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Who’s Responsible for Keeping Your Budget on Track?

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State of Corporate Budget series (part seven)
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By: The Center Team

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Previous article in this series: In the Dark About Discretionary Spend

 

In our State of Corporate Budget 2018 survey, we asked nearly 250 business leaders who  owns keeping the budget on track.

stay on track

Finance Can’t Fix Everything

40% of the companies we surveyed reported that if they get off track, the finance team steps in to cut or stop spending. However, this group was actually more likely to go over budget at least sometimes (73% vs. 64% overall), indicating that relying too heavily on a single department can be problematic.

Distributed Ownership = Diminished Visibility

Just over 20% of the companies we surveyed distribute budget ownership to department heads, who use a combination of manual and online processes to track progress. Not surprisingly, the owners of these companies were far less likely to know how much goes toward discretionary spend (45% had “no idea,” compared to 25% overall). And, for this group, the lack of 360-degree visibility tops the list as the most common budget complaint (38%).

Center Team Take

Because performance-management goals—and thus compensation—are tied to budgets, there seems to be an abundance of gamesmanship among budget owners too. This includes inflating spending and minimizing departmental revenue goals to provide a cushion as the year progresses. Budgets can also be influenced by pet projects or personal relationships rather than overall corporate strategy.

        Jeff Drummond, VP of Finance and Accounting
 
lineTO THE POINT

Budgeting should be a team effort, but in practice often isn’t.  

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Keep reading: The Blueprint for Effective Budgeting
 

Other Articles in This Series

What Grade Would You Give Your Budget Process?

Over Budget? You're Not Alone.

Is Your Budget Bar Too Low?

Are Manual Processes Bogging You Down?

The Problem with Set It and Forget It

In the Dark About Discretionary Spend?

 

 

In the Dark About Discretionary Spend?

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State of Corporate Budget series (part six)
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By: The Center Team

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Previous article in this series: The Problem with Set It and Forget It

 

In our State of Corporate Budget 2018 survey, we asked nearly 250 business leaders what percentage of their spend falls outside of fixed costs like payroll and rent.

 

percentage of budget for discretionary spend

Lack of Visibility

A full 25% of the leaders we surveyed had “no idea” what portion of their budget is allocated towards travel, meals, entertainment, subscriptions, office supplies, and other typically employee-controlled expenses. And for this group, the lack of a 360-degree view into company spend tops the list of concerns about the budgeting process (35% vs. 26% overall).

Discretionary spend often represents a company’s biggest opportunity to control short-term spending, but it’s typically complex to track and difficult to see as a result.

discretionary spend

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Distributed Ownership

This group was nearly twice as likely to distribute budget ownership to department heads (46% vs. 24% overall). Perhaps not surprisingly, 60% go over budget at least sometimes—and 25% give themselves a C, D, or F.

for companies who don't know about discretionary spend

 

lineTO THE POINT

Discretionary spend can have a significant impact on a business’s bottom line, but many leaders are in the dark about it.  

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Center Team Take

Discretionary spend accounts for up to 25% of the budget for most smaller companies, and it’s where they can have the most control in the short term, but the complexity in tracking and managing this spend means it’s also the area with the least visibility. Companies have an opportunity to manage discretionary spend and cash flow more effectively, reduce the amount of resources going to unproductive spend, and better target higher priority projects.

         Heather Singh, CMO

The ‘not knowing’ may just be a failure to roll up departmental results to an organization-level total. But that is certainly still a failure.

        Jeff Drummond, VP of Finance and Accounting

 

Keep reading: Who’s Responsible for Keeping Your Budget on Track?
 

Other Articles in This Series

What Grade Would You Give Your Budget Process?

Over Budget? You're Not Alone.

Is Your Budget Bar Too Low?

Are Manual Processes Bogging You Down?

The Problem with Set It and Forget It

The Blueprint for Effective Budgeting

 

The Problem With Set It and Forget It

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State of Corporate Budget series (part five)
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Date

By: The Center Team

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Previous article in this series: Are Manual Processes Bogging You Down?

 

In our State of Corporate Budget 2018 survey, we asked nearly 250 business leaders how frequently they update their budgets.

how often do you set a budget

More Frequent Updates Drive Success

Companies that set their budgets more frequently are more confident about their overall process.  

In fact, 90% of the companies that budget monthly or quarterly gave themselves an A or B rating, compared to 74% of those that budget annually or biannually, and 50% of those with no formal process in place.

a or b grades
lineTO THE POINT

Business needs change rapidly, but most budgets don’t. More than half of business owners only set budgets once a year.

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Regular Budget Adjustments Not Common

Although companies that revisit their budget regularly feel more successful, most don’t do it. Only 14% of the companies we surveyed evaluate their budget periodically throughout the year and adjust as necessary. Businesses with more than 500 employees were less likely to operate this way, indicating that the practice may be harder to sustain as companies grow.

  • 87% of the companies that operate this way gave themselves an A or B (compared to 79% overall)

  • 78% ranked ongoing cross-department communication and updates as the top reason for their rating (compared to 70% overall)

The Cost of No Formal Process

On the other side of the spectrum, 7% of the companies we surveyed reported that they had no formal budget process in place. Most of these were companies with fewer than 100 employees, and this group was more than twice as likely to distribute budget ownership to individual department managers (63% vs. 24% overall). Half of these companies (50%) gave themselves a C, D, or F for overall budget effectiveness, and almost half (47%) had “no idea” how much of their budget goes to discretionary spend, compared to 25% overall.

 

with no formal budget process

Center Team Take

Traditionally budgeting has been an annual process requiring months of preparation and weeks of negotiation, relying on the ‘sophisticated’ technique of taking a previous year’s expenses and tacking on an extra 10% to account for growth. Because the business environment changes rapidly, a budget set three months before the start of the fiscal year no longer reflects reality. Budgets need to adapt, just as businesses adapt.

        Heather Singh, CMO

 

Keep reading: In the Dark About Discretionary Spend?

 

Other Articles in This Series

What Grade Would You Give Your Budget Process?

Over Budget? You're Not Alone.

Is Your Budget Bar Too Low?

Are Manual Processes Bogging You Down?

Who's Responsible for Keeping Your Budget on Track?

The Blueprint for Effective Budgeting

 

Are Manual Processes Bogging You Down?

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State of Corporate Budget series (part four)
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By: The Center Team

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Previous article in this series: Is Your Budget Bar Too Low?

 

In our State of Corporate Budget 2018 survey, we asked nearly 250 business leaders about their budgeting tools and processes.

 

what tools do you use

An Excess of Excel

Spreadsheets remain the most popular way of managing the budget for companies of all sizes, though Excel is particularly prevalent at smaller companies.

 

budget tools by company size

 

Regardless of the mix, when asked about simplifying budgeting and expense reports, only about a third of the respondents (37%) felt they had good tools and processes in place. And reliance on time-intensive, manual processes such as spreadsheets and paper receipts was one of the top reasons that companies graded their own budget process poorly.

Budgeting Software No Silver Bullet

Only 12% of the companies we surveyed use dedicated budgeting software—and those who do still struggle with common budgeting issues.

  • More than half still go over budget at least sometimes.

  • 75% still feel there is a lack of visibility into company spend.

  • Among the companies who use budgeting software, ongoing communication and updates across departments (90%) still beats out good tools and processes (77%) as the top driver of an effective budget process.

lineTO THE POINT

In an era of increasing automation, most companies are still relying on outdated methods to manage their budgets.  

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Financial Planning Software Lightens the Load Somewhat

About 20% of the companies we surveyed use financial planning software like SAP or Quicken. The use of these tools significantly improves the perception that tracking and managing the budget is too time-consuming—only 11% noted this as an issue, compared to 26% overall. However, companies using financial enterprise software were somewhat more likely to budget on an annual cycle (59% vs 55% overall), and more likely to go over budget at least sometimes (71% vs. 64% overall). And ongoing communication and updates across departments (72%) far outpaces good tools and processes (42%) as a top driver of budget effectiveness.

Center Team Take

While many companies rely on a combination of tools to manage budgets, spreadsheets remain the primary tool for most. Creative finance departments push the technological boundaries of spreadsheets, but they’re hitting their limits. Tools to manage critical operational functions like budgeting must include better communications, access to real-time data, and intelligent analytics.

         Heather Singh, CMO

 

 

Keep reading: The Problem with Set It and Forget It

 

Other Articles in This Series

What Grade Would You Give Your Budget Process?

Over Budget? You're Not Alone.

Is Your Budget Bar Too Low?

In the Dark About Discretionary Spend?

Who's Responsible for Keeping Your Budget on Track?

The Blueprint for Effective Budgeting

 

Is Your Budget Bar Too Low?

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State of Corporate Budget series (part three)
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Date

By: The Center Team

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Previous article in this series: Over Budget? You’re Not Alone.

 

In our State of Corporate Budget 2018 survey, we asked nearly 250 business leaders how they would grade their company’s budgeting process.

 

grade of company

The Larger the Company, the Worse the Grade

We found that larger companies tended to be more critical of their ability to manage budgets effectively, with 31% of large companies giving themselves a C or below, compared to 16% of companies with fewer than 100 employees.

grade by employees

The Time Crunch

As to why companies felt they were doing an average job or worse, many of their reasons were time related.

  • Too busy with other mission-critical items: 38%

  • Process too labor- and time-intensive: 34%

  • Lack of visibility: 34%

  • Budget continues to spiral out of control with no plan to fix: 15%

  • No formal budgeting process in place: 11%

  • Other: 17%

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reasons for c or belowline

It’s clear that budgeting is widely perceived as a manual, time-intensive process, yet evolving it is not a high priority.

Center Team Take

We were surprised by how many companies gave themselves positive grades. Our guess is that most people think of budgeting like dental exams—they dread having to do it but know it must be done. The grades may also reflect some complacency. Many who graded their companies an A or B also said that they went over budget at least sometimes.

         Heather Singh, CMO

Note that those who believe their process is broken imply that the reason is lack of time (38% too busy with other things and 34% too time intensive). This is likely due to the time it takes to go through the process in a finance-centric fashion. The ideal process allows all constituents to make strategic changes in real time, without waiting for the finance department to control the exercise, which often results in multiple days of lag time for every iteration.

        Jeff Drummond, VP of Finance and Accounting

 

lineTO THE POINT

77% of the companies we surveyed gave themselves an A or B for overall budget effectiveness, even though a healthy majority of them go over budget at least sometimes.

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Keep reading: Are Manual Processes Bogging You Down?

 

Other Articles in This Series

What Grade Would You Give Your Budget Process?

Over Budget? You're Not Alone.

The Problem with Set It and Forget It

In the Dark About Discretionary Spend?

Who's Responsible for Keeping Your Budget on Track?

The Blueprint for Effective Budgeting

 

What Grade Would You Give Your Budget Process?

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State of Corporate Budget series (part one)
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By: Naveen Singh

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If you’re like most of those who took our State of Corporate Budget 2018 survey, you probably think your company’s budget process is perfectly adequate. When we asked dozens of business owners and managers, we were surprised that more than three-quarters gave their process a grade of A or B, even though they use outdated tools, rarely make updates, and regularly go over budget.

We attribute this mismatch to a certain amount of complacency toward the process. For most companies, budgeting is one of those “must-do” tasks, and it’s all too easy to move on to other priorities once you’re done. But “set-it-and-forget-it” quickly spirals into old data, bad habits, and wasted resources.

We believe budgets should be the tool companies use to put their strategic plans to work. Budgets detail the resources (people, money, and equipment) needed to execute the strategy. But most budgets become outdated quickly, because business needs change rapidly: You land a huge deal after months of work. Or a partnership takes longer to develop than expected. When significant shifts like these happen, your strategy—and your budget—need to change, too.  

The first steps in transforming your budget into a powerful strategic tool are to take a hard look at what’s working and what’s not, and to revisit some deeply ingrained attitudes about the status quo. We believe this research provides helpful insights into how budgeting can be better, for companies of all sizes.

In the meantime, we’ll be working with new clarity to give businesses the real-time visibility, clear communication, and strategic insights they need to meet their goals and achieve more.   

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survey methodology
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Keep reading: Over Budget? You’re Not Alone.

 

Other Articles in This Series

Is Your Budget Bar Too Low?

Are Manual Processes Bogging You Down?

The Problem with Set It and Forget It

In the Dark About Discretionary Spend?

Who's Responsible for Keeping Your Budget on Track?

The Blueprint for Effective Budgeting

 

Over Budget? You're Not Alone

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State of Corporate Budget series (part two)
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By: The Center Team

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Previous article in this series: What Grade Would You Give Your Budget Process?

 

In our State of Corporate Budget 2018 survey, we asked nearly 250 business leaders how frequently they went over budget.

 

over budget

lineTO THE POINT

Across the board, nearly two-thirds of companies go over budget at least sometimes.

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The Size Sweet Spot

Companies with 100-500 employees reported the most success with managing their budget consistently. Larger companies (500 employees or more) were most likely to say that they always go over budget—though interestingly, they were also most likely to say they never go over budget. This is likely the result of some companies favoring process, and others favoring flexibility, as they grow.

The Spreadsheet Factor

Of those who go over budget at least sometimes, more than half (51%) work on an annual budget cycle. 45% of these companies are using Excel to track their budgets—and of those who always go over budget, a full 67% use Excel.

These data points suggest opportunities for smarter solutions in the form of tools and processes.

Success Factors

Of the companies who never go over their budget, about three-quarters (73%) report that they have ongoing communication and budget updates across departments, and 65% say they have good tools and processes in place to make budget and expenses simple. Around 40% say employees feel empowered to make strategic spend decisions, and only 29% rely on the finance department to step in to keep the team on track.

 

what works

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Center Team Take

We believe budgets need to be ‘live.’ The data above shows that when budgets are ‘live,’ they are more successful, and the results are better. Ongoing communication and iteration with budget owners and spenders helps teams stay aligned with overall strategy and empowers everyone involved.

        Jeff Drummond, VP of Finance and Accounting

 

 

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Keep reading:  Is Your Budget Bar Too Low?
 

Other Articles in This Series:

Are Manual Processes Bogging You Down?

The Problem with Set It and Forget It

In the Dark About Discretionary Spend?

Who's Responsible for Keeping Your Budget on Track?

The Blueprint for Effective Budgeting

 

The Blueprint for Effective Budgeting

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State of Corporate Budget series (part eight)
Blog Category
Date

By: The Center Team

Blog content

Previous article in this series: Who’s Responsible for Keeping Your Budget On Track?

 

In our State of Corporate Budget 2018 survey, we asked the business leaders who gave themselves high marks for managing their budgets what’s working well.

data

Lack of Visibility

A full 25% of the leaders we surveyed had “no idea” what portion of their budget is allocated towards travel and entertainment, office supplies, and other controllable expenses. And for this group, the lack of a 360-degree view into company spend tops the list of concerns about the budgeting process (35% vs. 26% overall).

Distributed Ownership

This group was nearly twice as likely to distribute budget ownership to department heads (46% vs. 24% overall). Perhaps not surprisingly, 60% go over budget at least sometimes—and 25% give themselves a C, D, or F.

The “A” List

For companies that gave themselves an A or B for budget effectiveness, regular communication topped the list of what’s working well.

When you compare the companies who gave themselves an A to those who gave themselves a B, however, an interesting distinction emerges. “A” companies were more likely to implement ongoing communications (86%) along with good tools and processes (70%). “B” companies were more likely to attribute success to one or the other—either communications (67%) or tools and processes (47%).

In addition, “A” companies were less likely to credit the finance department for keeping them on track compared to “B” ones (33% vs. 45%). The companies that are most successful with their budgets favor a greater sense of transparency and collaboration over reliance on one department.

Center Team Take

Success requires a combination of ongoing communication with good tools and processes. This offers better visibility into spend and decreases the time spent managing a manual process. While the budget can feel like a tedious process that impedes mission-critical work, it should be a strategic part of planning and operations. It’s the way to allocate resources to the highest-priority projects and the method to ensure those resources are used efficiently.

         Heather Singh, CMO
lineTO THE POINT

Our survey revealed a wide range of attitudes and processes, but ongoing communication across departments, in combination with good tools, is the winning formula.  

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Other Articles in This Series

What Grade Would You Give Your Budget Process?

Over Budget? You're Not Alone.

Is Your Budget Bar Too Low?

Are Manual Processes Bogging You Down?

The Problem with Set It and Forget It

In the Dark About Discretionary Spend?

Who's Responsible for Keeping Your Budget on Track?

 

In 2018, Take Your Company's Budget from Outdated to Optimized

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55% of companies set budgets once a year
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By: The Center Team

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As we approach the end of the year, there’s one word on many executive’s minds: budget. With only three months until 2018, most organizations are working overtime to reconcile profits and losses, hit end of year targets and forecast for the year ahead. In the scramble to get all financials in order, it’s no exaggeration to say that current budget methods are time-consuming, not to mention the fact that they’re often rife with manual, time-intensive and inefficient processes.

And while it may be a little early for budget-friendly New Year’s resolutions, businesses can still take advantage of the remaining three months in 2017. Here’s how to take your company’s budget from outdated to optimized before anyone says, “Happy Holidays.”

Plan in Q1, then Q2, Q3 and Q4

We recently surveyed 250 US-based business owners and managers on their attitudes and practices related to the budget process today and found that 55 percent of respondents say their companies only set budgets once a year. The problem is that most businesses today are constantly changing, with a variety of expenditures in flux. It’s tough enough to get New Year budget projections right to begin with, and as the research shows, it’s rare that organizations adjust budgets when things don’t go according to plan.

In our connected, digitized world – where almost everything happens in real-time – a “set-it-and-forget-it” approach to budget seems out of place. Instead, companies should take a rolling approach to budgeting, which encourages organizations to treat budget as a dynamic tool. Set a budget in Q1, and re-visit it mid-quarter. Review it again in Q2, and adjust targets and allocations as needed. Repeat the process. While it may seem more time intensive, rolling budgets provide businesses with much-needed agility on-the-fly as priorities shift while also creating the added benefit of not playing catch up at the end of the year.

Use discretion with discretionary spend

How much of your company’s budget is allocated to discretionary spend? If you’re unsure of the answer, don’t fret – 25 percent of the executives we polled have no idea what percentage of their corporate budget goes toward discretionary spend. Narrowing in on discretionary spend (spending that falls outside of fixed costs) can be particularly impactful for an organization, because these costs represent the expenses that can be cut or dialed back if needed to meet financial goals.

In a typical small to medium-sized business, discretionary spend accounts for up to 25 percent of the company’s budget, highlighting a significant opportunity for an organization to land closer to the bottom line if these specific expenses are well-managed. So, how should you do it? Adopt more agile business solutions that promote real-time visibility and allow each member within the organization – from business owner to budget manager and employee – to track, adjust and communicate about spend as it happens.

Keep the right tools in your budgeting toolbox

For 43 percent of organizations surveyed, annual budget planning and forecasting takes place within legacy tools, like Excel spreadsheets, that require manual updating. All too often these static documents only get revisited once or twice a year at best. What’s more, according to our research, 88 percent of survey respondents don’t use budgeting software at all. For companies operating without the proper tools in place, these budgets are often out-of-date within a couple months. The ripple effect is significant: without timely data, forecasting for the following year with a high level of accuracy and confidence is nearly impossible. As a result, 64 percent of respondents cited that their businesses go over budget at least sometimes, which can misalign future budgets for quarters to come.

Since the end of the year acts as a time for nearly all businesses to revisit budgets and plan for the year ahead, it’s also the ideal time to evaluate the current processes in place to help identify where a new approach may be needed. When it comes to budget, the majority of today’s SMBs are ripe for change and must consider trading in their outdated, time-intensive approach for agile solutions that meet their ever changing needs.

To the point: By arming your organization with the right tools –  those that allow for real-time insight into spend and the ability to adjust budget as needed – employees at all levels will feel empowered, and your budget will thank you, by going from static to streamlined.

Related articles

Getting a Handle on Discretionary Spend

Budgeting Methods, Attitudes, and Success Factors: New Infographic

Your Budget Process is Behind the Times. Here’s How to Fix It

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Naveen Singh
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By: Naveen Singh

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If you’re like most of the people who participated in a survey we conducted earlier this year, you probably think your company’s budget process is perfectly adequate, if not pretty good. Over 75% of the business owners and managers we polled gave their companies’ process a grade of A or B.

The overwhelmingly positive grades surprised our team at Center, especially given the fact that these same respondents told us that their companies use outdated and static tools, update their plans infrequently, and regularly go over budget at least some of the time.

How to explain the discrepancy? We attribute the positive grades to a certain amount of complacency toward the budgeting process. Let’s face it: for most companies, budgeting is one of those obligatory chores that has to get done, and once finished, is put out of mind until the next year.

Unfortunately, this set-it-and-forget-it approach leads to old data, bad habits, and inefficient uses of resources, when instead, budgets should be the tool companies use to put their strategic plans to work.

So what should companies do to modernize their budgeting?

Stop Depending on Static Spreadsheets

We live in a connected, automated world, which makes it hard to believe that businesses still rely on manual, time-consuming tools like Excel spreadsheets to manage and track budgets. But that’s the reality for as many as 43 percent of companies operating today, according to our research.

Despite their ubiquity, spreadsheets are prone to errors, and they have serious challenges with version control and managing access for multiple users. Automatically updating them with new data is tricky. For all of these reasons, spreadsheets become static and out of date, making it almost impossible to get an up-to-the-minute view of a company’s financial status.

And when companies lack real-time visibility, they can’t track spend, adjust budgets, and communicate about changes as they happen, making it tough to manage resources, respond to new business imperatives, and make strategic spending decisions. Look for budgeting tools that bring together real-time data with collaboration features that make it easy for finance, budget managers, and employees to communicate about budget and spend.

Stop Thinking About An Annual Budget

Another mistake companies commit year after year is taking the term ‘annual budget’ a little too literally. More than 50 percent of companies surveyed map out corporate spend just once a year, despite best practices that say rolling budgets are the way to go. Only 14 percent of companies we surveyed use rolling budgets. Why? Because tracking, reconciling and forecasting is time-consuming, data-intensive, and dependent on input from employees throughout the organization.

Many finance teams report that regular month-end reconciliation takes ten or more days. A recent study from PwC reported that even the highest functioning finance organizations spend up to 40% of their time just gathering data.

While it’s critical that companies keep accurate financial records for reporting purposes, it’s even more important that they use all available data to make informed recommendations. Updated budgets built with live forecasting features give management teams the means to make better decisions about immediate changes and opportunities in the business environment.

Start Prioritizing Budgeting

It’s easy to slip into bad habits when it comes to managing budgets. Thirty percent of respondents said their companies don’t have a formal budgeting process in place. Forty percent said they rely on their finance teams to intervene and stop spending when the budget gets off track. And sixty-four percent of respondents said their companies go over budget at least some of the time. We asked: why does this happen?

The main reason cited was that their organizations are too busy with other “mission critical” projects to worry about spending time on improving budgeting solutions. But what can be more mission critical than matching your financial and personnel resources with your company’s strategic objectives?

When done right, budgets have the power to be the key productivity tool that empowers all employees, at every level of the organization, to make smart decisions about where to invest time and money.

Start Including Everyone In the Process

To make budgeting a higher priority, everyone in the company must be involved in the process. Our survey revealed that the companies who were most successful in managing budgets were those that combined good tools and processes with ongoing communications and updates.

This finding mirrors a shift in how finance teams are thinking about working with departmental or budget line managers, where ideally the two functions come together as business partners aligned around common objectives. Unfortunately, in many organizations, budgets tend to be siloed in finance, while day-to-day business operations happen in sales, marketing, services and development.

To truly solve the silo problem, budgeting tools and finance teams need to engage department managers and employees in the budgeting process by writing the budget not in terms of last year’s actuals plus ten percent but in terms of business initiatives and activities. Budgets need to be visual and use categories that are meaningful to managers and spenders, not a laundry list of General Ledger codes. And finally, companies need to let managers see what’s been spent and what’s been planned for in real-time.

Achieving More

At Center, we believe that budgets should reflect strategy, and that every employee, at every level, in every action, contributes to the success of that strategy. Used right, budgets help make smart decisions about how to invest resources in an ever-changing business environment. The survey we conducted highlights a fundamental problem—without timely insights, budgets are just static documents that cannot support organizations as they grow and evolve.

Budget managers and employees need better solutions that allow for real-time visibility, ongoing adjustments in priorities, and consistent communications to help them meet their financial goals and make more strategic decisions about where to prioritize and invest resources.

This article originally appeared on Benzinga on Nov. 28, 2017

 

Related Articles:

Getting A Handle on Discretionary Spend

Why Connecting Strategy to Spend Matters

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