A senior executive using real-time financial data to plan a new project investment other office worker.
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New technologies and quick-changing market dynamics have affected every area of the workplace — including finance. According to a report by Aberdeen Group (form required), pressures like lengthy budgeting processes, inadequate budget numbers, poor collaboration and market volatility are forcing organizations to reconsider their financial processes.

“External and/or internal conditions are constantly changing, and organizations of all types are struggling to keep pace with their financial planning, budgeting and forecasting,” according to the authors of the report. “Even the slightest change will make previous data out-of-date, and result in a budget or forecast that is completely inaccurate.”

Not only that, finance departments are also being asked to provide more input on how upcoming changes in the business might affect budgets, making it even more important to have easy access to real-time information. But if you’re stuck working with hundreds of spreadsheets and manual processes, real time might seem worlds away. Here are some tips to help you get closer to real-time financial planning and analysis processes that keep executives satisfied, and your business moving ahead.

Related Article: How to Solve Your Biggest Budgeting Challenges

1. Move to a Rolling Forecast

Rather than being constricted by an annual budgeting process that takes months to modify, rolling forecasts help you quickly adapt to anything the market, or your business, throws at you. Keith Pekarek, VP of financial planning and analysis for Chicago-based The Warranty Group, understands the challenges that come with annual forecasting.

“We used to look at the annual budget process in January and notice, for example, that we lost business in China,” he said in an interview with Host Analytics. “We did the plan in September, and people got upset about in November. Instead, we should have been upset about it in January, and thinking about how we were going to fix it.”

Pekarek says that with a rolling forecast and the right tools, instead of being a months-long process, organizations can immediately see where they’re going to miss their budget numbers, understand why they’re going to miss, and then come up with ways they can make up those variances. And by taking care of financial issues as they arise, finance leaders can spend their time strategizing instead of troubleshooting.

In fact, according to a report by Deloitte, implementing standardized processes like rolling forecasts and trending across the organization can help finance free up as much as 30-35 percent of their time and resources when combined with self-service reporting, flexible operating models and supporting technologies.

Related Article: 3 Surefire Ways to Make Enterprise Budgeting Easier and Employees Happier

2. Experiment and Plan for Different Scenarios

One of the benefits of working with rolling forecasts is the ability to consider multiple, or what-if, scenarios. By looking at a variety of possible financial outcomes based on different assumptions and drivers, companies can better prepare for the future and make more informed decisions rather than simply reacting.

For example, let’s say you want want to find out what impact adding five new support staff to your team would make. As a finance professional you’d be interested in knowing how these new hires would impact payroll, while the support team would want to know what kinds of equipment and training programs they need to support the new staff.

Using cloud-based modeling in conjunction with rolling forecasts, organizations can immediately update the rolling forecast and run scenarios to come up with ways to best deal with new variables and risk factors that arise in the business, staffing, industry, economy or the market. This ensures that the forecast is always accurate, and always up to date with the newest information.

3. Connect Your Organizational Data

As you can see in the example above, having access to real-time financial information across the organization is critical to making timely and accurate planning and budgeting decisions. That’s why pulling your data together into one central system is so important. This is the basis of integrated financial planning (IFP) — a process that helps companies plan for the future by taking into account variables from every function of the organization.

In order to make the most informed decisions and develop the most accurate forecasts, you need visibility into the most updated organizational data, as well as the ability to easily analyze that data. That way, instead of waiting until the books are closed, or wading through spreadsheet after spreadsheet, you can instead access data in real time, run more accurate reports and move through the planning and budgeting processes more smoothly.

Make Way for More Strategy

Staying competitive in fast-moving digital markets means being able to make swift decisions based on accurate, up-to-the-minute financial data. By having easy access to the latest numbers from across your entire organization, and using that data to keep your forecasts and budgets in line, you’ll spend less time analyzing variances, and more time advising and growing your business.