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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.

sage-intacct

If you have surveyed an audience of mid-market accounting and finance professionals, you almost always find that 90-95% primarily rely on manual budget models in Excel. How is this possible when most enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, including Sage Intacct, have both basic native ERP budget functionalities? In some cases, they also have specialized add-on modules. For example, the Microsoft Dynamics on-premise ERPs had the now “retired” Forecaster product and for Sage, it is the Sage Budgeting and Planning. Other ERP systems have built various Excel export and import mechanisms to make it easier for users to budget in Excel. Then, re-import the GL portion of the budget.

While most ERP vendor’s budget add-ons do the job better then entering budgets directly into the ERP system, there still seems to be a large group of companies that simply need a full-featured budgeting and forecasting solution to get the workflow, formula and layout flexibility they need. These solutions are typically referred to as Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools. They also include a reporting and consolidation functionality.

How do I know if my planning process is NOT streamlined?

Typically, there are a number of key motivators when an organization begins to look for a CPM solution to improve its planning process:

  • Effort spent exporting and importing data from Sage Intacct to home grown Excel budgets
  • Current process is error-prone and a resource strain on the finance team
  • Lack of time and resources to quickly re-forecast (for example if a virus hits the economy!)
  • Lack of automation to create many budget versions
  • Current tool too complex for staff to learn so ended up back with a manual Excel model
  • Find that the ROI of automation with a CPM tool is higher than the cost of manual processes

Which benefits should I expect from modern CPM Planning tool?

Because Sage Intacct is a cloud-based ERP system, pretty much all customers looking for a full featured CPM solution like Solver, Adaptive Insight or Anaplan, will also expect a high degree of functionality, including:

  • Cloud-based platform
  • Pre-integration to Sage Intacct and Sage Intacct approval as a certified add-on vendor
  • Complete workflow functionality to manage submissions, reviews and approvals of the budget
  • Highly flexibly budget form design to completely replace the company’s manual Excel models
  • Strong native report writer for variance reporting and budget consolidations
  • User administration and security that allow for any person to participate in the budget regardless if they are users of Sage Intacct or not
  • Usability features like spreading, break-back, lien items with comments, and more.

I am planning to implement Sage Intacct. What is the best timing for budgeting tool?

Accounting teams always have a lot on their plate. Therefore, it never seems to be a great time to implement another software. However, the best time seems to be in the 2-3 months after the most recent budget cycle. Not only will issues and needs be fresh in mind, but it also allows for plenty of time to select, implement and test a new planning solution before the next budget cycle starts. Some organizations even do a “dry run” of their new budget solution during the year for one of their forecasts.

Carefully selecting a CPM vendor is important

Turbulent Mergers & Acquisition (M&A) market

For example, when a vendor gets acquired, it usually ends less than good for customers. The most typical reason that issues arise is that acquiring companies are much larger than the target company. Therefore, politics and other internal priorities at the parent company tend to drive employees away, disturb the focus of product development, increase prices and more.

Eventually, many acquired products die slowly, and customers end up switching products and vendors. Comshare, Adaytum, SRC Software and Clarity are a few vendors that suffered this during the M&A spree that took place in the CPM space about 15-20 years ago. Over the past 3 years, another wave of M&A has happened, including Workday acquiring Adaptive Insight, a PE firm acquiring Host Analytics from its old investor, Wolters Kluwer acquired Tagetik, and PE-owned Insight Software acquiring Jet Global, Atlas, BizNet and other players in the game.

Protecting the significant financial investment

There are more CPM solutions that are cloud-based. Customers can sign up for one or more years of subscription versus having to purchase the software upfront. However, even if a subscription is reasonable, the amount of time and effort from the internal staff (often with the help of costly consultants) has to be put in to get a CPM solution fully up and running. Also the reports, budget model and dashboards that management need are very significant. You can expect anywhere from twenty thousand dollars and to several hundred and thousands of 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.

Protecting your job

While a good vendor selection and successful implementation can be a significant boon to the careers of project management, 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,  can be a scar that follows you for a long time in your career.

Be Strategic

Whether there is too much pain from spreadsheet budgeting or a tactical hint for competitive advantages with faster and better decision-making that drives your search for a CPM solution, a final piece of advice is to be strategic about it. Don’t look at a CPM solution 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.

hybrid cloud

There are more than 200,000 companies running on-premise ERP systems from Microsoft, Sage, SAP and Acumatica world-wide and many are not planning to move to the cloud yet. However, if you are one of them, this does not mean that your company can’t start taking advantage of modern cloud-based reporting solutions today to drive better and faster decisions for yourself and your management team!

Hasn’t Cloud-based reporting for on-premise ERPs been available for a long time?

Yes, vendors like Prophix, Solver, Vena, Adaptive Insights, and Planful (formerly Host Analytics) have offered both cloud-based financial reporting and budgeting for years. However, all of these vendors have typical corporate performance management (CPM) architectures that require data to be loaded from the on-premise ERP and into the cloud CPM tool before the user can run reports. 

The process requires a “refresh” of data from the ERP database into the CPM database which means that the data users see in reports is not real-time. This also mean that the drill-down on any number is only as detailed as the lowest level data that was loaded into the cloud CPM database. 

Your executives are often ok with this because they want to wait on their report analysis until the accounting team has closed the books. However, the accounting team that is posting transactions in the ERP system almost always prefers live ERP reporting because they want to immediately see the impact of journal entries in their reports. They don’t want to refresh data into a CPM reporting database first, and then wait one minute, ten minutes or significantly longer to run reports after the data has been transferred to the CPM tool.

How do I get true live reporting for my on-premise ERP GP data?  

The obvious answer is that you use the report writer that natively comes with your ERP system such as  Management Reporter, GP Report Writer, Smartlist or SQL Reporting Services (SSRS). However, at best, it would be safe to say that these tools have aged “gracefully,” and they are just not comparable to many modern cloud reporting tools.

Key weaknesses of on-premise report tools include:

  • Not particularly user-friendly for accounting staff to design reports.
  • Lack of easy and professional formatting.
  • Typically requires VPN or Terminal Server to connect to the ERP in order to run reports from outside the office network.
  • Maintaining multiple report writers for different data (e.g. for formatted financial statements versus sub-ledger transaction reports).

In order to overcome these weaknesses and help on-premise ERP customers maximize the value of their data a modern, cloud-based reporting platform, Solver has now launched what they refer to as “Hybrid Cloud Reporting.” You can see it live in this video. This is a unique integration technology that enables you to:

  • Use your web-browser to run beautifully formatted reports (looks like Excel formatting).
  • Benefit from true real-time reports on your ERP data without any data transfer to a separate reporting database.
  • Drill-down from any number in the report directly into your underlying GP transactional data. 
  • Easy internet and browser-based access with no need for VPN, or software like Terminal Server.
  • Enter budgets from user-friendly forms (looks like Excel) in the cloud and have the transactions stored directly into the GL budget table in the ERP database.
  • Be better prepared to move to a cloud ERP later because the reporting and budgeting solution is already in the cloud. 

In other words, now your accountants and reporting end-users get the best of two worlds by only needing a web browser to run live ERP reports and drill-down.

Below is a simple architecture diagram to explain how it works:

hybriddiagram

What about budgeting and forecasting?

Like many other cloud-based CPM solutions, Solver also offers budgeting and forecasting. With the new Hybrid Cloud technology and Solver’s cloud-based Planning Module, users can store budget data directly back from Solver’s budget forms in the cloud, into the General Ledger budget table in the ERP database. 

So, if you struggle with manual Excel-based spreadsheets for your budgets, you can save a lot of time by eliminating emailing files between users, linking between spreadsheets, and put better controls in place for the entire budget process with workflow and approvals. 

As an example, users can access budget forms like the example below with their browser and instantly, until you close the budget process, update their department’s budget in the ERP system. Since Solver’s Hybrid Cloud updates are real-time, reports can immediately be run to see the impact of these changes on the budget.

Enjoy Faster and Better Decisions in the 2020s

Companies like Solver, Prophix, Vena, Adaptive Insights, and Planful are driving the next generation cloud-based reporting and planning technology. However, with the lack of live reporting and live budget write-back to on-premise ERP systems, accountants and very active ERP users have been left with their legacy tools for their real-time reporting needs.  

With the release of Solver Hybrid Cloud, these users now get the best of both worlds and can start ushering in the 2020’s by enabling themselves and other users with faster and better decisions.  Learn more about the benefits of choosing Solver CPM solutions by contacting us today or requesting a demo. 

Supported ERP systems are: Microsoft Dynamics GP, SL, and NAV, Sage 100 (SQL)*, 300* and 500*, SAP Business One (SQL)*, and Acumatica*.

*) Direct budget writeback not offered for these ERPs.

 

It is easy to predict the future when it is business as usual. However, if your business environment is suddenly impacted by something like the coronavirus, a delayed product launch or an unplanned acquisition, your corporate budget may become obsolete very quickly.

How Do I Know it is Time To Replace the Budget with a Forecast?

Sometimes unexpected events happen and it is clear the company’s actual performance is moving so far above or below the annual budget that it no longer provides value in the following ways: 

  • A cost control tool
  • A target for employee compensation plans
  • A detailed financial break-down of corporate strategic goals
  • A financial plan for various corporate initiatives

There are many signs that you need to create a budget reforecast because it is becoming obsolete due to unexpected events, such as:

  • Management comments why a revenue or expense budget variance is occurring
  • Complaints from sales teams that their targets are too high due to XYZ event
  • Lack of budget ownership from department heads

In addition, you will start hearing from executives that the budget column in the financial statements is “useless” or that the budget target figure in a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is no longer valuable. 

Some organizations have a predefined monthly, quarterly or semi-annual reforecasting process, and when the unexpected happens, they simply take this into account next time they reforecast. These companies often have budgeting and forecasting software such as Solver, Adaptive Insight or Planful to speed up and automate the time and effort it takes to create budgets and forecasts.

Other organizations’ forecasting techniques only include a single annual budget version as a baseline, and for these companies a “forced” reforecast due to unexpected events might involve a lot more arms and legs and interruptions to people’s work schedules.  

What to do When the Corporate Budget Becomes Obsolete?

Companies generally do one of the following when their budgets become obsolete: 

  1. Do nothing and live with the undocumented comments and questions until next year’s budget is launched
  2. Leave the budget as is and use report comments to explain big budget variances (see sample screenshot below).
  3. Reforecast the rest of the year and replace the now defunct budget with the new forecast

Most companies enter their corporate forecasts at a higher level than the annual budget, and often it is only done at the Profit & Loss account level and sometimes also for Balance Sheet and Cash Flow.

In most cases, smaller organizations with well organized, home-grown Excel models can forecast in their spreadsheet and then re-import the forecast into their ERP system or third-party reporting tool. In mid-sized and larger organizations even forecasts at the GL account level may require a lot of work due to requirements to do this by division or department. These companies either have more human resources available to perform the work or they use a budgeting tool to automate it.

Picture1

How to Reforecast Your Budget?

Whether your forecasting requirements are simple enough to be handled in Excel or your company is using a modern budgeting tool, there are ways to avoid the painfully slow bottom-up data entry process. The problem with the latter is that the new forecast may already be old by the time you are done. In these cases, the unexpected event that led to the reforecast could have changed again, leading you to start all over.

Budgeting and forecasting software automation typically means that your input model is highly formula driven. For example, your forecast model can rapidly calculate all the required entries automatically such as % Revenue Increase, Target Net Income, Reduction/Increase in Headcount, etc. This functionality has many names such as:

  • Top-down planning
  • Driver-based modelling
  • Break-back modelling (see sample screenshot below)
  • What-if analysis

Picture2

Regardless of what you call it and the type of planning tool you use, an automated reforecasting model can create an entire forecast in minutes or hours versus days or weeks with manual methods. 

 An automated model also allows you to create multiple scenarios. For example, armed with a “Best Case”, “Worst Case” or “Likely” forecast scenarios, you can be prepared for unexpected events without rushing to reforecast. Instead, you replace the “Likely” budget version with the already created “Best Case” or “Worst Case” scenario and you are done. 

If the situation calls for a brand new scenario, you adjust the drivers in the automated model and it will recalculate and store the underlying account-level forecast transactions.  

When your company has the right tools and plans ready for a budget reforecast they will be prepared for a virus outbreak, stock market crash or exciting acquisition of a competitor. Planning ahead will reduce stress and blood pressure for the organization’s finance team.

blog image for corporate performance management during COVID-19

As we all struggle to adjust to our new reality of social distancing and general economic uncertainty, it seems as if our expectations for the future are changing day-by-day, if not hour-by-hour.

It is hard to tell what next week will be like for businesses across the world, much less what next month will look like – or six months from now. However, with a good Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution, your company can gain insight into a range of possible future scenarios, so you can start executing meaningful action items right now.

With the right CPM in your toolbox, you can get fast answers to pressing COVID-related questions, such as:

  • How will it impact my business if I let some employees go? 
  • What can I expect for cash flow, as things stand now? 
  • Which expenses should I cut – now and later?
  • Who are the customers that are slow to pay? 
  • What is the best case scenario of COVID on my business… and the worst?

If you are not sure how to find those answers with your CPM, or if you are not sure whether your current system provides this critical information, this article will help.

What Are the Two Essential Capabilities of Corporate Performance Management During COVID-19?

If you already have and use a world-class Corporate Performance Management system such as Solver, Adaptive Insights, or Prophix, you can breathe easy. You already have access to the tools you will need to answer your COVID-related questions.

Those tools are:

1. Forecasting

Due to the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every company across the planet is having to throw out and replace their 2020 budgets right now. Forecasting on the fly can be difficult if you are working from spreadsheets but, with a highly effective CPM solution, you will have the freedom to run new forecasts for every twist and turn as the coronavirus situation unfolds.

Some of the best forecasts to run include:

  • Payroll modelling / forecasting

As a business leader, you already understand that it is possible you may have to let a few employees go or do a temporary salary cut before we all return to “business as usual.” This forecast helps you clearly identify the effect of your staffing strategy, so you can be more confident that you are making the right choice.

  • Sales modelling / forecasting

Perhaps you are not looking at staff reductions. Essential industries such as healthcare or food and health manufacturing are experiencing a steep rise in sales as a result of the coronavirus. However, whether your sales are on the rise or your company is facing a temporary slowdown, it is critical that you have accurate, timely insight into what you can expect for sales and revenues in 2020.

  • P&L, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow forecasting

It is always a good business practice to keep a close watch on your P&Ls and Balance Sheets to make sure your financials are in order. With the abrupt market shifts we are all seeing right now, it is more important than ever to closely oversee changes in your operating, investing, and financing cash flows as you update your strategy.

2. Reporting

In an emergency, it can be difficult to sort through the sea of reports available to you from a Corporate Performance Management solution, so here is your quick guide to the essential reports you will need right now.

  • Multiple forecast versions compared

Gain insight into your organization’s best-case scenarios, worst-case scenarios, and everything in between using this easy-to-understand comparison report that maximizes your forecasting vision.

Actuals vs. Budgets are handy when your budget fits a predicted scenario, but we think it is safe to guess that your budgets do not quite match up with your reality right now. This report replaces your budgets with forecasts, so you can perform a more accurate actual vs. “budget” comparison that is based on the most up-to-date data.

  • Reports focused on vendor and payroll expenses

It may be time to cut expenses soon, so knowing which of your expenses are “expendable” may be critical information for your company. This report gives you the numbers you need, so you are prepared to cut back if and when that is required.

  • Customer aging receivables

Right now, every company across the world is anxious about the future and rethinking their expenditures – including your clients. By using reports focused on customer aging receivables, you will get quick and accurate insight into which of your customers or clients are late to pay, so you can check in instantly.

Not Using a CPM Solution Yet? There Is Still Time.  

If you are relying on unwieldy spreadsheets or the limited reporting options included with your ERP, you are probably frustrated at the lack of insight you have.

In truth, lack of insight can be a big problem for companies right now, considering how quickly the economic landscape situation is changing. If you are ready to get accurate, up-to-date financial and operational data at your fingertips, including easy-to-read KPI dashboards, planning tools, and a secure data warehouse to house all your data, now is the right time to get your Corporate Performance Management solution set up.

Setting up a modern CPM solution is easier than ever, but you will still need to make sure you choose the right solution for your needs. Though you have a wide range of strong CPM solutions available to your company, your ideal solution will depend on your unique business setup, size, industry, integration needs, and objectives.

However, to make sure your CPM system meets your precise needs during the coronavirus situation and beyond, you will want to ensure you choose a CPM that fits these requirements:

  • Cloud-based solution

If your workforce is largely working from home (WFH) for the duration, now will not be the right time to deploy or support an on-premises / in-office server solution. A cloud-based CPM is more convenient to implement and support during a disruption, and it is also more convenient to access for consultants working from home.

  • Rapid deployment

A CPM that takes months to deploy will not help you solve the situation right here and now. Cloud-based solutions are faster and easier to deploy than on-premises solutions, and CPMs that include pre-built vendor report and forecast templates will get you analyzing your evolving numbers the same day your solution goes live, so you can answer your critical questions instantly.

Learn More About Your Options for Corporate Performance Management

If chosen carefully, effective, cloud-based CPMs can help you maintain your agility with quick decision-making during the coronavirus or any other unexpected setback.

Ready for some advice that will help you determine which CPM is right for you? We can help.

Since 1996, the global team of CPM experts at Solver have helped companies like yours successfully navigate the rapidly changing business landscapes that define our modern, global commerce world. We are happy to share our expertise with you, so you can find your path through this unexpected and unprecedented worldwide situation.

Truly, you can ask us anything about CPM. We promise you a careful, well-reasoned answer that makes sense for your exact needs. (We do not like one-size-fits-all answers, and we suspect you do not like them either.)

 

We guarantee that when you contact Solver, you will get the guidance and help you need to understand all your CPM options, so you can confidently move your business forward in all situations, including right now.

Ask Solver a Question.

 

liquidityriskanalysis

Nobody likes a budget that is far off target, especially when it could result in a liquidity crisis. Luckily, most companies rarely have to experience such a stressful event. Although, in a turbulent economy where interest rates and stock indexes move up and down like yo-yos and news about corporate layoffs are part of daily news headlines, strong financial clarity does not seem like a bad idea.

So, what does a cash flow forecast mean to most people?

Here is a definition: A cash flow forecast is a plan that shows how much money a business expects to receive in, and pay out, over a given period of time. 

Based on the definition above, it seems logical that all businesses should have a cash flow forecast perfectly ingrained in their corporate processes, but is that the reality? Let’s take a closer look at this.

Are All Businesses Doing Cash Flow Forecasting?

As much as it seems to make perfect sense to have a good estimate of your future cash outflows and inflows, many companies never get around to doing it. This is especially true in small and mid-sized businesses. Some of the reasons for the lack of cash flow forecasting models are the following:

  • The finance staff don’t have time to prepare it
  • Lack of tools that automate cash flow forecasting
  • Complexity in creating a good cash flow model
  • Lack of accuracy in past models leading to reduced appetite to repeat it
  • Other business tasks or fires keep executives focused in other areas
  • The financial planning team is exhausted after then annual budget process with no time or motivation to re-forecast the budget during the year

Regardless of the reason for not doing a cash flow forecast, healthy cash flow is the lifeblood of all businesses, so there is no lack of motivation.

Let’s look at the potential benefits of accurate cash flow forecasting.

Why Do Companies Want to Project Their Future Cash Outflows and Inflows?

Most executives know they would sleep better at night if they had a mechanism that fairly accurately could tell them if the liquidity of their business is healthy or not in the months ahead.

Below is an example of a report using simple color indicators and charts to help managers analyze the company’s projected cash position based on underlying cash flow forecast.

liquidity risk analysis

There are several very logical reasons why a company can benefit from regular cash flow forecasts, including:

  1. Reduce the risk of insolvency – by having a clear idea of any upcoming liquidity issues, management can react early and avoid drama and stress
  2. Move faster on investment opportunities – if you, thanks to a cash flow forecast, early on know that the business will be flush with cash in the months ahead, you can start planning acquisitions, down payment of high interest debt, purchases of strategic capital assets, etc.
  3. Satisfy bankers to enable debt financing or other bank-backed financial transactions

In other words, solid cash flow forecasts can be of tremendous value to a management team. However, if many financial teams dread the additional work of doing planning and performing a cash flow analysis, how can companies still get it done?

How to Automate Cash Flow Forecasts?

As in many other cases, technology can help automate laborious tasks. In the case of cash flow forecasting, there is a cloud software category often referred to as Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions that includes vendors such as Adaptive Insights, Centage and Solver that specialize in planning, budgeting and forecasting.

Benefits of CPM tools include scenario forecasting to predict “great”, “good” and “bad” scenarios so managers can plan accordingly. In other cases, CPM solutions provide entire driver-based forecast processes. Driver-based means that the forecast includes assumptions that help automate and simplify creation of sales, payroll, expenses, balance sheet and cash flow forecasts.

Sometimes managers don’t have the time or the need for a full forecast to analyze projected liquidity, in which case they can use simulation models to quickly adjust elements of their cash outflows and inflows to see the impact on the cash position as seen in this example:

cashflowanalysis

Most executives would agree that accurate cash flow forecasts provide numerous benefits to their business. During economic turmoil cash flow forecasts can help lower the risk of running into liquidity problems and increasing the chance to be ready to jump on investment opportunities. Regardless of the motivation, there are good tools available to help automate and simplify such financial planning processes.

At Solver, we offer Corporate Performance Management Solutions that help you establish cash flow forecasts and analyses and prepare for uncertain times. Contact one of our expert team members to learn how we can help you improve your cash flow processes.

Contact Us Today

P&l budget estimate comparison variance report

What is Financial Multi-Scenario Planning?

With multi-scenario Planning, companies are able to analyze several potential business outcomes and forecast what overall performance would look like with each of these models. What would happen to sales? Employee headcount? Cash flow? 

 

The key drivers of each scenario are identified and modeled out to create a complete picture of the budget or forecast. This allows companies to better prepare for and predict future performance, and help account for areas of uncertainty.

 

Why is Financial Multi-Scenario Modeling Important?

When companies create an annual budget, it captures the best assumptions for performance in the coming year. These assumptions are largely influenced by historical data and trends, company strategy, and the individual budget contributor’s industry expertise and insight into the current market and economy. The more accurate budget contributors are with their assumptions, the more accurate the budget will be when compared against actual performance. 

 

Keep in mind, that a detailed annual budget only represents one potential outcome of the many variables that could present themselves in the coming year. While the final version of the budget may be considered the “most likely” outcome based on organizational expertise, it is only one possible scenario. 

 

As the economy, market, and internal operations of the business change, that “most likely” scenario may no longer align with current expectations. In fact, there may be one, two, three or more high probability scenarios that should be considered by executives and finance teams.

 

Strategy and Scenarios: Align and Refine

Top-performing companies have budgets and forecasts that align tightly with company strategy. By planning for different financial scenarios, businesses can proactively prepare themselves for these potential outcomes, ensuring alignment to strategic goals and providing the ability to quickly adjust to changes where needed. 

Companies looking to implement multi scenario planning should focus on several key areas:

 

  • Identifying and capturing company strategy
  • Defining the most probable scenarios
    • Internal factors
    • External factors
  • Using driver-based models to define scenarios
  • Measuring performance and refining models

 

Identify and Capture your Company Strategy

A well-defined financial and strategic plan acts as a compass to guide the company’s activities. But, a critical component to having an effective strategy, is ensuring it is not just known and understood by a few at the executive level, but that it is well socialized throughout the organization and it is being used to manage and measure performance. 

 

A solid strategic framework allows the company to set specific strategic goals that can be monitored and measured through key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs provide an easy way to define success and measure and share results and goals within the organization.

 

For example, if part of the company strategy is focused on increasing customer satisfaction, then some potential KPIs and goals might be: 

 

  • Decrease average product shipping time from 8 hours to 2 hours by 6/30/2022
  • Increase customer referrals by 15% by 12/31/2021

 

Each of these KPIs defines and effectively measures success by quantifying a goal and setting a timeframe for its achievement. By identifying, recording and tracking these as the first step in our planning process, we can then ensure our budget and forecast aligns with these goals, and if doesn’t, adjust course where needed. 

 

The image below shows a sample KPI report which compares goals versus final budgeted numbers. Where there are discrepancies between the two, management should determine if the budget or strategy should be updated so they are in alignment.

strategic budgetkpis

How to Define Probable Financial Scenarios

While the number of potential business outcomes in any given period is essentially infinite, only a small number of these would likely be considered “high probability”. These highly probable scenarios should be the focus of multi scenario planning. The goal is not to model out every potential scenario, but instead to focus on the meaningful ones that are most likely to occur.  

 

How to Build Financial Scenario Internal Factors

The majority of internal factors for scenario building link directly back to the overarching company strategy. At this point,  the question of “how will these strategic goals be achieved” is transformed into potential scenarios. This is especially important when there is uncertainty or external factors that could impact which direction the company takes to achieve their goals. 

 

In the previous example, part of the sample company’s strategy focuses on increasing customer satisfaction. To achieve this goal there are numerous initiatives that could be undertaken such as: 

 

  • Increasing headcount to improve shipping and customer service turnaround time
  • Consolidating operations to a centralized warehouse
  • Opening regional distribution centers

 

Defining each of these in detail allows executives to closely analyze return on investment (ROI) and determine the most effective course of action. 

 

How to Build External Financial Scenario Planning Factors

Regardless of how well a business prepares, there are external factors that can derail those plans or cause a change of course. These vary by business and industry, but some general ones may include: 

 

  • Economic downturn or recession
  • Market changes
  • Legislative changes 
  • Competitor shift or consolidation

 

The potential scenarios and combinations of scenarios that can be created are unlimited, but the focus should always remain on what is likely to occur and what aligns with the company’s goals. 

 

Using Driver-Based Models to Define Scenarios

Recreating a time consuming annual budget process to build out additional high-probability financial forecast models is not a viable option. The creation of each model should be something that can be done very quickly, and that can be updated easily. The most effective way to do this is with a driver-based forecasting model that leverages a top down approach to generate a baseline from historical data and trends. This initial baseline becomes a starting point that can then be adjusted at a more detailed level for key areas such as revenue forecasting, workforce planning, operating expenses, and cash flow.

 

Using easily adjustable drivers and assumptions allows for the modeling of unlimited outcomes and in-depth analysis of what-if scenarios.

 

Measure Performance and Refine Models

After developing a financial scenario model out of the highest probability scenarios, it’s critical that they aren’t put on the shelf to gather dust, but instead are analyzed on an ongoing basis for accuracy and to ensure the company is reaching its goals. Simple reports can be leveraged to determine which version of the forecast is proving to be most accurate, and this forecast version can then be slotted into existing reports and reporting packages to provide timely updated projections. 

forecast scenario

Analysis will also identify areas of your model that require adjustment. This may point to an error in assumptions, methodology, or a change in market conditions. By isolating and identifying these variances, not only is a more accurate financial model created, but a better forecasting process is continuously developed. 

 

Getting Your Financial Scenario Analysis Started with Solver

Solver’s cloud-based corporate performance management (CPM) solution provides the necessary tools to streamline and automate the multi scenario planning process. For additional information, contact Solver, or request a demo to see the solution in action. 

Example of an automated statistical forecast

At the core of every business strategy for products and services is to provide optimal management of the supply chain. A leak or inefficiency in the supply chain eats away at the organization’s bottom line. Supply chains are becoming more complex with more variations in products, distribution channels, and material planning. Accurate supply and demand planning are essential for optimal productivity and profitability. 

How does a business obtain an optimal supply chain? It comes down to how well an organization can develop a demand plan. Demand is never linear and rarely easy to predict. A planning team needs to have the right historical data that can be used to create a statistical forecast, achieve consensus from the stakeholders, and be quick to pivot on changing internal or external market trends. In this article, we seek to define and discuss the elements of demand planning, analyze the cost of failure, and outline the steps to success.

What is Demand Planning?

Demand planning is a multi-step process to forecast demand, improve accuracy of forecasts, and align inventory with peaks and troughs of demand. In other words, demand planning is the process of forecasting demand for a product or service. 

Successful demand planning is defined by having the right balance of inventory levels to meet customer needs while minimizing inventory surplus or deficiency. 

Here are the four crucial aspects of demand planning in order of importance: 

  • Product Portfolio Management – Product portfolio management oversees the entire product lifecycle. It starts with the introduction of a new product to the eventual end of its product life cycle. Upkeep and maintenance of product data is key to statistical forecasting.
  • Statistical Forecasting – Build a forecast with past inventory data, sales data, and appropriate product history to predict future data or trends.
  • Trends (Internal and External) – Build into your forecast an estimate of casual influences from internal and external trends. Internal trends include seasonality of your products and hiring talent to scale. External trends include unexpected economic crisis, competition, socio-cultural, legal, and political forces. 
  • Events and Promotions – Once a forecast is generated with the above factors in mind, events and promos can be used to help hit your S&OP targets.

The aspects of demand planning go beyond the statistical components of a demand forecast. Demand planning leverages accurate demand forecasts to create action plans for the organization while being privy to internal and external factors that affect supply at all steps of the chain and consumer demand. 

Implementation of demand planning is using analytics of product data and trade promotions to hit sales and inventory targets. Organizations must be quick to pivot and adapt to changing market conditions even after starting a demand plan. 

Demand planning is an ongoing effort to ensure peak profitability management. 

Importance of Automated Demand Planning

Failure to adopt an automated statistical forecasting and demand planning approach can lead to a wide range of issues such as missed deadlines, unhappy customers, Inventory surplus or deficiency or delayed response to market dynamics. 

Delayed response means your business can lose a competitive edge or fall behind competitors. Inability to act quickly on supply chain disruptions has material impact on both top-line and bottom-line numbers and you can end up losing market share to competitors. Below is a list of some of the business impacts of not utilizing automated planning strategies: 

Lost credibility

Losing credibility means lost business. Inability to fulfill customer orders due to bad inventory planning will lead to permanent damage to trust that customers have with your company. This will impact future orders and leave your brand with a significant damage to reputation. 

Wasted Resources

Overestimating customer demand for products leads to significant waste in time, money, and personnel. If turning over inventory fast enough becomes difficult, your business’s cash flow will be impacted. Having high levels of excess or obsolete inventory can lead to significant financial losses. 

To mitigate high costs of failure, businesses now more than ever need to trust the numbers and adopt a sophisticated demand planning strategy that leverages data and market insights. Adopting automated demand planning strategies will lead to actionable forecasts.

Aspects of Demand Planning

Understanding the work required within each element of demand planning will allow you to create the most accurate, up-to-date forecasts that will better inform your Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP).  

1. Product Portfolio Management 

Many times, past sales performance can be used to forecast future sales performance. It is important to regularly upkeep and cleanse product data. Relevant data might include inventory, stockouts as they occur, seasonality, sales, and consumer demand through peaks and troughs. The difficulty here usually is the number of systems keeping these data sets as isolated transactions. 

 

2. Statistical forecast 

Forecasts need a reference point, historical data in sales, inventory, and demand. Basically, what was actualized in the past can be a good indication of future sales. But not all data is useful, old data is typically not as useful as more current data as it might not correlate with future demand. The same bad situation happens when you do not use enough data to create a forecast. The right amount is typically trailing 24 months of most recent data. 

 

 

Example of an automated statistical forecast

Example of an Automated Statistical Forecast

 

Example of demand planning of weekly sales by item

Example of Demand Planning of Weekly Sales by Item

3. Internal Trends 

Internal trends relate to staffing issues at a level in the supply chain, seasonal demand due to product type, frozen capital, slow turnover, stockouts and general unpredictable sales volatility. Internal trends affect even the best steered businesses which makes it imperative to factor these causal influences into the forecast.  

 

4. External trends

External trends are another form of causal influence, but less predictable and usually harder to build into the demand planning forecast. External trends usually force a business to reforecast whereas internal trends are less likely to lead to a new forecast. Businesses that do reforecast and act on changing external trends like an economic recession or changing political climate are best positioned to succeed.  

 

COVID-19 has disrupted the majority of supply chains around the world in unprecedented scale. Amazon is probably one of the most recognizable organizations that has put tremendous effort in shifting their supply chain to prioritize shipping of essential items.

 

In light of COVID19, Amazon quickly refocused shipping priorities and product fulfillment to consumer essential goods. They have been quick to scale, pulling personnel and distribution resources from nonessential consumer goods and hiring 175k new workers in two months. 

 

Demand planners must be quick to identify factors that can impact demand such as natural disasters, news events, internal and external unanticipated issues. To do so, an organization needs to be armed with a central repository of all their information to generate an accurate forecast and adapt to changing market conditions to meet customer demand. 

 

5. Events and promotions

A time bound product promotion might lead to more sales in that time interval at a lesser margin. Holidays like Black Friday and Christmas can generate more sales in those few days than a whole month. 

Once a forecast is set, there needs to be a consensus on the actionable plan that comes out of the forecast. Part of this actionable plan is using events and promotions to hit sales and inventory targets. You want the right balance of inventory turnover, sales, while reducing COGS, and reducing waste in resources. Promos and external sales initiatives can help you get there. 

The Future of Demand Planning

Demand planning is becoming increasingly digital with advances in technology and machine learning. Demand planning software is being developed to better position businesses to adapt and update forecasts real time. Increasing number of businesses are now using CPM tools integrated with their ERP system to create multi version forecasts that are constantly updated and refined to estimate future sales. 

A successful demand planning action will lead to countless benefits including: 

  • Lower inventory costs
  • Decrease in stockouts
  • Waste reduction (obsolete inventory)
  • Increase in on-time, in full deliveries
  • Decrease in expedited shipping costs
  • Better pricing negotiation with suppliers

Contact Solver to Learn More about Demand Planning Software

Solver offers a flexible planning solution where powerful input forms are designed in Excel and deployed in the cloud. Solver can fit any business needs from a manufacturing company trying to forecast sales by month to a  retail business looking to forecast SKU based on historical data. 

Solver’s cloud  CPM solution is fully customizable to fit your demand planning needs. Contact our team today or request a demo for more information about our corporate performance management tool.

Workforce Planning

One of the most significant changes to businesses during COVID-19 has been  the large-scale work-from-home policies that almost all companies implemented. While some businesses may have partially or fully practiced this for a few years already, it has never in the history of the world been at this level. 

As many business owners are eager to get their staff back in the office, they may find that a majority of their team members have enjoyed their newfound freedom of working from home with zero commute time and no travel costs.

Some companies have already announced that they will be completely work-from-home going forward. Some employees may switch companies to find a more flexible employer if pressure to show up in the office five days a week is too high. 

Chances are that the remote work trend that was accelerated by COVID-19 will not fade away. There will be other trends that will continue to shape work-from-home habits such as:

  • Virtual reality technology
  • Video and collaboration technology (Teams, Slack, Zoom, etc.)
  • Longer commute times due to re-emerging traffic congestion
  • Hassle of all the new “cleanliness rules” when coming into the office
  • Real estate prices driving workers to live further away from work  
  • Commercial real estate prices and parking rates
  • Security concerns as home internet often is less secure than being in office 

If work-from-home is becoming the new normal for many organizations, a number of new questions arise including: 

  • How do companies assure that their team members are as- or more efficient as they were when working at the office? 
  • How do managers operate when they rarely ever meet their team members other than virtually on video calls?

Let’s take a closer look at both of these important items.

Efficient Workforce Planning Strategies and KPIs

Increasingly, executives are doubling down on two-way transparency. In other ways, the sharing of how you are doing as a company and how each team member is performing against agreed upon goals. In order for this to work, employ performance-based compensation plans and processes. 

Next, tools must be implemented to track metrics and provide reports. Imagine dashboards and scorecards with personal KPIs  and traffic lights. This is the recommended approach according to many management gurus.  Use top down sharing of strategies and goals that support the KPIs, broken down from company to department to individuals. Then, as results come in, bottom-up sharing of how team members as well as departments performed versus goals. 

Specifically, with likely strong growth in work-from-home trends, executives are already pondering how to ensure that employees are engaged, efficient and goal driven as they conduct their work from their bedroom or living room. With limited oversight and old-school micromanagement quickly fading, personal KPIs for work are rapidly growing in popularity. However, setting the best possible goals for employee KPIs can be a bit of science in itself.

Often attributed to the management guru, Peter Drucker, and first used by George T. Doran in 1981, the acronym, SMART, is used to guide goal setting.  Here is an overview of SMART goals: 

  • Specific – simple, sensible, significant
  • Measurable – meaningful, motivating
  • Achievable – agreed, attainable
  • Relevant – reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based

In the years ahead, organizations both in public and private sector, will increasingly explore and try out individual KPIs, and those that are most successful with it are better equipped to build thriving organizations that are “future proof”. 

Key Elements of Remote Workforce Planning 

Managing and growing employees successfully has always been an area that can put a company ahead of its competitors. Companies spend money on benefits, training, education, and compensation plans to improve their staff. However, organizations promote from within, without experience, and do not train the new managers. This was a failing process and the future will require better managers with a higher percentage of employees working from home.

Define Job Descriptions 

The starting point is the most important. For each position, a manager needs a job description with the six to eight main responsibilities of the role along with the KPIs that will be set each year. Define what makes a successful candidate and a candidate that would fail in the role. Each employee receives this document from the manager and then the manager reviews it in a meeting to ensure both understand the expectations.

There are many ways of coming up with the main roles and responsibilities of the position. Interview people currently in the role, research online, talk to the HR department, and discuss with other managers. Keep the list of responsibilities concise, but include details. The more details around each role will enable the employee to understand the role and improve their chances of success.

Pinpoint the KPIs that will Define the Role.

The manager should explain how he/she will measure each KPI in the role and what is a success or a failure. Describe where the data comes from and how the KPI is calculated. Then sit with the employee and document what the goals for each KPI by a specific period will be. Ensure that the employee is onboard and agrees that they can achieve their goals. If numbers are set that they do not believe in, then you may lose the employee early on in the process.

Review and Finalize the KPIs 

Historically, managers would have an annual review that tried to encapsulate what happened over the year, but typically only highlighted the last few months as that is all that most remember. In a year like 2020, it becomes even more difficult with the rapid shift to remote work. 

Start now – meet with the employee monthly, show the KPI goal, the results to date, and a variance. Include a traffic light on each KPI to show whether the employee is succeeding (green), failing (red), or in the middle (yellow). For all yellow and red items document action items that the employee needs to do to improve upon those that are below the goal. 

Now, when you meet, the manager simply reviews the numbers and the prior action items. Many of the work from home efficiency concerns go away and it is all about productivity.  Below is an example of a simple scorecard for a manager to review with a consultant that includes actual data, the goal, variance with traffic lights, and goals for the next four quarters.

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 1.03.39 PM

By doing this across the board, the culture changes to become a highly productive workforce. Good employees want to work with other good employees. This culture helps build a profitable company with high growth. Terminate the employees that regularly do not meet their goals, but in a way that is clear from day one. 

 

Benefits of Automated Workforce Planning Software and KPI Management

Whether your KPIs and workforce planning requirements are simple enough to be handled in Excel or currently using a modern planning and budgeting tool, now may be a good time to think about ways to combine budgeting, workforce planning, reporting and KPI management into a single solution. 

So, whether caused by an unfortunate virus outbreak or technology trends affecting your industry, having effective workforce planning tools and plans to be ready for a reforecast is always going to reduce stress and blood pressure for the organization’s management team. 

hybrid cloud

There are around 40,000 Microsoft Dynamics GP customers world-wide and many are not planning to move to the cloud yet. However, if you are one of them, this does not mean that your company can’t start taking advantage of modern cloud-based reporting solutions today to drive better and faster decisions for yourself and your management team!

Hasn’t Cloud-based reporting for on-premise ERPs been available for a long time?

Yes, vendors like Prophix, Solver, Vena, Adaptive Insights, and Planful (formerly Host Analytics) have offered both cloud-based financial reporting and budgeting for years. However, all of these vendors have typical corporate performance management (CPM) architectures that require data to be loaded from the on-premise ERP and into the cloud CPM tool before the user can run reports. 

The process requires a “refresh” of data from the ERP database into the CPM database which means that the data users see in reports is not real-time. This also mean that the drill-down on any number is only as detailed as the lowest level data that was loaded into the cloud CPM database. 

Your executives are often ok with this because they want to wait on their report analysis until the accounting team has closed the books. However, the accounting team that is posting transactions in the ERP system almost always prefers live ERP reporting because they want to immediately see the impact of journal entries in their reports. They don’t want to refresh data into a CPM reporting database first, and then wait one minute, ten minutes or significantly longer to run reports after the data has been transferred to the CPM tool.

How do I get true live reporting for my on-premise Dynamics GP data?  

The obvious answer is that you use an on-premise report writer like the default Management Reporter tool, GP Report Writer, Smartlist or SQL Reporting Services (SSRS). However, while none of these tools are inferior to what is offered by other ERP systems, and they have aged “gracefully,” they are just not comparable to many modern cloud reporting tools.

Key weaknesses of on-premise report tools include:

  • Not particularly user-friendly for accounting staff to design reports.
  • Lack of easy and professional formatting.
  • Typically requires VPN or Terminal Server to connect to Dynamics GP in order to run reports from outside the office network.
  • Maintaining multiple report writers for different data (e.g. Management Reporter for GL reports, and GP Report Writer and SSRS for sub-ledger reports).

In order to overcome these weaknesses and help GP customers maximize the value of their data with modern, cloud-based reporting tools, Solver has now launched what they refer to as “Hybrid Cloud Reporting.” You can see it live in this video. This is a unique integration technology that enables you to:

  • Use your web-browser to run beautifully formatted reports (looks like Excel formatting).
  • Benefit from true real-time reports on your GP data without any data transfer to a separate reporting database.
  • Drill-down from any number in the report directly into your underlying GP transactional data.
  • Easy internet and browser-based access with no need for VPN, or software like Terminal Server.
  • Enter budgets from user-friendly forms (looks like Excel) in the cloud and have the transactions stored directly into your budget table in Dynamics GP. 

In other words, now your accountants and reporting end-users get the best of two worlds by only needing a web browser to run live reports on GP and drill-down.

Below is a simple architecture diagram to explain how it works:

hybriddiagram

What about budgeting and forecasting?

Like many other cloud-based CPM solutions, Solver also offers budgeting and forecasting. With the new Hybrid Cloud technology and Solver’s cloud-based Planning Module, users can store budget data directly back from Solver’s budget forms in the cloud, into the General Ledger budget table in Dynamics GP. 

So, if you struggle with manual Excel-based spreadsheets for your budgets, you can save a lot of time by eliminating emailing files between users, linking between spreadsheets, and put better controls in place for the entire budget process with workflow and approvals. 

As an example, users can access budget forms like the example below with their browser and instantly, until you close the budget process, update their department’s budget in Microsoft Dynamics GP. Since Solver’s Hybrid Cloud updates are real-time, reports can immediately be run to see the impact of these changes on the budget.

Enjoy Faster and Better Decisions in the 2020s

Companies like Solver, Prophix, Vena, Adaptive Insights, and Planful are driving the next generation cloud-based reporting and planning technology. However, with the lack of live reporting and live budget write-back to on-premise ERP systems like Microsoft Dynamics GP, accountants and very active ERP users have been left with their legacy tools for their real-time reporting needs.  

With the release of Solver Hybrid Cloud for Microsoft Dynamics GP, these users now get the best of both worlds and can start ushering in the 2020’s by enabling themselves and other users with faster and better decisions.  Learn more about the benefits of choosing Solver CPM solutions by contacting us today or requesting a demo.