Budgeting Software Review

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Budgeting software is not the simple, fill-in-the-spreadsheet function it was just a few years ago. For one thing, the Excel spreadsheet format is quickly being replaced by more sophisticated interfaces that are better able to make real-time use of the more sophisticated databases and general ledger information that are the mainstay of today’s mid-level and enterprise organizations. Equally important, though, is the move to Software as a Service and other Web-based platforms where updates can be made continuously, collaboration is easier and security substantially enhanced.

But the strongest change to budgeting is its fragmentation into sub-specialties. Where once an enterprise could get by with a mere annual budgeting process (with perhaps a mid-year update thrown in for good measure), today’s software is designed for a broader range of specific activities:

Forecasting. This function analyzes historical sales, cost-of-good-sold and profitability in an effort to set reasonable expectations and goals for the organization. As a separate function, Re-Forecasting is the update process for the forecast.

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Planning and budgeting. Generally, this builds on the forecast to provide an overview of the goals, objectives within each goal, tactics to achieve the goals, and the resources needed to achieve the goals. The financial resources needed under the plan are captured in the budget.

Business process management. A holistic approach to management, BPM strives to enhance effectiveness and efficiency while stimulating innovation and change. It requires strong forecasting, planning and budgeting as its foundation.

None of this is inexpensive. While some packages target the lower end of the marketplace, most are aimed at the higher end of the market where resources are more often available to implement the plans and budgets efficiently. They tend to run in the many thousands of dollars when the purchase and implementation cycle is complete, but offer savings to the organization and a lower total cost of ownership to offset the upfront sticker shock.

The field for 2008 stays at six major packages in the marketplace, all of which have earned their stripes for support of accountants as well as their internal flexibility and scalability.

ADAPTIVE PLANNING VERSION 5.0

Adaptive Planning is a scalable planning and business intelligence application optimized for mid-sized companies and divisions of larger enterprises. Designed for both Software-as-a- Service and traditional on-premises applications, it is offered in three editions.

The Express Edition, a free, open-source version, delivers entry-level budgeting capabilities for departments and teams. The Corporate Edition is a licensed BPM solution for midsize companies and departments of corporations that includes all Express features plus enhancements for end-users in reporting, analysis, dashboards, budgeting and forecasting and administration.

The Enterprise Edition is the company’s most comprehensive licensed BPM solution, designed for companies that have more complex requirements or greater operational scale. This version includes all Corporate Edition features plus additional capabilities to support workflow, multiple currencies, and advanced administration.

The move to a stronger SaaS platform is significant in version 5.0 because it can substantially reduce deployment, training and upfront equipment/software costs. The SaaS version of Adaptive Planning Express Edition, for example, is an online budgeting application that can be installed with a single click, accessed instantaneously and used up to 50 times at no cost.

Accountants will likely want to look toward the more powerful Corporate and Enterprise editions, which offer models with pre-defined metrics and preset key performance indicators such as customer profitability, order to cash timing, and billings, bookings, and backlog, that immediately deliver the information most often needed to manage business reporting and dashboards, integration with general ledger and other back-office systems, additional budgeting and planning sheets, and enhanced administrative features. The budgeting and forecasting worksheets include capabilities such as annotations, workflow, and wizard-driven interfaces.

Version 5.0 offers a variety of enhancements, including modeled sheets for faster multidimensional modeling; international support, better reports management and an updated Web interface. In addition, the new version provides a strong focus on the critical areas of collaboration through private team collaboration spaces and a new public best practices community that allows accountants to connect with each other and share best practices in financial management, exchange recommendations for optimizing financial processes, and access valuable benchmarking information.

Well-designed, scalable and flexible, Adaptive Planning also features a streamlined pricing grid for annual use and implementation, all features that will make this system attractive to planners inside the company and their outside accounting firms.

BUDGET MAESTRO VERSION 5.9

Budget Maestro, a SQL Server database application, retains tight integration with Excel to automatically generate precise and synchronized P&L, balance sheet and Cash Flow statements on the fly.

Budget Maestro is a substantial step up from spreadsheet-based planners in its ability to draw data from the general ledger and automatically apply its own internal calculations. This also allows for sophisticated scenario-building on the fly. Built-in business and financial logic automatically calculate transactions needed to build profit and loss, balance sheet and cash flow statements as the budget is built, and to automatically compare and update actual versus budget versus forecast performance.

The application is offered in three versions. The single-user Desktop edition is well-suited for the accountant who does all the work to prepare the company’s budget or a small business with a centralized planning function. The Small Business and Enterprise editions add multilevel security, multiuser support, unlimited scenarios, and user-definable revenue recognition and asset depreciation scheduling (for enterprise budgeting and planning). All editions are Web-enabled, permitting collaboration with clients over the Internet.

Budget Maestro’s reporting capabilities are substantial, making use of Crystal Reports for presentations and graphics; operational reports by sales, person, geography, head counts and other indices; and drill-down reporting to the transaction level of detail.

In the upcoming version 5.9, the Dashboard Kit 2.0 has been enhanced with additional templates including monthly, YTD, quarterly, annual and percentage of sales reports. Dashboard Reports include income statement reports by product lines, division, locations, etc. as well as balance sheet and cash flow KPIs. The Link Maestro module for fast and effective transfers of General ledger data now covers MS Dynamics GP and NAV and Timberline, in addition to the existing bridges for QuickBooks, Sage MAS 90/200 and MAS 500 and Sage Accpac ERP.

Budget Maestro is a strong and flexible program that is compatible with Windows Vista and SQL Server 5.0. It’s not the least expensive planning package —nor, given its power and features, should it be. It is a logical choice for mid-market companies and their accountants who are seeking more advanced planning and forecasting capabilities.

CLARITY 6.2

Clarity 6.2, enterprise-class software, usually requires Clarity’s Professional Services to be involved in integrating it with OLAP and relational databases. It is designed as a budgeting and CPM (Corporate Performance Management) tool with the look and feel of Excel but interfaces with databases within the firm.

The budgeting process is familiar to users of Excel. Users create the format of the data entry form or report in Excel and then use the Clarity Template Builder to publish it to the Web. The system automatically inherits all Excel formatting and formulas into the Web form. Once the input schedules are completed, the application melds the data with its database capabilities to provide multidimensionality, drill-down capability and layers of validation and control not possible in a pure spreadsheet environment.

As in most budgeting applications, users can enter detail into specified areas of a data entry template, using a range of 'spreading’ techniques, such as 'increase the total by 10 percent spreading by last year’s actuals' to each cell, to help populate future periods’ cells quickly. However, this package has a many distinct and specialized features to help create a very controlled environment.

Clarity 6.2 has embedded workflow that manages routing of budget reviews and approvals between successive line managers. Status reporting gives the system’s administrator visibility of the progress of the entire process. The application also supports versioning of budgets so that the organization can 'freeze’ different snapshots of say a budget or long-term plan and compare scenarios (versions) against each other or earlier budget and actual results as needed. Alerts can also be established according to user-defined business rules.

A new sister product, Clarity FSR, automates the assembly, creation, filing and publishing of the annual report, 10-K, 10-Q and other external, financial reporting documents whose budgeting numbers emanate from Clarity 6.2.

Clarity 6 remains a strong planning package for the enterprise due to its Web-based user interface, the combination of Excel with advanced database capabilities, and its approach focusing less on static budgeting than on the performance of the enterprise. Powerful, customizable and scalable, it is an excellent high-end alternative to off-the-shelf planning systems.

FORECASTER

Forecaster 7 is a budgeting and planning product aimed at the mid-market to enterprise-level company that tightly integrates to the look and feel of Excel.

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