let’s not, to coin an idiom or two, boil the ocean. We all know the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. So where do you start? The answer will depend on what issues are urgent for your organization right now.
Seek out quick wins
Wherever you start, make sure you start. Look for low-hanging fruit at the beginning. Perhaps there's an objective or outcome that you just can't afford to miss, maybe the age-old problem of Excel errors and the lag in collation and decision making? Perhaps understanding full-time equivalent (FTE) requirements based on planned activity will reduce overstaffing and save costs?
Whatever the issue, start small and grow. Finding quick wins will free up resources for the next stage and provide momentum. Before long, the fog will lift, your strategy will become visible, and you'll become a more focused organization aligned around clear goals.
The only way to get there is by joining up everything on a shared, single, central, secure FP&A platform for multi-user access. It'll be clear to everyone how their activities contribute to the company. It'll feel natural — to the point where people don't notice the technology. It simply represents your organization and the role they play.