It’s been a few months since our annual Adaptive Live event in San Francisco, but my finance team and I continue to reap benefits from the experience.
“Live,” as we call it, brings us face-to-face with our customers for several days of learning, networking, and recognition. We aim to provide a valuable experience for those who attend. Yet I was struck this year by just how beneficial Adaptive Live is to our own team. The event plays an essential role in guiding us as we develop and enhance products, as well as focus our training and support efforts in the months ahead.
Which brings me to a question I’m often asked: How is FP&A evolving in the cloud era? By way of an answer, allow me to share my three key takeaways from Live about FP&A transformation.
FP&A is hungry to make an impact: I’ve written before that it’s a great time to be in finance. That belief was reaffirmed time and again at Adaptive Live. I met so many FP&A pros who are eager to learn and leverage new technology and best practices to make a more strategic and meaningful impact on their organizations.
There’s no doubt that cloud technology has blazed a path to increased relevance for many FP&A practitioners, freeing them from back-office number-crunching roles to positions in which they increasingly generate insights and analysis that have a direct impact on business results. The shift from labor-intensive static planning to cloud-empowered active planning makes it all possible.
Top of mind for many are exploring ways to efficiently integrate data to establish a single source of truth and further streamline manual tasks so there is more time for strategic analysis, forecasting, and scenario planning. This makes a lot of sense, considering in our CFO Indicator Q4 2016 report, 60% of CFOs identified data integration as the top technology hurdle that most stands in the way of getting actionable reporting information.
Other key areas of focus are workforce planning and topline planning. These are issues in which FP&A often played a limited supporting role in the past. Now, the ability to produce a range of scenarios and forecasts is positioning finance at the core of the strategic brain trust at many organizations.
FP&A no longer shies away from soft skills: Finance pros often have a reputation for lacking key soft skills such as communication and collaboration. While it’s fair to say that many among us lean toward being somewhat reserved, in some ways I think we’ve been limited by the tools we have traditionally used.
While Excel and other static planning tools have a place, they are not particularly efficient at generating insights that lead to greater collaboration and interaction. Add to that the fact that manual processes are so time-consuming that there’s often no chance for meaningful analysis, and it’s little wonder that the stereotype of FP&A huddled in solitary cubicles has taken hold. The persistence of this challenge was underscored in our CFO Indicator Q1 2017 report in which 77% of CFOs said major business decisions have been delayed due to stakeholders not having access to data in a timely manner.
Yet, here again, cloud technology has opened new possibilities for FP&A to make a big impact. The fast, easy, and powerful capabilities of cloud solutions provide FP&A with actionable data and insights that encourage better collaboration and provide a seat at the table with internal partners and leaders.
There is a growing expectation that FP&A will deliver the story behind the numbers, crafting narratives that provide context and clarity on what the data means to the organization, both now and in the future. And FP&A practitioners are learning they don’t have to be remarkable orators. They can add significant strategic value by simply becoming more well-rounded and expert in developing metrics and forecasts that shed light onto strategic discussions and future plans.
The keen interest in soft skills exceeded even my expectations at Adaptive Live, as our sessions about presenting to the executive team and getting feedback from C-level leaders were some of the best attended of the entire event. As the game changes for FP&A, better collaborative skills are fast becoming core competencies. By honing them, FP&A practitioners will bolster their profiles and ultimately their careers.
For FP&A, community is key: Shortly after Adaptive Live, I published a LinkedIn blog that emphasized why community matters for FP&A and offered up some thoughts on how we can build one that has lasting value. I think community is particularly vital as FP&A plays larger and less familiar roles like the ones I have outlined in this article. Many of us are wading into relatively uncharted waters (a year ago I never imagined I’d be writing blogs!), and we can all benefit from a community of like-minded professionals. The opportunities to share ideas and best practices, tackle new challenges, and simply network are invaluable—and make all of us better.
Adaptive Live offers a great opportunity to bring a small part of that community together. Yet, there are plenty of ways to keep the sense of community alive and vibrant throughout the year via online and in-person interactions.
Cloud technology has opened the door for FP&A to make an unprecedented impact on business results. But, ultimately, it’s the people—eager to learn, collaborate, and build an engaged community—who will make the biggest and most lasting difference.