Whether you are budgeting, forecasting, or modeling for your business, you’re going to need projected numbers and actual historical figures, so that you can put together a plan to manage organizational challenges and opportunities in the coming year. There are plenty of technology options for Sage X3 users that greatly enhance your budgeting tasks, whether you build something yourself, depend on built-in Sage X3 functionality or an independent software vendor (ISV) solution. In this article, we’ll round up some of the best tools for modern budgeting, forecasting, and modeling for Sage X3 customers.
Let’s begin by detailing some of the main elements to look for when seeking the best software. Perhaps this is commonsense, but business user friendliness needs to be a top priority. Even if it seems like it should go without saying, there are products in the marketplace that don’t simplify and empower planning processes in easy and manageable ways. Thinking about how frequently I hear how tedious budgeting processes can be for professionals, a planning tool should offer accounting logic, reusable templates for budgeting, and an efficient process. Simplifying your planning process is really impactful in the context of the collaboration necessary for a comprehensive budget or forecast.
Budgeting will always involve multiple people, whether or not the financial planning is overseen by one person or managed by a team. Company data from diverse sources means that collaboration should also be a top priority when shopping around for the right planning tool. Traditionally, we have relied on lengthy email threads, with typically heavy attachments of our disparate spreadsheets, and then someone has to merge them all together into a complete budget, but that has changed. The best modern tools securely provide interfaces that enable multiple people to contribute to a financial plan without manually stitching together spreadsheets from a network server. Therefore, security organically becomes essential criterion, especially when you think about what goes into budgeting.
Since financial planning involves looking at actual and projected figures, usually including salary details, security is a must in protecting sensitive data. Therefore, you should be looking to invest in a tool that enables contributors to access a budget or forecast without information getting into the wrong hands. With quality security functionality, budget managers can invite contributors into the planning process without concern, which translates to department heads shaping the budgets they have to work with through the year. Let’s talk business user friendliness, collaboration and security to discuss the following budgeting solutions for Sage X3 customers: manual Excel budgeting, Microsoft Forecaster, IBM’s Cognos, Oracle’s Hyperion, and Solver’s BI360.
First, the nearly ubiquitous spreadsheet program: Microsoft Excel. Nearly 90% of all businesses still rely on Excel for homegrown budgeting models. The application is easy to use because of how prevalent it has been for decades, but Excel does not come equipped with security or a database that would pave the way for simple collaboration. Since Excel has static input templates, multiple problems can potentially crop up when you manually link spreadsheets for a consolidated budget. Alternatively, Microsoft makes a tool particularly for budgeting, called Forecaster.
For years now, 2,000+ businesses have implemented Forecaster for their planning processes, probably because of Microsoft being such a strong brand. But the tool is in maintenance mode regarding any further development because it is at the end of its life cycle. Even though it falls under the Microsoft umbrella, Forecaster is a proprietary platform that does not work with or in Excel, so users have to acclimate to a whole new set of features, functions, and formulas. Regarding business user friendliness, there will be a potentially lengthier learning curve for your staff for the non-Excel Forecaster, which means more training dollars. In addition, Forecaster might be too simplistic for today’s budgeting needs, specifically in comparison with third party software. And it’s a known fact that a lot of Forecaster users do some of their budgeting outside of Forecaster in manual spreadsheets so they can accomplish the calculations and layouts they need for tasks like revenue budgets or complex payroll.
Two standard software options include IBM’s Cognos and Oracle’s Hyperion tools. Both products were extremely popular when they came onto the market in the early 1990’s. Still quite prevalent, they are typically utilized by upper-market consumers, where there’s a loyal following for both IBM and Oracle technology solutions. Considering their maturity, they are powerful, albeit somewhat technically complicated for the same age reason and therefore, typically require several internal resources specifically for managing models. There is some Excel woven into the products, as well as web front end functionality for greatly distributed organizations or those that don’t want Excel software, but for everyone else, these products require us to learn proprietary formatting and coding, as well as OLAP cubes that are also proprietary (Essbase and TM1) for budgeting and consolidations, information storage, and rules. You could simply point to the decades of development for the complex nature. But both are positioned in comprehensive suites of Business Intelligence (BI) solutions.
A complete BI suite means a natural ease of ownership because it means just one group of sales, consulting, and support professionals, particularly convenient if you’re able to gradually deploy new BI software for Sage X3. Unfortunately, Cognos and Hyperion suites are usually pricey and not as “fully integrated” as you’d expect. Because these suites are comprised of tools that have been acquired from different vendors over the years, you’re likely to run into the problem of disparate business logic and security features from module to module.
BI360 by Solver, Inc. is a truly, fully integrated complete suite of BI tools. BI360 provides modern Excel add-in functionality, but is hybrid in nature, also offering Web budgeting. Users are capable of easily, securely, and collaboratively designing reusable templates, either in Excel or on the Web. BI360 can also be hosted in the Cloud by a number of providers for Sage X3. Since Excel powers both the add-in and the browser-based interface, implementation and the learning curve are much more manageable for business end users. BI360 has only been around for about six years, and it comes with modern abilities, like multi-year budgeting and rolling forecasts, as well as other features like a Web portal, which is an exact response to consumer needs for easy-to-use, collaborative, and secure budgeting. Lastly, it is affordable for mid-market companies, and cost could be its own article entirely.
As you get further into the shopping process for the best budgeting solution for your organization, you will probably have questions, but I’m hoping this article gave you the head start you need to find a way for your team to effectively, securely create financial plans that department heads can own. Solver would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Planning solution for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for Sage X3 customers.