By the year 2020, at least 75 percent of businesses will look at consolidating data from across the organization to improve the accuracy and accountability of financial planning and analysis, according to Gartner. And one way they plan to better manage that data is by adopting an enterprise performance management (EPM) solution.

There is no shortage of EPM solutions on the market today. What’s tough is finding one that fits the needs of your organization and will help your business prosper. To help you better understand what you should look for when evaluating a new financial planning and budgeting solution, we’ve put together a list of some of the most important EPM features that can help your business make the best use of its data.

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Intelligent Use of Excel

Departments in every area of the organization have depended on Excel to manage budgeting and planning for years. The interface is familiar, it’s simple to enter number into cells, and frankly, it’s always been done that way. But companies are finding that Excel has its limitations and shortcomings.

Emailing spreadsheets back and forth has become cumbersome. Unprotected documents allow users to change formulas, diminishing the integrity of the data. Multiple disconnected spreadsheets make it impossible to get a holistic view of your entire organization’s finances. And, as companies grow, juggling huge numbers of spreadsheets just isn’t sustainable.

But even if you’re ready to upgrade to an EPM, you still need to ensure that people will use it. That means adopting an interface that is familiar to employees, regardless of their business unit or role in the organization. An EPM that uses Excel intelligently is one that gives front-end users the familiar look and feel of their favorite spreadsheet program, while reducing the risk that comes with insecure templates and disconnected data.

Onur Demirkaya, VP of finance for Tustin, California-based Foundation Building Materials website, says that as their company made more and more acquisitions, they simply grew out of using spreadsheets. “Initially we were using Excel spreadsheets and Excel models I built,” he said in an interview with Host Analytics. “It worked out great for a while but Excel has its limitations. For a company our size, with the growth that we were experiencing, we just grew out of it.”

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EPM in the Cloud

Employee productivity was one the of the top 10 CFO concerns over the last quarter of 2018, according to a study by Duke CFO Global Business Outlook. But if your employees are spending all their time gathering, troubleshooting and emailing data instead of analyzing and strategizing, your productivity numbers are going in the wrong direction.

With a cloud-hosted EPM, you can increase productivity by simplifying your processes around budgeting, planning and forecasting. And since finance will no longer have to rely on IT for software implementation, maintenance and upgrades, you can lighten their load, as well, freeing that team up to develop and focus on more strategic initiatives for your entire company.

Cloud-based solutions also help decrease licensing fees and equipment costs associated with on-premise applications, can integrate more easily with a variety of existing applications like CRM and EPM, and shorten time to value due to flexibility and speed in deployment. Finally, as your business grows — along with the data that growth generates — EPM in the cloud can scale easily to accommodate, preventing the risk associated with upgrading your entire finance system.

Learning Opportunities

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Designed for Collaboration Across the Organization

Gartner reports that by 2020, at least 25 percent of organizations will conduct more collaborative, continuous and consistent financial planning and performance management. By closely aligning financial strategies and processes across business units, according to analysts, finance can better manage the performance of the entire organization.

Keep this in mind as you consider your EPM. Be sure your solution makes it easy for people across the business to use the tool to input their budget and forecast numbers at their convenience so finance doesn’t have to spend the time gathering the information and going back later to ask questions if they find variances.

Empowering employees in this way keeps them engaged and allows them to collaborate in real time, while giving them ownership and accountability. As a result, functional business leaders can better understand their own lines of business, as well as make better strategic decisions around how to keep the overall business growing.

One Unified Platform

Protecting the integrity and accuracy of your data while keeping it secure has become a major challenge for today’s finance organizations. That’s why it’s so important to have a platform that provides you with a single source of truth. But you’ll never have it if you’re pulling data manually from lots of different sources. By copying and pasting even one number into the wrong field, you you could put your entire forecast at risk.

By bringing together planning, budgeting, forecasting, modeling and reporting into one platform, you can keep your data secure, streamline your budgeting and planning processes, and give budget owners more confidence that the numbers they’re entering, comparing and reporting on are up to date and accurate.

More Productivity, Higher Value

As you can see, there are many areas to consider when upgrading your financial systems and processes. By reassessing your approach to Excel, looking to the cloud, engaging in collaborative planning, and consolidating your data and processes, you can get more value from your planning, budgeting and finance forecasts, while helping your employees become more productive in the areas that matter most to your company.