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.
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!
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.