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How to Quickly Get Started with Corporate Performance Management for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance

Cloud-based ERP systems and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions are two directly related business applications experiencing rapid growth in the 2020s. In part because 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 the Dynamics 365 Finance (D365 Finance) cloud ERP for several years.

To aid a customer’s move to the cloud, companies like Microsoft and their key ERP implementation partners 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 cloud-based bolt-on or add-in solutions that help automate specific areas that compliment D365 Finance and maximize the return on investment (ROI) for its customers. Solver is an example of such an ISV with a best-of-breed corporate performance management (CPM) solution that comes pre-integrated to Dynamics 365 Finance.

The rest of this blog will focus on how new cloud technologies enable Dynamics 365 customers to automate their planning, reporting and analyses using modern CPM 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 to Compliment the Native Planning and Reporting Tools in Dynamics 365 Finance?

Like most ERPs, D365 Finance includes basic reporting, budgeting and dashboard functionality. Much like other leading ERPs, such as 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. Some of these shortcomings include lack of modeling, minimal workflow for approvals, inflexible input form design, 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 a user perspective, many of the smaller Dynamics 365 customers don’t have or don’t want to spend funds on additional business software applications that provide the advanced report formatting, consolidations, budgeting and forecasting they need for business oversight. As a result, Excel is typically used as a “do it yourself” band aid and it remains the world’s most popular reporting and planning tool. What normally happens is that customers will export data to Excel to build much-needed custom models specific to their businesses.

However, innovations in affordable, rapid 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. This gives you an idea of the breadth and depth of features professional CPM tools like Solver offer to deliver world-class planning and analysis processes that drive better, faster business decisions. You can also find ideas for data visualization from the powerful dashboard functionality available when you connect Microsoft’s Power BI tool to a best-of-breed CPM solution that combines your Dynamics 365 Finance data with planning data and other important information sources. Learn more by checking out these interactive dashboards.

When it comes to supporting a user’s graphical analysis needs, many Dynamics 365 Finance customers also rely on Excel. Why? Because they already own it and know how to use the product. Not to mention that the spreadsheet 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 Dynamics 365 and Power BI for a dynamic and secure user experience that delivers rich, interactive charting and drill-down for real-time, self-service reporting and analysis process.

How to Pick the Right CPM Solution for Dynamics 365 Finance

Traditionally, the top CPM solutions–found on user feedback websites like G2 and in analyst reports from firms like Dresner Advisory Services–can handle most organizations’ reporting and planning needs. However, when it comes to integration capabilities, data modeling and template design, there can be a big difference in time to value, amount of effort required to implement and cost.

While popular CPM tools may look similar in capabilities, some go much further than others in simplifying the ERP integration and in delivering rapid return on investment (ROI) with template-driven implementations. These other components include:

  • Pre-built and pre-mapped integration to Dynamics 365 Finance that works out-of-the box with a few clicks and without the need to manually set up endpoints in the D365 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 vendor’s marketplace and that immediately work 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 analyses. As with the reporting and planning templates, these should work out-of-the-box without the need to manipulate Power BI’s DAX formulas (i.e., underlying formula language).

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 and benefit of alternative tools versus your current solution.

In short, progressive executive and finance teams of the 2020s want flexible financial reporting, budgeting and forecasting functionality closely integrated with Dynamics 365 Finance that provides quick time to value.

What Is Considered a Quick Start with a CPM Solution?

Most Microsoft Dynamics customers want their connected apps, including CPM tools and dashboards, to be Azure cloud based. Key questions that quickly come up include: How hard is it to integrate to the ERP? How much cost and effort does it take to get up and running?

The typical answer: Weeks or months of effort and tens of thousands of dollars in services. However, Microsoft Dynamics ISV software partners, like Solver, that work very closely with the Dynamics 365 Finance ERP solution and Microsoft’s 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, Solver’s QuickStart integration to Dynamics 365 Finance can have a company up and running in a single day with more than 50 pre-built Power BI financial dashboards, in addition to financial reports and budget input templates. All 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 Dynamics 365 Finance:

While a number of CPM vendors can claim to offer integration to an ERP like Dynamics 365 Finance, there can be big differences in the skill and effort involved to make such integrations ready with your financial data loaded into the reporting and planning tool.

Generally, there are three categories of integrations, each with its own effort level for implementation:

  • Usually gets you there: Generic integration tools that require a lot of skills and time to configure.
  • Works but often with limitations: Connectors specifically built for D365 Finance, but do not include an app that configures dimensions and views in Dynamics nor pre-maps to popular fields to “light them up” for its API.
  • Quickest and easiest: Connectors specifically built for D365 Finance that include an app or script(s) that properly and automatically configure dimensions and views in Dynamics and expose 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 receive a set of basic, embedded Power BI dashboards with Dynamics 365 Finance and it is likely 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.

As an illustration, many vendors are catching on to the popularity of app marketplaces after years of watching companies like Apple and Microsoft deliver easy-to-access solutions in this fashion. CPM companies like Anaplan and Solver are now offering Template and Data Connector Marketplaces specifically built for planning and reporting needs. The main benefit for the customer: it typically only involves a few clicks to install and to incorporate your own data, compared with weeks or months of setup in legacy applications that don’t offer out-of-the-box templates.

In Solver’s Marketplace (see screenshot below), for example, users can download more than 50 pre-built financial dashboards that plug right into your Power BI web service, in addition to Profit & Loss Reports, Balance Sheets and other financial statements and planning input templates.

How to Quickly Get Started with Corporate Performance Management for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance

How to Quickly Get Started with Corporate Performance Management for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance

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 modeling or formula design!

Summary

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 Finance with CPM solutions like Solver that have embraced deep Dynamics 365 and Power BI integrations. Benefits include “quick start” implementation wizards, and ready-to-use, downloadable templates from a marketplace. 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.

Solver QuickStart - Power BI Dashboard Templates for Dynamics 365 Finance

Dynamics 365 Finance (D365 Finance) and Power BI are both rapidly growing cloud software applications from Microsoft. Although these technologies can be used independently, customers are increasingly using them together as an integrated platform.

As executives drive their accounting teams to migrate to a modern cloud ERP system like D365 Finance, senior leaders are at the same time expecting to gain the ability to perform world-class analyses with their new ERP. For that reason, evaluation teams not only have to review core ERP functionality to make sure current and future needs are met, but they also must determine the tools to use for dashboards, reporting, and planning.

Power BI has become the world’s most popular business intelligence (BI) solution and it is the natural data visualization dashboard choice for financial data from Dynamics 365. It is typically deployed as a stand-alone web service from Microsoft with companies often including other kinds of non-financial data as well. As with any flexible dashboard software, however, developing Power BI models can be complex, time-consuming, and costly, especially when building numerous dashboards and tailoring them to your D365 Finance business dimensions and data. What’s more, if the Power BI models are not wisely built it can be a daunting task to maintain them when your chart of accounts grows or when you make other changes or additions in Dynamics 365.

Most people that have implemented dashboard models for financial data know that it can take hundreds of hours of integration and design time before managers can enjoy their “shiny” dashboard gadgets.

This blog will focus on rapid deployment of Power BI dashboards for Dynamics 365 Finance, as well as several factors you may want to think about to ensure your executives’ expectations are met or exceeded when it comes to providing them with:

  • Revenue Dashboards
  • Expense Dashboards
  • Variance Dashboards
  • Exception Dashboards
  • Trend Dashboards
  • Balance Sheet Dashboards
  • KPI Dashboards
  • Benchmarking Dashboards

Why Use Stand-alone Power BI Dashboards to Compliment the Native Tools in Dynamics 365?

D365 Finance provides a limited version of Power BI that has been embedded with the ERP user interface. This format offers “native” dashboards and comes with a few simple, pre-built financial templates, but much like almost any other cloud ERP system’s native or embedded dashboard options, it lacks the complete flexibility that a management team usually requires when producing highly professional, automated graphical dashboards that can combine their ERP data with other important data sources.

Here is a link to a showcase that features more than a hundred dashboard examples. It provides a general idea of the capabilities in both breadth and depth that many professional reporting and analysis tools offer. It can also help you improve and democratize analyses for better, faster decisions in your business. Additional ideas can be found by trying these interactive Power BI dashboards.

Solver QuickStart - Power BI Dashboard Templates for Dynamics 365 Finance

Solver QuickStart – Power BI Dashboard Templates for Dynamics 365 Finance

Many Dynamics 365 customers support their graphical analysis needs through Excel because the software is already owned, users already know how to use it, and the interface is easy and flexible to build while maintaining the underlying formulas. However, there is a rapidly growing demand for cloud-based, best-of-breed dashboard tools like Power BI that offer a dynamic and secure user experience with rich, interactive charting and drill-down and that provides real-time, self-service reporting and analysis processes.

How to Pick the Right Dashboard Solution for Dynamics 365 Finance

Much can be written about the best and most affordable way to deploy Power BI. Most organizations find that delivering a rich and sustainable dashboard experience to their business and Office of Finance users does require more than just a Power BI license. These other components include:

  • Pre-built financial dashboard templates that work out-of-the box, and that can be changed or copied to support special custom needs.
  • Financial reporting and planning that complement Power BI graphical dashboards. Here is more information about things to look for in professional reporting and planning
  • A data warehouse or staging database to organize key Dynamics 365 data and dimensions, with the added capability to include non-ERP data in order to deliver a comprehensive, clean data model to Power BI. Read more about pre-built financial data warehouses here.

We will not go into details about dashboard software evaluation in this blog but, if you want some ideas, this other blog highlights key areas many people want in a dashboard, while this interactive tool provides a simple way to compare and score vendors. It also includes an ROI calculator to analyze the cost and benefit of alternative tools versus your current solution.

In short, progressive executive and finance teams of the 2020s want dashboard solutions that are flexible; that are closely integrated with financial reporting, budgeting and forecasting functionality; and that provide quick time to value through template-based deployment.

What Is Considered a Quick Start with a Power BI Dashboard Solution for Dynamics 365 Finance?

Most Dynamics 365 customers want their connected apps, including dashboards, to be cloud based. The questions that quickly come up include: How hard is it to go beyond the native visualization tools that already come with D365 Finance, and to integrate a best-of-breed tool like Power BI with their ERP? How much cost and effort does it take to get key financial dashboards up and running?

The typical answer: Weeks or months of effort and tens of thousands of dollars in services. Sometimes, the completed integration is static and the ability to maintain data models is complicated and hard. This often results in disappointing outcomes. However, Microsoft software partners like Solver, that work very closely with the Dynamics 365 Finance solution and its partner channel, have developed pre-built integrations, a data warehouse and out-of-the-box dashboards to solve these challenges. For example, Solver’s QuickStart integration to Dynamics 365 Finance helps a company get up and running in a single day, providing access to more than 50 pre-built Power BI financial dashboards, as well as, additional financial reports and budget input templates. All these turn-key options are available from a marketplace that continuously expands with new templates.

A note about tools that offer integrations to Dynamics 365 Finance:

While almost all dashboard vendors can claim to offer integrations to popular ERPs like D365 Finance, there can be big differences in the skill and effort involved to get such integrations ready and your financial data loaded into the visualization tool.

Generally, there are three categories of integrations, each with its own level of effort during implementation:

  • Usually gets you there: Generic integration tools that require a lot of skills and time to configure.
  • Works but often with limitations: Connectors specifically built for D365 Finance, but do not include an app that configures dimensions and views in D365 Finance nor pre-maps to popular fields to “light them up” for its API.
  • Quickest and easiest: Connectors specifically built for D365 Finance that include an app or script(s) that properly and automatically configure dimensions and views in D365 and expose them to its API. This results in a “clean” data model that Power BI can easily consume. You can see an example of this type of integration here.

What Is a Cloud Dashboard Marketplace and Why Is It Important to Your Business?

While you are given a set of basic, embedded Power BI dashboards with Dynamics 365 Finance, most companies end up designing their own graphical reports using the stand-alone Power BI license. However, offering modern and flexible functionality that quickly delivers the dashboards your managers and executives need is often a pipe dream. There is at least one challenge that must be overcome: Somebody must design all those dashboards and learn the underlying formula language referred to as “DAX”. This can be painful, especially when you consider the time and cost involved. More so if your leaders are eager and want their dashboards sooner rather than later and without a big consulting bill attached.

These days there is a growing trend for cloud business solutions to offer pre-built financial dashboards that are downloadable and ready-to-use from each vendor’s marketplace. Typically, this involves a few clicks to install and refresh the report with your own data. The process is not that different from apps you download to your iPhone or Samsung phone. For example, in Solver’s Marketplace, users can download more than 50 pre-built financial dashboards that plug right into your Power BI web service in addition to Profit & Loss Reports, Balance Sheets and other financial statements and planning input templates.

Solver QuickStart - Power BI Financial Dashboard Categories for Dynamics 365 Finance

In other words, with true marketplace templates, you should be able to provide your managers with professional dashboards and reports the same day you install the reporting tool–and with no upfront formula design or Power BI model building! Now that’s a quick deployment!

Summary

For new or existing Dynamics 365 Finance customers, the 2020s hold a lot of promise. Microsoft is continuously improving and updating their ERP system, while a rapidly growing Appsource marketplace of third-party apps further enhances the benefits of D365 Finance. Picking the right solutions, like data visualization tools for dashboards as an example, 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.

How to Quickly Get Started with Corporate Performance Management for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance

A rapidly increasing number of mid-market organizations are implementing Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance (D365 Finance) as their new cloud ERP system. If you are considering a migration to D365 Finance, there are a few key things to do: make sure the solution fits your needs; and determine if your company should also consider any best-of-breed add-on solutions to automate certain processes key to your business.

When companies consider migrating their accounting solution from on-premise servers to the cloud, the decision usually relies on the solution’s ability to automate and streamline accounting and finance processes. To ensure this occurs, companies not only have to review core ERP functionality to make sure it meets their current and future needs but must also determine the tools to use for reporting, planning, and analyses. Some of these functions can be found natively in Dynamics 365 Finance while others, like dashboards for data visualization, are embedded or connected apps.

This blog will focus on best-of-breed budgeting and forecasting apps that are pre-integrated with D365 Finance. The information below includes some tips you may want to consider to ensure your ROI and Dynamics 365 experiences are optimized when it comes to producing:

  • Annual budgets
  • Monthly or quarterly forecasts
  • What-if analysis and scenario modeling
  • Strategic goals to drive your planning process

Why Use Planning Apps Instead of the Native Budgeting Features in Dynamics 365 Finance?

D365 Finance’s budgeting functionality enables basic budget input. However, as with almost any other cloud ERP system’s native planning tools, this inherent functionality is not the typical tool budgeting managers prefer to use to oversee a complete annual budget process or to produce a forecast. This showcase of planning input forms and report templates includes several hundred budgeting, forecasting and report examples. The sheer volume of options gives you an idea of the breadth and depth of capabilities found with professional corporate performance management (CPM) tools. Tools that can help you optimize planning processes and related decision-making in your business.

While many Microsoft Dynamics 365 customers supplement their budgeting and forecasting tasks with home-grown Excel models, it becomes obvious when manual Excel models no longer are the right tools for your planning processes. Typical signs of Excel pain include problems like:

  • Errors with formulas and links
  • No workflow
  • Lack of elegant versioning (separating budget versions)
  • Long duration (often 2+ months) of the budget process due to lack of automation
  • Lack of user security (especially for salary budgets, etc.)
  • Inability to perform web-based input so files need to be shared and collected
  • Painfully slow and inflexible budget consolidation and reporting options

 

These types of common issues leave an opening for the market’s best-of-breed budgeting and forecasting solutions to offer a purpose-built and professional planning experience that also can automate and streamline your budgeting and forecasting processes.

How to Pick the Right Planning Solution for Dynamics 365 Finance

Much can be written about evaluation and selection of budgeting and forecasting solutions. We will not go into details in this blog, but if you would like some ideas, this document highlights key areas to consider. This interactive evaluation tool also provides a simple way to compare and score planning tools. It includes an ROI calculator to analyze the cost and benefit of alternative tools versus your current solution.

In short, progressive Financial, Planning and Analysis (FP&A) departments of the 2020s want planning solutions that are flexible; closely integrated with their ERP as well as financial reporting (for variance analysis, etc.) and dashboard functionality; and that provide quick time to value.

What Is Considered a Quick Start with a New Planning Solution and How Is It Deployed?

These days, most Microsoft Dynamics customers want their connected apps, including budgeting and forecasting tools, to be cloud based and often Azure is the preferred cloud platform. Questions that quickly come up include: how complex might be an integration of a best-of-breed planning solution with D365 Finance, and how much cost and effort will it take to get key budget input forms up and running in it? Input forms such as:

  • Employee payroll (with taxes and benefits)
  • Capital expenses (with calculation of depreciation)
  • Sales budget (by salesperson and/or customer, product/service)
  • Profit & Loss (revenues and operating expenses)
  • Balance sheet with automated or semi-automated Cash Flow budgets

The typical answer: months of effort and tens of thousands of dollars in consulting services. However, some Dynamics 365 independent software vendors (ISVs), like Solver, that work very closely with Microsoft and its partner channel, have developed pre-built ERP integrations as well as out-of-the-box budget templates. For example, Solver’s QuickStart integration to Dynamics 365 Finance can have a company up and running in a single day, with pre-built and customizable input planning forms, reports and Microsoft Power BI dashboards. All these forms, reports and visualization tools are available in a continuously growing template Marketplace.

A note about tools that offer integrations to Dynamics 365 Finance:

While almost several CPM vendors can claim to offer integrations to an ERP like Dynamics 365, there can be big differences in the skills and effort involved in having these integrations complete and ready to go with your financial data loaded into the planning and reporting tool.

Generally, there are three categories of integrations, each with its own effort level required 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: Connectors specifically built for Dynamics 365 Finance, but do not include an app that configures dimensions and views in Dynamics nor pre-maps to popular fields to “light them up” for its API.
  • Quickest and easiest: Connectors specifically built for Dynamics 365 Finance and that include an app or script(s) that properly and automatically configure dimensions and views in Dynamics. Then it exposes them to its API, including pre-mapped popular dimensions and data. You can see an example of this type of integration here.

What Is a Template Marketplace and Why Is It Important to Your Business?

By now, most best-of-breed planning solutions have followed D365 Finance and other popular ERPs to the cloud. They offer modern and flexible functionality to collect the budget and forecast data that your executives need. However, they still have at least one big deficiency: Somebody must design those input forms and adapt them to your Dynamics chart of accounts and other key dimensions. This can be very painful when you include the time and cost involved, especially if you still remember the effort it took to get all required templates and reports up and running in your old legacy on-premise ERP system.

These days, there is a growing trend for cloud business solutions to offer pre-built apps such as reports, input forms, connectors, and more in their own Marketplaces. Typically, app installations only involve a few clicks to install from a marketplace. This is not that different from apps you are used to downloading to your iPhone or Samsung phone. For example, in Solver’s Marketplace (see screenshot below), users can download planning input templates, financial reports and more than 50 pre-built financial dashboards that plug right into your Power BI web service.

Rapid deployment of Budgeting and Forecasting Tools for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance

Rapid deployment of Budgeting and Forecasting Tools for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance

In other words, with true marketplace templates you should be able to provide your managers with at least a set of General Ledger account-level budgeting and forecasting templates the same day you install the planning tool! Now that’s a quick deployment!

Summary

For new or existing Dynamics 365 Finance customers, the 2020s hold a lot of promise. Microsoft is continuously improving and updating their ERP system, and there is a rapidly growing ecosystem of third-party apps that further enhance the benefits of D365 Finance. Picking the right solutions, for planning as an example, 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.

solver microsoft

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

Advanced CPM Software

One Version of the Truth

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

Vendor Stability

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick-Time-to-Value and Low Implementation Risk

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

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

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

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

More Time for Analysis and Daily Accounting Tasks

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

The Promise of a “Cleaner” ERP?

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

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

Advanced CPM Software

Higher ROI on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Business Central Investment  

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

Summary

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

Integration promises initial deployments of Solver’s cloud planning and reporting for Dynamics 365 in as little as one day to drive quick-time-to-value for Microsoft customers

 

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — January 26, 2021 — Solver, Inc. today announced a strategic cooperation agreement with Microsoft to deliver advanced cloud-based planning and reporting from Microsoft Azure to Dynamics 365 customers world-wide. One of the unique benefits of the agreement is QuickStart, a rapid deployment technology that Solver has designed as an add-on for Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Finance. This enables Dynamics 365 customers to get up and running with pre-built, fully functioning forecasts, budgets and reports in as little as one day. In a time of economic uncertainties, this quick-time-to-value will also help Microsoft partners deliver Solver’s advanced planning to their customers in record time.

Solver’s solution will enable customers to simplify day-to-day planning and reporting tasks, foster collaboration, increase productivity and enhance security.

Customers will also benefit from the Solver multi-tenant cloud solution’s utilization of Microsoft technologies, which includes: Availability on global Azure data centers; Use of Azure Active Directory for single sign on; Integration to Microsoft Teams for collaboration; Cloud-connected Excel add-in for flexible report and input form design; and out-of-the box Power BI connector for professional dashboards.

Driving better and faster decisions in times of change

As organizations adjust and adapt to changing business environments, the need for connected, real-time planning capabilities is accelerating. Making faster, informed decisions across all areas of the business requires a continuous planning process. Solver offers customers a modern Azure-cloud based platform that now, with the new QuickStart integration to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance, will make it much easier and faster to connect strategic goals and KPIs with annual budgets and forecasts, as well as, with historical data from Dynamics 365. Ultimately, the deep two-way integration with Microsoft Dynamics 365 delivers consistent dataflows that provide customers with one version of the truth.

Furthermore, companies are increasingly spreading their data across various cloud business applications, such as ERP, HRM, and sales automation.  Solver and its ability to combine these data sources into Solver’s business data warehouse enables deep planning capabilities.  In addition, it also drives scalable modern analytics and reporting for the Microsoft Dynamics 365 community.

Deep integrations enable quick-time-to-value for Microsoft and Solver customers

Today’s announcement also includes the following additional integrations and support, focusing on easier access, collaboration and security between Microsoft and Solver applications.

  • The Solver QuickStart wizard makes it very easy for customers to deploy the initial integration and data loading between Dynamics 365 and Solver applications.
  • Solver QuickStart templates saves weeks of report and input form design work by delivering out-of-the-box industry standard financial reports and planning forms that can be used immediately without customization.
  • Ability to directly drill-down from Solver planning input forms and reports into related Dynamics 365 screens for immediate visibility and rapid decisions related to underlying historical data.
  • Solver’s automated direct write-back of approved budgets and forecasts to Dynamics 365 speeds up and simplifies accountants’ work at the end of the planning process. It will also enable immediate visibility of Solver budget and forecast data in Dynamics 365 for additional budget control and reporting.
  • Microsoft Teams integration enables users across the organization to access Solver from within Teams to view budgets, forecasts and reports.
  • Microsoft Azure Active Directory integration provides customers access to enterprise data and applications easily and securely through single sign-on. With expanded integrations, joint customers that use Microsoft and Solver applications can confidently secure end-to-end identity lifecycle and entitlement settings for greater privacy and security management. This feature was launched in January, 2020.

Comments on the news

“Continuous planning that is effortlessly connected with backend financial systems is quickly becoming a requirement as organizations adapt their strategies to our rapidly changing world,” said Nils Rasmussen, CEO at Solver.

“With our Solver cloud planning and reporting platform and the new two-way QuickStart integration to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance, our goal is to change the game of planning by making it very easy for finance teams to manage annual budgeting and reiterative forecasting processes across an organization’s silos of information,” explains Tad Remington, Chief Commercial Officer at Solver.

Georg Glantschnig, General Manager, Microsoft Dynamics 365 said, “At Microsoft, we’re laser-focused on empowering the Office of Finance and their counterparts across the organization to drive productivity and business performance with innovative and secure cloud-based financial applications.  Solver delivers deep corporate performance management directly integrated into Dynamics 365 Finance.”

Availability

Solver is a Premier Tier Dynamics 365 Finance solution, available today on Microsoft AppSource (Dynamics 365 Finance and Dynamics 365 Business Central). The new Solver QuickStart integrations for Dynamics 365 Finance and Business Central are scheduled for release in the coming months.

About Solver

Solver is a leading provider (Dresner and G2) of cloud applications for the office of finance that help drive faster and better decisions. Founded in 1996, Solver delivers a unified planning, financial reporting & consolidations and analytics platform for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance,  Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, as well as, the legacy Dynamics ERP solutions and ERPs from other leading vendors (Solver Suite & Dynamics 365 Finance Tours).

 

For more information

Press:  Marketing – Solver, (310) 691-5300, Marketing@SolverGlobal.com

Become a Solver Partner:  Terry Ginley, VP Partnership Development, TGinley@SolverGlobal.com

Sales:  Sales@SolverGlobal.com

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

 

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

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

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

When analyst firms are of less importance

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

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

Which analyst firms should you use?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples of analyst firms that review CPM software

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

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

How much does it cost to use an analyst firm?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Vendor Comparison Tool

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

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

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

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

How to calculate ROI for the best CPM software selection

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

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

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

Vendor ROI Tool

  1. Benefits

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

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

  1. Costs

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

Cost of New Solution:

  • Annual software subscription
  • One-time implementation services

Cost of Old Solution:

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

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

Using one year or multiple years in your ROI calculation

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

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

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

Vendor Evaluation Summary Dashboard

Do ROI calculations have an extra cost?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Microsoft Office / Microsoft 365 integration

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

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

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

Power BI inside PowerPoint

  1. Power BI integration

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

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

  1. Microsoft Teams integration

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

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

  1. Microsoft Dynamics integrations

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

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

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

  1. Azure deployment

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

Does deep Microsoft alignment have an extra cost?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Data warehouse platform

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

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

  1. Homegrown versus commercial data warehouse

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

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

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

Here is an example of a commercial data warehouse interface:

  1. Separate data warehouse or combined with CPM solution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Modules, dimensions, and trees

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

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

How much does a data warehouse solution cost?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not use the ERP system as a data warehouse?

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Charts embedded inside financial reports

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

P&L – Variance, Modern Design

  1. Native dashboards in CPM portal

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

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

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

  1. Integrated best-in-class dashboards

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

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

Distribution – Revenue and Margin Analysis

How much does a dashboard solution cost?

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets