This article will discuss your software choices for budgeting and forecasting tools that streamline and turbo charge your planning processes and Sage 300 experience.

Regardless of whether it is budgeting, forecasting, or modeling for your company, you will need actual historical numbers and projections, so you can craft a strategy to overcome obstacles and maximize opportunities in upcoming months, quarters, and years.  There are a number of software solutions for Sage 300 customers that dramatically expand your budgeting abilities, whether you design something yourself, rely on native Sage 300 capabilities or a third party budgeting tool.  I will lay out some of your best options in this article for today’s budgeting, forecasting, and modeling with Sage 300 data.

Let’s start by pinpointing some of the primary characteristics that should be non-negotiable when selecting the right tool.  Maybe this is a given, but ease of use should be your #1 priority.  Despite how commonsensical it may seem, there are marketplace offerings that do not make planning processes easier and more manageable.  Considering how often I hear about the tedium of budgeting processes, a planning solution should provide you accounting logic, a process that is efficient, and reusable budgeting templates.  Streamlining your planning tasks is really important when it comes to the requisite teamwork for a complete budget or forecast.
Budgeting is never just a one man show, even if it is managed by one person.  Company information from disparate sources translates to collaboration, which should then also be a top priority characteristic in a planning solution.  Typically, we’re used to back-and-forth e-mail conversations, complete with heavy spreadsheet attachments that someone has to bring together manually into one overarching budget.  Luckily, this has changed as today’s premier tools securely offer platforms that allow multiple professions to add to a budget without having to manually piece together spreadsheets from your network server.  Relatedly, security then becomes a necessary consideration, particularly with all the sensitive data involved.
Because financial planning is all about reviewing actuals and creating projections, typically involving salary information, security is necessary to protecting confidential data.  You should be shopping around for a software that empowers professionals to access a financial plan without sharing information with the wrong people.  With modern security in place, budget managers can distribute true ownership to contributors in the planning process without worrying, meaning that department supervisors can participate in budgeting that they will have to meet throughout the year.  We’ll rely on ease of use, collaboration, and security to evaluate the following budgeting tools for Sage 300 users: homegrown Excel planning, Microsoft Forecaster, IBM’s Cognos, Oracle’s Hyperion, and Solver’s BI360.
Let’s start with arguably the most popular: Microsoft Excel. Most businesses are still depending on Excel for manual budgeting processes.  The program is basically embedded in the finance world’s DNA at this point, so it is familiar and easy, but it doesn’t have the security or a database that would allow for user friendly collaboration.  Many problems can come up when manually linking spreadsheets for your consolidated budgets due to Excel’s static input templates.  Additionally, Microsoft produces a software specifically for budgeting: Forecaster.
2,000+ organizations have deployed Forecaster for their planning tasks, likely because of the strength of the Microsoft brand.  The tool is in maintenance mode now, in terms of any further development, because it has reached its life cycle end.  Forecaster is a proprietary interface, despite being a Microsoft product, that doesn’t work with or in Excel, so you have to learn a completely new set of features, functionality, and formatting.  When it comes to ease of use, there might be more training dollars involved because of the potentially longer learning curve for users.  Additionally, Forecaster might prove too simple to meet your modern budgeting demands, particular when you compare it to independent software vendor (ISV) offerings.  Furthermore, it is well known that plenty of Forecaster users do some of their planning outside of Forecaster in manual spreadsheets, so they can perform their required calculations and layouts for processes like complex payroll or revenue budgets.
Two established software selections are IBM’s Cognos and Oracle’s Hyperion. Both tools were quite successful and prevalent when they emerged on the market in the early 1990’s.  Still popular, they are usually implemented by upper-market customers, which is where you can find a loyal following for both Oracle and IBM solutions.  Considering their age, they are powerful, while complex, both due to their maturity, which means that they usually entail multiple internal resources particularly for managing models.  Some Excel has been incorporated into both tools, in addition to web front end functionality for greatly distributed companies or those who prefer to avoid Excel.  For the rest of us, these tools force us to acclimate to proprietary formulas and coding – and OLAP cubes that are proprietary as well (TM1 and Essbase) for budgeting and consolidation, data management, and rules.  This complexity is simply the result of development for decades.  However, both are part of complete Business Intelligence (BI) suites.
A comprehensive suite of BI tools translates to just one team of sales, consulting, and support professionals, which is easy for you as the customer – and convenient if you’re able to incrementally put together your BI toolbox for Sage 300.  However, Cognos and Hyperion suites are typically expensive.  And because these suites are made up of modules that were acquired by diverse vendors over the years, they’re less than “fully integrated” and typically come with distinct business logic and security functionality between modules, which can be problematic for end users.
Solver’s BI360 is the real deal in terms of being fully integrated as a comprehensive BI suite.  BI360 offers third generation Excel add-in functionality, but is a hybrid because it also provides Web accessibility in planning.  End users can easily and securely collaborate in crafting templates you can reuse – both in Excel and on the Web.  You can go the Cloud-hosted route with various providers for Sage 300.  Because Excel drives both the add-in and the Web interface experience, implementation is typically more manageable for the business end user.  BI360 is only about six years old, and its modernity is obvious with today’s capabilities: multi-year budgeting and rolling forecasts, a Web portal, and other consumer-driven functionality for business user friendly, team-oriented, and secure budgeting.  Finally, mid-market companies can afford the solution, but pricing could serve as its own separate article.
As you wade further into shopping around for the right budgeting tool for your team, you will likely have questions, but this article should give you a head start, so you can soon implement a solution that helps to streamline and turbo charge the collaborative process of financial planning.  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 300 customers.