ASK ETHAN: Why Finance Should Adopt Driver-based Models

 

CFO-Thought-Leader-Horz-599-131Has your finance team explored the benefits of driver-based models? Join us as Ethan Carlson, CEO of Carlson Management Consulting, once more tackles our questions to supply you with answers and a new mindset designed to help empower your finance organization to look ahead.


Listen and subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes.

The following is an edited abstract from CFO Thought Leader’s “Ask Ethan” podcast featuring Ethan Carlson, CEO, Carlson Management Consulting, and Jack Sweeney, co-host of CFO Thought Leader.

CFOTL What’s your advice to executives who may believe driver-based models are too complex or sophisticated for their teams to manage or execute?

Ethan First, in trying to create a model, focus on the key elements that influence your numbers. You don’t have to create a model so dynamic that every single line item updates perfectly. Think about the standard 80/20 rule in all things — 80% of all expenses are probably focused in a handful of key accounts.

Models don’t have to be complex. Your business will dictate the level of complexity and what you can identify. It’s great if, say, every ten visits to your website translates into a sale and you can categorize how many marketing dollars drive people to your website and that cascades down through sales, or if you can look at salesperson productivity and see how that will translate into sales. If you can’t, that’s okay too. You should focus on what you can quantify.

Models can vary in complexity. They don’t need to be overly complex to be useful. If I were taking an organization that had never done any sort of sophisticated modeling or budgeting but wanted to implement a model, I would take small steps and make sure we focused on a couple of key things and then expand.

All of the topics we talk about here are on budgeting and forecasting, and they are all iterative processes. It’s not like you’re going to come in and overnight transform a model and a business’s way of thinking. It takes time: you start with simple models and drivers and continue to add the sophistication over time.

CFOTL When people want to adopt driver-based methodologies as part of their entire approach what do you recommend?

Ethan A lot of factors that will influence the timing. One question is do you have good information on your business and on your drivers? One problem that often presents itself to a CFO or a director of financial planning and analysis who wants to change how the company budgets is they don’t have historical data and enough of a trend to really make informed decisions to determine whether these factors are in fact good drivers or not.

Often you have to start with what you can get your hands on, and then over time – be it three months, six months, a year – with the focus on those topics, you start to gather better information for the basis of your analysis, which then can be improved.

A lot depends on what’s available and how long it will take to get it. Again, a focused approach is always best. In almost every business we’ve worked with, we spend a lot of time putting together these models and budgets and forecasts and reports. But at the end of the day, it’s always a half dozen line items, or maybe a dozen, which are the big ticket items that really move the needle in their projections.

It’s a shift in the thought process. If you’ve been using historical trends or a budget manager’s input, asking for a kind of “guestimate” as to the projections for next year, shifting to something that’s more grounded in these drivers will take time. But again, if you focus in on just those key accounts first and then expand that, you can be very successful.

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ASK ETHAN: Embracing the Shift to Real-Time Scenario Planning

CFO-Thought-Leader-Horz-599-131Is your organization assessing uncertainty using scenario planning? Join us as Ethan Carlson, CEO of Carlson Management Consulting, once more tackles our questions to supply you with answers and a new mindset designed to help empower your finance organization to look ahead.

 

Listen and subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes.

The following is an edited abstract from CFO Thought Leader’s “Ask Ethan” podcast featuring Ethan Carlson, CEO, Carlson Management Consulting, and Jack Sweeney, co-host of CFO Thought Leader.

CFOTL We’re often told that scenario planning is not about providing an accurate picture of the future, but about making decisions regarding the future. What exactly is being said here?

Ethan I think that the whole process around planning and budgeting and forecasting is a relatively inexact science. It’s kind of the art of finance. It’s not that adding in scenario planning is going to make your projections any more accurate. For me it’s an opportunity to think about what the possible outcomes are and work through what your firm’s reactions to those will be. I think about it as a sports team practicing before a game. You want to prepare for the things that might be thrown your way.

We all know that the future holds things that we can’t predict. If you can work through a series of scenarios involving your financials and how they might be impacted by various events and how you would react to those and you work as a management team, you’re going to react better on the spot when something unforeseen occurs.

CFOTL It seems to us that scenario planning could become an interesting assignment for a strategy-minded finance person — since it really requires finance to collaborate with different parts of the business to identify possible scenarios.

Ethan Well, I think that the point you raise is an excellent one in that it really is an opportunity for finance leaders who want to be involved in the business and understand what makes it really go and where the major risks are. It does present an opportunity. I don’t think I can say that we see this widely. I’ve always viewed finance and business interaction and the collaboration as a two-way street. This type of scenario planning represents that.

CFOTL Do you find that certain CFOs still do not view scenario planning as being a particularly practical use of time? That some view it as a burden that companies have to get past?

Ethan Sure, this could certainly become a huge time sinkhole and one that I could see plenty of financial leaders not seeing as valuable. If you have a model that you’ve constructed for your budget and for your forecast that has driver-based elements to it, I think that you can be very efficient, and quite honestly I think that if you’re not doing, at least, some level of scenario planning, your planning process is incomplete. You’ll want to make sure that you don’t run a hundred scenarios for all the possible things that can occur. If you’re not doing the three or four most likely variants of your budget or your forecast at any given time, it’s really, I think, incomplete.

I can think back to when I was running a forecast for a company and we would always have a best upside scenario and a downside scenario, and we understood what our levers were and that scenario planning is not always reacting to a negative, but it’s also reacting to the positive. If you all of a sudden have an influx of new business or new opportunity, how are you going to react to that as well? At a bare minimum, I would say that if you’re not doing those base three reviews, you’re incomplete in your process.

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Carlson Announced as the Winner of Partner Innovation at Adaptive Insights 2015 Worldwide Partner Summit

Carlson Receives Partner Innovation Award from Adaptive Insights

Carlson Receives Partner Innovation Award from Adaptive Insights

WOBURN, MA—February 4 , 2015 – Carlson Management Consulting, a leading financial solutions and services firm serving a growing list of customers nationwide, today announced it was awarded Partner Innovation by Adaptive Insights, the worldwide leader in cloud corporate performance management (CPM) and business intelligence (BI) for the biggest brands and the hottest companies. The awards recognize outstanding achievement by Adaptive partners around the world in a variety of categories.

“We are excited to be recognized by Adaptive Insights for the innovative Higher Education solution that we’ve developed on their industry-leading platform as well as our track record of implementation success in this space,” stated Ethan Carlson, founder and CEO. “As a three-time award winner, we will continue to invest significantly in our relationship with Adaptive as our partnership provides unparalleled benefits for our customers.”

Adaptive Insights announced its award winners in Dallas, Texas at the company’s annual Worldwide Partner Summit, a gathering of key partners from around the world to share strategies and best practices and to continue to accelerate business opportunities for Adaptive solutions. More than 100 partner companies were represented at the third annual Adaptive Insights Worldwide Partner Summit. Total attendance at the summit is up 23% over last year, and international partners represent over 40% of attendees, more than double the international presence of prior years.

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