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solver microsoft

In a recent announcement, Microsoft and Solver launched their Agreement to deliver deeply integrated planning and reporting for Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Finance. This Agreement offers several benefits for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance (Finance); and as a byproduct, many of these same benefits will also be available for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (Business Central). Key benefits for Finance, Business Central, and both (D365) are discussed below. 

More Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Business Central wins

With D365 ERPs being an important foothold in the office of finance for Microsoft and a driver of recurring cloud revenue, the collaboration with Solver will help increase the win ratio in all the deals where customers are looking for ERP + advanced planning and reporting features.  

In recent years, D365 competitors like Workday and Oracle with their NetSuite app have complimented their accounting systems with strong financial reporting, budgeting and forecasting functionality. Workday did this by acquiring and integrating Adaptive Insights and Oracle bolted their Hyperion cloud product on top of NetSuite.  

The planned deepened two-way integrations, drill-through, out-of-the-box reports, budget forms and dashboards along with Microsoft’s Solver Agreement will help match their competitors’ CPM advantages and likely exceed them. One of the reasons is that Solver goes beyond D365 by also supporting numerous other Microsoft technologies as we will discuss next.  

Pullthrough of other Microsoft offerings (Office, Azure – few CPMs there, Teams) 

The Solver solution is one of the very few CPM apps that runs on the Microsoft Azure cloud. Most other CPM vendors early on chose to partner with Amazon and deployed their solutions on the AWS platform. However, for Microsoft, there are additional product benefits when its Dynamics customers also implement Solver, such as: 

  • Deep D365 integrations (with additional features coming as a result of the Microsoft Agreement)
  • Easy access as certified and preferred App on the Microsoft AppSource marketplace 
  • Certified Power BI integration
  • Deep Microsoft Excel integration
  • Azure Active Directory (AAD) with single sign-on
  • Microsoft Teams compatibility
  • Annual recurring co-sell revenue to Microsoft 

 Incentivized Microsoft Sellers 

In the pre-cloud era, often to many Microsoft independent software developers’ (ISVs) frustration, there were rarely any direct financial benefits for a Microsoft seller to put in extra effort to bring ISV products to their customer accounts. However, as Microsoft has risen to become a global cloud leader with Azure, it also realized that their Azure-based ISVs pulls through important recurring revenue based on the ongoing Azure resources they consume. To create a direct motivation and benefit to their own sellers, Microsoft has created a so-called “co-sell program” where their sellers have commission quotas for the participating ISVs they help sell into their accounts.  

To encourage collaboration with the global Microsoft field teams, Solver is in the highest level of the co-sell program for Finance, referred to as “Dynamics 365 Finance ISV Connect Premium Tier Co-sell Ready Program.” Here is an interview April Olson, Principal Group Product Manager for Microsoft Dynamics 365 discussing the collaboration with Solver. 

Customer satisfaction that drives “Stickiness” 

Microsoft, like any other business, knows all the benefits of having highly satisfied customers. With recurring revenues being a core focus for cloud-oriented companies, customer satisfaction has gotten more attention than ever. A happy customer usually means that this customer is likely to renew, and maybe also expand their subscriptions.  

When a company invests time and money into multiple connected solutions, such as D365 and Solver, and their ROI is according to expectations, they will generally stay on the platforms. This is often referred to as “stickiness” in the tech space.  

The announced Microsoft Agreement with Solver has high customer satisfaction as a prime goal. It comes along with new technology that promises rapid time-to-value and functionality that will help customers enable their managers with faster and better decisions.   

Analyst reviews of Dynamics 365 Finance & Business Central 

There are numerous analysts following the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) space. Their customer surveys and research often highlight strengths and weaknesses of each vendor. Many prospective customers use analyst reports to support their ERP purchase decisions. And similarly, when their products are given a high rating or a strong position in an analyst quadrant, sellers use the reports in the sales process.  

The Agreement with Solver will benefit D365 customers with tightly integrated features for advanced budgeting, forecasting, reporting and consolidations. Along with strengthened integration opportunities, especially for Azure-based ISV applications, Microsoft is driving relationships like the one with Solver to maximize customer satisfaction which ultimately also drives coverage in analyst reports.  

Contact Solver Today to Learn More

The Microsoft and Solver collaboration reinforces their strategic bet on working with ISVs to enable go-to-market offerings that will help customers with their digital transformation. When combined with incentives like Microsoft the Co-sell program and other benefits discussed in this post, there is an historical opportunity for Microsoft sellers and ISVs to bring unified cloud solutions to customers to drive the success of their businesses. Contact us today to learn more about our partnership and the benefits. 

solver microsoft

In a recent announcement, Microsoft and Solver launched a collaboration agreement delivering deeply integrated planning and reporting for Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Finance.  This Agreement offers several benefits for Dynamics 365 Finance (Finance) Partners; and as a byproduct, many of these same benefits will also be available for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (Business Central) Partners. Key benefits for Finance Partners, Business Central Partners, and both (D365) are discussed below. 

Simplified, reduced effort to implement a complete ERP and CPM solution for customers 

Because of the deep two-way integration provided as part of the Microsoft and Solver collaboration, partners will be able to deploy the solutions together with less effort. While many ERP Partners have dedicated business intelligence team members for Power BI dashboard deployments, they usually do not have full-time corporate performance management (CPM) teams.  

More time for high value consulting 

Consulting revenue is usually the most important component of a Dynamics partner’s business model, and for that reason, implementation projects that include a significant number of hours are of high importance to them. The pre-built D365 integrations may seem less attractive to partners at first because it can shorten initial implementation times with its easy-to-configure process and its number of pre-built reports, budget forms and dashboards. Partners will realize, however, that the quick-time-to-value customers gain will free up budgets and consulting time that partners usually include in an implementation and allow them to deliver higher value work, such as creating reports and budget models tailored to their client’s business needs and industry requirements. The result should be happier clients and higher return on investment (ROI).    

Less complexity to support customers over time 

Solver has been a Microsoft technology partner for more than 20 years. With the recently announced Microsoft and Solver agreement, partners can stay assured that integrations and other compatibility between Finance and Solver will remain in sync as both companies release their periodical cloud updates. Not only that, but interoperability and integrations are likely to continue to deepen. Furthermore, Solver already has an active integration program with key Dynamics 365 third-party (“ISV”) apps that also makes it easier for a partner to support the customer’s D365 solution. In other words, with less “manual plumbing” and custom development required, partners can support their clients much more easily over time, including by offering subscription-based managed services programs. 

Easier to continue to deliver complete value with a single, connected Microsoft Azure platform 

Azure has always been the cloud platform for the Solver CPM solution. As such, it also includes connectivity with Power BI, report publishing to Microsoft Teams, integration with Office 365, and now with the new Microsoft collaboration, deep two-way integration and other planned benefits for D365 customers. Solver’s Azure platform and Microsoft appcentric interoperability strategy is closely aligned with Dynamics partners’ value proposition to their clients. 

Easier to convey value to prospective customers in the sales process 

In a typical ERP sales process, partners will present their combined software and services value proposition to prospective customers. Oftentimes, a “ground-to-cloud” ERP migration will include both the ERP system as well as several best-of-breed add-ons, including solutions like Power BI for dashboards and Solver for budgeting, forecasting, and reporting. When these add-on solutions come pre-integrated to Dynamics 365 and also can deliver quick-time-to-value for the customer, there is a clear win-win for all parties. As a result, partners will win more new business because they can easily convey the overall solution’s value and show how it will help improve the customer’s business processes.  

Easier to collaborate with Microsoft Sellers  

Solver has all the right credentials to support a partner’s joint sales effort with their counterparts on the Microsoft sales team. These include: an Azure-based solution, Azure Active Directory (AAD), Excel, Office, and Dynamics integrations, which will help to win new accounts. As a Preferred Microsoft AppSource solution, Solver is an easy app to find and learn about, in addition, Solver is currently the only CPM solution in Microsoft’s highest level co-sell program, which provides Microsoft sellers a margin for each deal won according to certain criteria. 

Solver is a global, partner channelfocused business 

Perhaps most important to any Dynamics partner is to know that they are a very strategic element in Solver’s go-to-market activities. While many CPM and analytics vendors have been acquired in recent years, resulting in partners often suffering from reduced reseller margins or cancelled programs as investors looking to maximize their profit plans their exit strategies. Partners have been at the center of Solver’s business for more than 24 years and will continue to be so in the future as Solver expands beyond its 12 current global locations across all major regions of the world; with the ever-important goal of delivering maximum value to joint customers.  

Summary 

With the recent announcement of the Microsoft and Solver collaboration, Dynamics partners will not only be key beneficiaries along with their customers, but Solver will also keep enhancing its partner programs, training assets, co-marketing and other ways that drives joint success.  

 

solver microsoft

In a recent announcement, Microsoft and Solver launched a “Cooperation Agreement” (Agreement) to deliver deeply integrated planning and reporting for Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Finance. This Agreement offers several benefits for current and future Dynamics 365 Finance (Finance) customers; and as a byproduct, many of these same benefits will also be available for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (Business Central) customers. Key benefits for Finance customers, Business Central customers, and both (D365) are discussed below.

One Version of the Truth

With a two-way integration between D365 and Solver, customers will be able to easily synchronize data between D365 and Solver, and update completed budgets and forecasts from Solver back into D365. Furthermore, customers will be able to drill down on reports in Solver to source transactions in D365.

Vendor Stability

In recent years there have been many acquisitions in the corporate performance management (CPM) and analytics space, often making customers uncertain about the future direction of their vendor. One of the most well-known of these acquisitions was when ERP vendor Workday acquired Adaptive Insights (Adaptive) in 2018. While it was an exciting transaction for Workday customers, it was not good news for Adaptive customers and Partners on ERPs competing with Workday. With Solver’s independent status, focus on the Azure cloud platform, and now this new Agreement with Microsoft, customers can look forward to years of integration enhancements and platform benefits.

More Leverage of the Microsoft Azure Platform and Other Microsoft Products like Teams and Excel

Since its inception, the Solver cloud product has had a deep integration to Excel for its report and budget form design experience. Microsoft Teams users can view Solver reports in Teams while discussing budgets and financials with other users, all on the Microsoft Azure platform. As part of the recently announced Microsoft Agreement, Solver will also deliver several enhanced integrations and other capabilities to D365 customers.

Easier Cloud Migrations to D365 for Legacy Dynamics AX, NAV, GP and SL Customers

There is still a large, global customer base running the on-premise Microsoft Dynamics legacy ERPs.

Solver’s integrations to Dynamics AX, NAV, GP and SL will assist Dynamics legacy customers’ migration to D365 at a reduced cost and amount of effort. In a nutshell, legacy customers can “park” their important historical AX, NAV, GP and SL data (e.g. 10 years’ worth) in Solver’s cloud data warehouse, and minimize the data they need to convert and load into their new D365 cloud ERP, thus saving time and cost.

Quick-Time-to-Value and Low Implementation Risk

The enhanced, two-way integration resulting from the Solver – Microsoft Agreement provided an opportunity to create QuickStart, an integration wizard that includes Solver’s unique mapping technology which enables immediate use of pre-built financial reports, budget forms and Power BI dashboards. While reporting and planning tools typically take weeks or months for customers to integrate, deploy and design, Solver’s QuickStart technology enables cloud tenant deployment with a standard D365 integration and pre-built financial templates to be up and running in as little as one day. This quick-time-to-value frees up more time for partners and customers to create high value analytics content. It also lowers the risk of implementations going over budget and not delivering promised value.

Eliminate or Reduce Dependency on Manual Excel Models or Legacy CPM Platforms

D365 customers will be able to save costs and reduce effort by eliminating old, manual planning and reporting models and consolidating them into the Solver cloud platform.  Most businesses extensively use homegrown Excel models to meet specific formatting requirements, and to customize budgeting and forecasting models. Some also have legacy third-party CPM solutions with ongoing high maintenance costs.

These companies will now be able to deploy Solver with deep two-way integrations into their D365 system, saving time and effort, with fewer models and technologies to update and maintain.

More Time for Analysis and Daily Accounting Tasks

The rapid time-to-value and simpler upkeep resulting from the technologies evolving out of the Microsoft – Solver Agreement will give the office of finance more time for analysis and high value tasks.  Direct time savings and improved efficiency are key customer benefits of interoperability between D365 and Solver. Furthermore, users will see continuous expansion and improvements in out-of-the-box integrations, including third-party apps that work with D365, as well as a growing marketplace with out-of-the-box reporting and planning templates.

The Promise of a “Cleaner” ERP?

One of the premises of the entire CPM software category is to provide a connected, best-of-breed planning and reporting solution. When customers plan their CPM solution before deploying their new ERP system, it has a great potential to eliminate unnecessary, complex or “clunky” ERP configurations patched up with accompanying complex manual Excel models.

The Agreement between Microsoft and Solver also promises a reduction of compromises done with dimensions and other setups during an ERP implementation. Adjustments that are typically done to purely to satisfy native ERP reporting or planning requirements. The new agreement provides the potential for cleaner, more user-friendly ERP deployments.

 

Higher ROI on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Business Central Investment  

Most companies at this point have a plan to migrate to a cloud ERP, if they haven’t already done so.  Those that have previously experienced ERP implementations know the risks of running over time and over budget. Because of the many benefits brought by closely aligned ERP and CPM solutions, and how the Microsoft – Solver Agreement further enables this, customers are likely to enjoy a higher return on investment (ROI) for their new D365 solution.

Summary

While all modern cloud ERPs have application programming interfaces (APIs) and independent software vendor (ISV) apps that can connect to provide additional value to customers, deeper relationships like the one between Microsoft and Solver is rarer and offers many new benefits to customers as they continue to digitalize and automate their processes as they move their business apps to the cloud.

This article is part 8 of an 8-part series on evaluating the best CPM tools for your business. Part 8 focuses on why and when to use third-party rankings from analysts when evaluating the best CPM software applications.

 

While some companies don’t need to go through a detailed selection process to come up with a list of the top Corporate Performance Management (CPM) software solutions for their organization, others have their work cut out for them. If you belong to the latter category, here is a vendor evaluation tool that may be of help.

One of the key items on many CPM product evaluation checklists is to look at how third-party firms, usually referred to as analysts or analyst websites, review and rank vendors.

Below, we will discuss the use of analysts to help evaluate and score the best financial reporting and planning solutions for your business requirements. This type of third-party research can complement the findings and opinions from your internal team.

When analyst firms are of less importance

Before we go into detail about analyst firms, let’s briefly cover some situations where analyst reports with CPM vendor rankings are not as useful and, in some cases, cost extra time and money in the selection process. One such example is when there is already a leading CPM solution partnered with your ERP vendor and offering pre-built integrations and other benefits that outweigh other potential vendor differences.

Another example is when multiple people on your staff have deep knowledge of a leading CPM solution that they have used before, ideally while they worked at a company from the same industry to ensure that there is still a fit.

Which analyst firms should you use?

While there are a few firms with analysts that are CPM industry experts who do months of research every year to analyze trends and rank vendors, there are many more analysts that are a waste of time or are even directly misleading in their rankings.

  1. Examples of professional CPM analyst firms
    • Analyst and survey-driven rankings: Gartner and Dresner Advisory Services
    • User-driven rankings: G2
  2. Unqualified or misleading “analyst” firms
    • Clickbait websites that will come up with their own vendor lists with no proper research, purely to get ranked on a search engine in order to sell advertising or get “sponsorship” money vendors pay to be on (e.g., a “Top 10 CPM Vendors” list)
    • Websites owned by CPM vendors ranking themselves
    • “Research reports” from “analysts” paid for by a specific CPM vendor

So, if you consult analyst reports to help find the best CPM tool for your company, be conscious of who or what is proving the advice.

How do you know if analyst reports are biased or fair representations of vendors?

It is clear that almost all research performed by a human being is biased one way or another, either consciously (e.g., based on vendor sponsorships or who they speak with the most) or unconsciously (e.g., based on the knowledge of the analyst). Even a firm as well-known as Gartner arguably has some bias in their reports because they include analyst comments, and they include vendor revenue as one of the drivers in their “Magic Quadrants” – something which may or may not indicate who a “leader” should be in a specific industry. Especially with the pace of technology changes and acquisitions in the marketplace, the best CPM solution for your business 6 months ago may no longer be the top choice today.

Other analyst reports or vendor rankings are websites that are driven by user feedback as compared to analyst research. You could argue that these websites provide the most neutral feedback although not as detailed and analytical as the major reports produced by full-fledged analyst firms.

Then there are the countless firms that provide “awards” and rankings based on payments from vendors. These are highly biased and should be avoided. It is fairly easy to detect them by reviewing the firm’s website and observing the lack of depth in CPM research and content.

What professional analysts get right (and sometimes don’t)

The top CPM analyst firms typically do one major CPM report per year. All or parts of the data in the report is driven by customer surveys completed by each vendor’s customers. Because of all the work that goes into these reports and because customers don’t want to be constantly bombarded with surveys, the reports will represent data that is up to 15-16 months old. This lag is because customer surveys typically start 3-4 months before the report is released and then the report will be out on the market for a year until next year’s report is out.

Because many cloud software vendors have monthly releases, and new features arrive all the time, these reports could be missing important vendor features. Websites like G2 and others are starting to follow the same model; they are constantly updated whenever a customer decides to leave their feedback. However, they are less detailed and structured.

Examples of analyst firms that review CPM software

There are a number of companies that provide CPM vendor reviews and market research. Here are examples of three different categories of such firms:

  1. Gartner: Analyst + customer survey-driven vendor rankings. Also provides research reports across almost all categories of IT firms. A major CPM report is produced once per year.
  2. Dresner Advisory Services: Customer survey-driven vendor rankings. Also provides research reports. Almost exclusively focused on CPM (they refer to it as EPM, or Enterprise Performance Management). A major CPM report is produced once per year.
  3. G2: Customer feedback driven. Ranking reports are produced automatically on their website (g2.com). Rankings are continually updated as customers enter their feedback on the G2 website.

How much does it cost to use an analyst firm?

Some CPM vendor research reports are free while many are licensed by the CPM vendors themselves and shared with customers. However, be aware that vendors naturally will only license and share research reports that shed a good light on their product, so there is a bias here to be cognizant of.

Some analyst firms also provide selection services, either as paid calls with their CPM advisors or as full-blown gigs where they will lead or participate in the entire selection process as a “consultant.” In past years, they used to then provide clients with RFP templates with hundreds of pre-defined questions. These have become less popular in recent times as both vendors and internal evaluation teams dread lengthy narratives always shaped to sound good, or they can miss entire functionality areas that are up and coming.

In any case, it is almost always beneficial to do your own homework first by listing your current pain points in as much detail as possible and quantifying ($$) the cost and effort of running the current reporting and planning processes. This “homework” should also include the management team’s vision of the business benefits they want to achieve with a new CPM solution.

Conclusion

The leading cloud CPM software solutions have a lot of features and functionality, and changes and improvements are being released all the time. So, when you and your internal team are coming up with a shortlist of the best CPM solutions for the company’s needs, it is advisable to do your own research, review product demonstrations, and make sure the top candidates integrate easily with your ERP and other important systems. If you have special complexities or a lack of time and evaluation skills on your team, then an analyst firm can assist you in various ways.

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

This article is part 7 of an 8-part series on evaluating the best CPM tools for your business. Part 7 focuses on methods for calculating ROI to find the best CPM software applications.

 

A business software selection process can be exhausting, involving weeks or months of product demonstrations, meetings, vendor scoring, and other time-consuming tasks. Usually, the most attention is paid to the product demos. However, one of the most important but ignored areas of a vendor evaluation is a Return on Investment (ROI) estimate.

As the name implies, an ROI calculation aims at estimating the return the company is expecting to get over time based on the investment they put into the software subscription, training, and implementation.

A best practice to select the best CPM software and vendor is to perform an ROI calculation and make it part of the total vendor score as you compare the finalist candidates with each other. Here is a free interactive vendor comparison tool that has three dashboard pages:

  1. Scoring of 8 major functionality areas (insert screenshot below this section)
  2. Calculator to arrive at ROI
  3. Summary dashboard comparing your top two CPM software finalists

Your team can use the sliders to adjust all scores according to your evaluation results:

Vendor Comparison Tool

Why should ROI always be used when you evaluate business software?

Many companies skip or miss the ROI step in their evaluation process to compare the top CPM vendors on their finalist scorecard. Why are so many organizations missing this ROI step? Usually it is due to one or more of these reasons:

  • They don’t have an ROI calculator
  • They feel there are too many variables to come up with a good ROI estimate
  • They have a bias toward a solution known or recommended to them
  • The vendor in the lead does not want to be compared to the runner-up competitor

However, because the vendors’ CPM features and prices both change over time, a good ROI estimate helps capture this to provide a picture of what business benefits would look like compared to the investment in subscriptions and implementation services.

How to calculate ROI for the best CPM software selection

It is almost always easy to get software costs and implementation estimates from the vendor because these are already part of standard price lists and quoting tools they use in their sales processes.  However, what is harder is to calculate your own costs and savings related to the project.

It is important to do your own homework first by listing and quantifying ($$) the pains of NOT having the new solution. Many organizations do list current pains before approving a new software purchase. Such metrics are also valuable after the project implementation in order to validate the degree of success. It also helps keep vendors and internal project members accountable for promises of outcomes, and keeps them focused on what is most important when there are obstacles in the implementation and to help support hard choices that have to be made.

Here is a list of the typical ingredients in an ROI calculation:

Vendor ROI Tool

  1. Benefits

This part of an ROI calculation is always the hardest to estimate. Here is where you quantify the annual value (amount) your business expects to gain from the improved and speedier decisions you expect to achieve from the CPM vendors you evaluate. Try to put a number on the resulting benefit to the business when managers can make faster and better decisions because the new solution provides self-service access, drilldown to answer questions, charting for better analysis, more accurate budgets, and other advantages.

Note: Don’t include any costs or time savings from the cost section (see below).

  1. Costs

Here is where you capture the costs of the new and old solutions. Your numbers should include software, hardware, and labor expenses.

Cost of New Solution:

  • Annual software subscription
  • One-time implementation services

Cost of Old Solution:

  • IT costs to operate: This includes any server hardware and electricity, upgrade costs, annual maintenance/renewal costs, etc.
  • Cost of manual labor: This should be the excess time your IT and finance staff spends compared to what you expect from the new solution. Use a fully loaded hourly cost of own and/or contractor staff.
  • Cost of risk: This is where you capture the estimated annual cost of risks like errors in monthly reports, and the resulting cost of managers not having access to timely and detailed information.

If you leave all the figures in the ROI calculation as positive numbers, then the calculation can look like this: (Cost of Old Solution – Cost of New Solution + Benefit of New Solution) / Cost of Old Solution

Using one year or multiple years in your ROI calculation

Although there may be some firms that provide industry benchmarks to quantify the standard ROI of a new CPM software solution and its expected automation of financial reporting and planning processes, results can be highly individual based on how good or bad the old solution was and how well the new solution is implemented and utilized.

In very special cases, you may achieve a positive ROI in year 1, but in most cases it will take longer. For this reason, a good rule of thumb is to calculate both the 1st year and the 5-year (accumulated) ROI. This will also better capture discounts that vendors provide for one or more years before their price resets to list price.

Also, when you ask for the 5-year subscription cost from each vendor, make sure it includes annual price increases.

Vendor Evaluation Summary Dashboard

Do ROI calculations have an extra cost?

All decision makers like to see ROI calculations when staff members propose investments in new technologies. Sometimes, these calculations can be the major deciding factor in a decision if all other areas are somewhat equal. In other words, it may be well worth the hours it takes to come up with the estimates for ROI.

If you are using a professional software selection firm or third-party consultant to help with your selection, make sure to ask if their services include assistance with an ROI calculation or if this a separate cost.

You can use this vendor comparison tool, which includes an ROI calculator. It has three tabs: 1) Feature comparison, 2) ROI comparison, and 3) Summary score. You can use it as-is, or it may give you some ideas if you want to apply it, for example, to an Excel spreadsheet model that calculates ROI in a different way.

Conclusion

The best CPM software solutions have a lot of features and functionality. They are also very flexible. This means that implementation estimates can vary greatly based on the number of your reports or the complexity of your budget and forecast models.

Assuming you have a successful implementation, it is typical to stay with a solution for five to ten years or more. In such time periods, and if you choose a stable vendor, you can expect to see numerous improvements along the way that should further support your managers in making faster and better decisions. This future expected value can be captured in your multi-year ROI calculation to help ensure that you are making the best possible decision to pick the top CPM vendor for your organization to partner with.

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

This article is part 6 of an 8-part series on evaluating the best CPM tools for your business. Part 6 focuses on the many Microsoft integration capabilities to look for in the best CPM software applications.

 

Most organizations in the world use one or more technologies from Microsoft. So, when selecting a new cloud Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution the benefit of close Microsoft alignment can be from “slight” to “very important” or “required.”

As the world’s businesses have migrated one application after another to the cloud, they have had to re-establish whatever connectivity they had between their solutions when they hosted them in their own server room.

For the reasons mentioned above, most of the top CPM vendors have integrations to the most popular Microsoft technologies in order to increase their customers’ productivity.

Here are some of the top Microsoft integrations to look for in the best CPM solutions

Based on which Microsoft technologies your organization uses, one or more of these integrations may be beneficial (or even highly important):

  1. Microsoft Office / Microsoft 365 integration

The below CPM integrations to Microsoft Office / Microsoft 365 can probably be ranked in this order of importance to a Finance and Accounting team:

  • Excel integrations can offer everything from the CPM report designer being an Excel add-in, to report export to Excel and data import from Excel.
  • PowerPoint integrations are typically used to display and refresh reports or dashboards within a corporate financial presentation.
  • Word integrations are less popular but can be critical for governments and other organizations that need to refresh financial and other figures inside lengthy annual or quarterly report documents.

Example of a Power BI dashboard live inside a PowerPoint presentation:

Power BI inside PowerPoint

  1. Power BI integration

Power BI (closely followed by Tableau) has risen to be the most popular dashboard tool in the world. A large number of companies use it already and more will do so in the future. For this reason, an increasing number of CPM vendors have developed Microsoft-certified connectors that easily transfer data and dimensions to Power BI.

Some CPM vendors even go as far as offering Power BI as their main best-of-breed dashboard solution and include out-of-the-box financial dashboards to get customers ramped up quickly. If you already own or plan to buy Power BI, this approach eliminates the need to buy a CPM vendor’s proprietary dashboard licenses and enables the finance team to learn only one visualization tool.

  1. Microsoft Teams integration

Teams is Microsoft’s widely popular collaboration portal. Numerous third-party vendors have built apps to surface their cloud applications inside the Teams portal.

While all of the best CPM solutions can export fully formatted reports to Excel, and these can be imported to Teams, not many have built apps that enable you to open the CPM app from Teams and, for example, run reports while inside a Teams group discussing profitability or liquidity with other managers.

  1. Microsoft Dynamics integrations

Dynamics 365 Finance and Dynamics 365 Business Central are Microsoft’s cloud ERP applications. If you already own or plan to implement one of these ERPs, it is important to closely review how well the CPM vendors you are evaluating connect to those solutions.

A tight and easy integration between your ERP system and the CPM solution enables dynamic reporting, as well as budgets and forecasts that have updated historical data. Some integrations even allow for easy write-back of budgets to the General Ledger (GL).

If you are on a legacy Microsoft Dynamics ERP such as GP, SL, NAV, or AX, the new CPM solutions integration is equally as important. If you plan to migrate to Dynamics 365, you can even use the CPM as a storage of your old historical ERP data, making the migration to the new ERP faster and easier.

  1. Azure deployment

Since CPM vendors manage their own cloud applications, it is typically not visible to an end user which cloud platform, such as Azure or AWS, their CPM portal is running on. Azure may be more important for certain IT departments if they already have plans or projects using other Microsoft Azure tools such as Power Apps.

Does deep Microsoft alignment have an extra cost?

This will depend on each CPM vendor. The cloud platform (in this case Azure) is always built into vendor pricing, but oftentimes vendors charge a price per integration connector (e.g., to Power BI, PowerPoint, or Dynamics 365).

While it is important to do your homework to ensure that the vendor you choose has the key Microsoft integrations needed for a successful and efficient deployment, the total savings in time and effort, as well as improved decision making, are just as important.

Here is a free vendor comparison tool to help you compare vendors across a number of different features. This tool also includes a simple return on investment (ROI) calculator that is part of the total vendor score.

Conclusion

In summary, ensuring that a new CPM solution integrates well with productivity and ERP applications helps ensure longevity of the solution as well as user satisfaction. In other words, integration should be on the checklist of features to review in demonstrations and vendor conversations.

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

This article is part 5 of an 8-part series on evaluating the best CPM tools for your business. Part 5 focuses on data warehouse considerations to focus on as you are evaluating the best CPM software applications.

 

In the Digital Era, companies that make faster and better decisions than their counterparts are the most successful – yet accurate decisions require accurate information. Because all businesses have numerous data sources in addition to their ERP system, it takes a lot of time and effort to extract and compile information from all the internal systems. The fact that most of these systems are now based in the cloud does not make it easier.

This fast decision-making requirement has led an increasing number of companies to now implement a cloud data warehouse in order to streamline data collection, reporting, and analysis. Some of these data warehouse platforms are included with Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions. Because CPM solutions already use databases to store financial data and budgets, these vendors sometimes offer an expandable CPM that can also serve as a data warehouse. More about this later.

However, implementing a corporate data warehouse can be risky and expensive without proper technology selection and planning. And, of course, the return on investment (ROI) needs to be positive.

When working through a software selection process to find the best data warehouse platform for your organization, there are some features that are more important than others.

Here are some of the top features to look for in a data warehouse app

While most vendors can probably showcase more than 100 features in their product — something which can make software selection a virtual nightmare — there is a clear 80/20 rule that can be applied to zoom in on critical success factors.

Here is a list of five major functionality areas to consider:

  1. Data warehouse platform

In today’s world, IT departments and business managers are eager to move their applications out of their server room and into the cloud. Therefore, most new data warehouses are now being deployed in the cloud. All the big database vendors offer their own data warehouse platforms including Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon (AWS), IBM, Snowflake, and others.

Internal knowledge, cost, and other factors should be evaluated when choosing a solution. Any cloud CPM vendor that has a solution that expands into a full data warehouse generally also runs on one of these platforms, either with the cloud vendor’s database or a proprietary database.

  1. Homegrown versus commercial data warehouse

In the past, the majority of all businesses either managed to operate without a data warehouse or they purchased a database license like Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle and designed a homegrown system. For a mid-sized company, such a project could take upwards to nine months or more and often cost more than $100,000 in consulting fees (much more for a large enterprise).

Today, however, there are a number of commercial cloud-based data warehouses with user-friendly interfaces that provide menu-driven configuration requiring few technical skills to run. As a result, most companies, especially smaller and mid-sized businesses, utilize commercial cloud data warehouses that are pre-designed and configurable through a web interface.

Of course, it is critical to easily get data in and out of a data warehouse, so any good data warehouse must provide application programming interfaces (API) to allow integration tools and business intelligence (BI) solutions to connect to it.

Here is an example of a commercial data warehouse interface:

  1. Separate data warehouse or combined with CPM solution?

If a selection process is driven by an IT department and the data warehouse solution will be managed by their team, they often prefer a stand-alone commercial data warehouse or may already have an enterprise data warehouse in use. A CPM solution that includes data warehouse functionality becomes a one-stop reporting and planning database that can leverage the data stored in the enterprise data warehouse (where one already exists), as well in the ERP, payroll, and other systems.

This combination approach may offer a lower cost and has the added advantage that CPM tools offer strong report writers, which make it easy to query the reporting and planning data warehouse directly without purchasing yet another third-party reporting tool.

  1. Data extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL)

ETL tends to be the most technical and tedious part of a data warehousing project. This is because it involves extracting data from various transaction sources, transforming it into the format required to store it in the data warehouse, and then setting up automated data loading. Many of the leading data warehouse and CPM solutions offer their own native ETL tools, often with pre-built connectors to popular data sources. In addition, there is a whole industry of third-party ETL vendors that can be “middleware” between your transaction sources and the data warehouse. Of course, these come with their own subscription cost.

You should always request detailed information about the vendor’s integration to your systems, including the time and cost it takes to get them configured. A really good, pre-built integration should take at the most an hour to configure while “toolboxes” can take days to set up and connect to each data source. Which one your vendor offers will therefore usually become clear when you see their estimates for the integration step in the implementation.

Without good, automated integrations to your source systems, your users will end up spending a lot of wasted time on loading and possible “cleaning” of data.

  1. Modules, dimensions, and trees

In general, data warehouses store transactions and dimensions and connect these in their schema. In commercial data warehouse user interfaces, an administrator can typically add business logic to dimensions (accounts, companies, etc.) by setting up hierarchies represented as graphical trees or attributes. These hierarchies are then used by report writers and dashboards to automate reporting and consolidations.

To select the best data warehouse solution for your business needs, it is advisable to get a demonstration of the web portal. This gives you the ability to see how user friendly (or not) it is to manage the dimensions and data, and also to understand the effort it takes to set up user security as well as control access rights.

How much does a data warehouse solution cost?

Cloud-based data warehouses are sold on a subscription basis and vendors have various pricing models that could include factors like:

  • Number of users
  • Number of data source connectors
  • Number of transactions stored in the database
  • Amount of data processing

Vendors that offer multi-tenant solutions versus stand-alone systems per customer have a cost advantage as upgrades are simpler and processing resources can be shared.

Beyond features and the quoted price, here are some things to think about when you get prices from your vendor finalists:

  • Does the annual subscription from each vendor contain the same user count and modules?
  • If you are receiving a discount, how long until it resets to the list price?
  • Does the vendor provide a written policy for annual price increases?
  • Are the implementation estimates from each vendor for exactly the same work?

A good rule of thumb is to ask each vendor for the total subscription cost for the first 5 years. Make sure this includes any potential price increases. And, if the vendor is owned by a private equity firm, chances are that they will be sold while you are still a customer, so ensure that you receive a document stating their policy for price increases in the future, including stipulations if they are sold to another company.

Here is a tool to help you compare vendors and calculate return on investment (ROI).

Why not use the ERP system as a data warehouse?

Some ERP vendors and implementation partners suggest that customers use the ERP system as a data warehouse. This could work if all or most of the data is from the ERP system itself. However, most data warehouse use cases do not work well inside an ERP database for these reasons:

  • Major data loads and processing could slow down the ERP system and make daily work difficult for accountants.
  • Licensing requirements for the ERP may become more costly than expected.
  • Some ERP APIs may not be suitable for flexible and fast data import and export.
  • ERP databases are generally not built to easily handle lots of detail from other data sources such as CRM data, helpdesk information, or other solutions.
  • ERP systems typically don’t offer best-of-breed reporting, budgeting, and dashboards so chances are that you will end up exporting data out of the ERP “data warehouse” and into CPM and BI systems anyway.

Conclusion

In summary, choosing a new data warehouse solution to centralize your important data in order to support front-end tools that drive better and faster decision making has increasingly become a strategic priority for organizations across all industries. As we discussed earlier, certain features are more important than others and can be key success factors – in addition to a well-executed implementation process.

Here is a free vendor comparison and ROI tool to help you compare vendors across a number of different features. This tool also includes a simple return on investment (ROI) calculator that is part of the total vendor score.

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

This article is part 4 of an 8-part series on evaluating the best CPM tools for your business. Part 4 focuses on evaluating the range of dashboard features within the best CPM software applications.

 

While the financial reporting, consolidations, and budgeting functionality of Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools are highly valuable to accounting and finance professionals, most executives want to also see the organization’s key figures represented graphically.

Graphical analysis tools generally fall into two categories: 1) Static charts; and 2) Interactive dashboards. Both can be desirable because static charts can significantly highlight the most important information in financial reports such as revenues, profits, and margins, while well-designed interactive dashboards provide deep, user-guided analysis.

When you are looking to acquire a new financial reporting or planning solution and you are comparing your vendor finalists, it is important to review which of the above graphical analysis methods they provide.

Here are some of the top dashboard architectures to look for in the best CPM software solutions

In general, one or more of these three types of graphical analyses below are provided by leading CPM vendors:

  1. Charts embedded inside financial reports

These are typically bar charts, column charts, pie charts, or trend charts embedded inside of financial statements like Profit & Loss reports and Balance Sheets. While financial report writers are purpose built, and much better than dashboard tools, to manage account structures and financial statement formatting than dashboard solutions, they can significantly benefit from charting and traffic lights to highlight the most important figures. This type of “hybrid” report is offered by some CPM vendors and should not be confused with dashboard solutions.

P&L – Variance, Modern Design

  1. Native dashboards in CPM portal

A number of CPM vendors have developed proprietary dashboards inside their cloud portals.

A benefit of native dashboards is that they typically derive from the same data structure/tables as the CPM solution’s reporting and planning module. Another benefit is therefore a shorter implementation time and one place to set up user security. However, companies are increasingly investing in purpose-built dashboard solutions like Power BI and Tableau, and therefore it is less efficient to use multiple dashboard tools than one enterprise-wide solution that can easily be supported internally.

Additionally, these purpose-built solutions like Power BI and Tableau offer much more advanced capabilities than most proprietary dashboards.

  1. Integrated best-in-class dashboards

Professional dashboard solutions have risen in popularity over the years, and solutions like Microsoft’s Power BI and Tableau have become market leaders. Because of the singular focus the vendors of stand-alone dashboard solutions can put behind their products, the pace of development is rapid and the breadth and depth of functionality is very solid. As a result, a large number of organizations have deployed these solutions as a standard across one or many departments internally and use them to present data from their various transaction systems including their CPM solution.

Based on their customers’ standardizations for these best-of-breed dashboard solutions, a number of CPM vendors have built connectors that make it very easy to pull data, dimensions, and database logic from the CPM product and into the dashboard tools. The result is a quicker implementation of dashboards, as well as a lower learning curve and a lower license cost compared to also implementing a proprietary dashboard inside the CPM solution.

Distribution – Revenue and Margin Analysis

How much does a dashboard solution cost?

While it is important to do your homework to ensure that the vendor you choose has the key features needed for a successful deployment, the total savings in time and effort as well as improved decision-making capabilities are just as important.

Here are some things to think about when you get prices from your vendor finalists:

  • Does the annual subscription from each vendor contain the same user count and modules?
  • If you are receiving a discount, how long until it resets to the list price?
  • Does the vendor offer a written policy for annual price increases?
  • Are the implementation estimates from each vendor for exactly the same work?

A good rule of thumb is to ask each vendor for the total subscription cost for the first 5 years. Make sure this includes any potential price increases. And, if the vendor is owned by a private equity firm, chances are that they will be sold while you are still a customer so you must ensure that you receive a document stating the policy for price increases in the future – including if they are sold to another company.

Here is a free vendor comparison tool to help you compare vendors across a number of different features. This tool also includes a simple return on investment (ROI) calculator that is part of the total vendor score.

Conclusion

In summary, choosing a new dashboard solution to compliment the company’s financial reporting and budgeting tools is increasingly becoming a strategic priority for organizations across all industries. As we discussed earlier, certain features are more important than others and can be key drivers of success, in addition to a well-executed implementation process.

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets