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Selecting a budgeting tool

For many organizations, Excel is still the main tool for supporting the budgeting and planning process.  Excel is very accessible and flexible, so there is a lot of freedom for the controllers in the departments to work with. The flexibility has a disadvantage as well. When the excel file becomes more complex, it is more likely a mistake can slip in. This error can accumulate and take  lot of time to figure out and correct. Especially when several departments submit an Excel file that then needs to be merged into one final overview.

When an organization realizes it takes more time to figure out these errors in Excel instead of doing proper analyses on the budgeting and business decisions it wants to make in the new year, it is time to look for a better solution.

In general the main reasons for choosing a budgeting tool to improve the budgeting process are:

  • Increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the budgeting process
  • Reduce the manual merging administration and error sensitivity of the process
  • Deliver correct and complete management information on time to the management and stakeholders
  • Increase the time to do analyses and make better business planning decisions

Last year I helped a Dutch University to select a budgeting tool. In this blog I like to capture some experiences I had during this process. Over the years I have worked in several roles with SAP planning, budgeting and consolidation tools like SAP BPC, SAP BW-IP and SEM BCS. And I have more than 10 years of experience in working in Higher Education organizations. In that sense I know what to expect in terms of requirements and functionality.

The general software selection process was applied to the project, that is:

  • Gathering requirements, functional and non-functional
  • Setting up a long list and condensing that to a short list
  • Getting suppliers questions, proposals, demo’s
  • Selecting and contracting

Gathering requirements, functional and non-functional

To gather the functional requirements in this project I interviewed 17 controllers and stakeholders. Their input was clustered into 15 main topics:

  • Consolidation and integration
  • Faculties and services planning capabilities
  • Personnel cost & projects planning
  • Plan versions management
  • Collaboration
  • Reporting
  • Workflow, process & audit
  • Flexibility
  • Smart
  • Users interface and user friendliness
  • Data integration
  • Managing data
  • General data modelling capabilities
  • Data attribute creation and maintenance
  • Data import, export and transformation (ETL in and out)

Given the state of modern technology, cloud software is preferred as a non-functional requirement. And obviously, security is an important topic, as well as privacy guidelines.

Setting up a long list and condensing that to a short list

To setup the long list the well-known researchers Gartner and BARC were used, together with a survey among other universities. This resulted in a huge list of almost 40 products. After an initial review of the list the number came down to 27. Some products were aimed at a local market, some products didn’t have a cloud option. These 27 products were looked into more closely, and this resulted in a shortlist of 8. As I had done the Open SAP course “Planning with SAP Analytics Cloud”,  this helped getting SAP on this list. But all of these tools looked very promising in terms of functionality.

The next steps in the purchasing process were pretty straightforward and completed at the end of 2021. A tool has been chosen and is at the moment, early 2022 being implemented. I am involved in this project as project leader and I will share my experiences in a future blog.

To conclude: It’s not necessary to do your budgeting process with Excel, there are some great tools out there!

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