Going Mobile with Planning and Analysis

Business fully entered the age of mobility in 2010 with the initial sales of Apple’s iPad. In the first 80 days after it went on sale on April 3, 2010, it had sold over 3 million units. “By any account, the iPad is a runaway success of unprecedented proportion” noted Colin McGranahan, retail analyst at Bernstein Research.

While other developments preceded this change, the iPad’s adoption rate clearly showed that mobility had crossed the chasm and is rapidly ascending. That rate of growth has continued with Apple’s competitors joining in with additional tablet offerings.

While the lines between smart phones and tablets can become blurred, I believe that tablets are the clear driver behind widespread business usage. I believe this record growth is driven by the way the iPad has redesigned the user experience by creating a simplified, intuitive user interface.

From a planning and analysis perspective this has opened a major avenue to both providing and more importantly receiving information. In the past planning often suffered from a lack of engagement from key stakeholders (such as line of business managers, field sales forces, remote operating managers and logistics managers at different stations along the supply chains). While these stakeholders have a vested interest in planning and analysis (because it can help them do their job more effectively), their role places them in very hectic situations. Time is at a premium and simplicity is a must.

This has directly impacted Finance’s ability to be strategic. In the non-mobile world, planning and analysis often comes in late and operates in a batch mode. It is poorly suited for a real-time world. Mobility changes that.

What has now changed is those key stakeholders are now carrying iPads or other tablets. They can engage. As a result, Finance has the opportunity to reach deep into the remote corners of the organizational structure. You can reach people who aren’t typically involved in the planning and review process but should be.

Mobility creates “the ability to take action,” James Fisher, vice president of analytics solution marketing at SAP, told me. “In the planning process in particular, the ability to take action is important: Can I update the plan? Can I collaborate with somebody?” This engagement creates better accountability and results.

You can also go much faster. To do so planning and analysis processes must be redesigned to take advantage of mobility by using rolling forecasts, scenario planning and continuous results monitoring. In doing so, planning moves from a batch mode into a real-time part of management decision-making.

To illustrate, let’s examine how a retail store manager’s job is changing. Carrying an iPad, the manager looks at the forecast for expected sales for the day. It has been updated from the previous day’s sales as well as input from the week-to-date, month-to-date and year-to-date sales. These have been used to update the seasonally adjusted sales forecast. The store manager applies his local knowledge of what is happening in his mall as well as expected weather impacts. These inputs allow him to tweak store labor staffing.

These changes are rolled up across all 1,000 units across the country. Fast-moving merchandise items are flagged to alert the supply chain as quickly as possible. This gives the company the edge in fast movers and warns of items not meeting expectations. If alternative measures are needed, the store manager is alerted of the need to switch to back-up plans. Promotions of sold-out items can be replaced by substitutes to avoid missing sales completely. Everything about the company, including how quickly it learns, goes faster and reaches further.

How is the reach of your planning and analysis function? Also, be sure to access our survey of how mobile, in-memory computing and the cloud expand best practices in planning and performance management. You can access the survey by clicking this link. We appreciate your feedback.

Next week, my exploration of mobile continues as I look at: Does Finance “feel the need to speed” planning and reporting?”