With Finance still relentlessly seeking further efficiencies and desperate for better insight to their peers in the business, it’s timely the a report commissioned by consulting organization PWC titled ‘Closing the Gap in Performance Management’ has just been published that explores the priorities that Finance functions see ahead in terms of managing performance.
The findings, which are largely based on the UK, suggest that finance professionals believe that many of the processes and tools used to manage performance are outdated, specifically:
- The usual consensus that current planning & budgeting systems are inadequate.
- That many cost and profitability management solutions are still insufficient in that the information they generate is rarely action orientated and insufficient for optimising operating margins.
- That failings in data quality and data integration are compromising both productivity and timely decision-making.
It’s the last one that I’ll focus on as the message about having better information that is well-managed and easily accessible comes through loud and clear throughout this survey. In many ways, poor information compromises Finance on all fronts as without it they cannot provide a superior level of service to those who need information for business decision-making – and the need for manually manipulating data precludes enjoying efficiencies that would drive down its own departmental costs. So unless it gets data management right, Finance will never be able to ‘do more with less’, just like their colleagues are having to do elsewhere across the organisation. Based on the findings of this research, performance management and analytics are both areas where investment in systems that are horizontally integrated as a suite and vertically integrated into core data repositories would help drive productivity and reduce costs – as well as providing better access to the type of information everyone is desperate to get their hands on.
For example, 44% of respondents indicated that ad hoc reporting is difficult and time-consuming, while 42% suggested that their organisation lacked the appropriate tools to create analysis in a timely manner. This was recognised by those with board-level responsibilities (44%) who are no doubt familiar with long delays in responding to their queries. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that so few finance analysts (32%) recognise this issue compared with other members of the finance function – but this may well be because they are all too aware of some of the time-consuming processes involved in extracting and analysing data in order to provide answers to their colleagues’ queries. Likewise half of respondents considered their company to have poor quality non-financial data, (rising to 83% for those in CEO and chairman roles) and over 50% of respondents from larger companies with turnovers of £1bn or more, were concerned that their companies had more than ‘one version of the truth’.
As the chart above shows, the good news is there is a willingness and desire to address these challenges quickly, with many respondents having firm plans to make these processes ‘fit for purpose’. For instance 71% of respondents intend to make improvement in budgeting, planning and forecasting in the next 1-2 years and cost and profitability reporting receives almost as much attention with 62% of the respondents reporting further investment in this area. Likewise respondents report planned investments in improving data integration (64%), data quality and governance (63%) and business intelligence (55%) with the majority of respondents intending to start projects within the next two years.
Delivering on these good intentions is vital, because if Finance really is going to work alongside their business colleagues to drive revenue growth and profitability, they can hardly pitch up to meetings with out-dated and confusing data. But if they address the current short comings with better performance management solutions and smarter analytics – as they say they will – then their commercial peers will recognise the undeniable value they bring to the business.