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    Fast Closing: how to trace the correct business routes around it

    Nothing is built on stone; everything is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.
    (Jorge Luis Borges)

    The highly dynamic market environment and the rapid evolution of technology now have a constant impact on the transformation needs of business processes in companies.

    Although this context is extremely variable and mobile as “sand,” the need to build a “solid” process such as Closing, nevertheless remains a business priority in order to chart a proper course for the future. It is now well known that the Closing/Fast closing process is only one of the pieces of a puzzle that is completed with the iterative processes of planning, but it however remains a fundamental element of it in order to be able to build and hypothesize a complete design.

    As we had mentioned in a previous article “Fast Closing and ERP: is it time to rethink boundaries?“, it also becomes a fundamental element to establish the boundaries of the various applications within the Closing process. In this regard, what we would like to show you is a real case of a home appliance manufacturing company in which, using a well-established methodology, we set ourselves with the client two fundamental objectives: to rethink the closing process and to optimize all the activities related to it.

    The project, which we will briefly describe to you in its macro-phases, leveraged four key areas:

    • Processes: total and/or partial revisiting of the processes involved
    • Organization: realignment of the responsibilities of the key figures involved in the Closing processes
    • Technology: identifying the capabilities of existing or “new” applications for proper coverage of the Closing process steps
    • People: identification of competence and/or role gaps of the people involved within the process and activation of an appropriate change management program

    Fast Closing: identification of Key Principles

    In this first quick assessment project phase, the client’s board supported by the AKC team identified change guidelines such as:

    • The key business performance indicators and the supporting control model
    • The main responsibilities within the organization in the Closing process with approach: central VS local
    • The responsibilities/boundaries of the application perimeters involved

    The unification of the models

    In this second project phase, the goal achieved was the unification of the cascading control/dimensional models:  

    • The business control model aimed at representing the performance indices identified in assessment
    • The dimensional model of the transactional/management system (ERP) in which the core administrative/accounting processes are recorded
    • The dimensional model of the corporate performance management (CPM) system aimed at the data closure and consolidation process

    Maintaining consistency among the above three models ensures that there was a uniformity of language among top management, day by day activities carried out by operational staff, and controlling people dedicated to the data closure and consolidation process.

    This uniformity of language implicitly allows processes throughout the chain to be carried out more effectively.

    The realignment of the management system (ERP).

    In this third project phase the ERP was realigned in order to properly “map” within its dimensional model the needs of the control model. The main elements analyzed and realigned to the model were:

    • all control model objects: profit centers, cost centers, internal orders, job orders, statistical allocation and/or allocation drivers
    • the product cost structure: cleansing and revisiting the cost elements according to a net allocation approach between fixed and variable costs.

    The implementation of the CPM system

    Since the company lacked a full-fledged CPM system, a specific tool was implemented in this fourth project phase in order to cover some important process steps so far not covered by structured applications (closing and consolidation activities until then had been carried out on office automation/excel tools).

    The main pillars on which the implementation of the CPM tool was developed were:

    • Definition and implementation of the CPM dimensional model.
    • Definition and implementation of closing processes by individual Company with related operational tasks
    • Definition and implementation of Group closure processes
    • Definition of the reconciliation process at both the individual Company and Group level

    Change management

    In order to operationalize the change, with the changes made within the ERP system and the implementation of the process broken down in a structured way into steps/tasks supported by a workflow within the CPM tool, a specific staff onboarding plan was activated that was based on three areas of work:

    • revisiting procedures with clear distinction of responsibilities with central VS local approach
    • training plan to engage staff by leading them to have a complete understanding of the closing process
    • operational training on applications to enable proper maintenance of the data over time and proper performance of operational activities.

    Conclusions

    The closing project, with even its acception/declination of Fast Closing, is by its nature a complex and articulated process. In order to enable companies to create value by making available the necessary information in a clear and comprehensive manner and simultaneously within the timeframe of a precise Corporate Closing timeline, it must be designed in a detailed and coherent manner.

    No aspect of this must be overlooked: organizational model, technological landscape, processes and procedures, but above all, awareness of the context in which people perform this activity by providing them with all the skills they need.

    Fast Closing and ERP: is it time to rethink boundaries?

    quickly understand current phenomena and make timely and correct decisions.  The ability, therefore, to have reliable information in a tight timeframe becomes a crucial aspect of business life, and shortening the timeframe for reporting results (so-called fast closing) can be the answer to this need, provided that the reliability of the data on the basis of which to make relevant decisions is maintained.

    However, no matter how fast the processes of consumptive accounting can run, there comes sooner or later a time when they appear incompressible, except by accepting an increasing approximation of information. Approximation that, beyond a certain limit is unacceptable when communicating information externally (so-called financial reporting to the market) or internally as part of the corporate incentive system (so-called MBO).

    A blurred boundary: data reliability

    The unreliability of data represents a boundary that should not be crossed, so it is necessary to understand where to set the bar. Once that boundary is drawn, one can reason about how to shorten the closing-the-book processes in order to have the information available as quickly as possible to be conveyed to the market or used internally. According to Art. 2 point 16 Directive 2013/34/EU, information is material when its omission or misstatement could reasonably influence decisions made by users of financial statement information, and according to Art. 2423 of the Civil Code, what influences the fairness and truthfulness of financial statement representation is material.

    Therefore, in general, it is possible to say that information is material where in its absence, due to its absence or unreliability, it is not possible to effectively make decisions geared toward creating value and/or reducing risks. It therefore seems foolhardy to adopt an approach aimed at reducing the timeframe of the closing-the-book process within an ERP by moving part of the fast closing processes to personal computing media (i.e., Excel) and then simply decanting the results into the ERP, which then becomes a container of externally originated and therefore not reliably certified data.

    On the other hand, an ERP guarantees data according to rigorous and certified logic unless it is increasingly fed with externally produced data (i.e., Excel files or other tools) that is not integrated with the ERP itself. Finally, consider also the aforementioned increasing volatility that requires greater flexibility in data processing and analysis. An ERP requires quite significant costs to be adapted to changing needs so data reprocessing ends up falling back on the aforementioned personal computing tools.

    Rethinking the Fast Closing process in a CPM system

    We can therefore try to rethink the closing-the-book process by starting with an analysis of the significance of individual data for internal and external reporting purposes and then consider a solution that sees this process move to Corporate Performance Management (CPM) systems. It is then necessary to identify the data with the highest significance and within that the data with the lowest data source traceability. The latter are those that create the greatest concern at fast closing and risk not being effectively manned with personal computing solutions.

    In this critical area may fall processes whose impact on financial reporting can be significant e.g., management of leases under IFRS 16, of incentive & compensation systems, trade promotions, fleet management, rate adjustments based on actual volumes and costs, management of agency relationships, etc… vertical needs that an ERP can cover, but with high costs and generating increasing time incompressibility, while with departmental solutions costs and time are definitely more affordable.

    The belief that ERP must necessarily cover the entire closing process in an integrated way is thus called into question, a false myth if there is widespread use of personal computing solutions. It is therefore appropriate to begin to consider moving the closing process to a CPM system, interfaced not only with the various departments but insistent on the ERP itself.

    ERP, CPM system, or both?

    The CPM system would then be deputized to go the so-called last mile, drawing from ERP at a certain date prior to closing and from departmental systems. Closing and settlement entries would therefore take place within the CPM system, which could easily handle the process of preparing consolidated financial statements.

    Immediately prior to closing, reperforming activities could be thought of in relation to relevant processes based on deviations of ERP data from those obtained from the initial extraction and in relation to the relevance of the closing period (i.e., semi-annual and annual reporting). Finally, variance analysis would take place directly in the CPM system, the location where forecast data are processed.

    In conclusion, the reduction in closing time, while maintaining the high reliability of the data obtained, seems not able to be effectively verified by moving certain processes to personal computing solutions that then pour into the ERP. The ERP is the indispensable seat of transactional processes, but the closing-the-book process can be effectively rethought, in relation to the so-called “last mile,” by making use of CPM systems, also supported by specific departmental solutions, which ensure high traceability of data formation processes and the ability to process them flexibly and accurately.

    CIO and CFO: the secret to a successful collaboration

    Collaboration between CIO and CFO has become an indispensable factor in achieving business goals. In recent years, due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic, business processes, especially in the Finance department, have been accelerating technologically at a much faster pace than in the past, and this has inevitably forced a revisiting of them

    In this context, the ability to maintain and gain market share is a reflection of the company’s ability to combine business needs with application responses. This can only be achieved if there is a close collaboration between the CIO and CFO capable of adding value to the business.

    The importance of collaboration between CIO and CFO

    As Sheri Rhodes, Chief Information Officer at Workday, also recently said, “Modernizing and automating financial operations is now one of the priority digital activities of today’s companies, in fact I would say it is the top priority. Collaboration between the CIO and CFO has become imperative to achieve business objectives.

    Of course, it is important to point out that not all companies operate in the same way, and in fact it is not uncommon to find situations where communication between the CIO and CFO is not perfectly transparent and where the communication model is unidirectional, one way or the other. In fact, a vertical division of departments, i.e., silos that do not communicate with each other adequately, continues to persist in many activities. In our experience in the field over the years, we have found communication difficulties in both SMEs and listed companies. Although this model allows the company to move forward, revisiting it with a view to greater synergy could allow for more beneficial and more successful results.

    The risks of an absence of synergy

    By now it seems clear that the absence of synergy between the CIO and CFO can undermine results and the achievement of business objectives. Although in some cases the CIO and CFO manage to arrive at a compromise that can satisfy both, in most cases what results is a clash between the two figures capable of wrecking the spirit of collaboration that is being sought. 

    In essence, analyzing the issue on a purely operational level, should the CIO and CFO fail to arrive at a close collaboration two possible scenarios will play out. The first sees a prevailing of the position advocated by the CIO, who will most likely go for one of the best technological solutions on the market. These solutions, although perfect for the technology project of the CIO and the consulting firms that support him in his activity, may not be able to adequately support the activity of Finance users, not meeting their needs. In fact, CIOs often tend to adopt solutions at the ERP and CPM level that favor the choice of the same vendor in an effort to seek integration that, if it is possible at the horizontal level, is not possible at the vertical level.

    In the event that the CFO’s position prevails, it is easy to assume that the company adopts a solution that meets the needs of Finance users but lacks adequate integrations between the ERP and CPM levels with non-negligible effects at the TCO level of the solution. The collaborative process between the CIO and CFO must have a single goal: to choose a software capable of adapting to the business processes (perhaps revisited as a result of a BPR operation) while minimizing the TCO of the entire project. Faced with the complexity of this choice, it is necessary for the Chief Information Officer and the Chief Financial Officer to work synergistically in the interest of the company, free from possible constraints imposed from within or from outside companies.

    The benefits of a collaboration between CIO and CFO

    Very often when a company is faced with the choice of new software, it tries to prefer solutions that can guarantee high levels of integration so as to significantly reduce maintenance and interfacing costs. However, to date, as we explained earlier, there are no vendors offering truly integrated solutions between the CPM and ERP layers (vertical integration).  

    The issue changes if we analyze the situation from a “horizontal” perspective. In this sense, in fact, it is possible to find software that can adapt to process needs and at the same time manage to integrate optimally with each other. Integration, therefore, should not be sought on the vertical axis, but on the horizontal axis, and the real breakthrough in achieving business objectives lies in the collaboration between two key figures namely the CIO and the CFO.

    The necessary requirements for successful collaboration

    In the quest for synergy between the CIO and the CFO, for successful collaboration to be achieved, it is necessary for the relationship between the two figures to be based on certain prerequisites. Going into specifics, it is necessary for the CIO to be able to evaluate the best application solution, without making philosophical choices that often do not minimize project TCO or even meet business needs. On the other hand, the CFO must disengage from what is a user issue and move to a process issue.

    In fact, very often it happens that users who have always worked with the same program become reluctant when considering an alternative solution. In fact, updating a software inevitably also implies a change in the way of working. Although new things can invariably generate fear and uncertainty, it is nevertheless of paramount importance to keep in mind that business processes over the years may have changed from what was analyzed in previous implementations. For this very reason, it is necessary to reevaluate the process and evaluate the software that best fits the new business needs. Within this framework at first process analysis and then comparison activity with the software turns out to be crucial. Remaining anchored to the patterns of the past in fact runs the risk of making choices that are not win-win for the company and of not seizing the opportunities that projects of this type are able to offer, thus missing an opportunity for growth and development.In essence, for a successful collaboration to take place between the CIO and the CFO, it is necessary for both to abandon the beliefs of what could be the advantages of their own office with the intention of adding value to the company. Through the right collaboration, the CFO and CIO will enable the company to continue to thrive in a rapidly changing marketplace that along with the associated risks, however, also offers great opportunities.

    CCH® Tagetik: 7 capabilities to strengthen the Office of Finance

    Today the Office of Finance is facing new challenges; requests to CFOs are increasing every day, together with the request of decision-making capability and visibility on operational processes.

    In this phase, the selection of the right software, along with a design phase aimed at optimizing processes, can maximize the results in the CPM (Corporate Performance Management) area. One of the best software vendors on the market is undoubtedly CCH® Tagetik Expert Solution from Wolters Kluwer, which has continually improved its position over the past few years. Let’s look at its strengths for the Office of Finance.

    CCH® Tagetik: what it does and why it’s important to have CPM Software

    The choice of CPM software represents an important step for a company because an inappropriate evaluation can cause serious consequences and repercussions both internally, i.e. on people and therefore on company performance, and externally, i.e., on business performance.

    In a CPM software, the following activities can be carried out:

    • budgeting;
    • planning and forecasting;
    • consolidation;
    • closing;
    • reporting & analytics.

    We should remember that the above actions have an impact on medium-long-term strategic plans and visions. Especially in the last period, also due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ability to remain competitive at the market level, gaining shares, is also due to the company’s ability to meet business needs with applicative responses.

    cta demo tagetik en

    In an increasingly challenging environment, at least at an economic level, these applications have become more important, allowing the streamlining of many processes in the Finance Area making companies more “agile”, which means more able to respond properly to the changing markets.

    In this context, CPM software, if well implemented, can really give a boost to the performance of a company, and make a difference in many processes.

    In our experience we have seen several Planning or Consolidation projects taking increasing time (and costs!) of implementation, without even going live or going live but with a low level of satisfaction for the users. To avoid this kind of outcome as much as possible, here are several factors that can contribute to the successful implementation of CPM processes.

    Implementation of CPM processes: success factors

    It is practically impossible to analyze in detail every single factor that can determine the success or failure of a process in the field of Corporate Performance Management since it is composed of a large number of elements. However, we can summarize the most important ones in our opinion:

    Choosing the right consulting firm

    Engaging a consulting firm means being supported by Industry Experts and therefore getting a critical analysis of current business processes, understanding how to transform and evolve them according to the market, and implementing best practices. be careful to choose a partner and not a simple executor.

    Not software features, but process requirements

    The selection of software should always be driven by the process you want to manage in your organization. However, the attitude is often to adapt the process to the software chosen for the implementation with negative impacts on both day-to-day operations and maintenance costs.

    Given the facts, the software solution that is more suitable to obtain a given result given in each business context is clearly CCH® Tagetik CPM software.

    cta demo tagetik en

    CCH® Tagetik expert solution: top 7 capabilities to strengthen the Office of Finance

    CCH® Tagetik solution adapts to business processes while minimizing the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) and meets the needs of finance users. Here are the 7 strengths of CCH® Tagetik for the Office of Finance:

    1. CCH® Tagetik, as confirmed by leading analysts, is one of the few market leaders in both Planning and Financial Close that allows you to manage both Actual and Forecasting processes within the same tool, which by their nature has many points of contact and intersection. The possibility of having a single software to manage these two types of processes allows easy comparison of results, ensuring a common data model and therefore a meaningful comparison.
    2. From a technical point of view the solution is deployable both On-Premise and on Cloud and it is the only software certified to run also on the SAP Hana database, leveraging all the benefits also in terms of performance. For companies that already have, or are about to pass, to the new SAP S4 this feature can be a definite advantage in terms of integration with the ERP.
    3. The ability to use an open and unencrypted database allows CCH® Tagetik to easily interact with all Business Intelligence systems on the market (MS Power BI, SAC, Qlik, and others) which, as confirmed by our experience in the field, are very often already present and used in of many companies, and therefore safeguarding the investment made in this area.
    4. Product Capabilities: both in the Financial Close and Planning fields, the CCH® Tagetik suite is outstanding for its many built-in features (i.e. allocation, spreading, double-entry bookkeeping, etc.) that allow you to model complex processes. The use of native functions eliminates the need to develop ad-hoc code (customization vs. programming) and makes the solution maintainable directly by the business, reducing maintenance costs.
    5. Analytic Information Hub: the addition of an analytical layer allows the flexible management of operational processes where an unlimited number of dimensions and a high granularity of data are used. The native integration with the financial layer allows an automatic reconciliation between operational and financial data.
    6. Predictive Intelligence: the new engine with Artificial Intelligence integrated into the Analytic Information Hub offers the possibility to automatically interconnect historical series, capture trends, and business drivers, and give the best solution for the future.
    7. Customer Experience: last, but not least, is the point referring to Customer Experience and Satisfaction. The suite, according to all the major analysts, is positioned in the top position of this ranking.

    In conclusion, the CCH® Tagetik Expert Solution from Wolters Kluwer stands out for its ease of use and implementation – a feature that should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to restructuring the Finance department’s processes. However, to achieve the company’s goals, a design phase is also needed to optimize the underlying processes and make them more efficient.

    CTA Demo Tagetik box EN

    CPM Projects: ERP-centric perspective vs CPM-centric perspective

    Projects coming from the CPM ( or EPM) area have become of common use in our everyday lives.
    Before taking an in-depth look at our approach and vision in relation to this, let us get a better understanding of what CPM is.

    What is CPM: definition and approach taken in selecting a software

    Although slightly different versions exist, you can consider the acronyms CPM – Corporate Performance Management – and EPM – Enterprise Performance Management –  as synonyms without causing misunderstandings.

    CPM is used to identify “corporate” applications in a company used in supporting Performance Management (PM) processes which are usually run by Finance functions.

    These are the PM processes which are present:

    • Closing 
    • Consolidation
    • Planning, Budgeting & Forecasting
    • Reporting & Analytics.

    Some analysts tend to classify the software available on the CPM market according to the processes that can be handled, thereby underlining the pros and cons needed for others in making their choices.

    The aim of this article is not to give advice on what CPM software to choose but to highlight the two possible polar approaches available in companies, which in a business context, can reach two very different results in terms of costs and usability of the chosen software.

    To be able to understand this, we have to take a step back and outline the applications used in to the company to give support to the Finance area.

    CPM Software: master or slave?

    One of the most common perspectives of the systems supporting the finance area of a company is the three-level one shown below, where the CPM part is shown in the intermediate layer between the ERP system levels – where the data is generated – and that of Business Intelligence – where the data is analyzed.

    Software CPM: master or slave?

    A project in the CPM area can therefore support one or more of the business processes listed above, acquiring data from the ERP layer, aggregating it, modifying it and possibly transferring it to the BI systems if the depth of Reporting and Analytics present in the CPM area is not sufficient enough to cover the informative needs which are present.

    It is specifically when choosing a CPM system that the two polar approaches emerge:

    • Considering the CPM layer as a slave to the ERP system
    • Considering the CPM layer as independent (master).

    In other words, in the first situation the CPM layer is seen as an attachment to the ERP layer: the processes which are dealt with even in the ERP area or those not so strategic as to be given specific attention.
    For this reason the typical CPM business processes are approached in this case under different forms:

    • by choosing the software proposed by the same vendor present in the ERP area
    • by choosing a software that can be integrated by using certified connections on the ERP layer
    • by customizing the ERP layer

    In the second case, however, the processes in the CPM area play a different role and the CPM layer itself is created by favouring software that performs better in the management of processes. The theme of integration with respect to the ERP system is certainly pursued without, however, giving strategic importance to the technology used for the purpose.

    The winning approach to implement with CPM software

    After 20 years of working in this field and giving consultancy I believe that the first approach is not worth the trouble. I say this simply because the business processes that give support to the finance world have certain specifications that need to be treated with care to avoid unsatisfactory results.

    The 5 aspects of  unsatifactory results:

    • the usability of information 
    • software configuration 
    • scalabiilty of the solutions
    • processing time performance
    • configuration maintainability

    The CPM layer in recent years has become increasingly strategic in terms of giving support in decision making and often it is considered as an “ERP Management”.

    Although  ERP systems have evolved in recent years, they were created with the aim of managing transactions – millions of transactions that are generated daily in the company in the various areas of work.
    On the other hand, the CPM area was created to govern these amounts of data and operate on aggregates of these in order to lose the administrative baggage of the transaction and look for trends that allow us to understand the company’s performance and define future development plans.
    In the CPM field, one no longer operates on the movement but on the balance, it is not necessary to know the invoice number but it is important to group by billing customer (or cluster), …

    It is necessary to add to this the increasingly dynamic and articulated business contexts that have increased the centrality of the CFO and made this position more and more strategic and that of the processes that find their natural place in the CPM area.

    Implementation of a CPM project: what you should aim for and why

    Each different necessity needs the right tool to deal with it.

    With a purely technological approach there is the risk that the users on the CPM side will be penalised and equipped with inadequate tools so that they will be unprepared and misinformed when decisions have to be made.

    If it is true that decisions must be made on the basis of data that originates in the ERP system, it is equally true that this data must be analyzed and this can only happen on the layers dedicated to the purpose: the CPM for its nature or, possibly, the BI belonging to the CPM area, should draw most of the data of interest.

    I believe that all choices have risks; some evident and others hidden. The aim of choosing a software should always be that of minimalizing the TCO of an investment and looking towards maximizing the benefits for the user of the various applications.

    From this point of view the concept of integration, even if it is not the purpose of the choice, should not be overlooked.

    As can be seen from what has been written so far, integration is not the vertical one between layers, but the horizontal one within the same layer

    The value lies here.

    Zero-Based Budgeting: with the Covid-19 emergency is it time to re-evaluate it?

    The Covid-19 is a trend booster just like the digital revolution or the general changes in the way we do business.

    This change evokes the way of rethinking one’s activities and Zero-Based Budgeting is back in vogue due to the fact that it requires a continuous and radical rethinking in relation to the acquisition and allocation of resources in the company activities, avoiding to proceed in continuity with a historical experience now far from the new context in which the company moves.

    When did Zero-Based Budgeting start and what is it about?

    Lo Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB) non è certo una novità, essendo stato concepito negli anni 70 da Peter Pyhrr come strumento di allocazione delle risorse disponibili basandosi su un concetto a prima vista semplice: ogni volta che si elabora un esercizio previsionale si riparte da zero, ossia non si procede con aggiustamenti rispetto all’ultima previsione di budget, né si parte da dati storici. 

    Si tratta di un metodo che si basa sull’analisi del conto economico e in particolare sui ricavi di periodo da cui partire per capire l’entità dei costi che un’azienda si può permettere. Nella sostanza, in sede di ogni budget, se non addirittura di sua revisione, occorre individuare e quantificare i costi ritenuti essenziali lungo la catena del valore aziendale per verificarne la copertura da parte dei ricavi correnti. La copertura di tali costi, anche rinunciando, ovviamente non indefinitamente, ai profitti di periodo è fondamentale per garantire una crescita dei ricavi correnti. Solo ove residuasse un margine dopo la copertura di tali costi l’azienda potrebbe sostenere anche altri costi utili, ancorché non essenziali, mentre quelli che non creano valore o lo fanno in modo risibile andrebbero necessariamente tagliati.

    Lo ZBB si concentra quindi sui ricavi correnti e sul come accrescerli attraverso la leva dei costi. Nel far questo non trascura gli investimenti –  che sono il principale motore di crescita aziendale – il cui costo (le quote di ammortamento) deve trovare anch’esso copertura economica nei ricavi correnti, prima ancora che in quelli prospettici attesi.

    Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB) is not something new, it was introduced by Peter Pyhrr in the 70’s as a tool for allocating available resources based on what initially may seem like a simple concept: every time a financial year is processed we start over again from zero, that is, no adjustments are made with respect to the latest budget forecast, nor do we start from historical data.

    It is a method that is based on the analysis of the income statement and in particular on the revenues for the period from which to start to understand the costs that a company can afford. Basically, in each budget, if not even in its revision, it is necessary to identify and quantify the costs considered essential for the corporate value chain to verify if they can be covered by the current revenues. The coverage of these costs is essential to guarantee growth in current revenues, even if one waivers, in a non-indefinite way, the profits for the period. Only in the case in which a margin remains after covering these costs, could the company also incur other useful costs, even if not essential, while those that do not create value or do so in a risible way should necessarily be cut.

    The ZBB therefore focuses on current revenues and how to increase them by leveraging costs. In doing this, it does not neglect investments – which are the main engine of a company’s growth – the cost of which (the depreciation rates) must also find economic coverage in current revenues, even before the forecasted ones.

    Pros and cons of Zero-Based Budgeting

    Although the limitations given by a tool that focuses on economic and not financial-asset dynamics is visible, the ZBB offers a valuable contribution when it pushes one into rethinking the cost structure on a daily basis to ensure maximum performance and efficiency.

     

    This should not be conducted occasionally, but continuously given that companies operate in a highly dynamic context and it is necessary to promptly correct the aim where necessary. It represents a managerial style, if not a cultural model.

    The ZBB forces the management to constantly question if the cost item is:

    • Cost-Effective, that is, if by supporting the cost it will help increase revenues and therefore the profits
    • Cost-efficient, that is, if the level of cost for an element deemed essential is fair and competitive

    To sum up, costs are measured with reference to current results and future expectations, allowing management to allocate funds according to current needs rather than on the basis of historical experience. It follows that every expense must be justified on a yearly basis. The justification is therefore not required only for the new costs given that the goal is to eliminate unnecessary expenses that are the result of uncritical relaxation, consolidated behaviour and flattening out on historical data.

    How to apply the ZBB method

    The message is quite simple: every cost that absorbs more value than what it creates must be eliminated.

    Applying the theory is not as simple as it seems, since it is not always easy to verify, especially in the presence of costs that give benefits that are not easy to measure and do not have an immediate return (e.g. advertising, research, training, …). Furthermore, there are correlations between the cutting of some costs (e.g. maintenance) which imply an impact on other optimized ones (factory plants).

    Even if it proves to be difficult to verify, it does not mean that it must not be done.

    That is why it is necessary to follow these 4 steps:

     

    1. Verify the business model

    As the competitive environment changes, it is necessary to rethink the activities and resources necessary to compete in short-term and in perspective. The ZBB is closely linked to the corporate strategy which is adapted from time to time to the changing scenarios of the market. In other words, it is about maintaining a close link between strategic vision and the acquisition and allocation of resources to business activities.

    1. Analysis of the current situation

    Before focusing on the strategic path to follow, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the current situation, that is how company resources are allocated and consumed by the various profit centres. The focus is on the control dimension carried out by the planning and control function; in fact, it is necessary to assess whether the costs incurred in the past have then produced benefits. If not, they should be rethought, starting from scratch.

    1. Zero-Based Budgeting as an organizational model

    The focus now shifts to the planning dimension carried out by the planning and control function but starting each time from scratch, that is, rethinking the allocation of resources and activities based on the review of the business model and starting from the awareness of the current situation. To sum up, the cost structure will reflect upon a new allocation based on the allocation of resources primarily to the most profitable businesses.

    1. Development control

    The last step consists in checking the progress of the aspiring business model and, if the conditions are met, to adjust the actions in progress.

     

    When it comes to Zero-Based Budgeting, it is therefore not a question of implementing a wild cost cut, but of reallocating the limited resources available to the most profitable activities that change over time and often rapidly within the business portfolio.

    In other words, the ZBB is the antithesis of the infamous linear cuts.

    In doing this, an in-depth overview of the company is required and information limitations must be removed in order to have the necessary transparency for an effective allocation of resources. These conditions are not always present in reality, but the ZBB is an organizational model even more than a planning and control tool.

    Operational problems may also arise, or in the absence of adequate IT tools, the application of the ZBB can be excessively expensive in terms of time and money, so much so as to discourage a continuous use of this approach.

    However, from the 70s up until now, many steps forward have been made in terms of modelling capacity through Business Performance Management tools, therefore an approach that has the undeniable merit of promoting continuous critical and in-depth rethinking can come back into vogue about the allocation of company resources and their costs.

    Why (still) overlooking the revenue?

    Although the revenue (COGS) is a measure that considerably burdens on the societies’ balances (even until the 75% of the revenues on annual base) nowadays is barely controlled. Principally because it is not easy to control it.

    Neglecting the revenue (COGS): what this implies

    The discontinuous control of this measure, especially in season business, does not allow either seizing the deriving opportunities and neither to evaluate the correct position of the company, exposing it to significant risks. The knowledge of the COGS allows, indeed, giving visibility to the difference between the purchases and unsold stock and the revenues, enabling opportunities otherwise not usable:

    • Analysis of the margins per customer, product (industrial contribution) per effective cost and no more only for standard costs;
    • Knowledge of the elements that contribute to the attribution of a cost and of the consolidate margin, at the net of the transfer prices policies.
    • Planning processes (budget, forecast, plans) no more managed on the revenues but in relation to the purchases and the unsold stock.
    • Strictly linked to the previous point is the likelihood of making financial planning more significally and no more depending on historical algorithms that break up the revenues in diverse elements
    • Analysis of the differences between what planned and what financially balanced.

    Although this, it is easy to find, in companies, situations in complete discordance with what just reported:

    • The managerial closing process does not always balances with the civil law one (even though at the end of the year and with debatable balancing procedures).
    • The COGS is calculated to standard and the analysis of the margins per customer/product is done only on this point of view even uf the effective trend can be different both because the standard cost is not effective and because there is a decision in seasons in business.
    • The activities of economic planning are done on the margin, obtaining the COGS as derivate.
    • The activities of financial planning are done suggesting logics of composition of the COGS based on historical trends.

    Consequences of not analysing revenues

    It is evident that this behavior brings to a less knowledge of business and, consequently, to a less capacity of reaction to external solicitations. The companies must be able to respond to these questions:

    • The managerial/statutory balance done only at the end of the year is enough?
    • Which is the real contribution/industrial margin? Are we able to decline it per customer?
    • Which is the cost of the manpower that the company can deduct in the several productive plants?

    The knowledge of the COGS and the consecutive obtaining of the benefits previously listed, pass through three different elements:

    • Cultural: Not always in the companies, exist the awareness of how to control this measure neither from the organizational point of view, either from the IT one. In addition, we often consider business models that use this COGS, even without knowing it.
    • Organizational: the link between the cooperation world and the finance one is the key in this type of activity. Therefore, in the company must be institutionalized processes that foster this communication.
    • IT: Not all the existent tools in the market in support of the AFC area (typically linked to the CPM sector) are adapt to foster and support the planning and control activities of the COGS in the full meaning of the term.

    Resorting to Excel is not the solution

    The IT projects in CPM area, focused on the implementation of the processes that involve the finance world (closing, budgeting, forecasting, reporting…) often get more focused on the adjustment of a AS-IS model than on a BPR preliminary activity aimed to the valorization of the most strategic elements for the competitiveness of a company.

    Certainly, the COGS issue is critical and has to be considered central in any process in the AFC area. Therefore, the companies have to be addressed in this type of choice to avoid themselves having tools that, even if working well, are not able to increase the development of every company. Indeed, we often prefer not to engage money and resources in BPR activities or to redesign the control models, and to adopt Excel as escape from the classic processes. Surely, we have an immediate saving, but the risk of losing opportunities or, at worst, to lose competitiveness become more and more concrete.

    A practical approach to Cash Flow Planning

    In this first article we will discuss the financial planning process. The article will consist of a general introduction to the planning model, with reference to three distinct design types, and a series of examples including some practical tips that, though generic, will refer to the best practices adopted in real-life projects.

    Cash Flow: what is financial Planning

    In the case of financial planning we are referring to a simulation model of cash flow or net financial position, in other words a cash flow statement that is comparable to an account statement of any kind of bank account, where revenue and expenses are planned and obtained both from forecasted  income balances and from the final balance of credits and/or debits at the beginning of the simulation, such as trade credit/debit, employee expenses or VAT expenses. This type of simulation is a typical process of the  finance area and of great interest to many business entities, regardless of their industry (CPG, Retail, Utilities, Construction, Manufacturing, etc.). The following indicators are used by the Finance Office to obtain information to help create the best business strategy to be used:

    • financial sustainability of a new investment;
    • the cost of debt, not optimised for an inaccurate coverage maneuver;
    • the loss of opportunities caused by an incorrect optimization of hedging, such as the lack of or late investment of all kinds of financial resources;
    • medium-long term leverage analysis;
    • the assessment of the sustainability of different financial coverage maneuvers;
    • profitability of a new project.

    Based on my experience the financial planning process can be divided into three distinct models:

    1. Collection of the net financial position by legal entity and consolidation of the same at the level of a corporate group and/or sub-group;
    2. Short-term financial planning;
    3. Medium-long term balance sheet and financial planning.

    Hereafter each  model shall be analysed in detail.

    Net financial Position

    The net position collection model is a distributed rolling process, in which the finance manager of each legal entity of the group is called upon to indicate the weekly retail net position of the forecasted future periods.Typically, this simulation process is done every month,  and it extends over a not too large simulation range, from three to six months rolling.

    The goal of this process is the same as the following one, to optimize the short-term financial maneuver. In this case, the Finance Office of each legal entity is required to enter the local net position manually, and then proceed with the consolidation process. Therefore, giving back a net position to the group.

    In addition to the time detail of data collection, ie the week, it is required to define the cash inflows and outflows by value and by type of movement:

    • Operating income or expenses: domestic or foreign customers, suppliers, labour costs, new investments, etc.
    • Financial income or expenses: purchase or sale of equity investments, factoring, repayment of loans, bank charges, etc.

    Within the Inputs it is required to provide the net financial start of the simulation which, if available, must correspond to the closing date of the previous month, or to the last pre-closing forecast.

    Lastly, in order to be able to properly disclose and to provide an additional consolidated net position reporting to the value of the group  and/or sub-consolidation, the intercompany income and expenses must be explicitly explained and reconciled in a weekly report.

    Model difficulty:

    The difficulty of this particular model does not coincide with the purely operational activity, which consists in a pure data collection, but in the construction of a distribution process with well-defined  levels and dead line deliveries (at the beginning of each month) and in the reconciliation of intercompany statements.

    Short-term financial planning

    The short-term financial planning model is a rolling process in which the bank account is simulated on the basis of a detailed daily and/or  weekly movement of income and expenses . This process, centred on a weekly simulation of the single net position and it extends over a period of time not exceeding three months rolling.

    The short-term financial planning differs from the previous methodology, because it gives  more in-depth details in the simulation  and it is done daily for each and every bank account by considering the following input, which once loaded from the original subsystems (ERP, treasury, budget system, etc.), can be corrected or more generally modified manually:

    1. Bank balance at the beginning of the simulation
    2. Bill-book for clients/suppliers
    3. Open orders from clients
    4. Effect of  P&L forecasting  for the remaining items of major importance – personnel, utilities, etc.
    5. Other extraordinary assets – VAT payment, short-term financing, factoring, etc.

    The main objective of this type of simulation is to optimize the cash management maneuver in relation to existing credit lines and commitments by anticipating or postponing cash withdrawals and/or payments whenever possible in order to obtain the best “financial fit”. Additionally, adding to the previous points the calculation of financial charges and earnings, simulated per day and per current account, provides a complete picture of the daily trend of the fund, making it possible to highlight any problems in the balance between active and passive current accounts and find a solution by manually balancing available liquidity.

    Model difficulty:

    The difficulty of this particular model lies in obtaining a flexible and fast tool that allows one to perform a light simulation which can be repeated within the same month with the help of “what-if” analysis tools.

    Medium-long term balance sheet and financial planning

    The medium/long-term balance sheet and financial planning model is a process based on budgeting, forecasting or multi-year planning that starts from the monthly balances of the forecast income statement and the simulation of the balance sheet. The monthly balance sheet and the daily cash flow are planned by using the following processes:

    • DSO collection orders or DPO payment.
    • Billing rules in case of different expenses, such as Insurance, annual advance, electricity, postponed bimonthly etc.
    • Double-entry flow routines:
      • Step 1: from the  balance to the counterbalance- Revenue from Customers to Trade Credits – Valorisation of any accrued/deferred expenses based on the applied billing rule and the calculation of the indirect tax.
      • Step 2: from the balance sheet to cash accounting, through the application of DSO or DPO rules – Customer Invoice Credits .
      • Disbursement rules for initial balance sheet items – customer/supplier bill-book, manual disassembly, DSO or DPO rules, etc.
      • Tools for simulating the financial impact of new investments.
      • Simulation tools for the financial effect of the loans.
      • Methods of calculating charges and income due to financial maneuvering.
      • Direct tax calculation tools

    Unlike the previous cases which are focused on the single net position and characterized by frequent simulation, this latter process is typically carried out on an institutional timeline and embraces both the statement of income, the balance sheet and cash flow statement. Indeed:

    • The forecasted income statement is completed by amortizing new investments, financial charges/income related to loans, financial charges/income relating to the net position and direct taxes.
    • The forecasted balance sheet is calculated on a monthly basis, starting from an initial balance sheet, forecasted income and financial flows, new investments and financing, from the calculation of taxes to extraordinary movements, as a shared increase.
    • The direct cash flow is produced by using the daily retail, from all movements of income, the initial balance sheet and extraordinary features, such as the payment of earnings per share.

    The details of financial and balance sheet planning can correspond to the legal entity or, in some cases, the cost centre or the contract. Arrangements or payment rules can be defined by item of income or in further detail such as, for example, the combination of the item of income and the customer or supplier’s information (Client A Revenue for Customer A is collected at 30 days Customer Billing Customer B balance is collected at 60 days).

    Model difficulty:

    This model is more articulated than in previous cases, and its difficulty consists in finding a tool that can cover the features highlighted above to help make a thorough analysis and modelling of the process.