How a software solution changed the way I look at financial data.
I usually don’t rush out to purchase the latest and greatest technology products; I hardly ever jump on every software or hardware upgrade that becomes available. I just seem to be happy with the software tools I use in my everyday work, as long as I’m not too far behind.As a long time user of the Budget Maestro software application for small and medium size enterprise budgeting and forecasting, I was quite content with the reporting capabilities of the software and the fact that I was able to quickly, as soon as the actual accounting data was available after period end close, analyze budget data against the actual results.This analysis can be done within minutes of importing trial balance data into Budget Maestro. If the General Ledger used is one that is directly supported by Link Maestro, another Centage Corporation software product, data is immediately available in the Budget Maestro software to analyze. This arrangement seemed to do the job.Then, years later, I heard about a new Budget Maestro companion product, Analytics Maestro, which seamlessly connects to any Budget Maestro plan (or any of its versions and actual data). For reasons that I just can’t explain, I did not jump on the opportunity to investigate this product until recently, when I acquired a license to this product. This followed a webinar I attended on this product, and half way into the demonstration I knew I had to have it.In my blog entry titled “Two Key Principles in the Budgeting Process” I mention two fundamental principles that each budget process should encompass. One of them is timely and periodically analyzing actual data against budget data. This activity cannot be stressed strongly enough. No intelligent and informed decisions can be made without reliable data that can be easily seen and understood. My only regret here is that I did not acquire Analytics Maestro sooner.Assuming you have the ability to perform this analysis on a regular basis and without too much effort and that the budget data can be relied on, can you really see and understand the results of the analysis if you just compare numbers? What if you had a complex organization with many business units and multiple product lines, customer classes, sales regions, expense categories and other business “dimensions”? That can make the analysis much more complicated because you have to be able to slice through the data’s “dimensions” and look at the data from multiple viewpoints.This is exactly what Analytics Maestro is able to successfully address. It lets you see and understand your data like never before. This is what got me so excited about this product and it is why I now regularly use it and share my experience with it with people I know who daily face these challenges.Analytics Maestro is an MS-Excel add-in product. It connects to user created Budget Maestro data cubes, the storage units that hold all the Budget Maestro plan data, including all versions, as well as actual accounting data captured by Budget Maestro from the company’s accounting General Ledger.Excel is used because of its great formatting capabilities and the presentation graphics it affords. Just like in Budget Maestro, there are no formulas or programming needed, only formatting, assigning color and graphics to make your presentation stand out, and your data easily understood.However, there is one more great capability here: The budget and actual data are used by Analytics Maestro exactly the way you set up your organization structure (e.g., business units, reporting entities), data groups (holding data dimensions unique to your organization, like customer classes, product lines, geographic locations, etc.), chart of accounts structure and other dimensions.The chart of accounts you use in your actual accounting system is mirrored in Budget Maestro, which makes it an extension of the actual accounting into future periods. As budget items are assigned to their appropriate G/L accounts in the software, Budget Maestro automatically generates all the standard financial statements and other reports. All that data is transferred to the data cube Analytics Maestro is accessing to create its presentation reports.What this means is that any format of any report you choose is available in Analytics Maestro, including consolidated financial statements (e.g., Income Statement, Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows).When in Analytics Maestro, all you have to do is select the component you want to look at and as soon as you double click on its title, only the relevant data appears, while all graphs and charts, tables and other presentation data instantly change to reflect your selection. Each selection displays only the relevant data, allowing you to slice and dice through it like never before.A quick demonstration of this product was all it took for me to be hooked. I knew right there and then that I had to have this product. My experience so far fully confirms that.For many years I’ve been preaching that unless a company can see and understand its data, any decisions made by management can be risky and ultimately costly. It really comes down to the difference between failure and success.Analytics Maestro (combined with Budget Maestro) is a product that can make that difference.