The pandemic has given businesses a new-found understanding of the importance of having the right tools for effective forecasting, according to Rishi Grover, co-founder and chief solutions architect at Vena.
“Pre-pandemic everyone used their forecasting models to look one or two years ahead, maybe five years at a push,” he says. “These forecasts were based on assumptions that business would carry on as usual, with some growth patterns based on the market and the industry. But now we have been through something that caused everything to change overnight.”
Businesses had to be able to quickly reforecast their business models to include a large amount of uncertainty. “Firms that were not already agile struggled to do this,” says Grover. “The pandemic was obviously terrible, but it was a great use case to understand the value of agility.”
To help businesses react to unpredictable changes and be proactive in driving agile and informed decision-making in the face of uncertainty, Vena helps its customers with end-to-end business planning, covering finance planning, operational planning, as well as data modelling, analytics and reporting.
“With our Complete Planning platform, users have access to a central and analytical database, a workflow to allow for collaboration, and an engine to drive reporting and analytics,” says Grover.
The clincher is that Vena’s platform is built on top of Microsoft Excel. “Everyone knows Excel – we grew up with it,” he adds. “It is intuitive and by far the most flexible modelling canvas out there. If you can think it or model it in Excel, then it will fit into Vena. And because businesses need to be very agile, Excel allows them to do that in a quick way so you can easily model scenarios.”
But Grover and his team saw opportunities to build on the functionality of Excel, specifically in collaboration, enabling users to aggregate models and performing analysis at a high level.
“So that’s where our platform helps, but Excel as the end user modelling tool allows companies to be much more agile,” says Grover. “When the pandemic hit, businesses that were using their own financial planning and analysis (FP&A) solutions – which traditionally replace Excel – immediately exported out to Excel, so that they could play with their model, make changes, test assumptions etc.
“It is the financial instinct to work in Excel because users have complete transparency. They can see the data, the models and the formulas, and they can be very nimble in the way that they play with their assumptions. Businesses are now doubling down on their ability to be agile, and Excel plays a very good part in being able to do that.”
Not only does Vena Complete Planning help customers improve their forecasting and therefore their decision-making, it also helps users to mitigate risk.
“There are a few ways of looking at this,” says Grover. “For example, there is a risk of low user adoption with any solution. You can buy the best technology in the world, but if your users don’t adopt it, it could be the worst. Because Excel is so familiar to our customers, user adoption is generally very good.”
Grover believes that Vena’s platform can also mitigate risk because it enables users to get a much closer look at all their metrics, data and forecasting material. “With Vena Extended Planning, customers can access a new level of detail based on a wealth of financial and operational data that better informs plans and reforecasting,” he explains.
The platform also integrates with Power BI, which further helps users to identify trends and insights from this data. “Power BI is by far the world leader in business intelligence technology and has a lot of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) built into it,” says Grover. “But ML and AI are only as good as the data they use.
“So, the fact that we can do finance-led and extended planning, consolidating all that data from source systems at that detailed level, these systems can now give me a lot of insight into my data. It can detect correlations and anomalies in the data, really bringing this information to life.”
Among Vena’s over 1,000 customers is Coca-Cola Consolidated. As the largest Coca-Cola bottler in the US, with 76 distribution centres and 17,000 employees, the business wanted a solution to make business planning easier and more collaborative. With the foundation in Excel as a major factor, the firm decided to use Vena Complete Planning, which integrated with existing source systems, automated data consolidation and brought the entire cross-functional planning process into one central solution.
“The information we generate is being used across the business to better understand results and to make better business decisions,” says Matt Blickley, vice president of FP&A at Coca-Cola Consolidated. “Vena is probably the best professional decision that I’ve made in my career.”
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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