Financial planning software applications utilize historical data and estimates of future conditions to track a company’s financial progress and compare it to business expectations. The long-term survival of a business depends on its ability to establish a budget and operate within its confines. With the help of business budgeting software, businesses can forecast likely future expenses, establish more precise and realistic budgets, and have a greater chance of achieving ongoing profitability.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What is Budgeting & Forecasting Software?
Like many budgeting programs, business forecasting software reduces the opportunity for potential human error. Because budgets are formulated by the recording of business data, human error can drastically affect the budgeting process. Negligence and typos can easily destroy the validity of budget strategies. With the right system, however, automated reminders can ensure that the user knows when to input key business information for budget analysis.
Effective business budget software can also automatically import data directly from integrated accounting applications, including the general ledger, ERP system, and HR system. This automated importing strengthens consistency and completeness for data analysis that is reliable and error-free. In addition, the ability to connect and interact with other programs provides consolidated data collection, as well as a variety of different ways to complete the budgeting and forecasting process.
Collaboration in budget formulation becomes much easier with the use of budgeting and forecasting solutions. When certain areas of a company’s budget are headed by different individuals, manual collaboration can be troublesome. But with business forecast systems, the budget approval process can be standardized to improve organization and communication. Hypothetical forecasting also allows for the inclusion of complex or often-forgotten factors like inflation. These scenarios improve general awareness of potential obstacles ahead, providing greater foresight in budget formation.
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Although some of the most important points of the budgeting and forecasting process are the same across industries, different organizations have different priorities and requirements in finding the right system. Here are the main categories of buyers:
- Small businesses: Small and fledgling businesses may want to pay particular attention to a user-friendly interface or more intuitive presentation styles, which can produce easily-understandable graphs and charts. Budgeting is a critical feature here, but often forecasting capabilities and needs are somewhat limited, due to costs and lack of historical data.
- Medium-sized & growing businesses: Slightly larger and rapidly growing businesses can benefit from a system that adds forecasting features to help predict future growth and sales based on past patterns. A common mistake for growing businesses is to assume that last year’s surge will carry over into this year. However, many different factors play a part, and the ability to predict changes in those factors can prevent massive overinvestment in your company’s infrastructure.
- Large corporations: Large companies with dozens or hundreds of different departments create a whole other level of complexity in the budgeting and forecasting process. They need something that can handle multiple types of expenses and multiple sources of revenue, all coming from different users in different departments. This information needs to be integrated in a seamless, intelligent way.
The Vendor Landscape
There are a number of considerations when selecting budgeting and forecasting software:
- Is the system user-friendly: accessible charting/graphing capabilities, online user forums, troubleshooting applications?
- Does it provide a variety of hypothetical situations for forecasting things like inflation?
- Can the program involve multiple users for collaboration purposes (i.e., intra-software messaging, multiple users by department, automated combination or comparison of multiple budget submissions)?
- Does the solution effectively provide reminders for adhering to deadlines?
- To what degree is the software capable of interacting with important accounting applications or modules, such as general ledger, HR, etc.?
- Does the price range justify the features?
- Does the program encourage and give reminders for frequent data entry to ensure precise and consistent information storage?
- Does the software effectively analyze past business performance?
These are some of the major players in the budgeting and forecasting applications market:
|Small businesses||PlanGuru, Budget Maestro, Epicor|
|Medium-sized & growing businesses||Planning Maestro, Epicor, Adaptive|
|Large corporations||Adaptive Planning, Epicor|
Market Trends You Should Understand
- Changing markets. The whole point of forecasting is to predict the unpredictable, which is to say rapidly changing markets. Since market trends in your industry are constantly changing, it’s important to select a forecasting solution that can account for these changes.
- Increased vertical specialization. Over time, budgeting and forecasting software has become increasingly specialized, adding value according to unique workflow types. Systems are catering to the specific needs of the medical industry, nonprofits, construction companies, engineering firms, and others. So if industry specialization is important to you, keep this in mind when evaluating systems.
- Increased specialization by industry. Increasingly, consumers are demanding more industry-specific features, and vendors are listening. Products that were once “horizontal” - such as Sage MAS 90/200, QuickBooks, and Microsoft Dynamics - are increasingly adding new vertical features to cater to buyers’ specific industries. Make sure to keep a lookout for features that fit your particular industry when investigating tools and solutions.
- Software as a service (SaaS). SaaS lowers costs and speeds up implementation for buyers by offering web-based software that doesn’t need to be installed on-premise. This is more cost effective for smaller buyers. It’s typically offered on a annual or monthly subscription basis, helping firms anticipate and control costs.
Benefits & Potential Issues
A strong budgeting & forecasting system improves accuracy for budgeting and long-term business development planning.
- Improved accuracy. The tight deadlines and overtime hours associated with the budgeting cycle make it an error-prone process, but a single human error can have a massive impact on a company’s profitability. A good budgeting program eliminates most of the opportunities for calculation errors, increasing overall accuracy of the process.
- Faster & simpler. Budgeting and forecasting software contains high level functionality specifically dedicated to this purpose. This saves time on process creation (no need to create an Excel file), allows for data to be saved and reused year over year, and makes the budgets easier to manage and amend. Overall this can halve the amount of time spent on the budget cycle.
- Report consistency. These solutions connect employees across the enterprise, ensuring that the budgets have the same readable format no matter who prepares them.
- Better forecasting. Computer forecasting programs use complex algorithms that are designed to predict future expenses and sales based on past data. This makes for more accurate forecasts and long-term success.
Leading vendors in the budgeting and forecasting software market are expanding their offering and partnering with solutions providers to make organizations more successful. Vendors such as Centage, Alight Planning and Adaptive Planning continue to expand their portfolio, and we’ve highlighted some of their latest announcements below:
- Centage - On May 22, 2012, Centage announced a strategic partnership with Corporate Renaissance Group (CRG) to make Centage’s budgeting and planning tools the preferred program for CRG’s customer network. More than 6,000 CRG customers will have access to Budget Maestro and Planning Maestro as these products fill a gap for mid-market companies that need a leading forecasting, reporting and financial management software solution.
- Alight Planning - To help businesses determine the return on investment (ROI) of adopting a budgeting and planning solution, Alight Planning introduced a novel methodology, called the ROI calculator, on April 25, 2012. Organizations can use the tool to prioritize projects and rapidly conduct scenario analysis and forecasts.
- Adaptive Planning - On October 31, 3011, Adaptive Planning, a leading on-demand Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions provider, introduced new financial planning and reporting capabilities for its cloud-based system. System enhancements include detailed and tighter transaction analysis, report books to easily store and distribute reports and dashboard improvements.
After selecting your budgeting & forecasting system, further challenges emerge such as implementation, staff training, and managing system updates. Many companies choose to work with a consultant or value-added reseller for help with these challenges. If your company is considering this approach, visit our accounting software reseller and consultant directory for a list of the leading companies in your region.