Best Budgeting Solutions for Microsoft Dynamics AX

This article explores your third party software options, specifically in regard to features and functionalities to improve and automate budgeting and forecasting processes with Microsoft Dynamics AX.

Maybe budgeting is such a dreaded task because of how logistically messy manual Excel–based planning processes are for budget managers.  While Excel is loved and trusted by finance teams around the globe, the spreadsheet program is simply not fit for organizations of a healthy size.  Therefore, Microsoft Dynamics AX customers are increasingly looking at independent software vendor (ISV) budgeting software to modernize and accelerate their planning processes.  Some of today’s ISV solutions simplify and turbo-charge budgeting and forecasting by securely inviting collaboration into the process.  Budgeting and forecasting are processes best served by collaboration because of the need to live within financial means as a whole organization in order to ensure future success.

Financial planning typically entails more than one – and sometimes dozens or even hundreds of professionals coming together to shape a budget with historical financials and assumptions.  Excel might be the go-to software for finance departments, but it can be tedious in the logistics and security of collaboration across departments and entities.  A lot of companies rely on Excel – and/or maybe Microsoft’s now aging Forecaster product – so a third party tool might feel like an unnecessary investment.  In this article, I’ll zoom in on the benefits of modern budgeting software, so that you can pick the best tool to improve your planning experience and tie it to your Dynamics AX ERP processes.

Investing in a budgeting solution has become more standard recently because of the consumer-driven accessibility and ownership that your budget contributors and managers can achieve in planning processes for a project, department or the whole organization.  Additionally, there are planning tools that are database-driven Excel add-ins, meaning that you can have the familiar formatting and functionality, just upgraded, with a ribbon added to the toolbar, eliminating manually linking together of spreadsheets for a complete budget.  Some ISV budgeting tools also build accounting logic right into the product, so the product is easier to use, especially when it comes to automation and reusable templates.

Modern third party planning solutions are answering consumer demands for security and sensible logistics to improve collaborative processes.  With security and streamlining, budget managers can give department supervisors ownership of budgets they will oversee through the year, without lengthy e-mail threads, hefty attachments, or tedious manual linking of spreadsheets.  The budget manager is able to put together a truly collaborative, smart, and comprehensive organization-wide budget.  If you’re thinking it sounds too good to be true, it’s not.  And your potential return on investment is also noteworthy.

When it comes to the monetary, time, energy, and morale costs, a modern budgeting tool can be a sound investment for your team.  There are plenty of things to be evaluating when shopping for a planning tool to upgrade your Dynamics AX data management.  Prepare to weigh Excel versus proprietary solutions, budgeting capabilities, integration types, a complete suite of BI tools, and web budgeting.

We’ve acknowledged the prevalence of Excel in the finance professional community.  More specifically, Excel add-ins build onto the program so that you can easily and dynamically craft reusable budget templates within the program as a result of a secure collaboration.  However, some ISVs claim that Excel is logistically tedious and are offering their own proprietary on-premises or web-based tool.  Because they are outside of Excel, training will likely take longer because your team will have to acclimate to non-Excel formatting and functions in order to design budgets.  Training is going to be a cost regardless, but an Excel add-in is going to shorten the learning curve, regardless of how many users you have in Microsoft Dynamics AX.  Training costs might not be that big of a deal in your decision-making process, but it will be something to at least consider when weighing other aspects, like budgeting capabilities and integration types.

No software is able to meet every business need that you might have, but there should always be some fundamental functions in a budgeting tool.  Modern planning software should provide the capability to put historical actuals right next to your projections, spread totals across a year, simply add multiple line items for accounts, produce roll-ups, convert multiple currencies, view authorship, and employ parameters, like Department, Division, and Entity.  You should be able to produce what-if scenarios when you are budgeting for a possible fluctuation in the cost of goods.  One example: some solutions can enable your HR manager to plan for new employees with sub-ledger analytics, with room for equipment, onboarding materials, salary, and training, with calculations for headcount numbers and statistical reporting.  All of these characteristics are built in to achieve business user friendliness, eliminating IT management of the product.

This blog has covered the differences between Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) cube and data warehouse integration types – and choosing whether to go with a live integration or querying information from a BI data store.  The priority should be ease of use for your team and your processes.  Is there someone on staff who can manage an OLAP cube?  Are you wanting to consolidate multiple types of data into one space, like a fully built data warehouse?  When considering other BI processes, how does a particular budgeting product fit into your BI toolbox roadmap?

You’ll find that a handful of budgeting tools are part of a BI suite with different modules, fully integrated for a singular approach to analytics.  If you are also involved in financial reporting, consolidations, dashboards, or data management, whether that is now in the future, you should be looking at tools that are positioned within a complete suite of BI solutions.  In the context of ease of use, you will only be interacting with one team of vendor, partner, consultant and support professionals.  And finally, the future of budgeting is on the Web.  I bet you’re not surprised.

I know I’m not.  Web-based or Cloud technology is the next big thing, and budgeting has followed this trend.  Web budgeting options offer you the same power and modernity, but also offer flexibility in how you access your planning data.  Web budgeting has really built some momentum in the past few years, so do your research and test your options to see if this is the best option for you and your team.  Solver offers an Excel- and Web-based budgeting module stand-alone and as part of the comprehensive suite of BI modules and would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Planning solution for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities with Microsoft Dynamics AX.

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