Activity based budgeting is an approach to the budgeting process that focuses on identifying the costs of activities that take place in every area of a business or organization, and determining how those activities relate to one another. The data regarding those activities and how they relate to one another is used to establish goals that allow the organization to move forward. By understanding the relationship between all the activities of the organization, it is often possible to create realistic budgets for each department that are more equitable and in the best interests of the company in the long run.
The concept of activity based budgeting is different from the process known as cost-based budgeting. Often, the cost-based approach relies on assessing the actual expenditures connecting with a previous budgetary period, and simply adjusting those amounts based on the current rate of inflation, or to account for changes in the amount of revenue generated. By contrast, activity based budgeting is more concerned with what is being done within the organization, how those actions or activities work together, and then allocating funds to each activity based on how much it will cost to successfully complete those activities.
Proponents of this style of budgeting see this approach as more realistic, since it involves looking inward at activities and costs rather than basing the budget on outward influences. From this perspective, this strategy is understood to create financial forecasts that are more accurate, and thus prompt the organization to make the most efficient use of its resources. As a bonus, the analysis of each activity and its contribution to the ongoing success of the organization means that any activities that do not appear to relate to other activities within the organization structure may in fact be unnecessary, and can be eliminated without having an adverse effect on the overall operation.
Those who favor a cost-based approach over the use of activity based budgeting note that this approach does not necessarily allow for the possibility of events such as an increase in the cost of raw materials or the need to replace outmoded equipment. According to this line of thinking, the inward focus of the activity based method only accounts for part of the data needed to develop a workable budget. Only when this inward analysis is coupled with consideration of outside factors that could exert some degree of influence during the upcoming budgetary period can the organization hope to draft a budget that is truly practical and likely to meet the needs of the organization over the course of the upcoming period.