Best FP&A Software: Should You Build or Buy FP&A Tools?

Matthew Dziak

What does the best FP&A tool provider offer?

Successful CFOs and finance leaders continue to find ways to expand their finance function’s efficiencies and the potential impact it can have on a Company. Unfortunately, too many finance functions rely on manual processes that aren’t scalable and are susceptible to errors. Repetitive tasks such as extracting financial and operational data from your ERP and CRM system limit your finance team’s capacity to focus on more meaningful analysis that drives strategic conversations. 

It’s no coincidence then, that only 22% of finance leaders demonstrate confidence in the completeness and accuracy of data generated by their finance function without significant manual intervention, according to EY’s Digital Disruption in Finance Survey.

Homegrown accounting and finance tools can work as stopgaps for small companies, but as you scale, your reliance on automation and software increases to keep pace with company expectations. You simply can’t do it all alone, no matter how advanced your financial acumen is. 

In this post, we break down 8 criteria and things to consider when evaluating and procuring the best financial planning and analysis (FP&A) tools and software solutions.

1. Evaluate your current FP&A tools and processes

Before you make a decision on what is the best FP&A tools, you need to determine what is working and what needs to be improved within your finance function. Perhaps you’re using an on-premise legacy software that requires costly upkeep, a need for IT maintenance to support and a lack of features specific to your Company and Finance Function’s needs. 

To get started, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What tools does your finance and accounting team use on a daily basis?
  2. Do you experience bottlenecks or gaps in your budgeting, planning and forecasting processes?
  3. Are any of your data staging or reporting processes automated?
  4. What workflow in your finance function takes the longest to complete?
  5. What data are you reliant on and is it easily accessible and structured for use?
  6. What’s holding you back from being more efficient?

The answers to these questions will help you determine what is most important in your search for an FP&A tool and which vendors offer ideal solutions for your finance function. 

2. Understand where you need additional technological help

After evaluating your finance function, you may discover you’re far too reliant on legacy and limited FP&A solutions. Let’s face it, Excel Hell is real and though it can be a wonderful tool, it isn’t scalable on a standalone basis. Finance has come to love Excel for its convenience and computing potential, but it lacks direct integrations, large data set management and a host of other pitfalls that are problematic.

Maintaining all of your operational and financial data in Excel is extremely inefficient. For one, Excel doesn’t offer direct integrations to extract your ERP or operational data from other systems and automatically organize it for analysis. It requires time-consuming, repetitive tasks and introduces a high potential for error and version control issues. Not to mention, spreadsheets with endless tabs can grow to unmanageable sizes, becoming reminiscent of Kudzu, the “vine that ate the South.” 

Mature finance functions provide decision-makers with actionable insight derived from detailed analysis to help scale the business. To provide detailed analysis efficiently, you must integrate disparate data from multiple sources and leverage automation to stage data for use, so capacity is spent on analyzing reliable data in a centralized system rather than manually amalgamating spreadsheets.

3. The best FP&A tool implementers are laser-focused on your needs

To keep pace with customer demand and competitors, FP&A software vendors are always improving the capabilities of their tools and solutions. When you first set out to procure an FP&A Tool, you’re typically looking to: 

  1. Automate repetitive, low-value tasks
  2. Measure company performance with greater accuracy
  3. Realize more efficient forecasting and scenario planning 
  4. Provide more detailed insights to drive strategic conversations
  5. Expedited closing and reconciliation processes
  6. Ensure seamless reporting package development
  7. Maintain version control over collaborative measures
  8. Conduct deeper analysis in a fraction of the time

These are just some of the many features and use cases that make FP&A tools incredibly useful and valuable. In comparison, internal tools usually lack the breadth of functionality required by finance professionals. 

FP&A tools take time to develop and your IT department or developers are unlikely to prioritize capacity to create dedicated tools for finance to utilize. Even if your IT department finds time, it likely will take them months just to create a working framework that typically lacks the breadth of functionality. If you're up against a deadline or need to create a board report package on a regular basis, exploring tools to help automate processes is imperative to make optimal use of your time.

4. External solution providers offer additional expertise

This is an often overlooked value add of partnering with an FP&A tool provider. Whether you’ve been in a finance leadership role for over a decade or worked for a Fortune 100 company or Big 4 Accounting Firms, there’s a cornucopia (Fall is in the air, at least at the time of publishing this post) of financial planning and analysis knowledge to be had. No matter how many courses you take or research you conduct, there’s far greater value in first-hand experience that some vendors offer. 

To be an impactful finance professional requires technical skills that weren’t as prevalent even ten years ago. Leveraging expertise of external vendors can quickly ascend your abilities as a finance professional and expand your knowledge in the quickest way possible. Paring that exposure to expertise with robust software makes for a dynamic duo that can truly evolve the capabilities of your Finance Function.  

In our case, FutureView's co-founders comprise nearly a century of combined finance and technical expertise spanning multiple countries, industries and experience successfully leading multinational enterprises. These proven methodologies are baked into our software solutions for you to take full advantage of in your finance transformation.

The top FP&A Software tools are best paired with a six-step process for optimal finance transformation

"I can't thank the FutureView team enough. Not only did the system help with the analysis and enabling us to talk about the past and future of our numbers, but the team was also phenomenal in taking data from our in-house system and slice and dice it in robust ways." — Brad Schomber, CFO Spoonflower

Watch the Spoonflower success story video here.

5. Potential ROI is realized quicker

Although number five on this list, it might be number one for budget owners and finance professionals alike. Any FP&A tool or software will require an initial investment to access the features and benefit from a platform. With a cloud-based FP&A Platform, the purchase should provide meaningful efficiencies that save you valuable time, additional capabilities to deliver greater value to the company, and eliminate costly errors that can be difficult to identify and resolve.

Growing companies aren’t always in a position to hire large workforces to facilitate tasks that can be otherwise automated. It's a payroll saving that frees up spending for other, more important facets of your company.  Not to mention, the direct purchase of required tools to create and test software, costs to develop far exceed that of most dedicated vendor options.

FP&A should offer the greatest value within the Function Function, by offering strategic insights to drive the business forward - but it can’t succeed without the right tools for the job. The time saved using FP&A automations and software allows you and your team to focus on more meaningful tasks that offer strategic insights to help grow your business. Our analysis confirms you can expect at least a 9x ROI with FutureView's FP&A Platform and solutions.

6. Internal resources lack nuances 

If they have the capacity, your software engineers might be able to build the pipes and move data around, but the issues of creating the necessary use cases for finance remains. When faced with a choice between resolving an internal data issue or a newly-discovered bug in the platform, the platform bug (appropriately) takes priority. In addition, engineers typically don’t understand the nuances of the data in each system in a way that allows them to help strategically leverage the data for financial purposes

When you inevitably run into an issue, support from software providers is just a message away. They typically have dedicated staff and experts available to ensure customer satisfaction. Since internal resources are focused on other projects, they’re not always readily available to address your issues as they arise.

If you have an immediate need or issue, can you afford to wait a week or two for an internal resource to get to it?  In contrast, you are the priority of software solutions vendors — or at least, for the best FP&A system vendors. 

“By working with FutureView we’ve cut our report preparation time from days to minutes. In addition, the data structure provides the flexibility to evaluate the business at a more granular level, instantaneously. Both allow the finance team to spend more time on advising the business.” — Keith Haas, CFO LeaseAccelerator

FP&A tools to help accelerate

7. Ongoing maintenance and upkeep can't be overlooked

Even the most advanced software inevitably experiences minor bugs that must be resolved. Ongoing maintenance, bug fixes and updates can be costly for internal teams to manage, who are already likely experiencing capacity constraints. Besides, management most likely wants your best software engineers focused on building and maintaining your product, not on internal business operations. 

Keep in mind, developers don't necessarily build software and technology in a way that is applicable and understood by finance professionals. FutureView’s cross-section of financial and technical expertise spanning decades and global reach are just some of the reasons our FP&A tools and solutions are unique.

8. Implementation shouldn’t take months

The idea of using a shiny new tool is always exciting. You begin to formalize ways you can truly make a difference in your finance function and truly make an impact on your company. However, it’s important to keep a close eye on the implementation process of a solution. 

During procurement, you probably will come across tools from familiar names and others you may have yet to hear about. Unfortunately, even some of the biggest players in the FP&A industry involve lengthy implementation processes that require never-ending add-ons to customize the FP&A Platform to fit your needs. 

Consequently for some, this isn’t uncovered until far later in the sales cycle, so before you fall in love with the opportunity of implementing a solution, ask yourself, “can I wait 4-6 months before actually putting this tool to use?” FP&A Tool and Software providers like FutureView Systems offer turnkey solutions made by finance professionals, for finance professions. Custom options are also available, and our FP&A experts can have you up and running in a few weeks, not months.  

If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you transform your finance function, contact us and request a demo of our FP&A Platform today. 

FP&A Software designed by Finance for Finance