Twenty-four sessions, twenty-four speakers, twenty-four different topics over just two days, and I didn’t just sit through the convention as a participant, no, I moderated the entire two day event as its Chairman. The Financial Forecasting and Planning Summit, organized by the IE Group, and held at the DoubleTree Mission Valley in San Diego, February 25-26. Whew! That was a lot of work.
As Chair, you literally do not get a break. While the participants are grabbing a coffee and a snack, you, as moderator, are busy tracking down the next set of speakers, many of whom only showed up during the middle of the prior session, learning how to mispronounce their names, finding out that they’ve changed their presentation topic since the agenda went to press, scrapping the introduction you spent twenty minutes working on the prior evening and quickly rewriting a new intro based on that new topic, and otherwise dealing with the various changes and announcements that the organizers are throwing at you, some unavoidable (ill speakers) and some evidently just to make you jump (Agenda? Isn’t that a synonym for “rough guideline”?)
Twenty-four speakers over just two days, thirty minutes each, and not a minute extra. Give into one and you lose control of the entire meeting, so out of necessity you become the Timekeeper from Hell. By lunch time of Day 1 I had all the speakers completely paranoid; exactly where I wanted them. Paranoid or not, they all still gave it their best, and it showed. With that many speakers from that many different companies and industries, one thing that became quite clear by mid-afternoon of the first day were the vast differences in business models. Most of us remain closely tied to one industry and therefore just one business model for most of our careers, so it’s no wonder that the audience generally eagerly anticipated each new session, sometimes sitting absolutely transfixed by the speaker and the challenges presented by the business model in his or her particular industry. Examples:
- Advanced Micro Devices (AMD): Highly volatile, tracks closely to GDP with severe “V’s” and “W’s” in a graph of their revenue and performance, requiring a focus on a highly variable cost structure.
- Cisco: Run from the top by John Chambers with a Wall Street “portfolio” focus closely following Geoffrey Moore’s approach as outlined in his book Dealing with Darwin, including how to expand into Adjacent Markets through growth or acquisition.
- Oakley (premier sunglasses, goggles and related apparel): Fostering competition across the intersecting matrix of 27 countries and a dozen product lines, resulting in perhaps a hundred different approaches to basically the same set of marketing problems.
- United Media: Owners, licensors and syndicators of many famous characters and brands, including Snoopy and the Peanuts gang (this one was so fascinating that Paul Crystal, CFO, was the only one I allowed to run over the time limit, which I did gladly).
Yet despite this cornucopia of business models, the need for certain business analytic disciplines remained consistent across the field:
- Data Integration: From disparate ERP’s, from legacy systems, from multiple sub-ledgers, in multiple currencies across the globe.
- One version of the Truth: You can’t even begin to manage effectively if there are not common definitions of terms and a single source of trusted data on which the analysis is carried out.
- Focus on Decision Support: At least five or six of the session speakers discussed some aspect of the common theme of finance moving from an 80/20 mix of transaction recording versus value-add decision support and analysis, to a 50/50 mix, and eventually flipping that on its head to 20/80.
- Forecasting sources, tools and techniques: From the title of the conference, it was clear that being able to construct multiple business scenarios (optimistic, pessimistic, most likely, worst case, etc …) with accuracy and confidence from several independent internal and external forecasting sources is the first key step towards reacting quickly to changing circumstances and reallocating resources and priorities accordingly.
Two days and twenty-four speakers later, it became clear that no matter your industry, no matter your business model, no matter how you go about creating value and making money, the management challenges are surprisingly similar. Certainly, while how each problem set will be uniquely addressed in each firm to its own competitive advantage will by necessity be different, management will still be drawing from a common pool of processes, tools and techniques to address those unique problems.