Grant Halloran is the Chief Executive Officer at Planful. He has 20+ years of senior leadership experience in enterprise software.


Health and safety concerns have rightly taken center stage as Covid-19 impacts every part of our lives. The economic fallout derailed many business plans, disrupting production, breaking supply chains and causing huge swings in customer demand. Many carefully crafted strategies that businesses were implementing at the beginning of 2020 became obsolete as March came to a close.

We’re past the initial stage of the outbreak now, as most regions are in some phase of reopening. But it’s clear the pandemic will continue to affect the economy and influence the outlook for individual industries and businesses in varying and unpredictable ways. While some businesses continue to be closed, others are experiencing demand surges. To cite just one interesting example, the popularity of home baking during shelter-in-place drove an increase in demand for flour by more than 160%

We’re in the middle of a massive realignment, and there’s no better time for financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams to reevaluate their ability to be agile when it comes to planning and decision-making, so they can be ready for what comes next and positioned for success in what I like to call “Normal 2.0.”

The Finance Team’s Pivotal Role In Business Recovery

It’s becoming clear how critical the finance team’s role in recovery is for all businesses. Finance teams are tasked with getting data to decision-makers, answering crucial questions about revenue performance (what’s selling and what’s not?), regional impact (which parts of the world are affected?), productivity (what’s disrupted and what’s being produced?) and managing cash-flow. The truth is, as they try to come up with answers to these questions, they’re destined to get a lot of them wrong.

In fact, finance teams that realize and accept this propensity for plans to become outdated, due to an uncertain landscape and rapidly changing variables, are ahead of the game because they are already prepared to pivot to any number of different directions. Finance teams can lead the way by adopting modern approaches that empower FP&A (financial planning and analysis) professionals to collaborate more efficiently across the business and accelerate planning and monthly close cycles to widen the scope of possibilities. In this way, they can collaborate on data with business leaders more quickly to drive faster, more iterative planning and decision-making. Here are a few key trends that should be top of mind for finance leaders today as they look to prepare for this new normal:

1. Demand For Faster Turnaround Times

Cadences for scenario planning have accelerated in a post-pandemic world to a point where now quarters are months, months are weeks and weeks are days. The number of scenarios management is seeking has increased, making speed crucial. Management is expecting faster turnaround times for creating and sharing new scenarios, putting an additional burden on finance teams and budget-owners in management. The faster the FP&A team can pull accurate and comprehensive data together, the greater access they have to critical business insights they can present to the leadership team and the board.

When business conditions are changing at warp speed, finance doesn’t have time to dig through spreadsheet silos for information. That means finance needs access to enabling technology. Those transitioning to a cloud-based platform can surface current data, produce accurate reports, and enable “what-if” scenario modeling, so the company can determine the best path forward. Tools that enable tighter collaboration can also help finance succeed by bringing more people into the conversation in a central location to make faster decisions together.

2. AI And ML Insights For Planning

AI and ML technologies enable modern methods, while providing predictive insights and prescriptive recommendations. In the near future, advanced AI and ML technologies will have a role to play in supporting a modern planning approach. For example, AI-driven predictive insights based on historical data can help finance spot trends that human analysis cannot uncover. Developers are also working on AI and ML functions that can provide prescriptive recommendations based on business context and AI-driven signal detection features that can flag anomalies and prevent errors.

3. Expand Planning And Decision-Making Rigor Into Every Corner Of The Business

Companies that understand how individual decisions and actions affect other departments and the company as a whole are on the fast track to modern planning. As finance teams bring more people across the business into the planning process, cloud-based platforms will need to evolve to provide a user experience that reflects individual roles. Businesses need to adopt an approach that provides the structured financial planning and reporting capabilities finance needs, while automating planning activities across the organization — giving the FP&A team control, consistency and confidence. In the coming months, finance will look for new functions that deliver a customized user experience for nonfinance colleagues. In this way, they can bring even more people into a meaningful planning process.

Defining Normal 2.0 With A Modern Approach

The road ahead is uncharted, and uncertainty can lead to business anxiety. But, there will be opportunities on the path to Normal 2.0. The leaders who make the most of these circumstances and align with these trends early will be the ones who course-correct their businesses frequently and rapidly through the downturn.

Once the recovery begins, companies positioned to thrive will have the ability to detect new demand signals early and respond quickly to meet customer needs before competitors are aware of the trends. The key isn’t to precisely predict the future, but rather focus on the ability to course-correct more often and more speedily. 

These trends point to a modern planning framework that compresses cycle times, connects data to ensure the free flow of information and facilitates financial collaboration in all corners of the business. Normal 2.0 won’t mirror what we’ve seen before. Transformative events often serve as catalysts for change, and finance needs to be prepared to meet the challenges of today and be ready to seize the opportunities of tomorrow.

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