Management Reporter – Is it Really Free?

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This article will take a look at Management Reporter as a financial report writing tool, in terms of the investment you will make implementing and managing the product, in comparison to other solutions.

As with pretty much all Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, Microsoft Dynamics has a number of reporting options for their ERP customers from native report writers in Dynamics AX, NAV, GP, and SL to SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) to Management Reporter.  This blog article will zoom in on Management Reporter as a Microsoft offering designed to solve financial reporting “problems” – and knowing how to evaluate your specific needs and to know if Management Reporter will help you to achieve your Business Intelligence (BI) goals.

First, a little history.  Management Reporter (MR) is the product successor to the widely used Microsoft FRx, which had nearly 100,000 companies using it.  With FRx’s retirement, a lot of customers have followed or plan to follow Microsoft to MR because of the similarities, like Rows and Column Tables and Reporting Trees that are part of the construction process for financial statements.  Just like FRx, MR is a financial report writer specifically for General Ledger (GL) reports.  Both tools are typically used by customers to write their financial statements, such as Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet, etc.  However, this blog has always been about educating customers about their options to adequately meet business demands that are specific to their company and industry.  Instead of just following the line through the transition to MR, let’s discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this product, so you can consider how it will serve you in your analytics processes.
If you are shopping for a new financial reporter, whether you’re currently using FRx or not, there are a few things that you should consider.  One of the first things you will naturally want to look at is the price tag – and this is pretty standard.  We all have a budget we would like to stay within, so the cost of a solution ideally needs to fit inside of that plan.  Next up, you will want to look at functionality, in terms of layout and printing, GL versus sub-ledger reporting, charting, available formulas, and Excel, web, and/or proprietary access to reports.  Another top priority for me is how business user friendly the product is, so that you can eliminate IT management of the product and end users can have full control over access, management and analysis of their own data.  You’ll want to look at your integration options to see if you can query data live from your ERP or if you need an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or data warehouse to run reports.  Finally, it might be important to you and your team to add to your BI toolbox right away or down the road, so comprehensive suites of fully integrated BI tools would be a valuable investment.  But let’s get back to the price tag because that can be a quick decision-maker for most companies.
Both FRx and Management Reporter have been described as free tools, and in business, it is important to know exactly what that means.  Sometimes, a certain number of MR user licenses may be bundled into a Dynamics deal at no additional cost.  At other times, there is a cost for additional users.  However, for the cost conscious buyer, cost is not just related to software costs.  Usually, there are a number of related costs.
In terms of costs to consider, don’t stop at the price tag on the product.  Think about your training required for your staff on multiple reporting tools, such as one for GL data, one for sub-ledger data, one for ad-hoc queries, etc.  When you are thinking about your team, think about their learning agilities, too – and compare their ease of use with Excel and proprietary platforms in the context of training time (and costs).  Next, consider the cost for IT to maintain and support multiple reporting tools.  With MR’s GL functionality, you are likely going to need additional software to complete your analysis tasks.  Relatedly, you should think about the opportunity cost(s) of not having a tool that might have a lot more functionality.  Finally, think about the cost of manual processes, such as repetitive export to Excel and formatting, which can be time-consuming and require more personnel costs based on the teamwork involved in putting together a unified set of financial statements.  These “hidden” costs can add up, in terms of money, time, energy, and even, staff morale, so they are going to be important to consider before defaulting to any particular software.
The truth is, there are independent software vendor (ISV) solutions that offer so much power and functionality without breaking the bank.  I’ve heard from plenty of people that are hesitant to stray from the Microsoft BI stack, but the benefits are worth it for lots of companies as ISVs are building consumer-driven products that focus on ease of use, flexibility, hybridity in platform and integration types, and security.  It is important to explore your options – and the price tag is just the jumping off point for costs to consider.
When you evaluate your own BI roadmap, with a financial reporter typically a centerpiece of that roadmap, think about all of the costs that can rack up by not investing in the right tool for your modern business demands.  In many cases, the default ERP report writers, like MR, are selected simply because they are on the price list, and they are the default.  Meanwhile, you might very well have reporting needs that go beyond a GL-based report writer.  What looks like it might be free or low cost might actually end up having a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) that is a lot higher than going out and finding a best-of-breed financial report writer, whether it is a stand-alone solution or part of an integrated BI suite.  Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Excel, web, and mobile financial reporting tool for real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis and collaboration, with the option of email distribution of reports, as a powerful alternative to Management Reporter.