Budget Variance Analysis

Budgets can be difficult. While properly analyzing trends and patterns in your financial history and projections is an essential part of budgeting and forecasting, it requires long hours of tedious work if done manually. In fact, many businesses hire FP & A personnel specifically to perform tasks related to variance and analysis.

Whether you’re a small business or an established corporation, you know that few things require more attention and analysis than your budget. So many factors go into creating and adjusting budgets that it’s hard to keep track of every variable and the potential outcome. However, this is where a special process known as budget variance comes into play.

What Is a Budget Variance Analysis?

Budget variance analysis refers to the process of helping a business achieve its goals by analyzing several components:

  • Budget projections
  • Actual budget results
  • Variances within the budget
  • Disparities between budget projections and results

Performing a standard budget variance analysis requires management to compare their budget projections to the actual results and assess the disparities between the two. Budget variance analysis helps business management track favorable and negative budget variances and determine how to adjust the budget to better serve the business’s goals.

By studying a business’s budget variance, management can spot unexpected changes in performance — for good or bad. This helps business leaders set realistic future expectations and design a path that leads to future success. Getting from where you are now to your eventual goals is hardly a linear path, and understanding budget variance is key to making steady progress while avoiding financial pitfalls.

When performing financial variance analysis reports, some smaller companies prefer to delegate the task to experts with more extensive experience with budget variance analysis tools and reporting. Within larger companies, budget variance analysis is typically performed by a team built specifically for FP & A variance analysis tasks. Whatever the case may be with your business, it’s important to master budget variance analysis as early as possible.

The Two Types of Budget Variance

In the budget variance analysis process, the results are most often categorized into two types — “favorable” variance and “negative” variance. The main difference between the two is fairly self-explanatory. Whereas favorable budget variance refers to a positive difference between projected and actual budget outcomes, such as higher profits, a negative variance literally indicates a negative outcome, such as net loss.

You can learn more about each type of budget variance below.

Favorable

Favorable variance is an indicator that a company is doing better than expected in a certain area. Many people think of favorable variance as a “pleasant surprise” — for example, a product sees more sales revenue than expected or the cost of implementing a new product or system is lower than expected. There are many factors that can influence favorable variance in budget analysis.

Negative

Like favorable variance, negative variance is what it sounds like. Negative variances typically signal a loss in revenue. Perhaps a certain product didn’t sell as well as projected, or maybe one of the business’s suppliers hiked the price of certain goods or materials. Whatever the case may be, negative variance needs to be taken very seriously.

Luckily for businesses with good budget variance analysis practices, negative variances will spur a positive adjustment in business strategy to adapt to future challenges.

Best Practices for Budget Variance Reporting & Analysis

Budget variance analysis is an essential part of every business’s financial management process. However, you can only benefit from budget variance analysis if you’re doing it correctly.

Many business management professionals who are unfamiliar with how to do a budget variance analysis tend to overlook important budget factors or even put off the variance reporting and analysis. This can lead to missed opportunities to improve company performance. Thankfully, with the right tools and strategies, budget variance analysis doesn’t need to be a dreaded task.

Here are a few best practices to implement in your budget variance analysis process:

  • Schedule specific times to perform budget variance analysis tasks throughout the year. Regular variance analysis is key in improving a business’s performance.
  • Take corrective action as soon as you discover negative — or positive — variance to prevent an existing problem from getting worse or to capitalize on a golden opportunity in the market.
  • Keep a close eye on the economic conditions surrounding your business.
  • Automate wherever you can. Have budget variance analysis software take a chunk of the leg work out for you!

Steps to Complete a Budget Variance Analysis

The steps to completing a budget variance analysis are simple, but they’re made even simpler by implementing software automation. Your FP & A personnel or management will complete these steps in variance analysis:

  1. Analyze differences in actual results versus budget: If significant disparities are discovered, typically 10% or more, then these variances must be analyzed to find out why they occurred in the first place. While manual budget variance analysis can take hours of spreadsheet hopping, an automated solution will take only minutes to do the same task.
  2. Figure out why the difference occurred: Whether the difference is positive or negative, you always need to pinpoint its underlying cause so you can learn from the occurrence. The time this takes will vary depending on the variances in question.
  3. Put together a report: This report should document the budget and variance analysis and the reasons for any variance. Automated software can do this for you.
  4. Brainstorming with management and financial analysts: After completing the analysis, you’ll want to consider how to move forward based on the results.

The basic steps of performing a budget variance analysis may seem simple, but they can happen much faster and with more accuracy when using software than when doing the entire process manually.

Choose Solver’s cloud-based CPM solution for Your Software Needs

In order to perform your business budget variance analysis in under 30 minutes, contact Solver Global today to learn how you can take your company to the next level with variance analysis software. We offer comprehensive corporate performance management solutions for businesses in virtually every industry. Let us help you automate your business’s processes and save you time, money and energy!

powerbiandsolver

If you have ever tried to build and maintain financial reports inside a visualization tool, the answer should be simple. Power BI works well for dashboards, but modern cloud-based corporate performance management (CPM) solutions are the best option for your financial reports.

BI vs. CPM

Let’s elaborate. Power BI belongs to a category typically referred to as Business Intelligence (BI) tools. While purpose-built, financial reporting and consolidation tools belong to a category referred to as Corporate Performance Management (CPM) Software.

Business Intelligence:

In the business intelligence category, you also find other well-known solutions such as Tableau and Domo. For the most part, BI tools are purpose-built for dashboards with rich visualizations. Also, BI tools are increasingly infused with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

Corporate Performance Management Software:

On the other hand, CPM solutions are specifically designed for accounting teams to consolidate financial data. CPMs often produce professionally formatted financial reports such as: 

  • Profit & Loss
  • Balance Sheet
  • Cash flow statements

Most CPM reporting tools offer budgeting modules. And in recent years, the ability to do sophisticated planning such as sales forecasting and modeling.

If the difference between BI and CPM is so clear, why is “Financial Reporting in Power BI or in a Corporate Performance Management Solution” even a topic worth covering in a blog? 

Well, with the rapid rise in popularity of Power BI for financial reporting and its key competitors, an army of “hungry” consultants have emerged.  And, given a strong and flexible tool like Power BI, a sales person with the right technical skills can make almost anything, including formatted financial reports, look good.  Many companies have fallen into this trap lately of using Power BI for financial reporting. And, when you ask a skilled, revenue motivated consultant: Can you do that? Chances are that you will get a “Yes!”  And after a few weeks…or a few months, and a sizable consulting bill, you may actually have good looking Power BI financial reports.  But, as excited as your executives may be to have a single cloud-based portal for both dashboards and financial reports, for most financial executives this has a tendency to turn into a small nightmare.  Why?

Because neither Power BI nor its BI competitors were designed to manage a financial reporting process.

A lot of hard coding and hacking is needed behind the scenes in Power BI’s modeling language. Of course, if you are ready to hire a technical expert or keep your Power BI consultant permanently retained to handle model changes as your chart of accounts grows, your roll-ups change or you need to write a new report, you could survive for a while. Eventually, we can say with certainty, you will be back in Excel to do your financial reporting where your accounting team is comfortable with formulas and formatting.

Alternatively, you can deploy a CPM solution that is built to streamline the financial process. Also, you can deploy a CPM tool to deliver professionally formatted financial statements.

With a CPM solution, you can also move your budgeting process into the CPM tool and run it all in the cloud.  Now, it does not have to be an either or.

The Best Way: Use BI Tools and CPMs Reporting Tools Together

An increasing number of CPM vendors offer pre-built integrations to leading BI tools like Power BI.

Two such vendors are Solver and Prophix. As an example, Solver is similar to Power BI in that it is an Azure cloud-based platform, and it comes with a pre-built connector to Power BI.  Below is an example of a comparison between Power BI and Solver. It clearly shows that companies looking for both dashboards and financial reporting should use a BI tool for their dashboards and a CPM tool for their financial reporting. Neither tool replaces the other.

power bi and solver

As organizations gear up for what can be the “Roaring Twenties,” having the right tools for the job might be one of the smartest strategic moves a management team can make. On the other hand, trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, could lead to frustration. The frustration is delayed reporting and wasted money. It is increasingly accepted that “data is the new gold.” When Power BI is integrated with a best-in-class CPM solution and both are running in the cloud, organizations are likely a step closer to success and industry leadership in the years ahead.

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For many years it seems like every mid-market and enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendor has aspired to offer native financial consolidation software. However, they all seem to fall short, often to the disappointment of customers that were promised that their new ERP system easily could produce the consolidated financials from their individual subsidiary ledgers. 

So why is it so hard for an ERP vendor to deliver the necessary financial consolidation functionality inside the ERP system itself? There can be any number of reasons.

Limitations in Current Financial Consolidation ERPs

  • Lack of ability to handle different chart of accounts
  • Lack of ability of consolidating across subsidiaries with different fiscal calendars
  • Poor currency conversion functionality 
  • Weak auto-elimination functionality
  • Tedious to post manual consolidation adjustments
  • Weak financial report writer to produce the consolidated reports
  • Clunky consolidation process with too many steps 
  • Problematic to consolidate across subsidiaries with different ERPs
  • Lack of dynamic pro-forma consolidations

 

It would be a controller’s dream if all of these areas were elegantly handled within their ERP system. And, while most mid-market and enterprise ERPs typically can check all or most of the boxes for consolidation features, almost always, consolidating in the ERP it is simply too clunky with too many steps. Because of this, the finance team ends up doing it in Excel where they at least are comfortable with formulas and they can produce professional report layout. 

 

overloaded manager

Microsoft Dynamics 365 ERP

But what about Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations (D365 FO) ERP system? 

While it clearly can be considered one of the top cloud solutions on the market today- alongside SAP, Oracle and Workday– customers with significant consolidations and related financial reporting needs, often end up in Excel in the final steps of the process. 

While there are plenty of ERP consolidation features in D365 FO, and its native Management Reporter is an above-the-average report writer, it is increasingly normal that customers add on a “best-of-breed” corporate performance management (CPM) solution to streamline their financial consolidation and reporting software.  

Modern cloud-based CPM solutions

Solver is an example of a CPM solution that comes with several added advantages for Microsoft customers.

Advantages of Solver CPM for Financial Consolidation

  • Solution is cloud-based Azure like D365 FO
  • Its configurable to D365’s general ledger as well as sub-ledgers
  • It has a pre-built connector to Power BI for visualization

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Some cloud-based CPM vendors now also offer an Excel add-in to give power users more flexible and familiar report design. 

End users can still run the same reports in the cloud using their web browsers. They could do the same using their local Excel on the desktop connected to the CPM database in the cloud.

Consolidation_01

 

An added advantage of modern cloud-based CPM solutions is that they typically also house advanced budgeting and workflow capabilities. This allow for a single solution and a single report/form designer for both financial reporting, consolidations and budgeting. 

Level Up Your Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations With Solver

In the next decade, enabling faster and better decisions will be one of the key competitive advantages. This advantage differentiates successful, growing companies from others. 

Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations, a leading ERP solution, is a great cloud-based transaction platform because it drives better data and accounting processes. A modern CPM solution with a snug fit on top of D365 FO and that compliments visualization in Power BI checks the boxes that a finance team needs to take their ERP financial consolidations and reporting processes to the next level.

Sales Analysis Dashboard

Why companies are upgrading from spreadsheets to Corporate Performance Management Software

 

There are typically two or three key motivators why an organization starts looking for Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution: 

  1. The pain of manual reporting or budgeting in spreadsheet is becoming a major burden on the finance team.
  2. Management sees a strategic advantage in automated reporting, planning and analysis tools to drive better and faster decisions than competitors. 
  3. The company is migrating to a cloud ERP system and also wants to update reporting and budgeting to a best-of-breed cloud solution.

Regardless, whether it is pain, strategic initiatives or cloud migration that drives the decision to find a Corporate Performance Management  solution, there are many pitfalls that can be avoided to increase the chances for success and a good return on investment (ROI). Some of these are discussed below.

Why careful CPM vendor selection is important 

 

  1. Turbulent Mergers & Acquisition (M&A) Market Can Affect You

When a vendor gets acquired, it often ends less than ideal for customers. 

A common reason that issues arise during a merger or acquisition stems from the fact that acquiring companies typically are much larger than the target company. The parent company’s politics and other internal priorities tend to drive away employees, disturb product development focus, increase prices and more. 

Eventually, many acquired CPM products die a slow death, and customers end up switching product and vendor. Comshare, Adaytum, SRC Software and Clarity were but a few CPM vendors that suffered this fate during the M&A spree that took place in the CPM space 15-20 years ago. 

Another wave of M&A is actively happening, and has been for the past 3 years. Companies involved in this CPM acquisition & merger wave include

Acquisitions & Mergers can mean your company falls victim to increased prices, turbulent support, and more. It’s important to make sure, when choosing a CPM Software vendor, to look for a vendor that is…  

 

  1. You Need to Protect Your Financial Investment

CPM solutions these days are increasingly cloud-based. Rather than purchase the software outright, CPM customers can subscribe to use the software on an annual basis. 

However, even if a subscription is reasonable, the amount of time and effort that internal staff has to put in to get a CPM solution fully up and running to include the reports and budget model and dashboards that management team needs, can be very significant. 

You can expect anywhere from $20,000 – a several-hundred thousand dollars in direct and indirect costs for full blown implementations. 

In other words, picking the right vendor and the right product carries a much larger costs than simply a year’s worth of subscription. 

 

  1. Protecting your job 

While a good vendor selection, and successful implementation, can be a significant boon to the careers of the management team in charge of the project, it can be the opposite if it all does not work out well. 

Let alone the stress and long hours that often come from enterprise software implementations,  should it not end well, it can be a scar that follows you for a long time in your career.

 

Key CPM vendor selection factors

While some organizations have too rigid software selection processes when they evaluate new CPM solutions, others suffer from the opposite problem.  

Here are Some Simple Tips for When You’re Looking for a CPM Vendor:

 

  • Avoid RFPs: Unless RFPs are simple and they focus on the important factors determined by the business users, they tend to be playing favorites based on who wrote the RFP.
    RFPs are often template-based, with far too many questions that drown the important items within the much less important topics. And let’s be honest, few team members end up reading all the RFP replies. Vendors tend to interpret questions their own way in order to provide a maximum number of positive replies. 
  • Know what you want: Communicate key objectives and critical needs to vendors and demand that these be covered in software demonstrations.
  • Look for pre-built ERP integrations: Make sure the CPM automation vendors you look at have a pre-built integration to your ERP system. Ideally they provide connectivity both to the general ledger tables and sub-ledger tables so you can report, drill down and budget to as much detail as your business users desires.
  • Look for Support for “best-of-breed” Dashboard tools: In the past, most CPM vendors developed their own, often very limited dashboard modules. The result has been that many organizations therefore also purchased best-of-breed dashboard tools in order to serve other users and other data sources in the company. However, with the rise of advanced visualization solutions like Microsoft’s Power BI and Tableau (acquired by Salesforce in 2019), the new trend is that CPM automation solutions focus on their core reporting, consolidations and planning capabilities and instead deliver their data out to best-of-breed dashboard solutions through pre-built integrations.   
  • Make Sure The CPM is Cloud-Ready: While many companies still run a number of their critical business systems on-premise, the cloud trend is crystal clear. CPM solutions are generally easier to manage in the cloud, with automated reporting tools upgrades, frequent releases, and user-friendly interfaces. Some, such as Solver CPM, can even query certain on-premise ERP systems live from the cloud, providing accountants with real time insights and drill down directly into their ERP. Make sure the CPM solution you look at was architected for the cloud and that it is to an “old”, single tenant on-premise architecture that the vendor is hosting somewhere in the cloud. 
  • Look for Vendor Stability: As discussed, there has been a tremendous amount of acquisitions in the CPM industry over the past couple of years. Most of the CPM vendors that have not been acquired by a larger vendor, have heavy Private Equity (PE) investments. Examples are Vena, Board and Centage. Notable exceptions to this are Prophix and Solver. PE firms generally want their money back within 4-5 years of making their investment so they can provide real returns to their own investors, and that often means that customers will find their vendor shifting owner again, often with resulting price increases and shifting development focus.  

 

Final Tip: Be Strategic

Whether it is too much spreadsheet reporting and budgeting pain or a tactical hint for competitive advantages with faster and better decision-making that drives your search for a Corporate Performance Management solution, a final piece of advice is to be strategic about it. Don’t look at a CPM automation solutions as a temporary band-aid, but view this technology for what it can be when properly chosen and implemented with care; one of your most important decision-making tools that can help drive growth and success for your organization in the 2020s.

Do you wish your business had a better way to manage financial planning? Maybe you need to scale your financial model, but your Excel model or current financial planning software is no longer able to meet your needs. You may need a more efficient financial planning system that eliminates busywork and frees up your team to work on more important tasks.

If your financial modeling software is not keeping up with your business needs, it may be time to automate your business’ financial planning processes. Getting your financial modeling system right is crucial for long-term success. With the right practices, you can accurately analyze financial data and forecast your company’s growth against a number of possible scenarios.

A reliable system for analyzing and organizing financial data through automation will put you significantly ahead of the curve and enable you to plan for the future with better insight and precision.

Benefits of Automated Financial Modeling

Financial models are integral parts of growing and maintaining a business. With the expanding standardization of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Corporate Performance Management (CPM) systems, more businesses are reaping the benefits of automation. We now have the ability to automate increasingly complex tasks such as big data organization and analysis.

Automation has transformed business processes in the past decade due its ability to increase business efficiency, productivity and even creativity. Automating processes that would otherwise take up hours each day helps businesses focus on visionary work instead of mundane operations.

While automating a financial model may seem like an overwhelming task, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to see substantial improvement in your business’s financial strategy. The benefits of automating a financial model include:

  • Relieves businesses of busywork and frees up employees to focus on higher-order tasks
  • Provides significant improvements to the quality of resource planning practices
  • Improves business management by eliminating much of the legwork associated with building, using and adapting financial models
  • Enhances decision-making abilities by providing accurate and instant calculations
  • Enables companies to make financial decisions faster and with better information
  • Allows for a degree of standardization that manual models do not
  • Streamlines the jobs of financial analysts and business leaders

The benefits of automating your business’s financial model dramatically outweigh the time and patience required.

Steps to Automate a Business Financial Model Through CPM Software

Automating a business financial model requires significant time and energy, but the task is more than doable. There are a few key factors to consider before automating your current financial model, including:

  • Your business’ fiscal history
  • Assumptions, financial and growth goals for your business
  • Your team’s preferences when it comes to using CPM software
  • What you need your solution to do for your business

Take these four steps to automate your financial business plan through CPM software:

  1. Determine a specific goal for automating your financial model. What do you need this system to accomplish for your business in the next quarter, year or five years?
  2. Create an outline that documents all financial model inputs, workings and outputs. How will your automated financial model work in practice? What are the drivers for the model?
  3. Choose CPM software that meets your financial modeling needs and automates all the right processes. Make sure you find a solution that meets your current needs and can scale with your business.
  4. Be patient. As with any new system, an automated financial model takes time to implement, and your team will need time to become acclimated to the new processes.

When done right, automating your financial model will render positive results over the long-term.

Tips for Making Financial Modeling Software Integration Simple

Make your new software integration process much easier by following these four tips:

  • Choose a system with features that your current team will find useful.
  • Invest in cloud-based applications. Doing so makes the overall integration process simpler for everyone involved. In addition, cloud-based data storage can be essential for easy access to data and keeping your CPM software organized.
  • Make sure you have a solid plan for practical, step-by-step integration. For new systems to work, every user needs to be on the same page.
  • Give your business time to adjust to the new software tools. Many employers are too quick to overhaul an automated financial modeling software program that still needs to work out technical issues or does not deliver immediate improvements. Keep in mind that there will be a learning curve, and wait until that curve has passed before making drastic changes.

Choose Solver for Your Business’ Financial Modeling Software

At Solver, we deliver innovative, business-driven solutions for organizations looking to make faster, better decisions and gain complete insight into their business. Managers can quickly access important financial and operational data and information in a single solution. With automated reporting and planning processes, Solver helps you make better-informed business decisions with greater speed.

If you’re looking for scalable financial modeling software that can be customized to meet your company’s needs, contact the experts at Solver to find out more about what we can do for you.

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