Click here to close now.


Agile Computing Authors: Pat Romanski, Chris Witeck , David Dodd, Dana Gardner, Tim Hinds

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Microservices Expo

@CloudExpo: Article

Cloud Finance: Best Practices for Implementing Rolling Forecasts

How rolling forecasts can enable sound Business Decisions

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.

One Caution
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.

More Stories By Jon Kondo

Jon Kondo is president and CEO at Host Analytics, a leading provider of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) based Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions. As CEO, he has led the company to record growth, partnerships, and industry accolades. Jon holds an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management and a BA in Business Economics from UC Santa Barbara.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi’s VP Business Development and Engineering, explored the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context with p...
I recently attended and was a speaker at the 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I also had the opportunity to attend this event last year and I wrote a blog from that show talking about how the “Enterprise Impact of IoT” was a key theme of last year’s show. I was curious to see if the same theme would still resonate 365 days later and what, if any, changes I would see in the content presented.
Cloud computing delivers on-demand resources that provide businesses with flexibility and cost-savings. The challenge in moving workloads to the cloud has been the cost and complexity of ensuring the initial and ongoing security and regulatory (PCI, HIPAA, FFIEC) compliance across private and public clouds. Manual security compliance is slow, prone to human error, and represents over 50% of the cost of managing cloud applications. Determining how to automate cloud security compliance is critical to maintaining positive ROI. Raxak Protect is an automated security compliance SaaS platform and ma...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
Just over a week ago I received a long and loud sustained applause for a presentation I delivered at this year’s Cloud Expo in Santa Clara. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and had some very good conversations with many of the attendees. Over the next few days I had many more meaningful conversations and was not only happy with the results but also learned a few new things. Here is everything I learned in those three days distilled into three short points.
DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, rich desktop and tuned mobile experiences can now be created with a single codebase – without compromising functionality, performance or usability. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, demonstrated examples of com...
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningful and actionable insights. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, exploreed the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessions, I wanted to share some of my observations on emerging trends. As cyber security serves as a fou...
We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now all corporate assets – people, objects, and spaces – can share information about themselves and thei...
The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Yet a closer inspection at the data reveals less than half of these cloud projects involve production...
Continuous processes around the development and deployment of applications are both impacted by -- and a benefit to -- the Internet of Things trend. To help better understand the relationship between DevOps and a plethora of new end-devices and data please welcome Gary Gruver, consultant, author and a former IT executive who has led many large-scale IT transformation projects, and John Jeremiah, Technology Evangelist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), on Twitter at @j_jeremiah. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true change and transformation possible.
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" in this scenario: microservice A (releases daily) depends on a couple of additions to backend B (re...
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound effect on the world, and what should we expect to see over the next couple of years.
Container technology is shaping the future of DevOps and it’s also changing the way organizations think about application development. With the rise of mobile applications in the enterprise, businesses are abandoning year-long development cycles and embracing technologies that enable rapid development and continuous deployment of apps. In his session at DevOps Summit, Kurt Collins, Developer Evangelist at, examined how Docker has evolved into a highly effective tool for application delivery by allowing increasingly popular Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (mBaaS) platforms to quickly crea...