The business environment has been growing faster, more dynamic, and more complex for years, picking up pace as it goes. And there’s no end in sight. As a result, today’s businesses need to operate with new levels of agility, so that they can quickly respond to changing conditions around them using real-time data from across the organization. But getting that agility requires companies to evaluate the way they plan, execute, and measure activities. And it starts with the cloud.

Today, many enterprises still rely on traditional, on-premise corporate performance management (CPM) platforms—and many still rely on spreadsheets for business planning. Shifting to a cloud-based planning platform allows companies to adopt a planning process that is collaborative, comprehensive, and continuous. That combination can deliver the business agility companies need to compete in today’s fast-paced world.

Legacy on-premise planning tools         

Companies that have older, on-premises planning software typically find that they are expensive to maintain, hard to change without involving IT—and sometimes hard to even operate without expensive consultants—and often too finance-centric to support broad participation in the planning process.

The issue with older CPM deployments is that they were optimised for “paternalistic” planning models. Indeed, they were designed to support a small, senior finance audience that would model the business at a macro level. While they deliver a high-level, top-down view of the business as a whole, they only support one-way data flow. Functional business units have no lateral visibility or direct input into their own plans, let alone other areas of the organisations, effectively shutting down participation in a wider, cohesive planning process and limiting collaboration.

In addition, these tools typically require a lot of technical oversight from IT to set-up and maintain, creating an inflexible process that can’t adapt with the speed of business today. Worse still, “shadow planning”—planning that’s done in silos with no connection to the broader corporate plan—inevitably wins out with these tools. The reason? Functions and business leaders on the ground actually getting on with running business operations take matters into their own hands and create their own, disconnected plans.

Spreadsheets are a tool, not a platform

Spreadsheets remain a surprisingly robust halfway house for financial and operational planners. There are reasons why so much planning still gets done on spreadsheets; they are simple, powerful, and, in the right hands, financial and operational planners can make tasks happen very quickly. For example, if they need to analyse numbers in isolation, or do quick ‘what-if’ scenario planning using a static data set, spreadsheets are often hard to beat.

However, spreadsheets also have some fundamental shortcomings. They have no lateral scalability and they are not built for complex, multi-department collaboration, or highly dynamic data with a fast rate of change. Plus, when everyone across the business is planning in isolation, it takes a huge amount of elbow-grease and accountability to manually verify all the data and consolidate hundreds of errant spreadsheets into a single version of the truth. And after that Herculean effort, poor version control means inaccuracies often slip through the net.

Nevertheless, for small ad hoc planning, spreadsheets are not going anywhere. However, their limitations are being recognized as the need for agility escalates: they are fundamentally static and incapable of consolidating and distributing complex information around the business. In fact, they were never really built to be anything more.

Moving towards a cloud-based approach to planning

And just as the cloud has changed the way organizations work in many other business functions, the cloud is ideal for business planning. Using a cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform offers businesses a scalable, flexible planning environment that is quick to deploy and easy to manage. In addition, when participation is easy and accessible across functions, it results in broad adoption. That is why it makes sense to find a cloud-based planning platform that does not just support multi-user collaboration from a technical standpoint but actively drives it with an easy-to-use experience.

The benefits of cloud-based performance management systems are plentiful. They enable rapid deployment and customisation through configuration settings, rather than hard coding. Cloud-based performance management systems also enable continual software updates and avoid disruptive software upgrade projects. In addition, there is the benefit of lower initial deployment cost, freedom from investments in IT infrastructure, and reduced administrative overhead.

A game changer in business planning

Put simply, it is the advent of cloud-based planning platforms that are truly changing the game. The world is moving away from legacy on-premise planning tools and, while spreadsheets still have their role within the enterprise, cloud-based business planning approaches are winning above the rest. With the cloud, business planning can be easy, powerful, and fast—a must-have in today’s fast-paced, data-driven world.