Recap 23rd Horváth Planning Conference

Planning beyond 2020: New concepts and new tools on the rise - challenges and takeaways

For many years, Horváth’s planning conference has been one of the leading platforms for planning and forecasting in the German-speaking world. This year’s 23rd Horváth Planning Conference was again dominated by a constantly changing business world. Like last year, the event took place completely digitally – and was thus (partly involuntarily) under the sign of flexibility and adaptability. The matching presentations dealt primarily with the topics of flexible planning and intra-company collaboration.

The speakers were top-class controlling managers from various industries, from finance and insurance to consumer goods and energy to mechanical engineering – and despite the different industries they came to the same conclusion: planning must be further optimized in many areas. Almost all presentations were therefore unsurprisingly about more efficiency and transparency.

The thematic focal points summarized:

  • Continuous control with (rolling) forecasts and simulations
  • Integration of functional planning/control with financial control to increase efficiency
  • Automation with modern planning tools

Exciting insights into current controlling challenges

It is well known that the finance function needs to be transformed – from a passive controlling instance to a proactive, agile enterprise performance management unit that acts as a strategic partner to management. But where will controlling teams be at the end of 2021 and how will they approach the digital transformation? What does a successful combination of concept and tool look like and how can the implementation of new software solutions “beyond Excel” succeed? “Implementation can be a bumpy road, and almost always is,” says conference chair Michael Kappes, a partner at Horváth, as well. He thus sums up one of the great controlling challenges of today: the implementation of fundamentally good ideas.

This is because many factors determine how successfully a planning concept is implemented: An integrated planning model incl. the ability to make adjustments quickly and the ability to call in experts as needed are success factors and challenges at the same time. To do this, the model must provide the ability to bring together loose planning ends through process and functional integration. At the same time, important processes such as planning and forecasting must remain efficient and flexible. All of this is accompanied by effective, cross-departmental change management. Even the best ideas and concepts are useless if the people involved are not involved and convinced.

Integrated planning as a lever for success

Decision-making was also a focus of many presentations. Due to currently prevailing structures, the decision-making process in many companies is still (unnecessarily) complex. This is mainly due to the partially outdated working methods.

Thomas Schäfer from KUKA summed up the problem faced by many companies. “There’s a lack of vision,” he says in reference to how the various departments work together. In this context, Schäfer also talks about silos, which are familiar in many places, and thus hints at one of the main problems in the context of planning: Each department often uses a different system to store and manage data. While the finance department works with Excel, for example, HR uses databases.

This in turn makes it more difficult to exchange data. For good planning, however, it is essential that all departments work with the same system (and thus on the same level of knowledge) and mesh like cogs. This requires a central database that gives all employees access to the relevant data.

Interdepartmental planning often suboptimal

The move toward (more) digitization represents another field of action. Many companies still work with physical files and documents. Even though this process is the standard in many companies, everyone agrees that “future-oriented” is different after all. Therefore, the 23rd Planning Conference also focused on the concept of a digitized, integrated platform.

In addition to the availability of data for all departments, the speakers cited the efficiency offered by such a platform as one of the major plus points. Thus, only with a company-wide available data source it is possible to react even to short-term changes. This flexibility makes interdepartmental exchanges more efficient and ensures that corporate goals can be pursued more vigorously and realized more effectively.

The requirements for such a platform are independent of the industry. In essence, however, the prerequisites for efficient planning are the same. A planning solution must:

  • Provide a clear overview of current processes and projects,
  • enable a smooth exchange between departments,
  • Create maximum transparency for all authorized access parties as well as
  • enable flexible changes and communicate directly to those affected.

As the presentations make clear, the step towards a fully digitalized planning platform has not yet been realized everywhere. Commerzbank, for example, is currently running the first pilot projects with the new simulation solution – the full rollout will follow in 2022. The vision: an optimized platform that will strengthen and simplify internal collaboration in the future. Click here for the presentation in full length.

Interaction of integration and simulation

Integrated planning models provide the basis for any further optimization. The integration includes various controlling use cases and processes: from strategic planning to medium-term planning and target setting to forecasting. Connected by a step that should not be skipped: scenario simulation. This is because the simulation of scenarios helps to show the consequences of possible decisions and thus to map risks. Scenario simulation thus represents an essential component of modern planning and is a central requirement for software solutions that future-oriented controlling teams should have in their tool set.

Controlling as a driver and advisor

Without question, the 23rd Horváth Planning Conference once again demonstrated why further optimization of corporate planning is essential, not least due to the ongoing digital transformation. More interlocking cooperation between different departments is elementary. The digitization and centralization of data, which is accessible to all employees at all times, ensures that all teams work together efficiently and purposefully – and can thus also react promptly to changes.

Reducing complexity and close collaboration between different business units and subject matter experts are therefore just two of the takeaways that audience members were able to take away from the event. What remains is the realization that controlling must coordinate the planning process and continue to act more as a driver and advisor.

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