Cloud-based ERPĀ systems and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions are two directly related business applications that are seeing rapid growth in the 2020s as companies and organizations seek to automate the office of finance and help their managers make faster and better decisions.
Replacing legacy ERPs and old, home-grown Excel reporting and budgeting models, however, takes both time and money. Especially for smaller and mid-sized businesses, this investment can delay their migration to Dynamics 365 Business Central (D365 BC) cloud for several years.
To aid a customerās move to the cloud, companies like Microsoft and key ERP implementation partners like Armanino, BKD, Enavate, RSM, and Velosio have developed various cloud migration tools and processes to ease the pain. At the same time, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), or ERP add-ons as they are often called, have been busy at work over the past few years creating bolt-on or add-in solutions that help automate specific areas related to D365 BC. Examples of ISVs offering these types of solutions include Binary Stream (multi-entity management and subscription management), Gorilla Expense (paperless expense reporting), Progressus (professional services automation), Integrity Data (payroll), Sana (eCommerce), and Solver (corporate performance management).
The rest of this blog will focus on how new cloud technologies enable D365 BC customers to automate their planning, reporting and analysis using modern Corporate Performance Management functionality at a lower cost and with much quicker time-to-value than what has been available in previous years.
Why Use Best-of-Breed CPM instead of the Native Tools in Dynamics 365?
Like most ERPs, D365 BC includes reporting, budgeting and dashboard functionality. Much like the other leading ERPs, like Sage Intacct, Netsuite and Acumatica, packing these three core feature sets into an ERP application and its corresponding database tables means that a lot of compromises have been made.Ā Some of these shortcomings include lack of modelling, minimal workflow for approvals, inflexible input form design and weak formula capabilities, and lack of tables for detailed sub-ledger budgeting. In short, that is why the best-of-breed CPM software segment exists and the reason it is growing at a healthy clip.
From the user perspective, many of the smaller Dynamics 365 Business Central customers donāt have or donāt want to spend funds on additional business software applications that can provide more professional report formatting, consolidations, budgeting and forecasting they need for business oversight. As a result, Excel is used and still remains the worldās most popular reporting and planning tool. What typically happens is that customers will export data to Excel to build much-needed custom models specific to their businesses.
However, innovations in deployment and out-of-the box templates from leading CPM cloud vendors have put top notch CPM functionality well within reach for most organizations to use. In fact, here is a showcase that displays more than 500 examples of budgeting, forecasting, reporting and dashboard layouts just to give an idea of the breadth and depth professional CPM tools like Solver offer for deploying world-class planning and analysis processes that drive better, faster business decisions. You can also find ideas for visualization from the powerful dashboard functionality available when you connect Power BI to a best-of-breed CPM solution that combines your D365 data with planning data and other important information sources. Learn more by checking out these interactive dashboards.
When it comes to supporting a userās graphical analysis needs, many D365 BC customers also rely on Excel. Why? Because they already own and know how to use it. Not to mention the interface is easy and flexible for building and maintaining the underlying calculations and charts. There is, however, a rapidly growing demand for cloud-based, best-of-breed CPM tools that integrate deeply with both D365 and Power BI for a dynamic and secure user experience that delivers rich, interactive charting and drill-down for a real-time and self-service reporting and analysis process.
How to Pick the Right CPM Solution for Dynamics 365 Business Central
Traditionally, the top CPM solutions–found in user feedback sites like G2 and in analyst reports from firms like Dresner Advisory Services–can handle most organizationsā reporting and planning needs. However, when it comes to integration capabilities, data modelling and template design, there can be a big difference in time to value, effort and cost.
While popular CPM tools may look similar in capabilities, some are going much further than others in simplifying the ERP integration and in delivering rapid return on investment with template-driven implementations. These other components include:
- Pre-built and pre-mapped integration to D365 BC that work out-of-the box with a few clicks and without the need to manually set up end-points in the D365 BC API nor manually map dimension and transaction fields to the CPM solution.
- Financial reporting templates like profit & loss reports and balance sheets that can be downloaded from the vendorās marketplace and that immediately works without having to edit accounts and other formulas.
- Budgeting and forecasting templates with pre-defined versions and top-down and bottom-up input options.
- Dashboards templates with trends, variances and other analysis. As with the reporting and planning templates, these should work out-of-the-box without any manipulation of Power BIās DAX formulas.
We will not go into details in this blog but, if you want some ideas, this document highlights key areas to look at, while this interactive tool provides a simple way to compare and score vendors, and includes an ROI calculator to analyze the cost/benefit of alternative tools versus your current solution.
In short, the progressive executive and finance teams of the 2020s want flexible financial reporting, budgeting and forecasting functionality closely integrated with D365 BC that provides quick time to value.
What Is Considered a Quick Start with a CPM Solution?
Most D365 BC customers want their connected apps, including CPM tools and dashboards, to be cloud based. Key questions that quickly come up are: how hard is it to integrate to the ERP and how much cost and effort does it take to get up and running?
The answer typically is weeks or months of effort and tens of thousands of dollars in services. However, Microsoft software partners, like Solver, that work very closely with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central and its partner channel, have developed pre-built integrations as well as out-of-the-box financial reports, planning input templates and Power BI dashboards. For example, Solverās QuickStart integration to Dynamics 365 Business Central can get a company up and running in a single day with 50+ pre-built Power BI financial dashboards, including optional financial reports and budget input templates. All of these ready-to-use forms and templates can be selected and downloaded at no additional cost from a continuously growing Template Marketplace.
A note about tools that offer integrations to D365 BC:
While almost all CPM vendors can claim to offer integration to an ERP like D365 BC, there can be big differences in the skill and effort involved to make such integrations ready and your financial data loaded into the reporting and planning tool.
Generally, there are three categories of integrations, each with its own effort level to get going:
- Usually gets you there: Generic integration tools that require a lot of skills and time to configure
- Works but often with limitations:
- Quickest and easiest: Connectors specifically built for D365 BC that include an app or script(s) that properly and automatically configure dimensions and views in D365 BC and exposes them to its API. You can see an example of this type of integration here.
What Is a Template Marketplace and Why Is It Important to Your Business?
While you get a set of basic embedded Power BI dashboards with D365 BC and you can survive with its native reporting tool and homegrown Excel budget models, the leading cloud CPM tools of the 2020s offer many advantages to drive faster and better decisions.
In particular, some vendors are catching on to the popularity of app marketplaces after years of watching companies like Apple and Microsoft deliver easy-to-access solutions this way. CPM companies like Anaplan and Solver are now offering Template and Data Connector Marketplaces specifically built for planning and reporting needs. The main benefit to the customer is that this typically only involves a few clicks to install and incorporate your own data, compared with weeks or months of setup in legacy applications that donāt offer out-of-the-box templates.
For example, in Solverās Marketplace (see screenshot below), users can download more than 50 pre-built financial dashboards that plug right into your Power BI web āservice, in addition to Profit & Loss Reports, Balance Sheets and other financial statements and planning input templates.
With true marketplace templates you should be able to provide your managers with professional dashboards, financial reports and budget templates the same day you install the CPM tool, and with no upfront data modelling or formula design!
The 2020s is already shaping up to be a decade with a lot of exciting automations and insights companies can gain by implementing modern ERPs like Dynamics 365 Business Central with CPM solutions like Solver that have embraced deep D365 BC and Power BI integrations, that include āquick startā implementation wizards , and ready-to-use, downloadable templates from marketplaces. Picking the right solution, with planning and financial reporting considerations, can significantly improve your processes, save you time, and help drive faster and better decisions by putting the right information in front of your managers and executives when and where they need it.