Stuck in spreadsheet hell? It’s time to upgrade your budgeting and forecasting process
How long does it take your company to prepare its annual budget? Two weeks? Six weeks? Two months? Three months? And on a scale of “walk in the park” to “swim through shark-infested waters”, how stressful is the process?
If your answer is six weeks or longer, I'm betting the process is also stressful and unpleasant. For some human activities, a slower pace means more leisure and time to reflect; budgeting is not one of those activities. If a budget takes many weeks or months to complete, it’s not because anybody is taking it easy, but more likely because they’re stuck in a nightmarish cycle of data collection hassles, arguments, delays, requests for more information and spreadsheet version conflicts.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to shorten your budget planning and approval process, in most cases to four weeks or less, while also making it less stressful, more accurate and more useful, says Kevin Phillips, founder and CEO of IDU Holdings. The key is ditching those pesky spreadsheets in favour of a single, central information source that makes it easy to find and share accurate information with everyone who needs it.
Don’t get me wrong – spreadsheets are a fabulous tool and serve many small and early-stage businesses well. But, at some point in the life of every organisation, they begin to outlive their usefulness, and, like any other tool unfit for purpose, they can start to cause more problems than they solve. Problems like inaccurate data capture, version conflicts, broken links and user confusion and misunderstanding.
Here’s what’s possible instead: budget information is held in a single database to which all line managers have the access they need to check their past spending and propose new budgets. The interface is easy to use, so they don’t feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the task and there’s less temptation to procrastinate. The moment their numbers are entered, the finance department and their managers can see them, and query them if needed – right down to the level of individual line items. There are no long e-mail threads with multiple attachments, just a single database with comments and attachments embedded. Each department’s budget proposal is submitted on time, and approval is quick; if the budget isn’t approved, line managers know why and can make alternative proposals.
As a result, departments feel more ownership of their budgets, and are empowered to make better financial decisions. If the situation changes, they’re able to update their budgets in real-time – and the finance department gets early warning of changes, instead of only finding out months later when actuals are finalised. The finance department is also freed up for more strategic tasks like profitability analysis and proactive planning.
In the end, moving to a dedicated budgeting and financial planning system means each budget planning phase is shorter – but also that budgeting is continuous, making the entire firm more agile and adaptable to changing market conditions.
So, if you’re still stuck in spreadsheet hell – you don’t have to be. Have a look at what idu-Concept can offer.