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This article is part 1 of an 8-part series on evaluating the best CPM tools for your business. Part 1 focuses on evaluating planning capabilities within the best budgeting and forecasting software applications.

 

Planning software, used to streamline budgeting and forecasting processes, belongs to a software category typically referred to as Corporate Performance Management (CPM). Whether caused by economic uncertainty or a more competitive marketplace, this type of cloud software is rapidly increasing in popularity right now. After all, companies that can deliver accurate budgets to plan for their resource allocations, and that continuously update their forecasts to help predict results, get an edge over businesses that don’t have this capability.

However, just implementing a CPM software to streamline the planning processes is not the entire solution for delivering an optimized system for budgeting and forecasting. While there are now dozens of software vendors that can deliver CPM software with planning features, you also need to make sure that the solution is RIGHT for your business. This means that the functionality must be right for your unique company and its budgeting and forecasting needs, and it also has to support industry-specific requirements. And of course, the return on investment (ROI ) needs to be positive.

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

Here are some of the top features to look for to find the best budgeting and forecasting app

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

Here is a list of five major functionality areas:

  1. Flexible input form and report designer

All the best budgeting and forecasting solutions have a “template designer.” In addition to the pre-built input forms and reports that a CPM solution should provide out of the box, the template designer is where a trained user or consultant can build new templates or tailor existing ones to the specific needs of the business.

About half of the CPM vendors have built add-ins to Microsoft Excel where templates are designed. This typically provides the best layout and the richest formula choices, and, of course, most finance departments are very familiar with Excel already which shortens the learning curve. Other vendors have built a proprietary template designer, often with formulas that are similar to Excel.

Payroll Example from Excel add-in

Note: Be aware of CPM vendors that have two template designers because that means twice as much training for power users. It can become messy in workflows, report packages, and other areas if templates are created with two different technologies. The reason for two tools is almost always that the functionality in the vendor’s proprietary designer was not enough for their customers, so they then added an Excel designer to handle complex customer models with a lot of formatting.

Without a strong template designer in your new planning solution, you are at high risk of either significantly having to change your favorite budget input formats to fit the capability of the vendor’s tool or, in many cases, of keeping a portion of your planning models in manual spreadsheets.

Having a flexible and user-friendly template designer also allows for the creation of budget reports that can be run throughout the budget process to see real-time budget updates and identify potential areas of concern. This helps you address issues quickly and early in the process – meaning you will have better visibility and more accurate projections.

Here is list of about 500 examples of reports, budgeting, and forecasting forms, as well as dashboards. It is a good idea to ask your vendor candidates if you can see examples from their template libraries. The more examples they provide, the more you can be assured that their solution has a good template designer.

  1. Line item detail and comments

Especially in annual budget processes, these are very important features to ensure proper documentation and justification of sales figures, expenses, or other figures that a user enters in their department. Typical examples of areas where line item detail and comments are frequently used include Travel Expenses and Office Supplies. When end users are actively using line item detail and they enter comments wherever an explanation is needed, it also tends to increase their sense of ownership and accountability in the budget they are submitting.

corporate forecasting software dashboard

Input of expenses at the GL account level. Includes line item detail, spreading, etc.

Without line item detail, an end user may have to keep detailed build-ups in spreadsheets. Alternatively, they may simply enter higher level figures with no bottom-up calculation behind their numbers. Both of these approaches may result in more inaccurate budgets, as well as delays in the budget process as budget approvers and reviewers often have to ask department heads and other end users to provide explanations and additional detail to back up their numbers.

  1. Workflow and checklists

Organizations that decide to buy a planning software typically have 10 or more users and sometimes hundreds of users. Strong workflow functionality can be a huge time saver by managing:

  • Deadlines
  • Open and closed budgets
  • Budget statuses (submitted, approved, rejected, etc.)
  • Which input forms should be used by different departments
  • And more

While most modern cloud-based planning solutions offer workflow modules, checklists are rarer. A budget checklist is typically a chronologically organized list of all the items a budget manager has to perform or oversee in a corporate planning process. A checklist could start with strategic goals and steps to forecast the rest of the current year, then go into the actual budget process, and finish with reporting and consolidation of the final budget and executive presentations. Checklists help ensure that everything gets done on time and often include functionality like checkbox, description, responsible person, a link to activity, deadline, and notifications.

Planning and reporting process manager

Planning and reporting process manager

 

Without a good workflow module and checklists, chances are good that you are spending a lot more time reminding people of deadlines, asking if their numbers are final and ready for approval, and otherwise managing the process. Processes can get even more frustrating and complex to manage manually in companies that have multiple budget versions to keep track of.

  1. ERP and payroll integrations

While all good CPM solutions can import actual data from source systems such as ERPs and payroll software, the quality and complexity to configure automated integrations varies a lot. Complexity grows when you have data sources spread between cloud and on-premises. For example, it is not unusual that a company’s ERP system is a legacy on-premises or hosted solution and they have other data sources such as payroll that may be a cloud solution. This results in multiple different direct and/or file-based integrations.

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

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

  1. Built for cloud

While on-premises planning solutions were the standard technology for decades, today it is cloud solutions that rule. Planning solutions that are built with native cloud architecture offer many benefits over the classic on-premises solutions. These include back-end functionality such as multi-tenancy to allow for efficient and frequent upgrades, spreading of processing and data loads across hardware resources, and otherwise taking advantage of what large public cloud data centers and platforms have to offer.

As an example, in the old on-premises world it was normal to perform an annual upgrade of a software, while in the cloud world, it is the norm to provide completely free and automated monthly updates. This practice also provides users with a continuous stream of new features and bug fixes.

Without a purpose-built cloud architecture, a vendor will fall behind their competitors over time. A number of the legacy on-premises vendors did not rebuild their technologies to be optimized for the cloud and, as a result, they will at some point have to rebuild their product or their customers will migrate to other vendors.

How much does budgeting and forecasting software cost?

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

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

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

A good rule of thumb is to ask each vendor for the total subscription cost for the first 5 years. Make sure this includes any potential price increases.

Also, if the vendor is owned by a private equity firm, chances are that they will be sold while you are still a customer. It is a smart idea to ensure that you receive a document from the vendor that states their policy for price increases in the future, including if they are sold to another company.

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

Why not use Excel or the budgeting and forecasting functionality in my ERP system?

Excel is by far the world’s most popular budgeting tool because it is free (if you already own Excel), incredibly flexible, and almost all accounting and finance professionals know how to use it. If you have a simple budget model and few users, Excel may very well be the best planning software for your business – but everyone knows when it is time to replace their homegrown spreadsheets with something better.

Warning signals include:

  • Painful distribution
  • Troubles with collection and consolidation of spreadsheets
  • Broken links
  • Poor reporting
  • Lack of user security
  • Versioning issues

All ERP systems have basic budgeting functionality, but that is rarely enough to handle full-fledged budgeting and forecasting processes. And, regardless of an ERP vendor’s promotion of their built-in planning features, almost always companies end up back in Excel with their budget models even after they buy a brand-new cloud ERP solution. When Excel gets too painful, they acquire a CPM solution.

Conclusion

In summary, choosing a new CPM solution to automate the planning process, as well as to support better and faster decisions, is increasingly becoming a strategic priority for organizations across all industries. As we discussed earlier, certain features are more important than others and can be key drivers of success, in addition to a well-executed implementation process.

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

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

The information you are reading is more than 2 years old and may be outdated. Read new blogs.
The information you are reading is more than 2 years old and may be outdated. Read new blogs.

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This article is the final installment in a series focused on how Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools can serve as a true solution, particularly zooming in on budgeting and forecasting challenges companies face with data housed in multiple cloud and on-premise systems.
The last blog article I wrote, I zoomed in further on the multi-cloud world that businesses today are navigating – and how Corporate Performance Management (CPM) and Business Intelligence (BI) processes and specifically, modern financial and operational reporting tools, can function as a complete solution to the related technological and data management oriented challenges we’re all facing. If you think about all of the essential enterprise technology solutions making the shift to the cloud, it can seem like a lot, especially in terms of the challenge to integrate and/or combine all of this diverse data. There are also on-premise tools, which is where plenty of accounting systems are still residing. But what about budgeting and forecasting – and all of the historical data from disparate sources needed to effectively plan? This article will focus on planning as an important BI and CPM process – and how the right application can be a true solution to your obstacles related to multi-cloud management.
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This article explores financial planning and analysis in the cloud for your CPM strategies.

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In the budgeting and forecasting realm, Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) is becoming more and more relevant. Most mid-sized and large companies have dedicated professionals in FP&A roles due to the constant evolution of finance and the reach across the enterprise. If you are not familiar with FP&A, this article will cover the benefits of cloud for your finances and hopefully, answers any questions you may have regarding to FP&A and the cloud. Read more

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This article will focus on the Enterprise Budgeting on Cloud for Banks.
dashboard benchmarkingThe Cloud is coming!  Are you prepared?  I read a story once about a land that was going through a drought, famine, and warfare.  After a momentous battle, a leader told one of his lieutenants, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So the lieutenant went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.”  And the leader said, “Go back” seven times. Read more

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This article discusses next steps to take for your reporting and budgeting needs regarding Dynamics 365.

Microsoft unveiled their cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, Dynamics 365, just a little over a month ago. As a potential business intelligence (BI) customer, you’re probably curious about your reporting and budgeting processes in the context of moving towards a cloud-based ERP system. As you know, a new United States president was elected on November 8th, and as always with a new president, people are curious or worried how things will work out. If you are one of the approximately 85% of the world still using an on-premise ERP system, this same analogy can be applied to those who are planning to go onto a cloud ERP. This article focuses on the next steps to take for your reporting and budgeting in regards to Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 unveiling.

Microsoft Dynamics, a line of ERPs and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, is a power player in the business applications world so, as you can imagine, once Microsoft released Dynamics 365, people also knew that things in the BI realm were going to change with no hesitation. There has been a lot of confusion around Dynamics 365, especially due to the changing naming conventions of this system and to make things clear, Solver CEO Nils Rasmussen explains that “Dynamics 365 is really two ERP systems. One is the lower end version of Dynamics 365, based on the NAV product in its structure. The higher end version of Dynamics 365 is based on Dynamics AX and is for the higher end of the market.” Both systems are architected for and deployed in the Microsoft Azure cloud, and it’s all hosted and managed by Microsoft. If you want to learn more, you can read about Microsoft Dynamics 365 and what it all means.

If you are planning to implement or are already using Dynamics 365, NetSuite, Acumatica, or Intacct, you might find yourself shopping for a new budgeting and reporting tool to also benefit from a modern Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution. You have several options: For instance, your company can rely on the native budgeting features and reporting options that comes natively embedded in the ERP system, but in most cases this means that you will end up exporting data to Excel to design your favorite budget model or to professionally format financial reports. Another option is that to implement a modern web-based CPM solution that integrates well to your cloud-based ERP system. The last option gets to the point: go out and shop for a new tool!

The cloud ERP market is skyrocketing. What are you going to do with your reporting and budgeting? One tip I would like to share is to make sure your budgeting and reporting tool is flexible, accessible, and is offering a cloud solution or at the minimum a web-based interface. With a cloud solution, there is no need to install or maintain upgrades. There are various reporting solutions with features and functionalities that are flexible and accessible. For example, some modern solutions offer Excel add-ins, as well as a web portal that is filled with reports and dashboards that are relevant to the user, so that the user can rapidly get to subscribed reports, commentary, discussions, and groups. A modern web-based CPM portal usually offers an intuitive, collaborative technology that also has workflow, alerts and commentary users can also execute reports on-demand, explain variances, and they can also share  specific reports with their team members. These modern functionalities are collaborative, increase transparency, and most importantly, they are user-friendly.

As reporting and budgeting solutions continue to get smarter, a number of modern, cloud-based solutions are starting to appear in the BI marketplace and many will offer easy-to-use, pre-built integrations to ERP systems like Microsoft Dynamics 365. As you research and look into more CPM tools, you will notice that some of them are on-premises, some of them are cloud-based, and others are hybrid tools. Top-notch CPM tools that are cloud or web-based platforms such as Adaptive Insights, Anaplan, Host Analytics and BI360 are great options. If you are skeptical about moving everything to the cloud, continue to choose to keep certain business applications on-premises if you’d like, but also plan for the future. You can also learn more on the pros and cons of cloud and on-premises options in the Business Intelligence: Cloud-based, One-premises, or Both? article. Studies do show that cloud helps solve problems such as lowering costs, increasing productivity, gaining flexibility, and all while providing the right information to the appropriate people at the most opportune time, so they can make wise decisions for their organization.

The BI realm for Microsoft customers is about to change as Dynamics 365 has been released and vendors are encouraged to integrate their CPM offerings. As you know, the cloud is constantly changing, and as it evolves, cloud reporting and budgeting solutions continue to get smarter as well. If your current software is limiting your organization from making smart business choices, that is all the reason to invest in a new reporting and budgeting solution. Modern BI solutions are providing business end users choices so they have access to specific data they need when they need it without having to wait for your assistance, but I still suggest you maintain a good relationship with your information technology team as they are the “technology geniuses” of the company and will help make sure that your different systems can talk to each other to maximize productivity and data quality.

Solver enables world-class decisions with BI360, a leading web-based CPM suite made up of budgeting, reporting, dashboards, and data warehousing, delivered through a web portal. Solver is reinventing CPM with its next generation solution. BI360 empowers business users with modern features including innovative use of Excel in the model design process. If you’re interested in learning more, our team is excited to hear about your organizational needs and goals.

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This article explores financial reporting and budgeting options in the cloud for your Acumatica Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

Image taken from Shutterstock.

Image taken from Shutterstock.


In today’s business world, our processes and technology platforms require accessibility and flexibility, and more solutions are showing up on the cloud market. Since data sources and data in general continues to expand in size and can increasingly be found across cloud and on-premise locations, more executives are looking for the right Business Intelligence (BI) solution to empower business end users to make better and smarter business decisions. In this article, we will discuss several business intelligence options for your Acumatica ERP system that will cover deployment options, sophisticated functionalities, and hopefully, answers to any questions you may have regarding BI add-ons. Read more

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The week is finally here where we gather around the table and share a delicious Thanksgiving meal with our loved ones. As much as we enjoy the good food, family time, and days off from work, organizing and hosting this special dinner can be a daunting task. Similar to the process of creating effective reports and dashboards that help your business, planning a Thanksgiving dinner requires thorough research and specific BI features that make the process easy and enjoyable for everyone.

This blog will explore the parallels between the process used to plan a Thanksgiving meal in the modern age and the latest in BI tools for Corporate Performance Management (CPM), (i.e. financial reporting, budgeting, dashboards, and data management).

Feast on The BenefitsLet’s start at the beginning. A few weeks ago, like many of you, I decided to start planning out my Thanksgiving dinner. Knowing that my younger brother has a sweet tooth, but my dad prefers savory entrees and side dishes, I sent out a Google spreadsheet to find out what everyone wanted to eat. Given that we live in different cities, I asked each family member to fill in his or her favorite dishes into the spreadsheet. The results were a little messy to say the least.
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This article focuses on the future of Dynamics GP Users and their Reporting and Budgeting tools.

Photo taken from Shutterstock.

Photo taken from Shutterstock.

Why are many companies still keeping their Dynamics GP ERP system on-premise when there is a cloud option available? Some may not know the options to migrate to the cloud. Others may feel safer using a more traditional platform. Microsoft just changed the whole game for Microsoft Dynamics Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) users. A true cloud version of Microsoft Dynamics, Microsoft Dynamics 365, officially released this November 1st. Dynamics 365 lets companies combine CRM, ERP and Microsoft Office capabilities into the next generation of business applications in the cloud. This Azure-hosted Dynamics service seems to be the true future for many Dynamics GP customers. Therefore, if your company is slowly making its way to the cloud, and on premise tools are most likely developed less progressively, eventually moving to Dynamics 365 or other CRM/ERP tools seems a pretty interesting alternative. This article focuses on the steps your company will need to take when your ERP is moving to the cloud.
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There’s a lot more to cloud–based business intelligence tools than easy data accessibility. This article examines why CFOs and accounting pros see cloud BI as a great return on investment.

Like a lot of productivity and management software, business intelligence (BI) tools are moving to the cloud. Why? Sure, the cloud makes BI more accessible, and deployments more manageable, just like data of every kind. Whether it’s Corporate Performance Management (CPM) or even music, you can access it via any web browser or mobile device, anywhere, anytime.
But there are other reasons why the cloud and business intelligence tools are a perfect match, especially for CFOs or accounting pros who rely on BI to boost bottom-line performance. We’re talking about solving problems such as lowering costs, gaining flexibility, and increasing productivity, all while realizing BI’s promise of delivering the right information to the right people at the right time so they can make more informed decisions.  As Solver builds – and gets ready to deliver BI360 as an innovative cloud service, we continue to discover reasons why cloud is the future for Business Intelligence.
Here are 9 reasons why a cloud-based Business Intelligence Tool may be right for you.
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