Battling Brexit: How technology can help businesses plan for the unknown

By Simon Bittlestone, CEO at Metapraxis

Uncertainty. That’s the word which has been plaguing businesses for days, months and years when it comes to Brexit. Uncertainty over the single market and customs union, uncertainty over whether EU citizen employees will be allowed to stay working in the UK, and uncertainty over the next steps when it comes to future business strategies.

Simon Bittlestone
Simon Bittlestone

Responsibility for future planning and budgeting sits with the CFO, who is currently under even greater levels of pressure to perform and to judge how best to navigate the unclear and ever-changing path ahead. And while not all uncertainty can be removed until the deal is finalised, technology can offer some support to CFOs in the interim period.

Understanding past performance

Businesses are currently finding themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. With the news headlines about Brexit developments still changing daily nearly a year after Article 50 was triggered, CFOs in particular are often unsure of how to successfully plan for the future.

One sure-fire element to strategic planning which finance functions will be relying on during the Brexit transition period, is historical context for the business. This means looking at what happened, where, when and why. The ‘what’ is quite straightforward –businesses will have sophisticated record systems where data is easily available for analysis.

The ‘where’ seems obvious too, but all organisations will have multiple dimensions to consider – their locations, customers, products and the actual business functions themselves. There may be trends within each of these areas which impact a business’ performance more than others, so each must be considered separately. An obvious example would be where 20% of products are driving 80% of a region’s growth. In this case, to plan only at a regional level will miss the opportunity to focus on the products which can better accelerate future revenue. It is the multi-dimensional approach to analysis which will provide for better planning.

The ‘when’ is all about understanding cycles and seasonality – not just looking at in-year spikes in demand, but also the underlying growth of a business. It is the ‘why’ which is perhaps the most crucial element here. Too often, analysis is focused on the outcomes, rather than what drives them. If the finance team can map out the drivers of financial outcomes, such as the number of new inbound leads, market share and so on, their ability to plan with precision will be vastly improved.

Technology will play a big part in this data analysis, but it is how this data is used which will enable them to plan through uncertainty.

Finance’s answer to a crystal ball

While different businesses and industries will be affected by Brexit in completely different ways, the end goal is the same for the CFO: how to plan for the future. There’s two things which technology can do to help here – giving CFOs the ability to model different scenarios, and also helping them to predict the future.

Scenario modelling is a game-changer for future financial planning. With robust technology in place, CFOs will be able to answer the ‘what if’ questions which they have historically been unable to answer. What if we lose 20% of our skilled labour? What if domestic demand drops as the UK economy continues to slow down? What if our exports to the EU decrease dramatically, and the government doesn’t manage to get those game changing deals in with India and Canada as quickly as expected? There is a long list of scenarios that the CFO will want to consider when putting the plan together. Modelling hypothetical situations such as these will allow the finance function to understand the likely impact of them, and then make better strategic plans and decisions.

Technology can help predict the future of a business, too. Many CFOs view predictive technology as a leap into the unknown – most probably because they have to relinquish some control to a machine. But the benefits of this approach are clear – businesses can access trends in their historical and future performance across that multi-dimensional business model, quickly and clearly, to understand where changes need to be made. This, combined with modelling the potential impact of particular scenarios, will help to alleviate some of the Brexit burden.

These predictions can be taken one step further, too. By integrating the wealth of market-data now available with internal data, CFOs can get an even clearer picture as to the impact of certain scenarios as different suggestions spring up during the Brexit process.

Ultimately, CFOs are responsible for ensuring positive future performance – even during testing times. Technology is the key to fast, effective financial planning and will assist CFOs in understanding the impact of things like the Brexit process on their businesses, and in turn be more confident in their strategic decisions for the future of the organisation.