Profit-driven decision-making

From S&OP to Integrated Business Planning


January 2019

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Sales and operations planning (S&OP) is a common process in many manufacturing companies today, pursuing the alignment between demand and supply. It is a process that typically develops over time, as process maturity increases. At a certain maturity, the inclusion of finance has to happen in order to further promote development of the process – the push towards Integrated Business Planning.

Establishing an S&OP process is a natural step towards a more mature planning process where sales and operations align and balance the demand with the available supply. It is key for linking your demand planning process with the supply or capacity planning process.

S&OP has existed since the 1980s, but it is a process that companies still implement and improve on today – it is not a one-time fix, but a journey.

This journey can typically be described by S&OP maturity assessment models, for instance by Gartner (2017) or by Grimson and Pyke (2007). From both maturity models, it is evident that as maturity increases, financial focus and company profitability receive greater and greater attention, being introduced at stage four (of five) in both models. If you want to learn more about S&OP, please consult our S&OP handbook.

Recently, we have noticed a trend: a desire to include finance much more in the S&OP process. A trend that is likely sparked by two things. Firstly, S&OP processes have matured in such a way that it is the natural next step in the development. Secondly, software is now readily available to support a more integrated process that includes finance.

We refer to this integration of processes between operations, sales1 and finance as Integrated Business Planning, or in short, IBP. Clearly, this is a development of the S&OP process. However, we perceive it more as an extension of the S&OP process. That is why we refer to this as the Integrated Business Planning process: an integrated planning process for operations, sales and finance.

This article will elaborate on the financial integration in the S&OP process and the journey towards an IBP process.

Integrated business planning

  1. Enhancing the decision-making process by speaking the same language and by having a single set of numbers in a single data model.
  2. Linking operations, sales and finance processes together to drive decisions towards profit maximisation and to support the company strategy.
  3. Agreeing on a clear set of roles and responsibilities across functions to ensure alignment across tasks.

But how do we get there? We have split the journey to integrated business planning into five steps where more and more financial detail is added to your S&OP plan. In the following five sections, we will explain each step.

1. Monetisation of the demand plan

An S&OP process starts with a demand plan – typically in volume or quantity. This can, however, be difficult for finance and sales to relate to. However, by adding a sales price (or sets of prices) to the demand plan, a plan in revenue is obtained.

Monetising the demand plan contributes to creating one common language between sales, finance and operations. Consequently, it is much easier for sales to relate to the numbers and provide valuable insights. For finance, it provides the opportunity to compare the plan to budgets or sales targets. Finance can also use the demand plan in revenue as a starting point for their typical financial forecasting processes, such as stretch target creation, latest estimates and annual budgets – or even go beyond budgeting by having a rolling budget!>

When finance use the demand plan as the starting point for their financial forecast, in the very same data model, it becomes easy to compare the most recent demand plan to any of the forecasts by finance. This enables the ability to track the performance and reveal potential gaps. It is key to know the gaps, as this leads to gap-closing activities. Potentially, these activities can happen in close collaboration with operations, since the gaps can be identified at the demand review meetings where finance partners participate.

Monetising the demand plan requires a unified data model, a high-quality demand planning process and consensus about sales prices between sales, finance and operations. The sales prices that all three parties can agree on become the “translator” between sales, finance and operations in one set of numbers, in one data model.

2. Cost and margin projections

In demand scenarios where it is possible to choose to fulfil only part of two types of demand (or more), we select what goes hand-in-hand with our sales strategy. Typically, the overall strategy is in line with profitability. This is why it is of high value to be able to estimate the profitability of the two scenarios, choosing to fulfil the demand where profitability is highest. In other words, a profitability-based sales strategy.

Adding costs to the model such as a contribution margin or an average variable for manufacturing costs will produce an estimated profitability, perhaps even per producing plant – a projected planning profitability, purely used for planning purposes. This is especially relevant for sales decisions in a constrained situation, and thereby the sales strategy, assessing “what is the most profitable decision?” It could also be in a supply scenario, where a decision would have to be made about moving production from one location to another. Here, a profitability margin for each choice would aid in this decision.

This might not make sense in all companies as this assumes a variable cost – certain business situations are not fit for such a simple assumption. In cases where fixed costs are heavily present, it naturally adds more benefit by using a simple set-up of these fixed costs. We will consider this in step four and five.

3. Net working capital projection

In step three, the integration of finance is expanded to include the net working capital cost of the projected inventory in the supply chain plan. By multiplying the projected inventory with the unit cost, we obtain a projected net working capital over the course of the demand and supply plan, incorporating planning technicalities such as seasonality and capacity levelling. This enables both target setting and following up on a quarterly or monthly basis. Typically, targets are set only yearly. With this integration to the rolling supply plan, we not only visualise it at a given point in time, but we also visualise the development over time. There could be a natural cycle in demand, thereby net working capital, due to seasonality or producing in advance due to capacity levelling. Important factors to consider when setting and comparing targets are that you might currently be over target, but from your projected stock, you can see that you actually expect to land at or below target.

Finally, the projection also allows you to track on both aggregated and detailed levels, breaking the net working capital down into, for instance product groups to see where the deviations are.

In certain companies with a strong focus on net working capital, there are targets set for, e.g. end of year – how much we are entitled to carry at each plant at a specific point in time. In this case, it is very convenient to follow the net working capital projection to see if that target at that particular point in time is reached or not. If not, it is now possible to not only identify these target gaps, but also to uncover the activities that need to take place to close them.

4. Supply chain network costs

In this step, you achieve visibility of the supply chain network effects in terms of volumes and costs. At this point in time, the S&OP plan has been extended with variable costs of transportation and production (or more) varying over time across the full supply chain.

By doing so, you achieve two things: firstly, a more accurate contribution or profitability margin – not merely an estimated ratio as added in step two, but dependent on the actual transportation and production plan; and secondly, the possibility to analyse the possible implications of cross-location scenarios. Transparency and fast results of simulations will enable swift decisions in the monthly process.

Consider the example of being forced to use the inventory from another region and the capacity from a third region to respond to unexpected customer demand. This implies added transportation and production costs at different locations in the network in different time periods. With all the financial details from this step, such a decision could quickly become fact-based.

5. Simplified profit and loss

Finally, you add the last details to the cost model and combine them all into a simplified profit and loss (P&L) statement – or perhaps a simplified cash-flow statement. The final cost details to add could be fixed costs of transportation and production capacity or other company-specific P&L elements that are of importance to the S&OP (or IBP) decisions. It could even be “sustainability costs” in order to track pollution or water use. By now, there should also be an overview of all relevant costs modelled for the different scenarios that could be considered and evaluated in your specific company to take the necessary decisions.

If you are in a business where the cash flow itself is critical, for instance when working with long, customer-specific projects, a simplified cash-flow might be more relevant to derive from this step. When are the costs spent and the revenue gained? This insight in the form of a simple cash-flow statement could be equally leveraged from the S&OP plan – if that adds insights to your decision-making.

Essentially, what you eventually achieve at the fifth and final step in the journey is a simplified profit and loss and cash-flow statement based on a full S&OP plan. It provides fast yet accurate financial projections of the future as the primary facts behind the planning decisions you have to make. It is an attempt to push the typically backward-looking finance towards a forward-looking mindset by incorporating the supply and demand plan with all the cost measures that finance requires.

What is the purpose?

When you integrate finance, you identify your gaps earlier, regardless of the step you are at in the journey –“gaps are good” as they help you ask the right questions. The gaps are used within your IBP process to steer and improve your decision-making process and make better decisions that are driven by profitability – ultimately, executing the strategy set out by management.

The strategy is typically reflected in targets defined by finance. This could be revenue targets, profit targets, inventory targets etc. Being able to follow up on your progress towards these targets is a key element in the IBP process: gap identification and resulting gap-closing activities.

  1. Global targets are set. Setting global targets is about setting sail in terms of strategy – the target that will help the company achieve the strategy that the management have set.
  2. The overall targets are broken down into a more detailed level, e.g. per region, to set a more precise direction on the more local levels, to lead to more concrete, actionable direction.
  3. When targets are known, they should be comparable to the current plan as it progresses. If so, this comparison can help the company to identify areas where they are on track according to the targets – and areas where they are not on track, creating a gap.
  4. When gaps are identified, we can take action on how to close them and monitor how we progress in closing the gaps. Eventually, it could also lead to setting new global targets.

How to start the journey?

One thing should be stressed – it is not a goal in itself to reach step five in our IBP journey. Rather, the five steps should be perceived as a guiding framework on how to progress on your journey to integrating financials in your planning and thus integrated business planning. Also, they can be used to assess maturity across companies.

To begin, we suggest:
  1. Analysing where you are now on the five-step journey – perhaps you have not even started the financial integration to S&OP yet.
  2. Considering how far you can go – there might be prerequisites for each of the steps that are currently not in place.
  3. Considering how far you want to go – it is definitely not a must to aim for having a simplified P&L built into your S&OP plan. Aim for what adds values to your decision-making by defining the key decisions you need to provide support with a financial perspective.

1 When referring to “sales” throughout this article, we refer to both sales and marketing for simplicity.


Grimson, J. A. & Pyke, D. F. (2007). Sales and operations planning: an exploratory study and framework. The International Journal of Logistics Management, 18(3), pp.322- 346.

Gartner (2017), Supply Chain Maturity Assessment for Sales and Operations Planning,