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    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:

    • considerare il layer CPM slave nei confronti del sistema ERP Considering the CPM layer as a slave to the ERP system
    • considerare il layer CPM con dignità propria (master). 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 thisdata 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.

    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.

     

    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.

     

    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.

    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 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.

    Collection of the net 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.

    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.

    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).

    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.