Better BudgetingBy David F. Carr | Posted 2003-08-01 Print
Unrealistic financial forecasts nearly tanked telecom giant Qwest. Can better analysis make a difference?
The software also has proven its worth for near-term planning at Qwest, says Finance Director Ian Dickinson. "The important thing for an organization the size of Qwest is that there's a ton of input that needs to be provided to the system and a lot of organizations that have to have input into that forecast or budget," he says. Trying to handle that process by e-mailing out spreadsheets on desktop computers across the organization is unmanageable because there is no central control over the assumptions built into the plans that result, Dickinson says.
Now, instead of dealing with a barrage of spreadsheets, the finance department uses a Web-based data collection server, called Contributor, which is part of the Cognos planning package. The system gathers planning data from 40 to 50 divisional managers across the company and turns it into source data for companywide planning.
The Cognos models for near-term and long-term strategic planning are separate, but Tishkowski imports numbers from the near-term plan and is investigating the benefits of deeper integration.
John Bridges, regional practice manager at Cognos, says he and consultants from Accenture spent 10 to 12 weeks on the original implementation of the budget planning system at Qwest, starting in April 2001. Last year, he also advised Qwest on an update aimed at keeping out bad datathe part of Qwest's application that impresses him the most.
"You have to first put a tool in place, then change the behavior," Bridges says. "If you're just collecting info from those people the same way, and allowing them to input it into a Web site instead of a spreadsheet, it doesn't really make any difference."
To highlight anomalies, Qwest's system shows each division's forecast side-by-side with an analysis of the trends based on actual data. If a local phone business has been losing subscriber lines faster than it has been adding them, and that division's revenue projection is based on net customer growth, the division manager would have to present a credible plan for reversing the trend or the forecast would be rejected.
Still, there's no escaping that Qwest has dug itself a deep hole with fraudulent accounting, says University of Tennessee accounting professor Joseph Carcello. "Whether buying a software package would solve this problem I'm dubious, to be honest with you," he says.
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