|By Jon Kondo||
|February 1, 2012 08:00 AM EST||
Everyone wants a crystal ball to be able to peer into the future. For businesses, that desire becomes a necessity because having a vision of the future allows for better and more strategic decision making in the present.
Rolling forecasts built on driver-based and project-based planning do just that, creating a framework that supports better decision making. A rolling forecast simply means that each quarter or month, a company projects four to six quarters or 12 to 18 months ahead.
This allows executives and key decision-makers to see both a financial and operational vision of the future. It also helps them assess next steps in their execution of their plan, understand critical pivot points in the plan and better judge the impact the economy may have on their plan.
We have seen rolling forecasts can replace annual planning cycles with a continual planning process that results in more regular business reviews that look to the future. These reviews enable managers to understand problems, challenges and trends sooner and improve their proactive approach to those problems, challenges and trends.
Here are the top 10 best practices for implementing them:
1. You need a system and Excel is not a system (it's a personal productivity tool). In the next nine best practices we will outline functionality and practices that will outstrip the capability of Excel spreadsheets. The challenge we have seen arises when companies start rolling forecasts in Excel and then can't keep them up to date because it isn't just a single forecast. Once a baseline forecast is created, additional analysis/versions will be required to:
- Understand the impact of major and minor alterations to the plan
- Run the plan against different drivers
- Copy the plan as a baseline for other plans
- Perform variance and sensitivity analysis
To get the most out of rolling forecasts you need a system that can provide the necessary functionality to accommodate your budget, forecasting, planning, strategic management and measurement needs. Excel will be to labor intensive, prone to error and too difficult to provide the reporting.
2. Understand your objectives of creating a rolling forecast. This will drive all of the other best practices related to rolling forecasts. While the overall objective of planning is to a) create a financial view of the vision for the future and to know the decisions you need to make and b) understand the financial impact of those decisions before you need to make them, your objectives and focus for the rolling forecast will dictate the areas of the plan that need more detail. As an example:
- If your strategic plan calls for acquisitions you may consider building the plan with a high-level summary input of drivers that help plan for acquisitions.
- If you want to better manage finished goods inventory you may focus more on customer/product forecasts and inventory management.
- If cash is tight you will want to focus on timing of events around cash, i.e., payables and receivables policies, cash borrowings, line of credit.
The challenge is, there isn't one overriding holistic model format that allows you to account for all of these in a first pass rolling forecast implementation.
3. Identify the rolling forecast duration. The challenge with rolling forecast duration is it sounds easy until you put pen to paper and begin to implement it. There are a number of questions:
- Will you re-forecast every month or every quarter? (many of our customers re-forecast monthly)
- Will you add a new month to every forecast or just add a new quarter at quarter end? (our customers either add new periods quarterly or start planning for a two year time frame)
- How long should the rolling forecast be--12 months 15 months 18 months, or should you start by forecasting out two years and at the end of the first year tack on another year?
- How will the mechanics work of rolling in actual?
As a starting point, make sure your forecasting time frames are consistent with your business cycle and business needs. If sales 15 months from now are dependent on capital expenditures today, it is important to create rolling forecasts out past 15 months. It is also important to have a minimum of quarterly bias to the rolling forecast. That is, don't tack on an additional month to a rolling forecast at the end of every month, wait until quarter end and then add a new quarter, otherwise each month you are making preparers think about a new forecast period.
4. Identify the rolling forecast comparison periods. While this sounds relatively straightforward, it gets tricky when you consider the need for comparison columns in reporting. It is tricky because you need to compare to multiple periods/combinations of actual and forecast. With annual plans we compare the combination current year actual for closed periods and forecast for remaining periods to last year actual. We think in terms of annual sales and annualized expenses. With rolling forecasts we need to also roll in the actual and shift the comparison periods. We must be able to not only provide annual comparisons, (i.e. How will this year compare to last year?, Where will we end up for this year?) but we also need to provide how this 12/15/18 month rolling plan compares to the 12/15/18 actual results. This requires access to roll the forecast periods but also roll the comparison periods, for not just actual, but also for prior year actual.
5. Understand/analyze the dynamics of revenue and expense in your business and their related drivers. Rolling forecasts won't work if you create them from a bottom up forecast every quarter--they need to be driver based. This provides flexibility in the planning process and agility when you re-plan or create alternate plans. It also helps managers focus on what is really important. Over time, some of the drivers will be replaced if they are found as an inconsistent predictor of results and the stronger drivers will evolve to KPIs and used for goal setting. In addition, over time forecasts will also start to use consistent models and model drivers.
As an example, sales units should drive production volumes. Price increases could drive (or be driven by) material and labor cost increases.
To help understand what drives your business you can ask these questions:
- How does this line item affect our bottom line?
- Will $1 (pick appropriate unit of measure, thousands, millions, billions) in sales affect this account?
- How does this number change our bottom line?
To be successful doing rolling forecasts it is important to use drivers to eliminate detail while creating a realistic expectation about the future.
6. Plan capital and strategic projects separately from the rolling forecast. Capital and strategic projects should be layered separately into the plan. Projects have two unique characteristics that require this:
- They are time independent of a typical rolling forecast. Projects can last months to years and treating them with the same duration as a forecast doesn't provide the complete story around the projects.
- They typically have a lot of dependencies which means project expenditures can be moved out or in a plan for a variety of reasons.
Projects should be treated as separate entity/profit center and have the ability to be move in and out of rolling forecasts. In addition they should have the ability to move time frames and adjust for changes in project scope.
7. Start with a small select group of key department/operations managers, plan on increasing the scope over time and plan on continual improvement over time. While conventional wisdom is to involve as many participants as possible, many companies find it easier to start with a small group that cuts across the major departments and gradually involve more executives, lines of business managers and operational managers as processes, methods are refined. Let the small group get some practice with the process. It will help flush out the process and the more practice they have at preparing forecasts, the better they will become and the more mentoring they can provide as you add additional participants. Typically there is a risk (including career risk) if you roll something out that isn't totally baked or based on theory, which could result in confusion, especially if you are doing it with a large group within the company.
As you expand the scope of the plan and the more people share in the plan the closer to reality the plan will be and the better the execution.
In addition you should plan for and build in a process of continual improvement. Managers should learn from their forecast accuracy record by carrying out postmortems on forecast. The objective is not to punish the guilty but to better understand how to do better, what changed, what were we surprised about, where what should we do differently to turn out better forecasts. To improve forecast, it is important to understand the cause for variability and learn to reduce them through postmortems.
8. Consider the rolling forecast as your baseline plan. Once you have the completed rolling forecast for the period/month, use it as your baseline plan. From this plan finance can massage drivers, adjust values and analyzing alternate scenarios, black swan events and potential significant events, to create a picture of alternate futures and be prepared to make decisions if situations arise.
This does requires the flexibility in the tool you are using to "mash up" scenarios and compare scenarios from different sources.
9. Tie your rolling forecast to your strategic plan. Rolling forecasts, if well prepared, form the backbone of a new and much more useful information system that connects all the pieces of the organization and gives senior management a continuous picture of both the current position and the short term outlook.
10. Analyze/understand how external conditions impact your performance. Business does not operate in a vacuum. Plan on qualifying the key external drivers of your business.
Do not confuse rolling forecasts with targets you receive your bonus on. Regarding targets and profitability, is it better to hit your target or gain targeted market share? Leading organizations are placing forecasting at the center of the management process. It becomes the essential tool for business managers to support their decision making, not just another management chore that needs to be done and they are basing targets not on fixed revenue numbers but rather percentages based on external market indicators.
Adaptive organizations focus less on annual budgets targets or long-term views/targets generated from within the company based on incremental sales and income year over year and focus more on rolling views and goals based on market conditions like achieving market share or achieving cost efficiencies over the competition by benchmarking against competition or similar public companies.
As you consider implementing rolling forecasts remember the purpose is to provide a vision for the future and support better decisions. If you try to motivate behavior based on this forecast the results and plans get skewed and the usefulness of the solution is compromised. Forecasts should not be used by executive management as a tool for questioning or reassessing performance targets. This means forecasts and targets must be independent if you want to obtain both relevant action plans and reliable forecasts that allow risks and opportunities to be identified and corrective action taken in the best interest of the company (which may be in conflict with the target). If you do merge the two, the term "sandbagging" comes to mind.
Many businesses have yet to discover the full benefits of evolving their planning process to include complete and accurate rolling forecasts. With so many external factors that affect the bottom line for these businesses, including the volatility of the economy, creating rolling forecasts is a sound way to ensure strategic decisions are made. Businesses need an accurate picture of a future in order to chart a course towards it.
Software AG helps organizations transform into Digital Enterprises, so they can differentiate from competitors and better engage customers, partners and employees. Using the Software AG Suite, companies can close the gap between business and IT to create digital systems of differentiation that drive front-line agility. We offer four on-ramps to the Digital Enterprise: alignment through collaborative process analysis; transformation through portfolio management; agility through process automation and integration; and visibility through intelligent business operations and big data.
Sep. 30, 2014 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 1,513
There will be 50 billion Internet connected devices by 2020. Today, every manufacturer has a propriety protocol and an app. How do we securely integrate these "things" into our lives and businesses in a way that we can easily control and manage? Even better, how do we integrate these "things" so that they control and manage each other so our lives become more convenient or our businesses become more profitable and/or safe? We have heard that the best interface is no interface. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Co-Founder & CTO at Octoblu, Inc., will discuss how these devices generate enough data to learn our behaviors and simplify/improve our lives. What if we could connect everything to everything? I'm not only talking about connecting things to things but also systems, cloud services, and people. Add in a little machine learning and artificial intelligence and now we have something interesting...
Sep. 29, 2014 06:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,880
Last week, while in San Francisco, I used the Uber app and service four times. All four experiences were great, although one of the drivers stopped for 30 seconds and then left as I was walking up to the car. He must have realized I was a blogger. None the less, the next car was just a minute away and I suffered no pain. In this article, my colleague, Ved Sen, Global Head, Advisory Services Social, Mobile and Sensors at Cognizant shares his experiences and insights.
Sep. 28, 2014 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,542
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) irreversibly encoded. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, will look at how this identity problem can be solved and discuss ways to use existing web identities for real-time communication.
Sep. 27, 2014 11:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,911
Can call centers hang up the phones for good? Intuitive Solutions did. WebRTC enabled this contact center provider to eliminate antiquated telephony and desktop phone infrastructure with a pure web-based solution, allowing them to expand beyond brick-and-mortar confines to a home-based agent model. It also ensured scalability and better service for customers, including MUY! Companies, one of the country's largest franchise restaurant companies with 232 Pizza Hut locations. This is one example of WebRTC adoption today, but the potential is limitless when powered by IoT. Attendees will learn real-world benefits of WebRTC and explore future possibilities, as WebRTC and IoT intersect to improve customer service.
Sep. 27, 2014 10:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,827
From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, will share some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, an Open Source Cloud Communications company that helps the shift from legacy IN/SS7 telco networks to IP-based cloud comms. An early investor in multiple start-ups, he still finds time to code for his companies and contribute to open source projects.
Sep. 27, 2014 10:30 PM EDT Reads: 2,292
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to create new business models as significant as those that were inspired by the Internet and the smartphone 20 and 10 years ago. What business, social and practical implications will this phenomenon bring? That's the subject of "Monetizing the Internet of Things: Perspectives from the Front Lines," an e-book released today and available free of charge from Aria Systems, the leading innovator in recurring revenue management.
Sep. 27, 2014 09:45 PM EDT Reads: 2,506
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges.
Sep. 27, 2014 08:45 PM EDT Reads: 2,380
There’s Big Data, then there’s really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at 6th Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, to discuss how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines.
Sep. 27, 2014 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,046
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices – computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors – connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be!
Sep. 27, 2014 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,242
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Erik Lagerway, Co-founder of Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services to the modern P2P RTC era of OTT cloud assisted services.
Sep. 26, 2014 11:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,557
While great strides have been made relative to the video aspects of remote collaboration, audio technology has basically stagnated. Typically all audio is mixed to a single monaural stream and emanates from a single point, such as a speakerphone or a speaker associated with a video monitor. This leads to confusion and lack of understanding among participants especially regarding who is actually speaking. Spatial teleconferencing introduces the concept of acoustic spatial separation between conference participants in three dimensional space. This has been shown to significantly improve comprehension and conference efficiency.
Sep. 26, 2014 10:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,493
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, will discuss single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example to explain some of these concepts including when to use different storage models.
Sep. 26, 2014 07:45 PM EDT Reads: 2,307
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in software-defined storage (SDS) purpose-built for Windows Servers and Hyper-V, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Gridstore™ is the leader in software-defined storage purpose built for virtualization that is designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Using its patented Server-Side Virtual Controller™ Technology (SVCT) to eliminate the I/O blender effect and accelerate applications Gridstore delivers vmOptimized™ Storage that self-optimizes to each application or VM across both virtual and physical environments. Leveraging a grid architecture, Gridstore delivers the first end-to-end storage QoS to ensure the most important App or VM performance is never compromised. The storage grid, that uses Gridstore’s performance optimized nodes or capacity optimized nodes, starts with as few a...
Sep. 26, 2014 06:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,670
The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace. These technological reforms have not only changed computers and smartphones, but are also changing the data processing model for all information devices. In particular, in the area known as M2M (Machine-To-Machine), there are great expectations that information with a new type of value can be produced using a variety of devices and sensors saving/sharing data via the network and through large-scale cloud-type data processing. This consortium believes that attaching a huge number of devic...
Sep. 26, 2014 06:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,599
Innodisk is a service-driven provider of industrial embedded flash and DRAM storage products and technologies, with a focus on the enterprise, industrial, aerospace, and defense industries. Innodisk is dedicated to serving their customers and business partners. Quality is vitally important when it comes to industrial embedded flash and DRAM storage products. That’s why Innodisk manufactures all of their products in their own purpose-built memory production facility. In fact, they designed and built their production center to maximize manufacturing efficiency and guarantee the highest quality of our products.
Sep. 26, 2014 05:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,597
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. Over the summer Gartner released its much anticipated annual Hype Cycle report and the big news is that Internet of Things has now replaced Big Data as the most hyped technology. Indeed, we're hearing more and more about this fascinating new technological paradigm. Every other IT news item seems to be about IoT and its implications on the future of digital business.
Sep. 26, 2014 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,088
Can call centers hang up the phones for good? Intuitive Solutions did. WebRTC enabled this contact center provider to eliminate antiquated telephony and desktop phone infrastructure with a pure web-based solution, allowing them to expand beyond brick-and-mortar confines to a home-based agent model. Download Slide Deck: ▸ Here
Sep. 26, 2014 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,542
BSQUARE is a global leader of embedded software solutions. We enable smart connected systems at the device level and beyond that millions use every day and provide actionable data solutions for the growing Internet of Things (IoT) market. We empower our world-class customers with our products, services and solutions to achieve innovation and success. For more information, visit www.bsquare.com.
Sep. 26, 2014 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,449
With the iCloud scandal seemingly in its past, Apple announced new iPhones, updates to iPad and MacBook as well as news on OSX Yosemite. Although consumers will have to wait to get their hands on some of that new stuff, what they can get is the latest release of iOS 8 that Apple made available for most in-market iPhones and iPads. Originally announced at WWDC (Apple’s annual developers conference) in June, iOS 8 seems to spearhead Apple’s newfound focus upon greater integration of their products into everyday tasks, cross-platform mobility and self-monitoring. Before you update your device, here is a look at some of the new features and things you may want to consider from a mobile security perspective.
Sep. 26, 2014 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,433