While historical analysis and reporting continue to be important in understanding influencing factors and developments, it is planning in particular that enables resources and processes to be aligned with strategies and goals. Companies are optimally prepared for the future through more frequent simulations including scenario comparisons and a closer integration of planning and reporting. "Lessons from the financial crisis" for companies are above all the well-founded development of future-proof strategies, the better anticipation of possible risks, their monitoring and early reaction as well as a more comprehensive planning.
Microsoft Excel is still the most important software tool in the field of planning. Irrespective of the size of the company, spreadsheets are used in almost all companies in one form or another for planning purposes. Mostly these are areas such as sales or human resources, where flexibility is required above all to be able to map the individual requirements of the companies.
However, clear differences can be seen in the satisfaction with the tools used. Companies that carry out their planning with the possibilities of Excel are significantly more dissatisfied than companies that work with special planning tools, for example.
For planning tasks Excel is only conditionally suitable without additional specific functions and database connection. Major disadvantages manifest themselves in the lack of a consistent database, which in some cases contains countless Excel files, the high susceptibility to errors and the danger of inconsistencies due to numerous links, as well as the inadequate support of the planning process. Many companies recognize that their Excel-based solutions are too inflexible and error-prone and that the software offers too little support for the specific tasks of planning. Consequently, Excel is increasingly being replaced by proven, integrated software solutions for planning.
The basic planning process can be divided into the phases of data provision (provision of actual data, input of planned values), data processing (consolidation of the database, generation of planned values using automated procedures) and data analysis (content analysis of actual data and planned values). The study results show that the effort per planning phase depends on the software tools used. Planning processes can be handled much more efficiently with special planning tools than with Excel alone. Data is collected centrally in one tool, data mappings are no longer necessary, flexibility is increased and human errors are minimized by the integrated approach.
Planning processes must constantly adapt and are rarely stable for more than a year. Changes in the corporate environment require a corresponding flexibility to adapt to new conditions. A comparison with survey results from 2008 shows that the dynamics of planning processes in companies have increased significantly as a result of the financial crisis. A much larger proportion of companies change their planning process at least once every six months (2011: 49 percent; 2008: 36 percent; growth: 13 percent). The ever-increasing dynamics of the operating business thus have a direct impact on the planning processes for planning and scheduling.
Especially in the area of planning, companies see a great potential for improvement. Only four percent of the companies surveyed are satisfied with their current planning processes. Above all, potential is seen in the "shortening/acceleration of processes" and the "reduction of resource expenditure". However, this is countered by the still widespread use of Excel for planning purposes. If Excel continues to be used so extensively, no process acceleration or resource minimization is to be expected due to the inefficient support of spreadsheets as planning becomes more complex. Only special planning tools that support the planning process in the best possible way with the appropriate functionality promise improvement here.
Particularly due to the global financial crisis that began in 2007, performance management in general and planning in particular have become increasingly important in companies.
The support of planning by special software tools is becoming increasingly important. The replacement of inefficient Excel solutions in particular is on the agenda of companies. Special software tools offer comprehensive supporting functionality, a central database for shared access and defined planning models, thus helping to increase user satisfaction, react faster to changes and accelerate the planning process.
Dr. Christian Fuchs (Dipl.-Kfm.) is Senior Analyst and Consultant at the Business Application Research Center (BARC). He is author of the BARC studies "Software Tools for Planning" and "Software Tools for Financial Consolidation". He specializes in decision-supporting information systems with a particular focus on BI front-ends and process-oriented BI applications. He supports companies in the software selection process and the introduction phase.