Whether you’re budgeting, forecasting, or modeling for your organization, you need historical actuals and projected figures, so you can build a plan to navigate challenges and seize opportunities in the coming months, quarters, and years. A lot of Sage customers default to Sage Active Planner when choosing a planning tool despite that it is aging and despite the limitations or issues you might read about if you do a quick search on the internet. However, there are several budgeting tools available for Sage customers that can upgrade your planning functionality, whether that be homegrown, native Sage ERP abilities, or an independent software vendor (ISV) offering. This article will discuss your best options for replacing Sage Active Planner.
Let’s begin by identifying some primary criteria that should not be missing when looking at a budgeting software. Perhaps this is commonsense, but the tool should be easy-to-use – really, as a top priority. Especially with how tedious budgeting can be, the tool should offer accounting logic, efficiency, and reusable templates, so that the process is business user friendly. Simplifying budgeting tasks is important when it comes to the inevitable teamwork that comes with financial planning. Speaking of which, collaboration should also then be a focus of any budgeting solution. A modern planning software should eliminate lengthy e-mail threads and heavy spreadsheet attachments that have traditionally been manually linked together. And because multiple people are involved with reviewing historical figures and projecting numbers, usually involving sensitive data (i.e. salaries), security is essential to keeping confidential information safe. Modern security enables budget managers to distribute true ownership to contributors, including supervisors that can then shape budgets they have to meet through the year. We’ll focus on easy-to-use, collaboration, and security to weigh Sage Active Planner alternatives and replacements: homegrown Excel planning, Microsoft Forecaster, IBM’s Cognos, Oracle’s Hyperion, and Solver’s BI360.
It makes sense to begin with the arguable favorite: Microsoft Excel. Most companies are still relying on Excel for homegrown budgeting procedures. Excel is the finance world’s go-to application at this point, so the easy-to-use factor is present due to familiarity, but it doesn’t come with security or a database that enables business user friendly teamwork. Many issues can arise when manually linking worksheets for a consolidated budget because of Excel’s static input templates. There’s also a Microsoft alternative and parallel to Sage Active Planner: Forecaster.
2,000+ companies have implemented Forecaster for their budgeting and forecasting processes, probably due to the strength of the Microsoft brand. The software has reached the end of its life cycle, so it is in maintenance mode regarding any further development. Forecaster functions on a proprietary platform, outside of Excel, so there’s a learning curve for the features, functionalities, and formatting/coding that are Forecaster-specific. Therefore, there will likely be a larger price tag associated with training for business end users. Moreover, Forecaster might be too simplistic to help you meet today’s budgeting goals, especially when you compare it to ISV solutions. Finally, it is a well-known fact that lots of Forecaster users do some of their budgeting outside of the program in manual spreadsheets, so they can achieve their requisite calculations and formatting for processes like revenue budgets or complex payroll.
Two prevalent budgeting tools are IBM’s Cognos and Oracle’s Hyperion. Both software were pretty popular when they first came to market in the early 1990’s. Still prevalent, they are typically upper-market customer implementations, which is where you can also more generally find a loyal following for all IBM and Oracle software. Considering their maturity, they are pretty powerful – and technically complex, both because of their age, which typically translates to needing multiple internal resources especially for management of the models. Some Excel has been built into both software, as well as web front ends for widely distributed corporations or those who want to avoid Excel. As for the rest of us, these solutions require us to adapt to proprietary formatting, formulas, and coding – and OLAP cubes that are also proprietary (TM1 and Essbase) for budgeting and aggregation, data management, and rules. This technical complexity is the result of decades of development. But both are positioned within Business Intelligence (BI) suites.
A complete suite of BI tools means you can work with just one team of sales, consulting, and support staff, which simplifies the experience for you as a customer – and makes it convenient if you’re able to gradually build your BI toolbox for your Sage accounting system experience. It is important to note that Cognos and Hyperion are usually pricey. Furthermore, since these suites are comprised of modules that were acquisitions from multiple vendors over time, they’re less than “completely integrated” and usually come with disparate business logic and security capabilities between modules, which can be a problem for end users.
BI360 by Solver actually delivers a fully integrated, complete BI suite. BI360 provides modern Excel add-in abilities, but is hybrid in nature since it also offers Web access for budgeting as well as optional reporting and dashboards. End users can simply and securely work together to create reusable templates – in Excel and on the Web. You can host BI360 in the Cloud through various providers for Sage ERPs. Since Excel is the driving force behind both the add-in and the Web platform, deployment is usually more manageable for the business end user. BI360 isn’t even ten years old, and this modernity is apparent with today’s functionality: multi-year budgeting and rolling forecasts, a Web portal, and other consumer-driven capabilities for easy-to-use, collaborative, and secure budgeting. Finally, mid-market organizations can afford a true solution, cost could be the topic of its own article altogether.
As you further consider your options and alternatives to Sage Active Planner, you will probably have questions, confusions, and curiosities. Hopefully, this article gives you a head start, so that you don’t just default to Sage Active Planner when you can achieve modern, efficient, dynamic budgeting and forecasting through easy-to-use and secure collaboration. 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 customers.