Effective Communication Requires Striking a Balance in the Age of Increasing Information

From Malcolm Faulkner, Senior Director Product Marketing, SAP

History reveals that a lack of communication, or a breakdown in communications, can determine the outcome of individual battles and entire military campaigns.

Perhaps the most controversial military debacle attributed to an initially vague order unclearly communicated was the famous charge of the light brigade during the Crimean War’s Battle of Balaclava in 1854.

In another example from historian Joseph Persico’s excellent book, 11th Month, 11th Day, 11th Hour, a senior officer, after the third Ypres battle being driven to the front lines, viewed the muddy wasteland. He is reputed to have broken into tears, cried, “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?” His driver responded, “It gets worse, farther on up.”

While the consequences of bad business decisions pale in comparison to military ones, there are lessons in communication we can learn and apply in business today.

Improving Employee Communication

As the much quoted Kaplan and Norton’s research reveals, “Only 5% of the workforce understand their company’s strategy.”  It’s not that companies don’t communicate their strategy – but they do a poor job ensuring the message is received.

In an age of increasing information, the challenge is sifting through relevant and trustworthy data quickly enough and surfacing the salient facts upon which to make decisions. Then, the directives that determine the desired course of action need to be regularly reinforced.

Effective communication doesn’t mean broadcasting a strategy once a year that most employees immediately forget.  Nor is it a matter of inundating employees with so many e-mails, meetings, and announcements that they tune out.  As employees are more inundated with information, their attention spans are correspondingly shorter.

We need to find the right balance in communication, and deliver a message that employees can embrace and provide them with the resources and support to make them successful. 

African American businessman talking on cell phone

What Not To Do

It’s critical to recognize the limitations as well as the benefits of modern communication.  E-mails go unread? Time to pick up the phone!  Indiscriminatingly hitting Reply-All increases the chances of tuning people out. Webinars are not as effective as face to face meetings.  This might all seem a bit old school, but it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Endless op reviews and meetings might seem to make sense, but do these activities really translate into tangible change or are we just rehashing the same story?

All too often, senior management becomes removed from the day-to-day workings of their organizations. They hear from only a few voices, usually their direct reports. Their information can be skewed by personal and political factors or they may be simply tuned out.

Tools You Can Use

Performance management tools can help you pinpoint places in the organization that need your attention. In times past, the main challenge was just getting information. Now we have the challenge of too much information. Technologies can help us sift through huge volumes of data, highlight what’s most important, and take action.

One visionary example of the use of such tools is the widely acclaimed CitizenInsight application deployed by the City of Boston to keep its constituents informed of government initiatives and performance.  Creating a simple iPad application like this, that clearly communicates strategy and performance and is accessible and readily available, is an effective way of addressing the 5% issue.

But even this isn’t enough, though.  The message needs to be followed up to ensure employees understand it. Much like the charge of the light brigade – confusion can result in a disastrous course of action.

Attending the SAPinsider Financials 2014 conference next week in Orlando? If you are planning to be there then why not come and hear me talk more about performance management in my session on Wednesday 19th March, “Achieve excellence with end-to-end financial planning and analytic solutions”. I look forward to communicating with you there!

Don’t Miss the Mobile Excitement for Finance and EPM Solutions in Orlando!

From Karuna Mukherjea, Senior Director Product Marketing SAP solutions for EPM


We’re less than a week away from the much anticipated SAPinsider Financials 2014 Conference. The excitement is building around the mobile EPM innovations and technology we’ve been feverishly working on the past few months.

What makes events like Financials 2014 really meaningful is talking with our customers, our partners and all those that touch or consume our solutions in different ways. We’re starting to see a lot of core technologies impact organizations at a macro level and not just a specific solution. Customers are taking our solutions and integrating them to solve specific business issues they have. And customers and partners are sharing war stories about how they have really pushed SAP solutions for EPM to the limits to enable and empower their organizations.

I’m excited and honored to be part of this mobile EPM journey. My first stop at the event (and I hope yours too) will be the Tuesday morning (18 March) Keynote by Christian Rodatus. During the keynote, Bill Guilmart who heads up the SAP EPM Solution Management team will do a live demo of the SAP EPM Unwired solution, a mobile user interface that is tied to SAP Business Planning and Consolidation, powered by SAP HANA.  Bill will talk about how key executives and organizations can leverage this solution to help them react and respond in real time to business issues, and better manage and predict business outcomes.

There are several other stops I plan in this exciting journey and I encourage you to participate too, so you can get a look first hand at the mobile solutions available for EPM and Finance. Here are sessions that you absolutely cannot miss -

EPM and mobility: Capabilities, integration points, and process decisions

Mobilize your finance organization using SAP mobility solutions

Live demo: Mobile performance management with SAP EPM Unwired 3.0

Extending key performance management processes with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1

I look forward to seeing you at SAPinsider Financials2014 and taking this journey together.

Spring into performance at SAPinsider Financials 2014

While I have nothing in particular against the months of January and February, I’m always pleased for March to arrive, as spring is generally well on the way by then. Seeing the splashes of colour from the spring flowers gives me hope that Field of Red and Purple Tulipswe’re just a few short weeks away from brighter and hopefully warmer days.

Bright and warm days are, of course, not in question for anyone planning to attend the SAPinsider Financials 2014 Conference in Orlando, 17-21 March. Similar to those spring flowers, this event heralds the start of an exciting and no doubt, colourful events season.

With SAPinsider Financials being one of the first key events on the SAP events calendar, I’m sure that attendees will be eager to get the most out of this superb event.

For SAP’s EPM team, the Financials 2014 event is shaping up very nicely. EPM sessions are featured in a number of the event tracks, with topics ranging from best practice tips and advice, to the impact of innovative technologies on EPM processes like in-memory and mobility solutions, as well as multiple sessions focused on customer success.

If you’re attending the Financials 2014 event then you can review details of sessions online before you go and select your topics of interest. Here are a few EPM sessions that I’d recommend:

Case study: Consolidation process improvements at Bank of America using SAP Business Planning and Consolidation

Case study: How Hunt Consolidated deployed SAP Business Planning and Consolidation on SAP HANA to reduce the time it takes to perform planning and forecasting activities

The 2014 guide to SAP enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions

EPM and mobility: Capabilities, integration points, and process decisions

These are just some of the many sessions available this year at Financials 2014, in addition to the excellent pre-conference workshops for attendees wishing to dive into deeper levels of their subject areas.

My advice – if you’re attending – is to plan ahead on how you’ll spend your time. It’ll pay dividends in the end, so you can maximize your time, and the value you’ll get out of the conference.

Watch the @CFOKnowledge twitter handle over the next few weeks for links to more EPM sessions at SAPinsider Financials 2014.

Improving Business Planning and the Financial Close

In my blog post a few weeks ago I shared details of two SAP solutions for EPM customer stories with you. One of these customers, oil producer Concho Resources was described by my colleague @JohnGWard3 in his linked blog post to be using SAP Business Planning and Consolidation to improve the efficiency of its financial planning and reporting processes.

It’s great to be able to share stories like this, as they serve to focus attention on the opportunities for creating business benefits from the use of software solutions. But sometimes it’s also nice to hear a more detailed description about the “why” and the “how” behind a decision to implement a software solution or to be provided with a fuller description of the customer’s experience in implementing and using their new solution, and the impact that this has on their business.

So as a follow-up to my earlier blog post I would now like to share the more detailed view for Concho, in the customer’s words.

Concho Leverages BPC

Here’s a link to a YouTube video of a presentation from Concho Resources and SAP business partner Akili, at the 2013 Best Practices for Oil & Gas conference. It’s quite a long video of the full conference presentation, but interesting to see if you have the time. Watch the video to hear how Concho were able to:

  • Achieve a consistent planning process
  • Increase visibility into the financial close numbers and performance metrics
  • Improve speed of production and accessibility to monthly financial close reports

Implementing a robust planning solution at IDEXX Laboratories

I had a nice surprise the other day when I came across a customer video that I’d not seen before. It was a surprise because I do spend quite a bit of time researching and reviewing customer stories concerning the use of performance management solutions, and this one from 2013 must have slipped through my net!

This story was recorded at SAPInsider Financials 2013 and provides a short overview of the reasons why IDEXX Laboratories implemented SAP Business Planning and Consolidation, to replace their legacy planning system with a new and robust planning tool. In addition to providing improved connectivity with their back-office SAP ERP system, it seems that SAP Business Planning and Consolidation also impressed IDEXX with its user-friendly interface as well as providing them with a single source for planning data, helping them to remove multiple planning spreadsheets from the process.

IDEXX Labs Interview at SAPInsider

Access the video recording here to listen to their story.

Place your bids for an improved Financial Close

I came across an interesting SAP customer story the other day, which was in part referred to in an earlier CFOKnowledge article published in November 2013. As you’ll know from reading that blog article, SAP had augmented its comprehensive Accounting and Financial Close offerings by endorsing the BlackLine Financial Close Suite a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering from partner BlackLine Systems. Citing benefits such as reduced risk and easier compliance in their account reconciliation and financial close processes, efficiency gains and increased employee productivity, along with the freeing-up of resources (personnel time) to do other things, on the face of it this cloud-based solution has much to offer. I can certainly see why this would appeal to organizations eager to improve and further streamline their Financial processes.Businessman Looking at Stock Prices

An article in SAP Insider this month now reports how eBay have transformed their Journal Entry, Task Management, and Account Reconciliations processes using BlackLine’s solution, working in tandem with their existing SAP ERP software landscape. According to the article the results of the implementation have been a reduction by several days in the financial close, greater visibility into close processes and reconciliations, and improved auditing controls. And by the sound of it, the system also seems to be easy to implement and use.

Take a look at the SAP Insider article for more information (you may need to register for access), I think you’ll find it an interesting read, and it may perhaps leave you wondering whether you should also bid for an improved Close process.

Drilling for Performance Improvement

It may not have escaped your notice, but many of the blog posts I write concern stories of customer success. This should be of no surprise really, as a lot of my time is spent on helping customers to bring their stories to light, either as written success stories or increasingly for me as conference presentations for some of the global SAP events.

A couple of stories were brought to my attention a few days ago, and I thought that these would make interesting reading to anyone focused on maximizing the potential performance of their own organizations.

Case 1 – Oil company Concho Resources Inc drills for deeper planning insight
Posted by my colleague @JohnGWard3, this blog post describes how oil producer Concho is using SAP Business Planning and Consolidation to improve the efficiency of its financial planning and reporting processes. Citing improved closing processes, faster and more accurate reporting, Concho also says that the application has helped them to achieve a deeper and more granular understanding of budget and actuals comparisons at a property level, helping them to collaborate more effectively with partners.


Case 2 – CitizenInsight app continues to keep Bostonians informed about performance
Also posted by John Ward, this blog post returns to the story of how the City of Boston uses the SAP Strategy Management application to make it possible for city departments to set objectives and measure key performance indicators (KPIs), pushing out performance data to its citizens using the CitizenInsight mobile app. From what John writes, the City of Boston has continued to invest in innovative approaches, describing how SAP HANA is also utilized to analyze data that’s subsequently used to inform decisions aimed at improving city services. I continue to be impressed by what the City of Boston has achieved through their innovative application of technology and the benefits that this brings to their citizens. I often wish my own local city council were so enlightened!

So, all in all two terrific and quite different examples of how performance management solutions can enable organizations to gain the insight and understanding that they need to run their businesses better. Hope you enjoy reading the linked blogs in more detail. I’ll aim to bring you more customer stories as I come across them in 2014.