How long does a typical implementation take?
An implementation depends on the complexity of the customer and the resources that the customer has to dedicate to the implementation. The shortest implementation we've done is a week, but typically it's between two to three consulting weeks spread out over a calendar month or so.
What is the cost of acquisition of XLerant's BudgetPak?
Cost of the software is on a per user per month basis and is dependent on the number of users and the length of the commitment. Cost of implementation varies by complexity of customer requirements. XLerant customers will tell you that their purchase decision was based on the tremendous value that they got. This means that XLerant provided the maximum functionality and benefit for the lowest price. We are not trying to be the cheapest; we are trying to maximize value.
What is the BudgetPak development environment?
XLerant's BudgetPak is built on an all Microsoft platform. The application uses Microsoft SQL Server as its underlying database, Microsoft Reporting Services for reporting, and the application itself is written in Microsoft Virtual Studio.Net. While most of our customers migrate fully off of Excel to BudgetPak, you don't need to. If there are specific elements of your budget that you would prefer to keep in Excel, you can. BudgetPak provides integration with Microsoft Excel through XLerant's Dynamic Template capability.
How do I tie the financial plan to the strategic plan?
Connecting the financial plan to the strategic plan requires a clear understanding of that strategic plan and the initiatives to achieve it. Then it’s a matter of unpacking the initiatives so that every department knows their part, and the resources they’ll require. Budgeting for these resources should be an explicit part of the budget process. From a systems perspective, this requires specific functionality that, among other things, fosters effective communication.
How do I increase communications in the budgeting process?
Budgeting is as much a communications process as it is a financial one. In order to foster effective communications, budget developers (line managers and executives) need to have the ability to document notes, assumptions and other detail to capture their rationale. The budget system should capture this vital information right in the system itself. And that requires the ability to tag, lock and store this information to make sure that they are properly understood and reviewed; and so that the budget holder can’t come back later and claim that “this was not his/her number.”
How can I increase the probability of success in my budget process?
The best way to increase the probability of success in the budget process is to get line manager participation. This is vital to ensure accountability and ownership. This becomes much easier if you have a system that allows managers to budget in the same terms they use when thinking about their business (i.e., events, projects, initiatives, events, programs, etc,). The key here is translating all that – properly -- back into general ledger terms so the financials can be produced.
Conventional wisdom is that everybody knows and loves Excel, so budgeting tools should like a spreadsheet. Is that a safe assumption?
No, it’s not. CFO Magazine and The Buttonwood Group conducted a survey that found that most budgeting applications go unused by people outside of Finance, even when the system was purchased with the goal of having those users in the system. Turns out that people outside of Finance may know Excel, but they don’t necessarily like it (the same way they may know the W-10 tax return but they don’t love that either).
The bar for ease of use -- the intuitiveness of the interface -- has to be set higher than Excel if you want non-finance participation, and active engagement.
We recommend a Budget Navigator to walk the user through the entire process so that he/she can’t get lost and will have the right functionality available to them. This will yield a process where line managers have greater participation in the budgeting process as well as greater ownership in the numbers.
How do I get better executive level and line manager participation and ownership in the budgeting process and the budget numbers?
That’s not easy, but the key is to allow managers to budget in the same terms as they naturally think about their business. For example, a lot of Marketing managers think in terms of marketing campaigns, promotional events, and so on. While IT managers tend to think in terms of IT projects, or Human Resource professionals think in terms of employee training programs. Of course, many senior executives think in terms of strategic initiatives. Your budgeting system should allow your business units to develop their budgets the same way (while translating back into the general ledger buckets that you need to consolidate the results).
Provide line managers tools that allow them to create a budget in their own management terms (initiatives, etc. rather than just a grid of G/L accounts). Also provide them with the tools to readily make what-if explorations and changes in their own management terms (“What if I delay new hires by 3 months…?”)
Provide executives with, not just the numbers created by line managers, but also the decisions and rationale behind the numbers. And, provide them ready visibility into the status of the budget process; who is done, who is started but not yet done, who hasn’t started, etc.
How can I get people to stop saying "That's not my number?"
That is undoubtedly the most frustrating result of a budget gone wrong; both for the Finance organization and their internal clients.
Keep in mind that there are three elements to communication – sending, receiving, and mutual understanding. The trap that we can fall into as Finance professionals is assuming that because a message was sent and received, that communication has happened and has been effective. That’s a dangerous assumption to make.
To ensure mutual understanding the budget holder needs to communicate his or her business needs and rationale for each element of their budget. That may require written commentary on a particular account, or building up the detail for a budgeted account, or creating a budget for a project or initiative, or providing the key assumptions made. In other words, it’s not just getting a number into a budget form that creates mutual understating – it’s getting the though process and rationale behind it.
And most importantly, don’t have Finance do line manager’s budgets for them. Provide them with true, hands-on responsibility for creating and justifying their budgets. Don’t saddle line managers with Finance-centric numbers games (such as allocations or ‘position numbers’) that line managers neither understand nor accept.
How do I integrate BudgetPak with my General Ledger system?
For many years software companies went out of their way to make their systems so proprietary that data exchange with other systems was nearly impossible. That all changed with the rise of the internet, and widespread expectations for open architecture. So while it used to be the case that custom coding by IT professionals was required in order to move data from one system to another, today it’s much easier. In fact, virtually all general ledger systems today will produce a file in standard formats (like CSV, Excel, XML) that can just as easily be uploaded into a budgeting system.
In many cases, what had required an IT project request and days of waiting around, can now be done in a 5 minute file exchange that someone in Finance can do on their own. And it’s free.
But if 5 minutes is 5 minutes too long, there are 3rd party vendors that sell what’s referred to as data “Extract, Transform, and Load” tools (ETL) that can essentially lay down a pipe between two systems and push the data at a press of the button.
Our recommendation to our customers is always “try free first” and see if it’s convenient enough, and if not, then ETL tools are available.
What are the characteristics of a good customer for XLerant?
We focus primarily, but not exclusively on mid-sized organizations which have been struggling with home-grown, Excel-based budgeting systems. We have clients in the service industry, Colleges & Universities, defense, manufacturing, media, high tech, non-profit, and insurance to name just a few.
What are best practices for evaluating budget preparation software?
Please check out the Evaluation Roadmap page
What triggers organizations to change their budgeting process and system?
Normally organizations decide to replace their budget system when 1) it has gone through a particularly difficult budget cycle where limitations in home-grown Excel-based systems have been exposed, 2) A new executive comes into the organization and focuses on change, 3) the organization misses its numbers and realizes that one of the problems was inadequate planning, 4) There are changes in the organizations business including growth, a change in direction, reduction in sales and/or personnel. These are some, but not all of the triggers.