In this article, project budgeting, forecasting, and modelling will be at the center of the discussion, specifically third party planning tools to improve your Microsoft Dynamics SL experience.

I’m sure you can agree that financial planning is such a necessary aspect of performance management in today’s business world.  The quality of your budgeting and forecasting tasks can sometimes be the difference between life and death for businesses, especially when you think about the 2008 recession.  Organization-wide planning responsibilities are typically regular and almost always entail a number of pieces bringing together actual transactional numbers and projected figures for the planning period.  However, sometimes a company or a project manager has to budget and/or forecast for a project or specific task.  If you are a consultant tracking and billing your hours to a client, a project manager managing multiple projects, or a freelance professional putting together a bid for a gig, project budgeting is undoubtedly a term you’re quite familiar with in your position.

Recently, we spoke with a management consultant who had been working with a company that planned to overhaul their data access, management, and analytics for stronger, more informed decision-making.  She was in the beginning stages of the projects, without pinpointing the comprehensive suite of Business Intelligence (BI) tools quite yet, but she was optimistic about finding the technology solution to tackle the business “problems” they are facing.  Her professional experience and our interest in this topic manifested into a great conversation about how she financially plans and bids for projects in her career.  She admitted that she thought most assume that project budgeting is a series of guesses at figures that are usually rounded up, but in actuality, particularly with the right planning software, it can and should be quite accurate.
You always have the option of budgeting for projects within the Dynamics SL platform, but, similar to most accounting systems, you are limited when it comes to producing easy-to-use data entry screens to capture the plan for the project, so lots of organizations usually perform this task manually in Excel.
In comparison, traditional budgeting is formatted around a specific period of time (like a calendar or fiscal year), while a project budget revolves around a task.  For example, our management consultant friend, who we’ll call Suzanne, will evaluate the company’s current BI toolbox, analyze their performance management processes, shop around for the right technology solution, and deploy the selected software, all spanning up to 12 months.  Suzanne’s responsibility to this organization is great to showcase typical project budgeting, but is also a nice snapshot of today’s BI implementation process.  This article will explore project budgeting hypothetically, using Suzanne’s work as an example, and I will lay out modern features and functions you should be looking for in today’s planning solutions.
Let’s call the corporation Suzanne is working with “ABC, Co.”  ABC, Co. would like to upgrade and modernize their analysis processes, specifically their BI software.  They are still depending on FRx, despite Microsoft retiring the report design – and associated support for the software.  ABC, Co. is a big fan of Microsoft Dynamics SL, but the built-in project budgeting function has been disappointing.  They are currently producing homegrown budgets in Excel, which their company has admittedly outgrown.  Suzanne was the first recommendation when they wanted to hire a consultant to overhaul their BI tasks in an affordable way, and so began the project budgeting.
When project budgeting, start by identifying project costs.  Project costs can be fixed costs, billable hours, or both, as projects usually entail.  Using our example from the real world, Suzanne could craft a plan and maybe collaborate on the billable hours with ABC, Co., but she could also include costs that crop up naturally in the project, like development, office supplies, technology, training, and travel, among other aspects.  These are typically called soft costs and might be allocated to subcategories, like direct and indirect costs.  Other cost categories can be contract work, moving and storage, equipment or furniture, and even planning for an alternate amount as a contingency that accounts for the risk involved in projects that can be hard to plan for accurately.  Risk is involved in any budget.
When it comes to financial planning, risk represents the variables associated with any project, including time, money, and/or resources.  Depending on the assessment Suzanne makes about the BI needs of ABC, Co, she might need a substantial amount of more time to work on putting together a solution.  Should final approval of Suzanne’s suggested BI software and the installation schedule get caught up in some bureaucracy, the risk might be the time needed to complete the project.  In regard to acquisition and implementation of a new software, ABC, Co. has to plan for Suzanne’s wages, but they also have to figure out where to add a line item for the technology they choose to deploy.
ABC, Co. can elect to assign the costs of the software to the project budget – or they can budget for the direct and indirect costs of Suzanne, allocating the purchase and deployment costs of the new solution into their own fiscal plan.  Suzanne indicated that this company is not very knowledgeable about the current BI technology pricing, but they have a flexible spectrum of how much they would like to invest.  Since BI tool price tags involve support, maintenance, and/or training as annual fees, ABC, Co. could tuck this purchase into their annual budget – or add the initial acquisition cost into the project budget, but put the yearly fees into their fiscal year budget.  Whatever criteria Suzanne has to secure to meet their BI demands will set the search process length, which could be lengthy, and the costs could vary dramatically.
Similar to how most financial report writers cannot generate sub-ledger reports, a lot of budgeting solutions are not equipped with Project Budgeting functionality since most organizations only plan for a fixed period, like a year.  The modern business world does, however, involve more project managers, consultants and freelancers than ever, who depend on project budgeting.  Additionally, there are complete sectors in business that are focused around projects, like engineering and construction companies, defense contractors, etc.  You don’t have to hire a management consultant, like Suzanne, to upgrade your BI analytics.  Your own research can suffice, in terms of evaluating your demands and objectives, as well as pinpointing the right modern offering to assist you in accomplishing your goals.  Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Excel, web, and mobile BI tools with both real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis, comprehensive budgeting and collaboration as a way to accelerate company performance management for Microsoft Dynamics SL users.