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FP&A, the Third Way

May 12, 2021 Steven Lockwood  
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There’s nothing more certain than uncertainty. Well, besides death and taxes. Uncertainty is a mainstay of the world in which we live. The recent pandemic has both confirmed and compounded this with many countries, economies and businesses struggling to come to terms with the rapidly changing and evolving global crisis.

When we look at the effect that the pandemic has had on FP&A, then we can see that the impact has been enormous. Go to drivers have been affected and common data is no longer common. The need to add, change, update and refresh strategy plans, forecasts and budgets is more vital than ever before, with the need for quick adjustments here to stay in the new normal.

Businesses have always needed tools to support finance. Paper ledgers evolved to calculators, which evolved to spreadsheets, which evolved to FP&A solutions.

But the world as we know it has changed. We’re often finding that history holds as many answers for the future as current thinking. To that end, it’s long been stated that spreadsheets are dead. But with the need for agility is there a better tool?

That’s not to say that spreadsheets are right for every process and every use case. Countless businesses have seen issues with spreadsheets and it doesn’t take a huge search of the web to find countless statistics on failed projects, spreadsheet errors and reasons why spreadsheets should be ditched as a modern tool for business.

That’s part of the reason we’ve seen FP&A technologies emerge as a solution to remove the chances of data errors. And it’s not a bad thing that technology has evolved in this way. Many businesses now use FP&A solutions designed to be rigid and process orientated to ensure data integrity and regulatory compliance. 

Unfortunately, this can mean that modern FP&A tools have lost their ability to be flexible and agile. It’s no surprise, of course, but in an uncertain and volatile world, how do businesses effectively plan, forecast and analyze these rapidly changing and evolving markets with tools that don’t cater to flexibility? Through a third way— a way in between the rigidness of inflexible FP&A tooling and the unbridled spreadsheet. It’s a way in which the spreadsheet is used as the front-end user interface while linking to an application that adds the controls, power and security that’s required. This way isn’t new, it’s why Vena exists.

Let’s look at why this third way is viable. By using the Excel interface for the user, it’s simple to add columns, format, change layouts and use other elements that make spreadsheets so popular. Not only does this enable the flexible, agile management that’s required in an uncertain world, it also gives people cognitive comfort. It allows users to do their best work because it’s well recognized that humans will rarely perform at their peak when they’re forced to work within someone else’s constraints rather than their own.

At the same time, this third way allows controls to be applied to the data thus enabling the business to retain ownership of what can be modeled or updated. It enables larger data sets to be integrated from multiple systems while also adding powerful functionality for the FP&A process.

The outcomes for the business and FP&A function are enormous. To be able to have a controlled environment that enables rapid changes to models, forecasts and plans is a must- have when looking at the new normal way of operating. And it doesn’t stop at finance because if the interface is the spreadsheet, then businesses can use the third way throughout all areas where spreadsheets are currently used—HR, manufacturing, sales—the possibilities are endless.

So, the third way is a win-win solution because businesses get the best of both worlds—a controlled environment like Vena that also leverages Excel. In other words, businesses get to have their cake and eat it too.

And who doesn’t like cake?

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