Posts

Does your accounting and finance department waste valuable time with manual monthly reporting tools? Do you have too many Excel spreadsheets to keep track of? Is your budget process slow and painful? With Corporate Performance Management (CPM) software you can lead a transformation of the office of finance in your business – and as a result help enable your management teams with faster and better decisions.

In this blog, we will look at the benefits of CPM software and how it can transform your business.

What Is CPM Software?

Modern Corporate Performance Management software uses cloud platforms that enable a single version of the truth with automated and self-service financial and operational reporting. It also manages the entire budget process as well as forecasting tasks that drive more accurate year-end estimates. Using CPM software enables process improvements, reduces mistakes, minimizes dependency on manual spreadsheets, and speeds up analysis. 

CPM software also enhances and extends the reporting and planning capabilities of ERP systems. While popular ERP solutions from vendors like Microsoft, Sage, SAP, and Acumatica always offer basic financial reporting and budgeting functionality, customers typically grow out of these tools. They then either end up with manual Excel spreadsheet models or they bolt a CPM solution on top of their ERP system to make sure their teams have best-of-breed solutions both for accounting needs as well as planning and reporting.

From Excel challenges to reporting hero

Spreadsheets Are Flexible, but….

Most companies, nonprofits, and government organizations are still relying on manual Excel spreadsheets in various areas of their reporting and planning processes. Chances are that you are too!

Below are some of the typical issues with spreadsheets. The resulting pain can go from overworked staff that quits to finance managers that get fired because of inaccuracies or direct negative impact on a company’s ability to drive efficiencies and to grow: 

  • Inaccurate output due to formula mistakes
  • Broken or outdated links to data sources or other files
  • Lack of efficient collaboration, multiple users cannot access and update files simultaneously
  • Insufficient controls with no approval process or workflow due to the nature of Excel files
  • No real-time reporting during budgeting and forecasting process to assess progress or catch errors
  • Inability to dynamically refresh models with the latest actuals 
  • No audit trail to track when individual changes were made
  • Lack of documentation and support due to proprietary models
  • Dependency on Excel gurus to fix issues or make changes
  • Slow monthly reporting process
  • Slow budget and forecast processes
  • And more…

Challenges with Excel reporting and budgeting

However, despite the potential issues of relying too much on spreadsheets for your financial reporting and planning, they also have many advantages, such as: 

  • Almost all financial staff are familiar with Excel
  • Spreadsheets are incredibly flexible and have great graphics and layout capabilities
  • Models can be designed quickly to solve various information needs

As a result, many organizations rely on CPM tools as their core reporting and budgeting solution and supplement with Excel models for various ad-hoc tasks that are not worthwhile to design into the CPM solution.

Where does CPM Software fit in?

So, which tasks are most suitable for Corporate Performance Management software? CPM solutions take you beyond Excel models and enable a business to build a reporting and planning platform that drives efficiency, enables faster and more reliable information, and provides a tool that can scale with the growth of an organization. With CPM software, financial professionals can:

  • Gain the organization-wide visibility needed to effectively monitor and measure performance
  • Easily combine data from the ERP system as well as other key information sources
  • Enable a collaborative, secure cloud platform for reporting and planning
  • Automate repetitive tasks in the budgeting and reporting processes
  • Quickly generate forecasts and create what-if scenarios during times of uncertainty
  • Manage cash flows to predict future needs and ensure solvency
  • Give users a self-service, on-demand platform, with tools tailored to their specific role
  • Improve data accuracy with strong controls and reconciliation tools
  • Shorten the cost and time for tasks such as annual budgeting and monthly reporting 
  • Gain better prediction through efficient driver-based models that can be quickly updated
  • Simplify multi-company consolidations, including eliminations and currency conversion
  • Enable the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning
  • Drive faster and better decisions with a single version of the truth
  • And so much more

As companies grow out of Excel spreadsheets for essential financial and planning processes, they can deploy CPM platforms to streamline budgeting, forecasting, financial reporting, and consolidations processes. It should be noted that some of the leading CPM solutions are popular among finance users exactly because they tightly integrate with Excel. This can be thought of as an architecture that takes the best of Excel and the best of a cloud platform and marries the two.

With automation also comes the opportunity to reduce the cost of manual labor and increase accuracy and the time it takes to deliver essential information to decision-makers. What used to take weeks or months with spreadsheets can be reduced to days or hours with modern cloud-based CPM solutions. 

Benefits of CPM Software

A popular notion in recent years is that data is the new gold. While homegrown spreadsheet models can burst at the seams if you try to store too much data, it also quickly turns into a security risk. 

Corporate Performance Management software significantly eliminates these problems by using scalable cloud databases to store data, including from many different data sources. Detailed, menu-driven user administration with single sign-on and multi-factor authentication ensures that reports and budgets are only accessible to the right team members and for the assigned business areas.

As the number of data sources and the actual transaction volume grow, the complexity in spreadsheet models grows exponentially. Similarly, as the number of end users entering data and sharing Excel files grows, formula errors and data entry mistakes become rampant. 

CPM platforms eliminate or significantly reduce such issues by connecting directly to the APIs of your data sources to load historical data on a scheduled basis, enabling power users to deploy (and update!) dashboards, financial reports, and budget models directly to end users in their web browsers.

As a result of the process and quality improvements to planning and reporting activities, the migration from spreadsheet models to a CPM platform will, in a clear and visible way, drive faster and more informed financial and operational decisions.

With modern, cloud-based CPM software you and your staff can focus more on managing the business and stop spending time maintaining complex spreadsheet models. A popular statement related to benefits of CPM platforms is that you will go from spending 80% of your time managing spreadsheets and data and leaving only 20% of your time for analysis, to spending 20% of your time on managing your CPM solution and 80% of your time will be available for analysis.

CPM as an Integrated Cloud Platform

Corporate Performance Management software started becoming popular in the 1990s. The software category matured and a number of CPM offerings for smaller, midsize, and enterprise organizations arrived between 2000 and 2020. Many of these solutions were originally built for on-premises deployment, and they could also be hosted as individual instances in third-party server farms, often referred to as hosting providers.

From 2020 and onward, all modern CPM vendors have built or re-written their solutions to be public cloud, multi-tenant solutions hosted and updated by the vendors themselves. 

Somewhat tedious annual upgrades or patches done by consultants or your IT department have been replaced by automated monthly cloud updates that arrive in your browser with new features and improvements next time you log in. 

In a similar fashion, what used to be a significant upfront purchase followed by annual maintenance fees now have become cloud subscriptions with a once-a-year renewal. Beyond pricing and automated, frequent updates there are other benefits with modern, cloud-based CPM software, such as pre-built connectors to your data sources and marketplaces with pre-built reports, dashboards, and budget templates. 

Combined with the complete elimination of the need to buy and maintain local hardware servers with related electricity costs and database licenses, ROI calculations (free tool here) show that cloud CPM solutions provide significantly better return on investments than the classic on-premises offerings, and they are easier for vendors to support than thousands of local installations at customers’ offices. 

Typical CPM architecture

Rapid CPM Deployment Drives Quick Time to Value

Top CPM vendors have taken the CPM experience to the next level by innovating the initial deployment experience to offer almost immediate use of their product. Two such innovation examples are Solver’s QuickStart and Template Marketplace.  

The underlying technology uses pre-built data source connectors, setup wizards and ready-to-use reports, dashboards, and budget forms to enable as quick as single-day mini-implementations that later can be expanded with custom report writing and other tailoring. That is a vastly quicker time-to-value than classic implementations where you start with an empty CPM box and it often takes 2-3 months of implementation before you get practical use of your new system. 

Here are some important functionality trends and best practices delivered by modern CPM providers:

PRE-BUILT INTEGRATIONS TO ERPS AND OTHER DATA SOURCES

Integrating your transaction data sources to a CPM solution can be a tedious task, often with technical integration consultants involved for days if not weeks. However, with many CPM vendors partnering up with ERP firms, it is increasingly normal that CPM vendors create specific integrations to each popular ERP system, sometimes even with the fields in each system coming pre-mapped. 

 MARKETPLACES WITH OUT-OF-THE BOX TEMPLATES

In the old days, CPM solutions were sold as empty boxes and implementations started from scratch with no budget forms, reports, or dashboards. Nowadays, CPM vendors have realized that customers want quick time to value, and as a result the trend is toward in-app marketplaces where users with a few clicks can select and download templates for immediate use. These templates are typically modifiable so users can change colors, add columns, etc. to tailor them to corporate standards.

SELF-PACED ONLINE TRAINING ACADEMIES

Pre-COVID it was still relatively normal to have physical in-class training to learn a new enterprise software. However, with modern training portals, most vendors now offer self-paced academies where users can learn the CPM software through videos and tutorials and earn certifications from the comfort of their own home.

CRAWL-WALK-RUN

Lengthy big-bang implementations were the standard of CPM projects in the past. It led to higher-risk projects as numerous architectural decisions had to be made, often with required input from users who still did not fully understand how the system would work with their own data. 

With modern rapid deployment options, users can almost immediately start using standard reports, dashboards, and budget forms, which significantly enhances their ability to make smart and informed decisions for later tailoring and expansion of the system. This approach is often described with popular terms such as crawl-walk-run, quick win, MVP (minimum viable product), or rapid deployment.

MAKE BETTER DECISIONS

While a primary goal for CPM software is to automate financial reporting and planning processes, even more important is how it will support faster and better decisions. Timely information available in the right format and to the right manager can have a direct impact on the company’s top and bottom line, whether it drives revenue maximization or cost control. 

Furthermore, and especially during uncertain times, the planning capabilities often become the core value of a corporate performance platform, allowing users to quickly modify drivers and create new budget and forecast scenarios that managers can use for their human capital planning and other essential strategies and tactics. 

The key is to use the CPM solution to free up time for analysis and decisions by automating otherwise tedious data collection, consolidation, reconciliation, and presentation preparation. 

Is Now the Time for Integrated Financial Planning and Reporting With CPM?

One of the key benefits of modern Corporate Performance Management solutions is to streamline planning and reporting processes and at the same time enable your business with a secure cloud platform that consistently produces one version of the truth compared to what you can do with homegrown spreadsheet models, multiple report writers, etc. So, if you have arrived at this conclusion, what are the typical next steps?

  1. Document What Constitutes Success

Meet with executive sponsors and key users to document the desired business outcomes of the CPM project from their point of view. These should be presented to the CPM vendors you are going to evaluate to ensure that they feel comfortable that their solution can deliver these outcomes. The outcomes should also be brought up during and at the end of the project to ensure alignment. 

  • Create a list of open-ended questions
  • Interview executives and key users
  • Reconcile answers and document them in a clear bullet point format  
  1. Define Your Needs

By creating a clearly defined list of your planning and reporting needs and pains, you will be able to communicate relevant requirements to the CPM vendor when the evaluation process starts.

  • Document current as well as desired planning and reporting processes
  • Document the data sources that will be feeding the CPM system  
  • Quantify time currently spent on such processes
  • Describe critical and required functionality 
  • Estimate cost of inefficiencies and inaccurate data
  1. Select the CPM Solution With the Best Fit

The good news is that a number of good Corporate Performance Management solutions are on the market. Usually these are optimized for smaller, medium, and large organizations, and pricing and complexity are closely related to your company size and user count. Here are suggested steps to help find the best CPM solution for your needs:

  • Make final selection with input from users and any third-party experts

You can use this CPM software vendor comparison and ROI tool to assist you in finding the best CPM solution for your needs.

  1. Implementation and Go Live

Even the best software can be implemented poorly, resulting in a subpar outcome. For this reason, you want to carefully verify that consultants and your own team that will be helping with the implementations have the right experience and track record. 

  • Define the joint consultant/employee implementation team.
  • Create a good project plan with clearly defined phases, timelines, and responsible person(s).
  • Be willing to think new based on functionality in the chosen CPM platform (i.e., “square peg in a square hole”) as well as suggestions to make improvements over your old planning and reporting models.
  • Identify areas that can deliver quick wins that enable part of the solution to be used right away. This can often be achieved with pre-built connectors and out-of-the-box or sample templates from the vendor.
  • Communicate well and often and encourage the team to drive innovation and improvements.

With proper planning and execution, you have a high likelihood that your new CPM solution will help take your organization to the next level. Your finance and accounting team will spend less time maintaining old models and have more time for analysis and decision-making.

 

If this is the right time for you to look at a CPM solution, take a look at the Solver tour and contact our team at any time to tell us about your needs. With Solver’s QuickStart integrations and pre-built templates, you could be on your way in as little as one day!

 

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.