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Business Analytics, Financial Reporting & Budgeting for High-End Software

Column: From the Trenches

From the Dec. 2006 Issue

While reviewing a national survey about the technologies that make the most
difference in businesses recently, it was no surprise that Business Analytics
(BA) was one of the tools named as a best value investment. It is also no surprise
that most high-end accounting software products have interfaces to a BA tool.
For your practice, and more importantly for your clients, to be able to achieve
their best results, you need to understand and recommend the use of Business
Analytics. BA is available for all sizes of accounting software from QuickBooks
to SAP, and most systems in between. The trick is to find the right level of
BA tool to use and recommend.

Like the accounting software market, I like to break up the BA market into
multiple levels of capability. For example, in accounting software, the levels
and some example products would include the following:

Entry Level Accounting (ELA) – QuickBooks, Peachtree and Small
Business Accounting

  • Small to Medium Business (SMB) – BusinessWorks Accounting,
    CYMA, QuickBooks Enterprise, Peachtree Quantum and NetSuite
  • Small to Medium Enterprises (SME, sometimes called High End) –
    Accpac ERP, Dynamics AX, Dynamics GP, Dynamics NAV, Dynamics SL, Epicor, Macola
    ES, MAS 90 ERP, MAS 200 ERP, MAS 500 ERP, Open Systems Accounting Software
    (SAS), Open System TRAVERSE, Pro ERP, SAP Business One, SouthWare and
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) – Lawson, mySAP, Oracle
    Financials and SAP


Each of these systems has some financial reporting built in, but in most
cases, the businesses are well served by adding some additional reporting
tools. Of course, Excel is frequently used as a reporting tool, and I expect
this to increase with the introduction of Office 2007 because of the focus
on analytics by Microsoft in this release. Examples of BA, financial reporting
or budgeting tools that can be added include the following:

  • Entry Level Accounting (ELA) – Adagio FX, Budget Maestro,
  • Small to Medium Business (SMB) – F9, ProSystem fx
  • Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) – Brio Performance Suite,
    Crystal Reports, FRx, Forecaster, PROPHIX
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) – Business Objects, Cognos,

These BA tools can help your clients analyze data and see information that
would not even be discovered via traditional methods. Some of the tools can
be used to build digital dashboards, exception reports and other key trend reports.
A more complete listing of Business Analytics tools can be found at

In mid-market accounting software, I frequently recommend that multiple tools
are selected because different tools do different jobs well. It would be quite
common for FRx, Crystal and F9 to be used to perform different, but needed,
functions. We recently interviewed users of Microsoft FRx to find out what type
of impact FRx had in their business. One specific company is of note here.

Marshall Combs, Controller of White Electrical, which is located in Atlanta,
Ga., stated in an interview that his company uses Dynamics SL as well as Microsoft
FRx and Microsoft Forecaster. White Electrical has eight locations with approximately
350 employees and a strong growth rate. Mr. Combs found that FRx produced the
financial reports that they needed to efficiently run the operation. The company
was “printing paper and keeping FedEx healthy.” They decided to
create reports that could be e-mailed with details reviewed by managers who
could drilldown for more detail. The reports are created automatically on a
monthly basis and distributed via e-mail. “FRx is a very powerful piece
of software. You can go all the way from simple financials or you can do something
that will knock your socks off.” We know that FRx is the primary financial
reporting tool of high-end software and continues to evolve to have more business
analytics capability.

Although not a surprise to me, Mr. Combs was even more pleased with their
investment in Microsoft Forecaster, a budgeting tool. Many organizations use
Excel to prepare their budgets, but if you have more than a few locations and
very many people involved, it is clear that it makes financial and time sense
to use a tool like Microsoft Forecaster. “If you are a business of $25M,
you ought to be able to afford Forecaster. The time savings that you have simplifies
your life so much” said Mr. Combs. In White Electrical’s case, Microsoft
Forecaster cost less than $10,000 to acquire and implement and saved over 60
hours of the Controller’s time in the first year, not to mention all of
the location managers’ time. When we asked about other comments, Mr. Combs
said Forecaster was “one of the best things we have ever bought”
and that having the right implementer is one of the key issues. The partners
involved are Paul Beckler from Solutions Technology for Microsoft Dynamics SL
and Microsoft FRx and Judy Griggs from Speedwell Consultants for Microsoft Forecaster.

Specialized tools can make business management reporting easier, or they can
be so complex and so difficult to use that they take more effort than they are
worth. One of the keys for recommendations to CFOs and for your clients is that
you need to find the appropriate level of analytical tool for the need. Additionally,
the right type of skill set is needed by the installation team. This is no small
point. Frequently lost in the implementation of an accounting system is the
need to get the right level of installer that will take the time to understand
the needs of the business and to help make the software do that work. In the
case of White Electrical, they have an installer who helps them on a regular
basis by providing skills and insights for developing reports and suggesting
strategies that make sense for the business.

SAP Business One has interesting reporting technology that was built-in from
the beginning and additional capability added through the acquisition of XL
Reporter. Business Analytics was built into the product with a simple reporting
feature known as drag and relate. This feature allows for viewing a table of
data and simply dragging related fields together to produce a new table for
reporting purposes. This technique allows navigation through the data to ask
questions like who is buying a particular product and who else is buying that
same product? The Excel reporting tool, XL Reporter, has added even more sophisticated
reporting and analytical strength to the product.

Other vendors have formed third-party relationships to get more sophisticated
BA available at reasonable prices. For example, SYSPRO formed an alliance with
Business Objects to release its SYSPRO Analytics module. Intuit had the ProfitCents
tool built into its Premier products and above until the 2007 version. On the
other hand, Exact Software considered BA so mission critical that the company
purchased a manufacturing business analytics tool and now has it available as
a module with Macola ES called Exact Business Analytics.

Microsoft has some very interesting plans to continue to develop the SQL Server
2005 Reporting Services (SSRS) and improve the interfaces to Office 2007. This
capability was available in SQL 2000 and Office 2003, but has been refined to
include BA capabilities such as advanced graphics and PivotTables, making them
easier to use for the masses. Additionally, Microsoft has specifically enabled
Dynamics GP with extended reporting capabilities that tie directly to SQL 2005
and Office 2007 through Microsoft Dynamics GP for analytics. These features
include OLAP Analysis cubes for Excel. I suspect this will only be the beginning
of this type of end-user capability.
Business Analytics and Financial Reporting tools continue to get easier to use,
and they are important for discovering information about the operations of business
to provide management with insight. Your business and your clients’ businesses
can benefit from the capabilities of BA tools. Spend the time to find the right


Mr. Johnston is executive vice president and partner of K2 Enterprises
and Network Management Group, Inc. He is a nationally recognized educator, consultant
and writer with over 30 years experience in strategic technology planning, systems
and network integration, accounting software selection, business development
and management, disaster recovery and contingency planning, and process engineering.