ASK ETHAN: Advancing FP&A Best Practices with the Cloud


CFO-Thought-Leader-Horz-599-131Ethan Carlson, co-host of the CFO Thought Leader Podcast, discusses how companies can benefit from running company models and forecasts from the cloud.

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 can companies do to prepare an organization to better leverage what cloud solutions can offer?

Ethan You need to look at how quickly a piece of software can deploy. If an application is truly Web-based, when you sign a contract within a day or so you should have access to all that software in a hosted environment. From a usability perspective, if you’ve got the actual set up, it’s measured in hours, though I would say that most cloud, FP&A CPM deployments that we see, usually span the eight- to 12-week time range. But the measurement is hours, it’s not total duration. The idea is if you’re going to spend a few hundred hours deploying a major piece of software in an enterprise setting that’s a fraction of what it used to take. That part now can happen really fast.

The trap companies fall into is thinking that because that can happen so fast, they don’t have to do all the planning and the preparation they necessarily should have done. I always tell organizations that yes, the deployment will happen more rapidly than any other software process or project you’ve been a part of. However, the planning, the thought around your organization, all of the principles of project management and sound execution of change management still apply. So you need to make sure you’ve looked at what you’re currently doing.

If the only problem in how you’re currently running your models and forecasts is that you need a platform, then yes, you can deploy very quickly. But if you have a need to revamp how you’re running your business, that can take some time. So I think that you have to go into it making sure you recognize that all software projects have a process element to them and all the same principles would apply of any deployment.

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Corporate Performance Management Systems Selection

You have gone through another painful budget cycle and made the decision that spreadsheets just aren’t cutting it. It’s probably a realization you made a long time ago but now you are ready to evaluate new options. You put in a lot of effort but recognize your 2015 budget is already bordering on obsolescence, and it’s still only Q4, 2014. Now there’s more time and effort to update it again plus you are being asked to create more reports. Wouldn’t it be great to focus on more value-added strategic financial planning? After all, that would be a much better use of your skills and experience. It’s time to start looking around for a corporate performance management solution that frees you and your team from drudgery. Once you’ve made this important decision, it’s time to consider some of the key factors that will guide your goals and short list of vendor solutions.

Cloud or On-premise


BYOD – Access Cloud CPM on a variety of devices

For a long time, CFOs and CIOs insisted that all financial data needed to reside behind the corporate firewall. In the past, that probably made sense. However, Cloud solution providers have invested tremendously in security, availability, and redundancy. Indeed, their systems have evolved to the point that they are likely more secure than your own. In addition to security, Cloud systems have other benefits such as significantly reducing IT overhead costs, allowing access with just a web-browser on a variety of devices, and a rolling update schedule that eliminates your IT team’s involvement. Indeed Cloud-based corporate performance management (CPM) solutions are the fastest growing segment in this market. While some providers claim to offer Cloud solutions, beware those that have merely taken legacy technology and ported to the Web. Here’s a link to an Adaptive Insights blog that addresses the risks of the “Fake Cloud”.


Usability often means the difference between a successful implementation and a failed one. It’s human nature to be resistant to change, particularly when people have been using spreadsheets for their entire career. For that reason, consider solutions that offer a familiar user interface (UI). If it’s intuitive and looks like what people are used to, the likelihood of frictionless adoption is going to be that much greater. Indeed, end users will get the best of both worlds – a spreadsheet-type UI with the benefits of a much more robust Cloud budgeting and planning solution.

Integration Capability

Implementing new software should always present an opportunity for business process improvement. Many finance professionals spend inordinate amounts of time copying and pasting data into and out of spreadsheets and other applications. In addition to the time drain, it’s also one of those steps that inadvertently introduce errors into the system. In order to mitigate those risks and add efficiencies to the workflow, integration with other systems is key. Bi-directional integration among systems also ensures that everyone is working from the same data.

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Carlson at Adaptive Roadshow for Finance Best Practices

Let’s Meet Up: CMC’s October Events

Carlson at Adaptive Roadshow for Finance Best PracticesWe are back on the road with two exciting events this month. First, we are the featured partner at the Adaptive Insights seminar in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 14th. This free seminar will show finance professionals how financially successful organizations are revolutionizing their FP&A and consolidation processes to ultimately free up time, resources and money. If you are in the Cincinnati area and would like registration details, please click here.

We are also the featured partner at the Adaptive Insights seminar in Atlanta, Georgia on October 21st. This seminar is designed specifically for manufacturing finance leaders.  Attendees will learn how to automate and optimize FP&A processes. For more information and to register, please click here.

Please note that attendees can earn 2 CPE credits by participating in one of these events.  Kevin O’Brien, who heads our Central Region practice, will be our representative at both events. He can be contacted at

Coming fast on the heels of the recent NACUBO Planning and Budgeting Forum in Denver, we will be hosting a webinar on October 23rd  at 1pm EDT to showcase our Higher Education CPM solution, which is pre-built in Adaptive Insights. We will demonstrate how this ready-to-implement solution:

  • Addresses the full range of higher education planning and reporting requirements
  • Incorporates modeling and forecasting best practices
  • Reduces implementation cost by up to 50%
  • Minimizes client implementation staffing
  • Enables phased rollout through modular design
  • Includes Carlson Productivity Suite with pre-defined higher education reports

To register for the webinar, please click here. We hope you can join us!

For all the latest CMC news, events, and blog posts, please follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Finance Leadership Through Technology – How the Cloud Elevates FP&A

Carlson CPM-solutions for businessTop CFOs see themselves as catalysts of enterprise-wide collaboration and seek to empower business units with self-service analysis and predictive “what if” planning capability to anticipate future challenges to success. The status quo of using spreadsheets for financial performance activities is no longer acceptable due to their inherent risks and limitations. Just run a Google search on “spreadsheet errors” and you will read about some of the catastrophic outcomes that companies have experienced due to their reliance of spreadsheets. With spreadsheets having been identified as a significant risk factor in effective financial planning and analysis, why do so many organizations continue to rely on them.

We see three main misperceptions preventing organizations from moving to more appropriate technologies:

1. Investment in the latest technology is too expensive – Businesses spend significant amounts on GL systems and other transactional systems. Ironically, when it comes to spending on the critical value-added activity of financial analysis, planning and budgeting, many organizations fail to get executive-level consensus to invest in point solutions that contribute to competitive advantage.

2. Implementation times are too great – Traditional on-premise systems often require in excess of 12 months to implement. By the time the time the deployment is complete, the underlying financial models are obsolete; or worse, the projects never get completed due to constantly changing requirements.

3. Resources are too constrained – Finance and IT teams everywhere are overworked. They simply do not have time to commit significant amounts of effort to large scale implementation projects. Furthermore, they are weary of the learning curve for re-engineered business processes that often come with a new system.

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