In this article, Retail budgeting and forecasting will take center stage, specifically for Microsoft Dynamics NAV users seeking today’s planning features and functionalities.

Whether you are budgeting, forecasting, or comparing what-if scenarios for your organization, historical actuals and projected figures are required so you can strategize particularly for your retail company, maneuvering through challenges and opportunities in the upcoming months and years.  There are plenty of solutions that are impactful for retail organizations to upgrade planning procedures with Dynamics NAV, whether you elect to build your own process, depend on NAV’s built-in budgeting functionality, or go with an independent software vendor (ISV) tool.  This article will explore the most popular options for modern budgeting, forecasting, and modeling, particularly to meet your retail planning goals with Microsoft Dynamics NAV.

Let’s begin by identifying some main characteristics that you should be looking for in a planning solution.  This might seem like commonsense, but business user friendliness should be at the top of your list.  Ease of use should translate to built-in accounting logic, process efficiency, and reusable templates.  Because planning is usually a team effort, business user friendliness is essential.  Relatedly, collaboration should be a key focus of your planning solution.  The tool should allow you to move away from lengthy back-and-forth e-mail conversations with disparate spreadsheet attachments that fill up your inbox – and instead of trying to stitch all of this information together, you can coordinate the budgeting collaboration with modern technology.  With teamwork, you need quality security because of the confidential information involved, like payroll.  Security should enable users to access budgets without sensitive data getting in the wrong hands.  Modern security allows for distribution of true ownership for budget contributors since they can securely help to shape the budget that they have to meet through the year.  Sounds good, right?
Not every tool is going to be modern enough to help you achieve today’s goals.  Let’s use business user friendliness, collaboration, and security to compare and contrast the following budgeting solutions in how they can assist retail companies with Dynamics NAV: homegrown Excel budgeting, Microsoft Forecaster, IBM’s Cognos TM1, Oracle’s Hyperion, and Solver’s BI360.
Microsoft Excel, in its place as finance’s most trusted tool, seems like a good place to start. About 90% of today’s businesses still rely on Excel for manual budgeting processes.  This software is business user friendly because of its ubiquitous presence for the past two decades, but Excel doesn’t come with a database that is conducive to teamwork – or the necessary security measures.  Since Excel has static input forms, several issues can surface when you manually link worksheets together for a comprehensive budget.  Alternatively, Microsoft Forecaster is another option, with a focus specifically on budgeting.
Over 2,000 companies, including retail organizations, have deployed Forecaster for planning processes since it emerged, as a testament to the strength of the Microsoft brand.  The program is at the end of its life cycle, however, so it is in maintenance mode regarding product development.  Even though it is a Microsoft product, Forecaster is a proprietary platform outside of Excel.  In other words, users have to acclimate to a new set of formulas, features, and coding, which usually means more money and time spent on training.  Furthermore, Forecaster is perhaps too simplistic for today’s budgeting objectives, especially when compared to ISV products.  It is also common knowledge that a lot of Forecaster users put their budgets together in manual spreadsheets outside of the tool, so they can achieve calculations and layouts for tasks like complex payroll or revenue budgets.
Two planning solutions that are not new: IBM’s Cognos TM1 and Oracle’s Hyperion.  Both software were popular when they came to market in the early 1990’s.  There’s a substantial following for all IBM and Oracle offerings at the upper end of the market, which is also true for Cognos and Hyperion.  Their maturity contributes to their technological impact, but they’re also technically complicated, with proprietary OLAP cubes as databases, so they typically require more internal resources for program management.  The products have been equipped with some Excel, as well as Web front end functionality for bigger retail corporations or those who would like to avoid Excel.  For everyone else, these software require mastering proprietary formatting and formulas, as well as the OLAP cubes (i.e. Hyperion Essbase, TM1) for budgeting, managing and aggregating information, and establishing rules.  Their technically complex nature is basically thanks to years of development.  But they can both boast full Business Intelligence (BI) suites, usually on the more expensive side, without being as “fully integrated” as they’re marketed because of multiple acquisitions from various vendors over the years.
A complete BI suite translates to only working with a single team of sales, consulting, and support professionals who are able to help you with all your BI solutions for Microsoft Dynamics NAV.  Solver’s BI360 is a completely integrated, comprehensive BI suite.  BI360 is a third generation Excel add-in solution, also offering the flexibility of Web budgeting and forecasting.  This hybrid product enables users to easily and securely work together in designing and utilizing input templates, within Excel or in a browser.  You can also stage BI360 in the Cloud via several Dynamics NAV vendors.  Since Excel drives both the add-in and the browser-based platforms, deployment and training is really easy for business end users.  BI360 hasn’t been around a decade quite yet, and the modernity is evident in the native functionality, like multi-year budgeting and rolling forecasts as an example, in addition to various features like the Web portal, which is exhibit A for this being a consumer-driven software embodying business user friendliness, collaboration, and security for planning.  Let’s talk about retail budgeting needs.
Regarding budgeting and forecasting forms, you should invest in a tool that upgrades your planning processes for more robust retail analyses.  Establishing smart performance and sales objectives should empower you to set key performance indicators (KPIs) and view comparables.  Sales planning offers insight into projected revenues and demand through key dimensions like product, regional manager, sales person, and store.  An inventory planning module enables you to budget by looking at cost, pricing, and quantity.  An expenses module allows you to organize your projections for organizational and departmental expenses.  Benchmarking is another informative aspect of planning when you can look at your company’s key metrics versus publically available information from competitors listed on the stock exchange, then utilize this for short or long term planning analyses.  You also have choices for impactful, collaborative, and secure budgeting for all contributors, but think about time dimension flexibility and customer dimension scalability as significant elements when shopping for a tool.  Solver would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Planning solution for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for retail companies using Microsoft Dynamics NAV.