End of development for Microsoft’s Forecaster and Management Reporter tools – now what?

Recently, in two separate announcements, Microsoft has stated that they will no longer develop their Forecaster budgeting tool and their Management Reporter financial report writer. How does this impact the almost 200,000 Dynamics AX, GP, SL and NAV customers out there? Is it a bad thing or may it be a smart move by Microsoft?

To take Dynamics NAV first, Management Reporter has not supported NAV for a while and most customers look to best-of-breed third party solutions with a live NAV integration, such as the Excel-based report writers like BI360 (www.solverglobal.com) and Jet Reports (www.jetreports.com).

When it comes to Dynamics SL (supported with live reporting by BI360, BizNet, etc.), Management Reporter (MR) will also leave a void, but I don’t think SL customers will feel deprived if they have to leave the proprietary row and column report design screens of MR and instead, design their reports with modern Excel add-ins and all the formatting and  calculation functionality of Excel at their disposal. With BI360, they can even let end users run their reports in a web portal, and they can expand the reporting to include budgeting and dashboards as well.

In the case of Dynamics AX, there were a lot of database changes with AX2012 and later versions, and Management Reporter’s (MR) older, pre-dominantly FRx-based technology never really caught up to run smoothly, even with the introduction of MR’s staging database outside of AX. And of course, with MR only offering General Ledger reporting, AX customers, often larger companies with complex reporting requirements, were left with the need to combine MR with the native AX report writer, SQL Reporting Services (SSRS), AX OLAP cubes, etc., to get a complete reporting solution. Make no doubt about it – other AX competitors like Oracle and SAP are in the exact same boat with a plethora of reporting tools needed. Now, with the end of further MR development, AX customers can look to third party solutions like BI360 (reporting, budgeting, dashboards), ZAP (dashboards, reporting), Jet Reports (reporting, dashboards) and more to put in place a more unified, best of breed solution for their BI and CPM needs. And, with Power BI from Microsoft, there are plenty of dashboard and visualization options, predominantly in the cloud, as well.

Finally, there is Dynamics GP. There are 48,000 or so GP customers out there. The majority are running their financial statements in Management Reporter and some thousands are even left on MR’s predecessor, FRx.  In recent years, alternatives to MR, like BI360 (6,500+ GP fields pre-integrated), BizNet and Jet Reports, are offering GL and sub-ledger reporting that will give GP customers an “upgrade” rather than a “downgrade” to their reporting capabilities once they leave FRx and MR for their next reporting solution.

When it comes to pure budgeting and forecasting needs, there are not a lot of ISVs that come tightly integrated with Dynamics AX, GP, NAV and SL.  BI360 and Prophix are two of those solutions with both Excel and web-based data entry options, plus there are some pure play cloud vendors that have entered the space in the last couple of years. Either way, there are very good options for Dynamics customers that either need to migrate from Forecaster to get onto a modern platform with active development – or that are looking to deploy their first professional budgeting solution and replace their manual Excel models.

So, was it a smart move of Microsoft to stop development of Forecaster and MR? While it is nice for Dynamics customers to get free or almost free financial reporting and budgeting software from Microsoft, it will never spur the innovation and focus that third party, best-of-breed solutions can offer.  Instead, Microsoft can now focus on their core ERP offerings and ERP cloud initiatives, like AX7 and the upcoming Madeira solutions, and get rid of some complaints and noise around MR and Forecaster, while leaning on their world class community of partners and Independent Software Vendors to give their Dynamics customers an even better financial reporting and budgeting experience than in the past.

In summary, Business Intelligence and Corporate Performance Management are red hot topics for most organizations, and these Microsoft announcements should further push Microsoft Dynamics customers to explore third party, best-of-breed solutions like BI360, Jet Reports, ZAP, BizNet and more.  These tools may solve their reporting needs even better than what Management Reporter has done, but that may also put them on track to build a BI/CPM roadmap where they can expand from just reporting to include integrated budgeting and forecasting, as well as dashboards and data warehousing to combine Dynamics data with other data sources, for rich planning and analysis, and ultimately, superior decision-making capabilities.

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