This article will zoom in on budgeting and forecasting for Professional Services organizations, specifically looking at the best features and functionalities for your Acumatica experience.

Budgeting is not the easiest task in business management, but the good news is that it is getting easier with modern software options to upgrade your Acumatica planning processes.  For Professional Services organizations, planning is equally important, but varies because of the nature of the industry – and this can be said about most sectors, in terms of their specific budgeting needs.  A lot of companies are still using Excel for homegrown budgeting, but quite simply, it falls short for today’s budgets that are more complex than the spreadsheet program can serve.  If you’re looking for a third party budgeting tool that allows you to bring historical information from Acumatica, in addition to payroll data and other company- or industry-specific info, all together to streamline your naturally collaborative planning process, this article is for you.

Budgeting typically involves more than one person looking at historical actuals and projections to craft a fiscal year financial plan.  Globally, Excel has been such a major player in the finance world for decades, but the manual process of linking spreadsheets can be a logistical mess, especially regarding security.  Most finance teams are currently depending on Excel, so a third party software investment can look like an expense you could eliminate, but there are several benefits that can overhaul your Acumatica budgeting process, perhaps especially for Professional Services companies.
Third party technology offerings have steadily become more popular due to their ease of use, accessibility, and collaborative focus.  Excel add-in platforms are prevalent because they take the familiarity of the application and dynamically upgrade the power output with a ribbon addition to the top of the window, enabling users to eliminate manually built, separate spreadsheets.  The best independent software vendor (ISV) software comes with accounting logic, automation, and reusable templates built right in, so Professional Services organizations can more easily manage data.
Most companies are right to be concerned about how secure or logistically challenging a budgeting tool is because of the investment you are making of your time, money, and energy.  Today, access rights and passwords bring budgeting teamwork into a secure space with supervisors can truly own the budget they have to manage.  You can do away with back-and-forth, attachment-heavy e-mail conversations.  Budget managers can coordinate an inclusive and comprehensive budgeting process with a well-rounded team.  And considering your potential return on investment, it’s not too good to be true.
What should you be looking for when it comes to features and functions in the shopping process for a tool that can upgrade your Professional Services planning processes?  Elements to consider include platform types, budgeting capabilities, kinds of integrations, and going with a stand-alone versus a comprehensive suite of BI software.   Excel or proprietary interfaces, budgeting functionalities, integration types, stand-alone software versus a complete suite of BI tools, and web-based planning options.
I’ve already talked about Excel’s prevalence, which does make it easy for most finance teams, but Excel add-ins offer familiarity and advanced power, offering a significantly more powerful tool.  With additional functionality, including database-driven processes, secure ways to collaborate, and reusable templates, budgeting feels modern.  However, proprietary offerings are also pretty popular on the market.
Some ISVs argue that Excel is a mess when it comes to budgeting, usually because they are marketing their own tool, which functions on a proprietary platform.  Since this technology is not powered by Excel, learning to design a budget will likely take longer for your end users due to the software-specific formulas and formatting.  This might translate to additional training and/or consulting costs, but Web budgeting might be a great alternative.
Web-based BI solutions are popular in the marketplace, with budgeting being a relatively new addition.  Using Acumatica, you are aware of how flexible and accessible your accounting system has served you when on-the-go because all you need is an internet connection.  Most budgeting software, Web-based or not, has to rely on a BI data store, but some are hybrids, like Solver’s BI360, offering direct write-back to select accounting systems – and are powered by Excel combined with a Web interface.  You just need to ensure that it can meet your needs.
Let’s discuss planning capabilities – and processes for Professional Services organizations.  You should only invest in a modern planning tool if it enables you to compare your actual figures with projections right next to each other, simply add multiple line items for your accounts, spread totals across a year, craft reusable templates, view authorship, perform roll-ups, and employ parameters like Department, Division, and Entity.  You should hopefully be able to utilize what-if scenario abilities to see what different paths you can take.
For Professional Services organizations using Acumatica, you usually don’t have any control over new customer revenue, so you have to rely on estimates from the front line (like the sales team).  For recurring revenue, you can elect to give rough estimates, or you can estimate by project or client, if you have a smaller customer base.  When looking at staffing, you can allocate your services to clients by staff member, based on their seasonality, and calculate estimates on billable hours by employee, then add staff if short – or as needed.  In other words, you are budgeting top-down for your overall planning of your professional services, then analyzing bottom-up to see where your gaps are for staffing.
This blog has covered both online analytical processing (OLAP) cube and data warehouse integrations – and pinpointing what you need to achieve your objectives regarding a BI data store versus a live integration, but business user friendliness should be priority #1.  Do you have staff with OLAP experience to manage the cube?  Do you have multiple kinds of data?  What about other BI tasks?
Some ISVs offer fully integrated, comprehensive suites of BI tools.  If your roadmap involves upgrading financial reporting, dashboards, and/or data storage, you should look at BI suites.  Simply, you can streamline your experience with one team of sales, consulting, and support professionals.  Fully integrated suites offer similar interfaces, so your end users can easily learn and manage between modules.  Solver produces an Excel-powered budgeting stand-alone tool, with web budgeting front-end options, as part of the comprehensive suite of BI modules and would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Planning solution for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for Professional Services organizations with Acumatica.