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It is easy to predict the future when it is business as usual. However, if your business environment is suddenly impacted by something like the coronavirus, a delayed product launch or an unplanned acquisition, your corporate budget may become obsolete very quickly.

How Do I Know it is Time To Replace the Budget with a Forecast?

Sometimes unexpected events happen and it is clear the company’s actual performance is moving so far above or below the annual budget that it no longer provides value in the following ways: 

  • A cost control tool
  • A target for employee compensation plans
  • A detailed financial break-down of corporate strategic goals
  • A financial plan for various corporate initiatives

There are many signs that your budget is becoming obsolete due to unexpected events, such as:

  • Management comments why a revenue or expense budget variance is occurring
  • Complaints from sales teams that their targets are too high due to XYZ event
  • Lack of budget ownership from department heads

In addition, you will start hearing from executives that the budget column in the financial statements is “useless” or that the budget target figure in a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is no longer valuable. 

Some organizations have a predefined monthly, quarterly or semi-annual forecasting process, and when the unexpected happens, they simply take this into account next time they reforecast. These companies often have budgeting and forecasting software such as Solver, Adaptive Insight or Planful to speed up and automate the time and effort it takes to create budgets and forecasts.

Other organizations’ forecasting techniques only include a single annual budget version as a baseline, and for these companies a “forced” reforecast due to unexpected events might involve a lot more arms and legs and interruptions to people’s work schedules.  

What to do When the Corporate Budget Becomes Obsolete?

Companies generally do one of the following when their budgets become obsolete: 

  1. Do nothing and live with the undocumented comments and questions until next year’s budget is launched
  2. Leave the budget as is and use report comments to explain big budget variances (see sample screenshot below).
  3. Reforecast the rest of the year and replace the now defunct budget with the new forecast

Most companies enter their corporate forecasts at a higher level than the annual budget, and often it is only done at the Profit & Loss account level and sometimes also for Balance Sheet and Cash Flow.

In most cases, smaller organizations with well organized, home-grown Excel models can forecast in their spreadsheet and then re-import the forecast into their ERP system or third-party reporting tool. In mid-sized and larger organizations even forecasts at the GL account level may require a lot of work due to requirements to do this by division or department. These companies either have more human resources available to perform the work or they use a budgeting tool to automate it.

Picture1

How to Reforecast Your Budget?

Whether your forecasting requirements are simple enough to be handled in Excel or your company is using a modern budgeting tool, there are ways to avoid the painfully slow bottom-up data entry process. The problem with the latter is that the new forecast may already be old by the time you are done. In these cases, the unexpected event that led to the reforecast could have changed again, leading you to start all over.

Budgeting and  forecasting software automation typically means that your input model is highly formula driven. For example, your forecast model can rapidly calculate all the required entries automatically such as % Revenue Increase, Target Net Income, Reduction/Increase in Headcount, etc. This functionality has many names such as:

  • Top-down planning
  • Driver-based modelling
  • Break-back modelling (see sample screenshot below)
  • What-if analysis

Picture2

Regardless of what you call it and the type of planning tool you use, an automated reforecasting model can create an entire forecast in minutes or hours versus days or weeks with manual methods. 

 An automated model also allows you to create multiple scenarios. For example, armed with a “Best Case”, “Worst Case” or “Likely” forecast scenarios, you can be prepared for unexpected events without rushing to reforecast. Instead, you replace the “Likely” budget version with the already created “Best Case” or “Worst Case” scenario and you are done. 

If the situation calls for a brand new scenario, you adjust the drivers in the automated model and it will recalculate and store the underlying account-level forecast transactions.  

When your company has the right tools and plans ready for a budget reforecast they will be prepared for a virus outbreak, stock market crash or exciting acquisition of a competitor. Planning ahead will reduce stress and blood pressure for the organization’s finance team.

hybrid cloud

There are around 40,000 Microsoft Dynamics GP customers world-wide and many are not planning to move to the cloud yet. However, if you are one of them, this does not mean that your company can’t start taking advantage of modern cloud-based reporting solutions today to drive better and faster decisions for yourself and your management team!

Hasn’t Cloud-based reporting for on-premise ERPs been available for a long time?

Yes, vendors like Prophix, Solver, Vena, Adaptive Insights, and Planful (formerly Host Analytics) have offered both cloud-based financial reporting and budgeting for years. However, all of these vendors have typical corporate performance management (CPM) architectures that require data to be loaded from the on-premise ERP and into the cloud CPM tool before the user can run reports. 

The process requires a “refresh” of data from the ERP database into the CPM database which means that the data users see in reports is not real-time. This also mean that the drill-down on any number is only as detailed as the lowest level data that was loaded into the cloud CPM database. 

Your executives are often ok with this because they want to wait on their report analysis until the accounting team has closed the books. However, the accounting team that is posting transactions in the ERP system almost always prefers live ERP reporting because they want to immediately see the impact of journal entries in their reports. They don’t want to refresh data into a CPM reporting database first, and then wait one minute, ten minutes or significantly longer to run reports after the data has been transferred to the CPM tool.

How do I get true live reporting for my on-premise Dynamics GP data?  

The obvious answer is that you use an on-premise report writer like the default Management Reporter tool, GP Report Writer, Smartlist or SQL Reporting Services (SSRS). However, while none of these tools are inferior to what is offered by other ERP systems, and they have aged “gracefully,” they are just not comparable to many modern cloud reporting tools.

Key weaknesses of on-premise report tools include:

  • Not particularly user-friendly for accounting staff to design reports.
  • Lack of easy and professional formatting.
  • Typically requires VPN or Terminal Server to connect to Dynamics GP in order to run reports from outside the office network.
  • Maintaining multiple report writers for different data (e.g. Management Reporter for GL reports, and GP Report Writer and SSRS for sub-ledger reports).

In order to overcome these weaknesses and help GP customers maximize the value of their data with modern, cloud-based reporting tools, Solver has now launched what they refer to as “Hybrid Cloud Reporting.” You can see it live in this video. This is a unique integration technology that enables you to:

  • Use your web-browser to run beautifully formatted reports (looks like Excel formatting).
  • Benefit from true real-time reports on your GP data without any data transfer to a separate reporting database.
  • Drill-down from any number in the report directly into your underlying GP transactional data.
  • Easy internet and browser-based access with no need for VPN, or software like Terminal Server.
  • Enter budgets from user-friendly forms (looks like Excel) in the cloud and have the transactions stored directly into your budget table in Dynamics GP. 

In other words, now your accountants and reporting end-users get the best of two worlds by only needing a web browser to run live reports on GP and drill-down.

Below is a simple architecture diagram to explain how it works:

hybriddiagram

What about budgeting and forecasting?

Like many other cloud-based CPM solutions, Solver also offers budgeting and forecasting. With the new Hybrid Cloud technology and Solver’s cloud-based Planning Module, users can store budget data directly back from Solver’s budget forms in the cloud, into the General Ledger budget table in Dynamics GP. 

So, if you struggle with manual Excel-based spreadsheets for your budgets, you can save a lot of time by eliminating emailing files between users, linking between spreadsheets, and put better controls in place for the entire budget process with workflow and approvals. 

As an example, users can access budget forms like the example below with their browser and instantly, until you close the budget process, update their department’s budget in Microsoft Dynamics GP. Since Solver’s Hybrid Cloud updates are real-time, reports can immediately be run to see the impact of these changes on the budget.

Enjoy Faster and Better Decisions in the 2020s

Companies like Solver, Prophix, Vena, Adaptive Insights, and Planful are driving the next generation cloud-based reporting and planning technology. However, with the lack of live reporting and live budget write-back to on-premise ERP systems like Microsoft Dynamics GP, accountants and very active ERP users have been left with their legacy tools for their real-time reporting needs.  

With the release of Solver Hybrid Cloud for Microsoft Dynamics GP, these users now get the best of both worlds and can start ushering in the 2020’s by enabling themselves and other users with faster and better decisions.  Learn more about the benefits of choosing Solver CPM solutions by contacting us today or requesting a demo. 

 

sage-intacct

If you have surveyed an audience of mid-market accounting and finance professionals, you almost always find that 90-95% primarily rely on manual budget models in Excel. How is this possible when most enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, including Sage Intacct, have both basic native ERP budget functionalities? In some cases, they also have specialized add-on modules. For example, the Microsoft Dynamics on-premise ERPs had the now “retired” Forecaster product and for Sage, it is the Sage Budgeting and Planning. Other ERP systems have built various Excel export and import mechanisms to make it easier for users to budget in Excel. Then, re-import the GL portion of the budget.

While most ERP vendor’s budget add-ons do the job better then entering budgets directly into the ERP system, there still seems to be a large group of companies that simply need a full-featured budgeting and forecasting solution to get the workflow, formula and layout flexibility they need. These solutions are typically referred to as Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools. They also include a reporting and consolidation functionality.

How do I know if my planning process is NOT streamlined?

Typically, there are a number of key motivators when an organization begins to look for a CPM solution to improve its planning process:

  • Effort spent exporting and importing data from Sage Intacct to home grown Excel budgets
  • Current process is error-prone and a resource strain on the finance team
  • Lack of time and resources to quickly re-forecast (for example if a virus hits the economy!)
  • Lack of automation to create many budget versions
  • Current tool too complex for staff to learn so ended up back with a manual Excel model
  • Find that the ROI of automation with a CPM tool is higher than the cost of manual processes

Which benefits should I expect from modern CPM Planning tool?

Because Sage Intacct is a cloud-based ERP system, pretty much all customers looking for a full featured CPM solution like Solver, Adaptive Insight or Anaplan, will also expect a high degree of functionality, including:

  • Cloud-based platform
  • Pre-integration to Sage Intacct and Sage Intacct approval as a certified add-on vendor
  • Complete workflow functionality to manage submissions, reviews and approvals of the budget
  • Highly flexibly budget form design to completely replace the company’s manual Excel models
  • Strong native report writer for variance reporting and budget consolidations
  • User administration and security that allow for any person to participate in the budget regardless if they are users of Sage Intacct or not
  • Usability features like spreading, break-back, lien items with comments, and more.

I am planning to implement Sage Intacct. What is the best timing for budgeting tool?

Accounting teams always have a lot on their plate. Therefore, it never seems to be a great time to implement another software. However, the best time seems to be in the 2-3 months after the most recent budget cycle. Not only will issues and needs be fresh in mind, but it also allows for plenty of time to select, implement and test a new planning solution before the next budget cycle starts. Some organizations even do a “dry run” of their new budget solution during the year for one of their forecasts.

Carefully selecting a CPM vendor is important

Turbulent Mergers & Acquisition (M&A) market

For example, when a vendor gets acquired, it usually ends less than good for customers. The most typical reason that issues arise is that acquiring companies are much larger than the target company. Therefore, politics and other internal priorities at the parent company tend to drive employees away, disturb the focus of product development, increase prices and more.

Eventually, many acquired products die slowly, and customers end up switching products and vendors. Comshare, Adaytum, SRC Software and Clarity are a few vendors that suffered this during the M&A spree that took place in the CPM space about 15-20 years ago. Over the past 3 years, another wave of M&A has happened, including Workday acquiring Adaptive Insight, a PE firm acquiring Host Analytics from its old investor, Wolters Kluwer acquired Tagetik, and PE-owned Insight Software acquiring Jet Global, Atlas, BizNet and other players in the game.

Protecting the significant financial investment

There are more CPM solutions that are cloud-based. Customers can sign up for one or more years of subscription versus having to purchase the software upfront. However, even if a subscription is reasonable, the amount of time and effort from the internal staff (often with the help of costly consultants) has to be put in to get a CPM solution fully up and running. Also the reports, budget model and dashboards that management need are very significant. You can expect anywhere from twenty thousand dollars and to several hundred and thousands of dollars in direct and indirect costs for full blown implementations. In other words, picking the right vendor and the right product carries a much larger costs than simply a year’s worth of subscription.

Protecting your job

While a good vendor selection and successful implementation can be a significant boon to the careers of project management, it can be the opposite if it all does not work out well. Let alone the stress and long hours that often come from enterprise software implementations,  should it not end well,  can be a scar that follows you for a long time in your career.

Be Strategic

Whether there is too much pain from spreadsheet budgeting or a tactical hint for competitive advantages with faster and better decision-making that drives your search for a CPM solution, a final piece of advice is to be strategic about it. Don’t look at a CPM solution as a temporary band-aid, but view this technology for what it can be when properly chosen and implemented with care. One of your most important decision-making tools that can help drive growth and success for your organization in the 2020s.

powerbiandsolver

If you have ever tried to build and maintain financial reports inside a visualization tool, the answer should be simple. Power BI works well for dashboards, but modern cloud-based corporate performance management (CPM) solutions are the best option for your financial reports.

BI vs. CPM

Let’s elaborate. Power BI belongs to a category typically referred to as Business Intelligence (BI) tools. While purpose-built, financial reporting and consolidation tools belong to a category referred to as Corporate Performance Management (CPM) Software.

Business Intelligence:

In the business intelligence category, you also find other well-known solutions such as Tableau and Domo. For the most part, BI tools are purpose-built for dashboards with rich visualizations. Also, BI tools are increasingly infused with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

Corporate Performance Management Software:

On the other hand, CPM solutions are specifically designed for accounting teams to consolidate financial data. CPMs often produce professionally formatted financial reports such as: 

  • Profit & Loss
  • Balance Sheet
  • Cash flow statements

Most CPM reporting tools offer budgeting modules. And in recent years, the ability to do sophisticated planning such as sales forecasting and modeling.

If the difference between BI and CPM is so clear, why is “Financial Reporting in Power BI or in a Corporate Performance Management Solution” even a topic worth covering in a blog? 

Well, with the rapid rise in popularity of Power BI for financial reporting and its key competitors, an army of “hungry” consultants have emerged.  And, given a strong and flexible tool like Power BI, a sales person with the right technical skills can make almost anything, including formatted financial reports, look good.  Many companies have fallen into this trap lately of using Power BI for financial reporting. And, when you ask a skilled, revenue motivated consultant: Can you do that? Chances are that you will get a “Yes!”  And after a few weeks…or a few months, and a sizable consulting bill, you may actually have good looking Power BI financial reports.  But, as excited as your executives may be to have a single cloud-based portal for both dashboards and financial reports, for most financial executives this has a tendency to turn into a small nightmare.  Why?

Because neither Power BI nor its BI competitors were designed to manage a financial reporting process.

A lot of hard coding and hacking is needed behind the scenes in Power BI’s modeling language. Of course, if you are ready to hire a technical expert or keep your Power BI consultant permanently retained to handle model changes as your chart of accounts grows, your roll-ups change or you need to write a new report, you could survive for a while. Eventually, we can say with certainty, you will be back in Excel to do your financial reporting where your accounting team is comfortable with formulas and formatting.

Alternatively, you can deploy a CPM solution that is built to streamline the financial process. Also, you can deploy a CPM tool to deliver professionally formatted financial statements.

With a CPM solution, you can also move your budgeting process into the CPM tool and run it all in the cloud.  Now, it does not have to be an either or.

The Best Way: Use BI Tools and CPMs Reporting Tools Together

An increasing number of CPM vendors offer pre-built integrations to leading BI tools like Power BI.

Two such vendors are Solver and Prophix. As an example, Solver is similar to Power BI in that it is an Azure cloud-based platform, and it comes with a pre-built connector to Power BI.  Below is an example of a comparison between Power BI and Solver. It clearly shows that companies looking for both dashboards and financial reporting should use a BI tool for their dashboards and a CPM tool for their financial reporting. Neither tool replaces the other.

power bi and solver

As organizations gear up for what can be the “Roaring Twenties,” having the right tools for the job might be one of the smartest strategic moves a management team can make. On the other hand, trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, could lead to frustration. The frustration is delayed reporting and wasted money. It is increasingly accepted that “data is the new gold.” When Power BI is integrated with a best-in-class CPM solution and both are running in the cloud, organizations are likely a step closer to success and industry leadership in the years ahead.

Intacct-budgeting-01

This article will describe how organizations leverage planning software to increase efficiency.

This article will describe how companies with multiple business units process budgets and forecasts.

 

 
Read more

This article describes the value in organizing and visualizing data.


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This article will describe the importance of forecasting with the best corporate performance management software and how it differs from budgeting.
Why is forecasting a good practice for all organizations? Here are five reasons:

  1. A forecast is usually a much quicker process and involves fewer employees.
  2. A forecast is entered at the general ledger account level while detailed templates, such as personnel templates, are not used.
  3. A budget is a company’s intention for the coming year, while a forecast is the most up-to-date expectation of what will happen over the remaining months of the year.
  4. The budget is finalized prior to the start of the year while a forecast can be created monthly or quarterly once the year has started and actual data can be reviewed.
  5. Many organizations create multi-year forecasts while budgets are only for the coming year.

While the budget is created one to two months before the year starts, the bulk of it is created up to fourteen months prior to the start of the month. For example, the budget is finalized in November for a company based on a calendar fiscal year, which is a year prior until the next November happens. Meanwhile, a lot can change in the various aspects of an organization regarding economy, industry, products, competitors, employees, and leadership. A forecast can more accurately influence decision-making.
 

Companies can impact their bottom line by forecasting on a regular basis.

An organization will be much more agile by forecasting monthly, as it can affect the following decisions:

  • Expense reduction and tightening up the authority to spend money.
  • Employee raises, new hires, and terminations.
  • Capital expenditures reductions or increases.
  • Strategic planning and modifying initiatives.

A forecast should include the current year actual data for the closed months. It should also allow the departmental managers to modify the amounts for the remaining months. Additionally, copying the budget data to the forecast will allow managers to concentrate solely on changes in the forecast. You can show the prior year actual data as well.
 

Templates

Another example is a rolling forecast. This template exists for organizations that do not create a budget but they forecast monthly. In a five-year forecast template, it is recommended to plan the first two years quarterly and the last three years annually.
One other option for a monthly forecast is to enter an expected annual amount by each account. Create a calculation that subtracts the annual amount entered from the actual year-to-date data. Then allocate the remaining amount based on historical actual data.
Finally, we recommend using the Breakback template. This template allows a manager to enter a few amounts to create the forecast in October, November, and December:

  • The desired net Income of $600,000. This is the main driver of the Breakback template, and the only input that is mandatory.
  • Increase all administration expenses by 3%. All of the departments are available for a global increase or decrease across all accounts.
  • Increase administration full-time salaries by 6%. All of the accounts are available for a global increase or decrease across all accounts.

Variance Analysis

The calculation of a variance is the difference between the actual expenses and the budget, the actual expenses and the prior-year expenses, or the actual expenses and the forecast. To calculate revenue data, subtract the budget from actual expenses. To calculate expenses, simply do the opposite. The reason for this is that a positive variance is typically good while a negative variance is typically bad.
The first step is to calculate and analyze variances. Then allow departmental managers to enter comments to document the reasons for the variances.
Variance reports can have comparison reports against the budget for both month-to-date and year-to-date data. Envision a middle section that allows for comments or a conditional format for a quick highlighting variances for review. Variance reports can also be an exception report that allows the manager to filter out variances over or under a specific percentage.
There are several ways of showing variances, but how management will create actionable items to prevent or correct the issues remains essential. Variance analyses  help highlight trends, opportunities and challenges. Variances should be a precursor to a re-forecast. This can significantly affect hiring decisions, marketing spending, and strategy changes.

Best-practice Recommendations on Variance Reporting and Analysis Processes 

 

  • Provide variance reports to each department manager.
  • The finance department should meet with each department manager to review the variances and discuss any concerns and successes.
  • Build an input form that stores comments for all departmental material variances.
  • Concentrate on the larger variances and discuss with the executive management of the company.
  • Make changes to the strategy and initiatives of the organization if needed.
  • Continually re-forecast and make decisions regarding the forecast.
  • Create a forecast then the variance reports should be off of the forecast first and the budget second.
  • Document the action items and review them at the start of the next meeting.

Companies utilize forecasting to resolve budget allocation or to plan for anticipated expenses for the upcoming year. Take the time to forecast. Use the tips mentioned above to help achieve those organizational goals without wasting any time. Learn more from Enabling World-Class Decisionsthe executive’s guide to understanding and deploying modern corporate performance management tools.
If you need assistance in finding a corporate performance management solution or a forecasting tool, Solver has a team of experienced professional that can get your organization starting in building the right template for you.
Solver enables world-class decisions with BI360, a leading web-based CPM suite made up of budgeting, reporting, dashboards, and data warehousing, delivered through a web portal. Solver is reinventing CPM with its next generation solution. BI360 empowers business users with modern features including innovative use of Excel in the model design process. If you’re interested in learning more, our team is excited to hear about your organizational needs and goals.

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