In recent years, business forecasts have had to become faster and more flexible—ready to be adjusted at a moment’s notice. As earnings and product cycles accelerate, it has become clear that the business world is decisively moving towards treating rolling forecasts as standard. A slow process of budgeting and forecasting is no longer enough.
The traditional process of annual budgeting and forecasting—compiled in the three months before its release, and based on static assumptions—started to look pretty silly in 2008. When the global financial system collapsed, business plans and cash flow forecasts ended up worthless, and many companies had no process for re-forecasting on the run.
Forecasting has changed dramatically since then, driven both by further financial shocks in Europe and China, and by the rapid rise of better technology and richer data. CFOs are expected to be able to re-forecast in a window of just a few days, all the while sifting through unprecedented levels of information. It’s a big challenge—but it also comes with big rewards.
Most CFOs are moving towards something very close to a true rolling forecast; that means they are able to create forecasts that are:
The average forecast cycle has fallen to just two weeks long; the smartest companies have driven this down to just three days.
Budgets are now understood to be flexible: torn up every few months, in response to an always-on forecasting process that constantly updates plans.
Forecasts are no longer based on past results: category growth, market share, human capital, customer satisfaction, and a range of other metrics are fed into the system, making it possible for a prediction to respond instantly to fluctuations in the marketplace or the workplace.
That said, speed and new data are not magic wands that you can wave and instantly have all your problems solved. An astonishing 80% of companies believe their forecasts are unreliable. To put yourself in the 20% that are getting it right is the biggest challenge of all.