Goodbye, 2021. Hello, 2022.
January may already be over, but that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty to look forward to in the year ahead—expected and unexpected. And that’s true in the financial and operational planning spaces as much as it is everywhere else.
What’s different this year for finance and operations teams is the legwork they already have behind them. If last year was all about predicting the unpredictable, then 2022 is about continuing to put the past two years’ worth of learning into action—and enhancing the agility and insights already in place. At least that’s what Vena’s team of experts told us when we asked where they predict the financial and operational planning spaces will go in 2022.
Some of their predictions won’t come as a surprise, as trends we’ve already been seeing continue to build momentum. Others have been a long-time coming. But they all speak to a larger movement: the rising role of finance as a strategic partner to business, and embracing the best tools to help them provide the insights they need to thrive.
"The most important role finance teams play is in building and articulating a compelling, data-rich story of how the company is doing and where the company is going,” our CEO, Hunter Madeley says. “Done right, this builds alignment around a strategic vision and operational plan that inspires action and delivers results."
This year, Hunter and our other Vena experts—CSO Rishi Grover; CTO Hugh Cumming; Vice President, FP&A Tom Seegmiller; Vice President, Solutions Mark Erdmann; and Vice President, Revenue Operations & Strategy Burzin Contractor—expect that teams will be putting even more of the pieces in place to build out that alignment. As a result, they’ll end up adding even more strategic value—and agility—to the business in 2022.
These are their predictions.
1. Finance Teams Will Deepen Their Commitment To Providing Strategic Value to the Business
When we surveyed 175 business leaders and finance and operations professionals last year for our 2021 Vena Industry Benchmark Report, 97% of them said their finance team was already adding value as a strategic partner to their business. That wasn’t surprising to us—especially during the ongoing pandemic, where the need for strong leadership and strategic insight has only escalated. And with such a strong base to start from, our experts see momentum only increasing in 2022 as teams build on that strategic role—momentum they expect to continue growing even when the pandemic comes to an end.
Increased automation will help, taking more manual operational tasks off the plates of finance and operations professionals so that they can devote more of their time to analysis and driving strategic decision making. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will also likely contribute—something we explore in our next prediction.
2. More Teams Will Embrace Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
Our benchmark report also showed us something that did surprise us: only 7% of finance teams were using AI in 2021—exactly the same number we saw in 2020. But despite the lack of use, 35% of respondents still understood the benefits of AI in decreasing costs by reducing manual effort. And 30% saw it as a way to provide a competitive advantage by leveraging data insights.
It’s no wonder, then, that our experts think that this will finally be the year that the use of AI and ML starts to gain momentum in the finance space. AI and ML have the power to transform the finance role—empowering finance professionals to solve complex planning challenges while correcting for anomalous events and external factors. And the additional value they offer will help teams drive decision making forward—enabling them to add further strategic value to their business.
3. We’ll See Continued Integration Between Planning and Analysis
Achieving better collaboration business-wide has always been an important goal. It has become even more critical since the pandemic began. Dispersed. largely remote teams suddenly needed better ways to collaborate without a constant barrage of Zoom calls. Since then, we’ve seen increased investment and more thought put into better collaboration as a whole—creating a new normal that our experts see sticking around even post pandemic.
But as our ways of collaborating have expanded, so has our need for agility. In fact, most companies have had no choice during the pandemic but to become more agile in their business modeling, planning and forecasting. As a result, we’ve started doing planning and analysis much more frequently and across more users—for example, conducting operational planning at the business level instead of higher up, as we might have before the pandemic hit. This has highlighted the need for better collaboration between planning and analysis—something our experts expect to see improving this year.
4. Finance Will Leverage More Company-Wide Metrics and Insights
Most companies, at this point, have fully embraced measurement as a key part of how they drive success—yet many still aren’t getting as much value as they could be from the metrics they follow. Data silos are still getting in the way for many, but just as critical is the fact that company-wide metrics are often owned across different, disconnected teams. This makes it difficult to take a holistic view, looking at company performance in its entirety.
As the owner of many of the key company metrics already—such as revenue growth, revenue per client and gross profit margin—finance teams have long been leaders in these measurement efforts. Other metrics—like customer satisfaction and client retention rate, for example—may not traditionally fall under finance, though, despite playing a strong role in a company’s future success. Having all of these company-wide metrics owned by the finance team can help fuel better analysis and stronger decision making overall. That’s why many organizations are embracing finance-led corporate performance management (CPM).
And according to our experts, 2022 will be the year that CPM is further embraced and integrated into the finance function, becoming another pillar in the finance organization’s role. As the finance team begins to leverage these company-wide metrics, they’ll be able to take further advantage of the inherent insights that come from that holistic view—helping to move company performance forward.
5. The Trend Toward More Advanced Data Visualization Will Make Significant Headway
Finally, our experts expect the trend toward finance teams leveraging advanced data visualization technology will continue to gain momentum—giving them even more tools to draw from to interpret and translate the data at hand.
Of course, business intelligence and data visualization technologies have been around for decades, with varying degrees of maturity and user acceptance across different types of companies and functional groups. But finance has traditionally lagged behind when compared to departments such as operations, marketing and sales. In 2022, though, we’ve reached a critical tipping point, where data volumes continue to accelerate and the number of different data sources and technologies used by businesses has increased. All of which means it’s become more imperative for finance and accounting professionals to embrace data visualization in order to effectively analyze increasingly large and disparate data.
After all, at its heart, data visualization is about building more effective data storytelling—something that finance professionals are already well versed in. Strong visualization plays a compelling role in telling the story already in progress—demonstrating where the organization is going and why, all in a way people can get behind. This year, then, it’s not surprising that our experts predict that progressive finance organizations will lead, not lag, other parts of their organizations in embracing these increasingly critical technologies.
So what do you think? Do you agree with Vena’s experts? Are these five trends on your team’s radar for 2022? If not, how do you see your business becoming more agile in the face of future change—ready to pivot for whatever comes next?
After all, the pandemic may not be over yet—but that doesn’t mean there’s not something else waiting to surprise us in 2022 as well. Something that’s impossible to predict.
Whatever it is, now’s the time to get ready.