Comparison of Budgeting Tools for Dynamics GP

Using the framework of key features to shop for, like ease of use, budget workflow, and security, this article will compare budgeting and forecasting options for Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Budgeting requires multiple departments entities bringing transactional data together, as well as research, to forecast what will financially manifest in the coming year, regarding revenue, expenses, and other important items. For Microsoft Dynamics GP users, there is an abundance of options for budgeting and forecasting, including manual, homegrown spreadsheets, GP budgeting input, an accelerated Excel add-in tool, or proprietary interfaced software. In this article, I’m going to zoom in on your budgeting software options for Dynamics GP, so you can get a better understanding of the best route for you and your team.

Since you are looking for a solution that business users can utilize, I always think it’s smart to lay out the most important features to look for in a product.  Even if you are the only who will be using the budgeting tool with Dynamics GP, it should be first and foremost easy to use.  I cannot think of one person who gets excited to put together a budget, so the task should be as easy as possible, regarding the user friendliness for non-IT professionals.  In particular, you should be looking for a solution that streamlines the process with accounting and business logic and reusable budgeting templates, amongst other functionalities.  Given the collaborative nature of budgeting, streamlining is a must.

Even if there is one person responsible for the budget, it is still a team effort in terms of collecting the planning data from different departments or divisions of the corporation.  That said, collaboration then can be added to your list of functionalities to seek.  Traditionally, when you think of collaboration within the context of budgeting, you might envision back-and-forth e-mail threads, that clog up your inbox with spreadsheet attachments, and whoever is managing the budget has to piece together all of this information to make a single budget, but it doesn’t have to be like that.  Third party manufacturers offer software that allows you to avoid the back and forth of e-mails and manual spreadsheets on a server.    When it comes to collaboration, most professionals are always concerned with security, so why not add it to your list of features to seek?

Budgeting generally involves contrasting actuals and projections, a lot of times including employee salaries and other sensitive information, proving that security is vital.  Additionally, department managers do not necessarily need access to other departments’ fiscal year budgets.  You still need contributors to get in and out of a budget without having access to sensitive data, and this can be a reality with today’s budgeting and forecasting software options.  The important thing to note here is that security features can allow the budget manager or CFO to give their department heads ownership in the budgeting process, meaning that supervisors are managing the budget they built for their team.  With ease of use, collaboration, and security in mind, this article will compare budgeting options, including homegrown Excel budgeting, Microsoft Forecaster, Cognos, Hyperion, and Solver’s BI360.

It probably goes without saying that Microsoft Excel is still quite popular to build budgets and forecasts for companies today.  Approximately 90% of all corporations are utilizing Excel to manually build homegrown budgets.  Microsoft’s spreadsheet program is so well established, easy to use, and therefore, familiar to finance teams around the globe.  On the flip side, these budgets function on static input templates, have no database or security in place that allows for multiple players to be involved in the process, and plenty of potential issues that can come up when linking spreadsheets in the consolidation process.  Microsoft Forecaster might seem like an upgrade to some, at least on paper.

Around 2,000 companies are using Microsoft Forecaster in their budgeting procedures, which is an impressive number.  Unfortunately, the product is at the end of its life cycle, now in maintenance mode in terms of development, so users will likely have to start looking for a replacement.  Moreover, Forecaster has a proprietary user platform and does not work within Excel, so there’s a whole set of independent coding and formulas to learn with limited features and functionality.  If you consider how easy it is to use, there’s a potential for a longer learning curve associated with the cost of time and training.  Additionally, independent software vendor (ISV) solutions have abilities that can make Forecaster seem too simple.

IBM manufactures Cognos TM1, and Hyperion is an Oracle product.  Both date back to the early 1990’s, still relevant and used frequently in upper section of the market where IBM and Oracle loyalty is pretty common.  Cognos and Hyperion have matured into pretty powerful products over the years.  Relatedly, they are also pretty complex to deploy and maintain, and even though they have Excel add-in and web-based functionalities for organizations that are highly distributed and/or are not enthusiastic about Excel, using either product requires learning proprietary formatting and features, involving online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes (TM1 and Essbase) for rules, aggregations, and data storage.  This might be a result of 20+ years of development, but both can boast their position with comprehensive Business Intelligence (BI) suites.

A complete BI suite empowers a corporation to add fully integrated tools to enhance and further data management and analysis within the same product line, consultant group, support group, and user interface, which speaks to the ease of use.  With Cognos and Hyperion, their suites get expensive quickly because of their acquisitions over the years, the integrations are not seamless, and none of them have specific integrations for Dynamics GP.  There are varied business logic abilities and sometimes, different security functionality from module to module because of the piecing together of products by both IBM and Oracle so they could offer a comprehensive suite.

BI360, by Solver, also offers a full BI suite.  Additionally, it is an Excel add-in, which means that the spreadsheet software is accelerated to take budgeting to the next level.  Business users can easily build reusable, secure budget templates that invite collaboration into the familiar Excel interface.  Because Excel is seemingly everywhere, the only learning revolves around the functionality that enhances Excel. Additionally, BI360 is only five years old and is built with features that are a direct answer to modern consumer demands, dealing with business user friendliness and streamlined, secure collaboration as the focus, as well as an optional web front-end. Finally, in terms of cost, it is built and priced for the mid-market and with extensive Dynamics GP out-of-the-box integrations, which is a big enough aspect that I have written an entire article about it.

You will likely develop a longer list of must-haves for your budgeting solution, but understanding the importance of ease of use, collaboration, and security will give you the head start to really build some momentum in your shopping process.  Solver would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Planning solution for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for Microsoft Dynamics GP users.

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