This week I found myself in the Windy City (after a brief diversion to Peoria due to potential for golf ball size hail in Chicagoland…), taking part in the CPG Forecasting & Planning Summit. This is the second CPG event for us at Tidemark this year, and these are proving to be fantastic meeting places for those of us who love all-things of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) and performance management. It’s a steady flow of discussions around best practices and experiences by key folks at companies that you’d recognize.

This particular conference brings together finance executives from the consumer goods space to discuss a variety of business processes, techniques and technologies in the hopes of taking something back that will enable the finance team to drive business performance. Brands including Energizer, PepsiCo and Louisville Slugger, just to name a few, took part.

My presentation was an attempt to get to the heart of a few buzzwords — “What Finance Needs to Know about Cloud, Mobile and Collaboration.” Those of us in finance tend to be a fairly skeptical bunch when it comes to the next great thing that’s going to “transform your business.” But there’s some meat to this one. The future of FP&A, and performance management more broadly, is being built on cloud, mobile and collaboration. Here’s why:

Cloud. The cloud discussion is too often about cost savings (i.e. asset-lite model, low maintenance, etc.). Cost savings are great and that always gets our attention, but cloud is bigger and better than that. We can finally get our arms around all that data that we’ve wondered about. The cloud legitimately provides businesses with the ability to access unlimited data volumes at high-speed (i.e. in-memory calculations) in real-time if desired. Think about the possibilities for your revenue forecast, expense forecast, and production forecast. Does weather impact demand? Does Twitter sentiment matter? Do the thousands of transactions that happened last week impact this week or next?  Now we can find out, and we can use what we learn to improve our financial and operational forecasts.

Mobile. What can’t we do on a mobile device? My two-year old is an expert at navigating both a Kindle and an iPad. These are intuitive tools and we’re all hooked by the simplicity and power of the experience. Yet, we continue to toss around spreadsheets and reports via email or spreadsheet-like interfaces. Why can’t we apply everything we love about mobile technology to performance management? Answer: We can, we are, and it’s going to make a huge difference. This isn’t about viewing pretty (static) graphs; that’s easy. This isn’t about spreadsheets in the cloud; what’s the point, really? This is about evolving the experience. Remember the briefcase-sized phone of the 80s? Now we have the iPhone? Times change, we get smarter, and tools and technologies improve.  We have the opportunity to reinvent the way finance interacts with and enables the non-finance team (which happens to be 95% of the business).

Collaboration. So here’s the big deal. What happens when cloud horsepower meets modern mobile usability? Answer: Collaboration. Imagine putting an intuitive, easy-to-use profitability analysis tool in the hands of your sales folks. Imagine your sales reps determining the optimum deal structure before they walk in the door and meet with your customer. Imagine having your sales rep comment through the handheld tool on what worked or didn’t work in the deal, and having that information attached to the deal forever. Imagine having that deal and its context feeding your financial forecast in real time. Ditto for your production environment and managing those resources to meet demand.  There’s an opportunity to put all of the analytical horsepower that lives in the heads of the MBAs on your team into the hands of the folks running the business and making customer-impacting decisions. There’s an opportunity to have daily insight into what’s happening out there, where the game is won and lost. There’s an opportunity for finance to do what finance does best – fly strategically at 30,000 feet to spot trends and then dive in to solve problems as needed. Combined, cloud and mobile technologies will enable real-time insight into your financial and operational performance and forecast, allowing for better, faster and smarter decisions.

That’s what finance needs to know about cloud, mobile and collaboration. There’s an opportunity here to manage a business in ways that we’ve only dreamed about until now. These technologies are here and ready to go.

How big can you dream?