I have a confession to make: I’ve been living a lie and it’s time to come clean. For 10 years I’ve been known as a budget analyst, but I’ve done nothing more than gather and prepare the budget.

I can assure you, that’s not my intent.

I’ve always sought to analyze the data, spot important trends, and help drive the business forward. The thing is, I never have had the time. I spend every minute of my budget process pulling the data together, finding every error (and I never quite do find all of them), and making sure it’s presentable. And year after year I say, “Wait until next year” when it comes to actually analyzing the data.

There are many budgeting/planning tools out there to help you truly become the "analyst" you want to be. But before investing your blood, sweat, and tears into any solution, it’s good practice to make sure you follow some basic principles.

Real-Time Data Is King

The solution better be integrated with your ERP system. Why on earth would you invest so much into your ERP system just to pull data out when it comes to planning? Wouldn’t it make more sense for your planning system to have a built-in connector to your ERP? As soon as you pull that data out and copy it somewhere else, you’re eventually going to have integrity and reconciliation issues that will consume your time and effort. And in the case of spreadsheets, you’ll inevitably have three different people with different answers on different spreadsheets in the same meeting. Plus, what value is there in comparing your budget to actuals if you’re just looking at a static copy of your actual data refreshed from the night before as oppose to real-time data?

Find Self-Sustaining Solutions

The solution better not require additional expensive infrastructure and resources. The costs of additional hardware, an army of consultants, and several months of deployment add up very quickly. You must ask yourself what you are truly gaining through such a costly implementation. And don’t forget all of those “hidden taxes” that take resources away from driving the business forward. Managing a whole new infrastructure that an army of consultants or employees must continue to babysit is going to sway your cost/benefit analysis the wrong way.

It’s a Team Sport

The solution better allow for all of your players to collaborate. Planning is, and should be, a distributed process. Everyone involved in the process (your contributors, managers, senior management, etc.) should be working from the same data. If you do not have an integrated framework that can define everyone’s role and verify that they are contributing where and when they should be, as well as keeping the process within a designated timeline, you will continue to experience budgeting chaos. Make sure any notes and comments you wish to share are captured in your planning system. There is nothing more frustrating than having to hunt for this information in your email or in comments hidden throughout a spreadsheet.

The Power of One

The solution better also serve your reporting and analytics needs. Let’s be honest, do you really want to deal with different solutions from different vendors and different maintenance agreements just to come up with a complete picture of where your business is coming from, where it is today, and where you want to see it go? One integrated solution that can handle all your planning, reporting, and analytic needs will go a long way to helping you keep your sanity.

As atonement for my earlier confession, I needed to share these tips with you. With the right solution, you’ll be able to stop spending all your time gathering data and actually begin to be the budget analyst you were meant to be. Let this be the last time you say, “Wait until next year.”

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