This article briefly discusses half a dozen of the more popular budgeting software packages. They range from relatively inexpensive products for smaller companies to very powerful enterprise-level applications for multinational firms. All of these products have many features to recommend them depending on your company's size and needs.
What Should You Expect in a Budgeting Application?
Budgeting software provides analysis of data from previous years, charting and sophisticated methods for generating new budget estimates. You can also expect budgeting software to offer consolidation features, a boon to companies budgeting across many departments or divisions. And, because budgeting software can import data from your existing accounting software, often in real time, you can track your actuals and update your budget throughout the year as necessary.
Almost all budgeting software allows you to drill down on accounts, amounts and other information that appear on reports and on many of the screens. User interfaces let you enter and view most information on a spreadsheet-like grid. Consolidation of multiple business entities is fairly standard, although some products will have this as a separate feature or option.
Many budgeting products take advantage of Excel's many powerful features by providing an Excel add-on. This lets you export data into Excel and use it as a product front-end for additional charting and data manipulation. Integrated actuals versus budget numbers, multi-user security features and import/export to CSV files are also fairly standard. All budgeting products will offer demo versions, online videos or webinars and guided walkthroughs so you can see what the product looks like in action.
Several budgeting applications are driver-based. Driver-based budgeting lets you enter non-financial statistic data-such as the units sold, patient beds, or miles driven-that drive your business and use them as the basis for calculations in your budget.
Finally, it's standard for all cloud-based budgeting products to be available as client-server and/or SaaS.
AccuFund Budget Development module
Price: $2,995 (single-user system). Professional Edition, $6,595.
AccuFund Budget Development
The AccuFund Budget Development module, an optional add-on to AccuFund's accounting software for non-profit and government organizations, can create budgets at the enterprise level or for individual departments, programs, or cost centers.
Budget Development lets managers work on their individual budgets in individual worksheets, which then roll up into the master budget. At any stage, the budget can be locked to prevent changes, pending discussion or approval. Budgets that have been approved and distributed are posted to the GL for subsequent reporting.
The application Development has a specialized report writer and there is a "quick report" feature for printing screens. You can set up budget distribution periods to fit your company's needs. In addition, you can create tables showing the budget distribution.
Budget Development is available for the Standard and Professional Editions of the AccuFund Accounting Suite. AccuFund users who need budgeting software will find everything they need in the Budgeting Development module.
Mountain View, Calif.
Price: $4,800 (one user per year).Additional users depending on factors such as number and type of seats.
Adaptive Planning, a cloud-based budgeting and forecasting product for mid-to-large sized companies, sports a customizable dashboard and the product pulls data from the data sources in real time.
It supports multiple divisions and companies and you can automatically consolidate data across multiple entities, accounts, currencies and fiscal years. Forecasting can be done based on projected personnel needs, capital expenditures, revenue, allocations, expenses and cash flow. The online documentation is brief but reasonably effective.
Additional enhancements for large enterprise customers include account attributes, which allow multiple rollups of account structures and provide new ways of classifying and grouping accounts (such as GAAP vs. IFRS), improvements to the collaborative planning and approval process, and extended support for multiple business structures.
You can use Adaptive Planning with a variety of accounting packages. It has been integrated with more than 75 GL and enterprise systems, including Intacct, Sage 100, NetSuite, PeopleSoft and SAP. The product's many features that will be of interest to larger companies, particularly those with multiple divisions or companies, but its price tag and features may put it out of range for smaller companies.
Price: Alight Desktop, $5995 (one-time fee, one user); 20 percent annual support fee.
Alight Planning a driver-based budgeting tool for mid-to-large sized companies, comes with an array of powerful modeling tools lets you test and refine your formulas and assumptions quickly and easily. You can make changes to modeling assumptions or values globally rather than individually.
Recent enhancements include enhancements to data filtering and modeling and model sheets that let you customize planning and build linked financial models. The product now supports customizable dashboards as well.
Alight Planning compares favorably with any product in this review for the completeness of its feature set. The product comes in three versions: Alight Desktop, a single-user desktop version, Alight Express, which is a multi-user client-server version for companies that don't need all the various options, and Alight Corporate, which is the complete product with all modules. Although smaller companies will probably find this product to be more than they need, larger firms will enjoy its many rich options for creating sophisticated budget scenarios.
Price: Standard Edition, $8,500 (one user); Advanced Planning Edition, $12,000 (one user) including annual maintenance, training, implementation and support). Additional users about $2,500 each or less depending on volume.
Budget Maestro, a budgeting and forecasting application for mid-to-large sized companies, is available in a Standard Edition, which has a few limitations on its features and options, and the Advanced Planning Edition, which supports an unlimited number of users.
This product has many appealing features. You can view information by any criterion such as organization, manager, tree and function. Like several other products in this review, it is driver-based, so you can set up non-financial metrics. You can budget down to whatever detail level you prefer. The financing section lets you enter information about loans and financing.
It also lets you assign different payment terms to each customer. You can also enter deferred revenue in sales for more accurate projections. Budget Maestro also lets you assign different payment and receivable terms to every assumption in the P&L which provides calculated, rather than estimated, Balance Sheet and Cash Flow at whatever level you desire
The software offers solid reporting features. The Analytics Maestro, a separate add-on, does extended reporting and analysis using Excel for the heavy lifting. (Analytics Maestro actually can be used standalone with any SQL Server database.)
Budget Maestro is a rich product that ties with Alight Planning for the range of its features. Small companies will not need the depth it offers, but mid-to-large sized users will find everything they could want here.
New Horizon Technologies
Santa Fe, N.M.
Price: PlanGuru 2012 Basic $399.95, Enhancement Package $799.95; Additional users $249.95 each. Networking is an additional $399. PlanGuru Advanced Reporting Add-in is $199.95/user. Cloud hosting starts at $35 per month and $89.95 per month for leased in cloud.
Written for CPAs, CFOs and other financial professionals who need a strong budgeting and forecasting tool, PlanGuru It will be of particular interest to financial professionals who want to expand their business advisory practice.
PlanGuru Basic lets you forecast (with balance sheet) for up to 10 years as well generating income and cash flow statements. The Enhancement Package lets you consolidate analyses and do business valuations. It also provides additional exporting options. The Advanced Reporting Add-In lets you use Excel for additional reporting and analysis.
People who haven't used budgeting software before will particularly enjoy the clean user interface. One nice usability feature is that whenever you select a menu option, you get a brief description as part of the dialog box that appears describing what you use this option for. There is also extensive printed documentation and the video tutorials are well-produced and easy to follow.
PlanGuru can generate an unlimited number of projections, compute trends from historical data, link items to Excel spreadsheets and do custom forecasting using non-financial data. The product is also very scalable: it handles small companies, mid-to-large companies and non-profits with equal facility.
PlanGuru's many features combined with its modest price make it a strong contender for a business needing a budgeting product it can grow with.
Up Your Cash Flow
Price: XT2-2011 Professional $1,095 (one-time charge). Service and training $249 per year.
Up Your Cash Flow
XT2-2011 Professional version is designed for accountants and financial consultants. You can use Up Your Cash Flow Up Your Cash Flow, another driver-based budgeting and forecasting application, to create budgets, financial forecasts and projections.
You can enter data manually as well as import and export it using CSV files. Up Your Cash Flow supports consolidation and multi-year forecasts and has a dashboard for viewing key information and indicators at a glance. There is a wide range of financial analysis tools and the product supports both for-profit and non-profit entities. The product has very basic written documentation, but there are a number of video tutorials for specific tasks.
The product is not as polished as some of the others in this review, but it has an excellent range of features and reports, as well as a price structure that makes it very affordable even for small companies.
This review has covered budgeting software for all sizes of organization. While there's no reason you can't do your budget in a spreadsheet, budget software makes the budgeting process easier and reduces the chance of human error. You can import data from your accounting software so you don't have to cut and paste data from reports or other spreadsheets. Budgeting software also offers many tools for making projections, mapping estimates versus actuals and charting that will give you much tighter control when preparing a budget for approval.
It's not possible to do complete justice to the many good products and their feature sets in this review. All of them have benefits that make them worthy of consideration. If you're looking for budgeting and forecasting software, look at all of them, even if they're outside your price range. You may find that a slightly more expensive product will nevertheless save you many times its initial cost, or that a less expensive product may actually do everything you need. If nothing else, by looking at all these, you'll have a better idea of what you truly need in a budgeting application.
Even a relatively small company can benefit from switching up to budgeting software. If even one person in your organization spends more than a day developing budget numbers, chances are there's a budgeting product available for your company's size and price range.