Chief financial officers around the world seem to be suffering from low self-esteem. A recent survey conducted by IBM and The Economist found that only a third of 900 CFOs rated themselves as highly effective in supporting their CEO's efforts to grow the company. Too few have been able to simplify and integrate data sources to help with planning and forecasting growth opportunities.
RSA Security may not have called it "performance management" when the initiatives began, but the company has realized performance benefits, including faster, more accurate budgeting and profit-driven product planning.
The security technology supplier's initial goal in 2000 was improving budget accuracy. It chose GEAC's MPC (Management Performance Controls) software to tame a distributed process involving operations in more than 30 countries. When budgets and accompanying forecasts prove inaccurate, the results are quickly and sometimes painfully felt on Wall Street.
"My job is to make sure that if we deliver X in revenue, we'll deliver Y per share as promised — it's right because the forecasts are on target," said Dave Stack, RSA's director of financial planning and analysis, at a recent GEAC user group meeting in New York. Perhaps the biggest complaint about budgeting is that it's labor-intensive, but Stack says MPC has helped cut full-time-equivalent weeks spent on the annual budgeting process from 150 in 2000 to 60 today — the difference between finishing in November rather than in February. The efficiencies helped the company move from quarterly to more accurate monthly forecasts in 2002, and it now takes four days to update these estimates companywide, down from 13 days in 2000.
RSA's monthly forecast is now used as a Sarbanes-Oxley control process, and the company has integrated its own security software in combination with log files to capture approval "signatures" by the CFO and auditors.
Among RSA's latest initiatives is improving product performance by comparing R&D, marketing and sales expenditures against competitors by product. The approach lets the company test alternative investment strategies and analyze the impact on profit and growth. "We may think that a market [segment] is going to grow by 15 percent, but we may have new products or programs that could accelerate that, and we can build that into the forecast and budget," Stack said.
Stack said a key draw of MPC has been its tight integration with Microsoft Excel, which lets users work with a familiar tool. Excel integrations are the trend, showing up in many recent BI and performance-management releases.