On Tuesday I was in San Francisco addressing an audience of finance executives at The FP&A for High-Tech Summit, a two-day conference designed to address the unique challenges of financial planning and analysis in Silicon Valley. The tech industry is a distinct creature. I say this having served as a finance executive for one of the nation’s biggest homebuilders and one of the world’s largest airlines – industries with substantial fixed asset bases and typically slow growth. But, what businesses in these industries have in common is the same critical focus on strategic planning and operational analysis to drive performance.

Before I jump in, I’d like to thank the FP&A for High-Tech Summit for a great event and for having me speak among a great lineup of speakers. Tidemark was also proud to serve as a Silver Sponsor of this week’s event.

If you weren’t able to attend, let me provide a recap. I spent about 20 minutes on a discussion that I called “The Next Generation of FP&A.” I started with a real-world example of where a high-customer-volume company (+200,000 customer interactions every day) was crippled by its inability to really know anything of substance about its customers. All of the customer data was locked away in legacy transaction systems. Nobody could get to the data to analyze it, and so this company had practically no understanding of customer preferences, buying patterns, loyalty… things that might interest you as a business manager!

The solution at the time was to bring in a top-tier consulting group to access the data and develop an analysis that provided some customer insights to executives. It took a small army of consultants almost a year to come up with conclusions, and then another year to implement the findings into the company’s products. That’s two years before a single customer was impacted by the study. And if conditions warranted a refresh of the analysis? That’d be more time lost and more money spent.

Timeframes like this are unacceptable in today’s business environment.  Can you imagine running your company based on your understanding of the business environment two years ago? Last year? Last quarter? Even month-old data seems stale in many of our businesses today.

What I offered the audience was a look into the future and the next generation of FP&A solutions. In my view, there are three fundamental pillars: cloud, mobile and collaboration. Everybody is talking about these, but reconsider them in light of managing your business. In my talk, I described the advantages of approaching business management based on 1) the power and flexibility of the cloud via real-time access to unlimited data volumes and high-speed (i.e. in-memory) calculations; 2) the mobile enablement that puts true performance-impacting management tools in the hands of the people making the frontline decisions via easy-to-use apps; and 3) the world of opportunity that emerges as cloud and mobile intersect to link corporate performance management and the frontline on a real-time basis.  Imagine frontline people (e.g. sales, production managers) making decisions based on profitability!  Imagine having a real-time read on your financial and operational forecast!

Those days are here. As finance professionals, our challenge is to lead the team to the best decisions we can with the information at hand. Our information is about to get a whole lot better.