Budgeting and Forecasting Software for Acumatica

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In this article, I will explore and discuss what to consider regarding implementation of modern options for budgeting and forecasting, include primary feature and functionality offerings for Acumatica.

Budgeting is no picnic.  I don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb when I say that most people do not enjoy planning processing, like budgeting and forecasting.  Perhaps, the less than stellar software that most budget managers are depending on is the reason.  If your company is of any normal size, you probably cannot rely on manual Excel budgets because of their tedious, yet too simple nature – they don’t meet today’s business needs for planning purposes.  If you are reading this article, you are probably ready to consider an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) budgeting solution to expedite and empower your budgeting and forecasting.  The planning software of today streamlines budgeting and forecasting by acknowledging the importance of secure collaboration to the process. Collaboratively planning to living within a company’s means translates to staying afloat – and competitive.

Budgeting and forecasting generally requires multiple moving parts to come together, with research of historical actuals to build a plan for the coming year.  Most finance professionals have been using Excel since at least undergraduate days, but the logistics of piecing together more than one person’s contribution securely becomes a nightmare.  A lot of accounting teams are still using Excel, so it might seem over the top to invest in a third party program beyond Microsoft’s spreadsheet program.  In this article, I will discuss what to look for in Independent Software Vendor (ISV) budgeting and forecasting solution as they become more popular in the Acumatica community.
The momentum gained by third party products is simply due to the built-in flexibility, ease of use, collaborative functionality.  Several products invite the familiarity of Excel into the process.  Excel add-ins offer budgeting power through a ribbon at the top of the program, eliminating the piecing together of manually crafted, disparate spreadsheets.  The premier solutions offer intuitive accounting logic, process automation, and reusable templates for ease of use.
You might be wondering about security and logistics, especially since you are potentially investing company money into a software.  Security features, like password protection and specified distribution, precisely allow for collaboration, so supervisors have ownership over the budgets they have to manage, meanwhile avoiding long e-mail threads with spreadsheet attachments. Budget managers can facilitate an inclusive and cohesive company-wide budgeting process.  It might sound too good to be true, but it’s not – and the return on your investment is potentially a quick turnaround.
If you add up all of the time, energy, and money associated with budgeting, today’s software could be extremely valuable for your company.  What are the must-have features and/or functionalities you should think about when seeking a budgeting solution to upgrade your processes?  Top priorities to evaluate include Excel versus proprietary interfaces, budgeting functionalities, live versus data store integrations, stand-alone versus a complete BI suite, with web budgeting as the future.
We have already discussed the ubiquity of Excel and the associated familiarity with formatting, but to elaborate: Excel-powered solutions simply add power to the application, with a focus on collaboration and security, with reusable budget templates within your favorite spreadsheet software.  Alternatively, proprietary platforms are also an option.
Some ISVs claim that Excel is a mess.  This assertion generally comes as part of the marketing plan for their own proprietary budgeting platform, on-premises or in the Cloud.  Because these software are not Excel-based for the design of the budget templates, you and your team’s learning curve will have to include learning a whole new set of formatting and coding before you are comfortable budgeting with the new product, which could mean more consulting dollars.  Cost of training is just one “cost” to consider.
No budgeting software for Acumatica is going to meet everyone’s specific needs, but there are specific functionalities you should be looking for in today’s products to cut personnel energy and time costs.  Modern budgeting solutions should allow you to compare actuals and projections right next to each other, easily add multiple line items for accounts, spread totals across a year, build reusable templates, see authorship, produce roll-ups, and choose parameters like Department, Division, and Entity.  Another popular functionality would be what-if scenarios, to visualize fluctuations or variables.  A great example has to do with budgeting for new staff including sub-ledgers, including on-boarding supplies, training, and salary, with statistical reporting and headcount calculations.  Modern budgeting and forecasting programs are all about being business user friendly, with intuitive functionality.
I have written about the differences between online analytical processing (OLAP) cube and data warehouse integrations – and assessing what you need when it comes to integrating live versus querying a BI data store, but ease of use always comes first for me.  Think about whether you have someone on staff who has the skill set and experience to manage an OLAP cube.  Do you have multiple types of data to store?  Are you eventually going to have to add more BI solutions to your toolbox?
Some ISVs offer a comprehensive, fully integrated BI suite.  If you are going to add financial reporting, dashboards, consolidations, and/or data warehousing, even down the line, you should for sure consider a BI suite.  Doing so translates to only one group of vendor, partner, consultant and support personnel.  With a suite, interfaces are similar, so adding new modules is easier for customers.  It also might help to invite your Acumatica users and budget contributors at the office to evaluate which processes need the most improvement, so that they are involved in the process of implementation of new software.  And just as Acumatica itself has proven, the web is a powerful platform for software, and budgeting is following that trend.
Web-based BI tools have arrived, and budgeting is right on trend.  As Acumatica users, you know the power of flexibility in accessing your data from anywhere you have an internet connection, but make sure you are not only selecting a product because it is in the web without the vital functionalities this article has highlighted to meet modern business demands.  Web budgeting will increase in popularity, so you can expect to read more in the future, but be on the lookout for Cloud flexibility.  Solver produces an Excel-powered budgeting stand-alone tool, with web budgeting front-end options (release in Q4, 2014), as part of the comprehensive suite of BI solutions and would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Planning solution for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities with Acumatica.