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Example of an Revenue Exception Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

How can Financial Dashboards Drive Faster and Better Decisions?

As CFOs increasingly become key players in the Monthly Analysis Process, they must rely on modern self-service corporate performance management (CPM) and business intelligence (BI) tools. Using interactive Financial Dashboards like the Revenue Exception Dashboard template shown below enables them and other users from the leadership team to experience near real time revenue abnormalities across all GL account categories that help drive faster and better decisions.

Who uses Revenue Exception Dashboards and What are Some Key Analytical Features?

In today’s fast-paced business environment, CFOs are under high pressure to supply end users like board members and executives with timely and concise Financial Dashboards. Companies use key features like the ones below to support their users with effective analysis that helps drive exception handling.

  • Top 5 revenue variances (amount)
  • Top 5 revenue variances (%)
  • Analysis by individual GL revenue account

The Revenue Exception Dashboard template can be used as a key element of the Monthly Analysis process:

Example of an Revenue Exception Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

Example of an Revenue Exception Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

The Revenue Exception Dashboard is a ready-to-use Financial Dashboard from the Solver Marketplace

A Brief Description of the Revenue Exception Dashboard Template

Financial Dashboards like the one seen in the image above are interactive and parameter driven and typically contain sections with top monthly and YTD variances versus budget and last year. One of the important features that aid the user in the analysis process is the ability to click on any account (chart column) and see if that revenue item also is a top 5 variance in any other area. Revenue Exception Dashboards are often used in conjunction with revenue trend and variance dashboards.

Data Integration to Transaction Systems

Most organizations these days want automated and streamlined planning, reporting and analysis. However, many of the benefits described earlier rely on best of breed Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools and/or Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities as well as data marts or data warehouses that use pre-built integrations to the organization’s ERP system. Oftentimes, they also need integrations to other key data sources like CRM, subscription systems, payroll tools, etc.

Modern, cloud-based ERPs like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance (D365 Finance), Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (D365 BC), Sage Intacct, Acumatica, Netsuite and SAP have robust APIs which allow for dynamic integrations to CPM and BI tools that are fully automated and flexible to run on a schedule or on-demand.

Additional Resources to Aid with Research of Templates, CPM and BI Tools

Example of a Financial KPI Variance Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

How can Financial KPI Dashboards Drive Faster and Better Decisions?

As CFOs increasingly become key advisors in the Monthly Analysis Process, they must rely on modern self-service corporate performance management (CPM) and business intelligence (BI) tools. Using interactive KPI Dashboards like the Financial KPI Variance Dashboard template shown below enables them and users from the leadership team to experience near real time financial KPIs that help drive faster and better decisions.

Who uses Financial KPI Variance Dashboards and What are Some Key Analytical Features?

In today’s fast-paced business environment, CFOs are under high pressure to supply end users like board members and executives with timely and concise Financial KPI Dashboards. Companies use key features like the ones below to support their users with effective analysis that helps drive informed decisions.

  • Comparison of the Actual data with Budget and Last Year figures
  • % Variance columns with traffic light indicators
  • Charts for visual comparison

The Financial KPI Variance Dashboard template can be used as a key element of the Monthly Analysis process:

Example of a Financial KPI Variance Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

Example of a Financial KPI Variance Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

The Financial KPI Variance Dashboard is a ready-to-use Financial KPI Dashboard from the Solver Marketplace

A Brief Description of the Financial KPI Variance Dashboard Template

Financial KPI Dashboards like the one seen in the image above are interactive and parameter driven and typically contain sections with P&L and Balance Sheet KPIs with bar charts and user-defined filters. One of the important features that aid the user in the analysis process is the ability to easily monitor KPI variances by keeping an eye on the traffic lights to see if there are red indicators that need action to be initiated. Financial KPI Variance Dashboards are often used in conjunction with balance sheet, revenue and expense dashboards.

Data Integration to Transaction Systems

Most organizations these days want automated and streamlined planning, reporting and analysis. However, many of the benefits described earlier rely on best of breed Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools and/or Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities as well as data marts or data warehouses that use pre-built integrations to the organization’s ERP system. Oftentimes, they also need integrations to other key data sources like CRM, subscription systems, payroll tools, etc.

Modern, cloud-based ERPs like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance (D365 Finance), Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (D365 BC), Sage Intacct, Acumatica, Netsuite and SAP have robust APIs which allow for dynamic integrations to CPM and BI tools that are fully automated and flexible to run on a schedule or on-demand.

Additional Resources to Aid with Research of Templates, CPM and BI Tools

Example of an Balance Sheet Variance Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

How can Financial Dashboards Drive Faster and Better Decisions?

As CFOs increasingly become key advisors in the Monthly Analysis Process, they must rely on modern self-service corporate performance management (CPM) and business intelligence (BI) tools. Using interactive Financial Dashboards like the Balance Sheet Variance Dashboard template shown below enables them and users from the FP&A team to experience near real time asset and liability analysis that help drive faster and better decisions.

Who uses Balance Sheet Variance Dashboards and What are Some Key Analytical Features?

In today’s fast-paced business environment, CFOs are under high pressure to supply end users like executives and the finance team with timely and concise Financial Dashboards. Companies use key features like the ones below to support their users with effective analysis that helps drive smart management of cash, receivables, payables and related processes.

  • Interactive Actual versus Last Year variance tables by GL account
  • Actual versus Last Year charts for Current- and Long Term Assets and Liabilities
  • Variance (%) charts for Current and Long Term Assets and Liabilities

The Balance Sheet Variance Dashboard template can be used as a key element of the Monthly Analysis process:

Example of an Balance Sheet Variance Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

Example of an Balance Sheet Variance Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

The Balance Sheet Variance Dashboard is a ready-to-use Financial Dashboard from the Solver Marketplace

A Brief Description of the Balance Sheet Variance Dashboard Template

Financial Dashboards like the one seen in the image above are interactive and parameter driven and typically contain sections with matrix reports that can be sorted by variance percent, as well as comparative charts. One of the important features that aid the user in the analysis process is the ability to click on any account row in the tables and see that GL account highlighted as a portion of each chart. Balance Sheet Variance Dashboards are often used in conjunction with revenue, expense and KPI variance dashboards.

Data Integration to Transaction Systems

Most organizations these days want automated and streamlined planning, reporting and analysis. However, many of the benefits described earlier rely on best of breed Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools and/or Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities as well as data marts or data warehouses that use pre-built integrations to the organization’s ERP system. Oftentimes, they also need integrations to other key data sources like CRM, subscription systems, payroll tools, etc.

Modern, cloud-based ERPs like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance (D365 Finance), Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (D365 BC), Sage Intacct, Acumatica, Netsuite and SAP have robust APIs which allow for dynamic integrations to CPM and BI tools that are fully automated and flexible to run on a schedule or on-demand.

Additional Resources to Aid with Research of Templates, CPM and BI Tools

Example of an Profit Margin Variance Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

How can Financial Dashboards Drive Faster and Better Decisions?

As CFOs increasingly become strategic advisors in the Monthly Analysis Process, they must rely on modern self-service corporate performance management (CPM) and business intelligence (BI) tools. Using interactive Financial Dashboards like the Profit Margin Variance Dashboard template shown below enables them and users from the leadership team to experience near real time profit margin analysis that help drive faster and better decisions.

Who uses Profit Margin Variance Dashboards and What are Some Key Analytical Features?

In today’s fast-paced business environment, CFOs are under high pressure to supply end users like analysts and executives with timely and concise Financial Dashboards. Companies use key features like the ones below to support their users with effective analysis that helps drive optimized margins and profitability.

  • Margin and amount analysis for Gross Profit, EBITDA and Net Profit
  • YTD comparison to revenues and expenses
  • MTD comparison to revenues and expenses

The Profit Margin Variance Dashboard template can be used as a key element of the Monthly Analysis process:

Example of an Profit Margin Variance Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

Example of an Profit Margin Variance Dashboard to Streamline the Monthly Analysis Process

The Profit Margin Variance Dashboard is a ready-to-use Financial Dashboard from the Solver Marketplace

A Brief Description of the Profit Margin Variance Dashboard Template

Financial Dashboards like the one seen in the image above are interactive and parameter driven and typically contain sections with gauges, KPIs and bar charts. One of the important features that aid the user in the analysis process is the ability to select any parameter in the menu on the left side to filter the dashboard metrics. Profit Margin Variance Dashboards are often used in conjunction with revenue, expense and KPI variance dashboards.

Data Integration to Transaction Systems

Most organizations these days want automated and streamlined planning, reporting and analysis. However, many of the benefits described earlier rely on best of breed Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools and/or Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities as well as data marts or data warehouses that use pre-built integrations to the organization’s ERP system. Oftentimes, they also need integrations to other key data sources like CRM, subscription systems, payroll tools, etc.

Modern, cloud-based ERPs like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance (D365 Finance), Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (D365 BC), Sage Intacct, Acumatica, Netsuite and SAP have robust APIs which allow for dynamic integrations to CPM and BI tools that are fully automated and flexible to run on a schedule or on-demand.

Additional Resources to Aid with Research of Templates, CPM and BI Tools

financial dashboard, GL, general ledger, variance, dashboard, quickstart, navigation, menu

How can Dashboard Navigation Menus Help Drive Faster and Better Decisions?

As CFOs increasingly rely on dashboards to empower users in the Financial Analysis Process, they must rely on modern self-service corporate performance management (CPM) and business intelligence (BI) tools. Using Interactive Dashboard Navigation Menus like the Interactive Menu template shown below enables them and users from the leadership team to experience near real time financial analysis that help drive faster and better decisions.

Who uses Interactive Menus and What are Some Key Analytical Features?

In today’s fast-paced business environment, CFOs are under high pressure to supply end users like board members and executives with timely and concise graphical analysis of trends, exceptions and variances. Companies use key features like the ones below to support their users with effective navigation across numerous dashboards that helps drive faster and better decisions:

  • Quick and easy access to the right dashboard for specific financial metrics
  • Reduce chances that end users get “lost” while looking for the dashboard they need
  • Motivate users to do more analysis in a shorter amount of time

The Interactive Dashboard Navigation template can be used as a key element of the financial analysis process:

Example of a Dashboard Navigation Template to Streamline Financial Analysis

Example of a Dashboard Navigation Template to Streamline Financial Analysis

The Interactive Navigation Template is a ready-to-use template from the Solver Marketplace.

A Brief Description of the Dashboard Navigation Template

Dashboard Navigations like the one seen in the image above are interactive and by clicking on any of the buttons it will take the user directly to the underlying dashboard. One of the important features that aid the user in the analysis process is the ability save time by going directly to a specific dashboard and from there to go back up to the interactive navigation and then drill down into the next dashboard that supports the analysis process. Interactive Menus are often used in conjunction with the deployment of a large number of detailed dashboards to simplify the user experience.

Data Integration to Transaction Systems

Most organizations these days want automated and streamlined planning, reporting and analysis. However, many of the benefits described earlier rely on best of breed Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools and/or Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities as well as data marts or data warehouses that use pre-built integrations to the organization’s ERP system. Oftentimes, they also need integrations to other key data sources like CRM, subscription systems, payroll tools, etc.

Modern, cloud-based ERPs like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance (D365 Finance), Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (D365 BC), Sage Intacct, Acumatica, Netsuite and SAP have robust APIs which allow for dynamic integrations to CPM and BI tools that are fully automated and flexible to run on a schedule or on-demand.

Additional Resources to Aid with Research of Templates, CPM and BI Tools

There is a reason Microsoft Excel, among its many merits, is generally recognized as the world’s most popular reporting tool. Three of the top reasons are:

  • It is easy
  • It is familiar to most business users
  • It is “free” (if you already own an Excel license)

However, Excel also has many downsides, especially when it comes to reporting on financial data…

  • Poor user security
  • No database to manage large amounts of data
  • Not truly a multi-user cloud tool built for reporting
  • Models get complex and hard to maintain

This love/hate relationship with Excel and the typical one (to several) days of training that most professional financial report writers require are two of the key reasons that companies increasingly ask ERP and reporting software vendors this question: “How easy is it to learn how to write reports?”

Of course, complex, formatted reports like Cash Flow Statements and certain other financial report layouts will likely always take a certain training and skill level to produce in most reporting tools. In other words, there does not seem to be one solution that offers the best of all worlds when it comes to reporting.

The Difference Between Financial Report Writers and Ad Hoc Reporting Tools

If all power users and end users of reports had time to learn a new reporting technology and there was enough time to design reports whenever they needed to answer various business questions, then the world would be fine with classic report writers. These have a lot of flexibility, financial functions, and strong formatting to deliver presentation-quality reports. However, most of the time, a user just needs to check some data or quickly answer a question. Examples of such questions are:

  • How can I see an account-by-account report with all key GL fields and a balance check?
  • What is the balance on account 4510 for each month so far this year?
  • How much did Lisa sell in May?

With full-fledged report writers, any of the above would typically require knowledge of the source fields, training on the reporting tool, and possibly several hours of report design work. With modern ad hoc reporting tools like Solver’s Ad Hoc Reporting, any user that has been provided access to the data can build reports in a few minutes and with minimal skills. They can also save their reports for reuse next time they or their peers have a similar business question. In other words, ad hoc reporting tools are perfectly complementary to full-blown report writers, with each one serving different needs.

Ad hoc vs formatted report writers

 

How do I give my end users both advanced formatted reports and let them build their own?

Certain corporate performance management (CPM) vendors like Solver handle this by giving the user three options for their reporting needs:

  • Any user: Use Ad Hoc Reporting to design reports and answer questions on the fly
  • Any user (no training): Pre-built report, budget and dashboard templates downloaded from a Marketplace
  • Power user: Excel-based report designer with multi-tenant cloud architecture

In other words, professional, presentation-quality reports built by power users go hand-in-hand with ad hoc reports that any end users can design whenever they have questions they need answered.

How Can Ad Hoc Reporting Also Help When You Migrate to a New ERP?

As large numbers of companies plan to migrate, or have migrated, their legacy accounting solutions from on-premises servers to the cloud, they not only have to review core ERP functionality to make sure it meets their current and future needs, they also have to review the tools they will use for reporting, planning, and analysis. Usually, native ERP report writers are not great at either ad hoc reports or professional formatted reports, and customers therefore do one of two things:

  • Export data to Excel and take care of any needed reporting in manual spreadsheets. This has both the benefits and the limitations discussed at the beginning of this blog.
  • Purchase a best-of-breed reporting and/or CPM solution. This category includes cloud vendors like Solver with scalable platforms that offer both ad hoc reporting and formatted reporting, plus consolidations, budgeting, forecasting, and integrated Power BI dashboards.

A side benefit of good ad hoc reporting tools is that they can be a strong help for ERP implementation users to create reports on the fly as a check for the data they are loading into the new ERP system. This will also give them a flying start to get basic reports up and running while power users design fully formatted financial and operational reports.

How Much Training Will It Take to Learn Ad Hoc Reporting?

If it takes more than 10-15 minutes of video-based training to learn an ad hoc reporting tool, it should probably not be called ad hoc reporting. One of the key value-adds of this kind of user experience is that pretty much any user with any background should be able to quickly learn the tool, so they can benefit from almost-immediate answers to their data questions.

Because it should be a low training threshold and quick time to value for each user, any of these three types of training categories should do the trick:

  • Learn from trial and error
  • Learn from videos
  • Learn from a peer

Either way, a good ad hoc reporting tool should have a high return on investment for a company because it will require minimal training, and users can get their questions answered near real time and without having to ask for help from their accounting staff or report writer super users.

Summary

As reporting technologies evolve, we will likely see most modern cloud vendors offer both professional formatted reporting as well as ad hoc reporting, and therefore limit the need for users to export data to manual Excel files to get their business questions answered. In the 2020s and post-COVID work-from-home era, companies that enable their users to make faster and better decisions will be at a strong competitive advantage.

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.

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.