Can You Budget and Forecast with Microsoft Power BI?

We often get asked by Microsoft Dynamics and other ERP Customers,

“Can I do my budgeting and forecasting with Power BI?”

The Short Answer is No

Typically, businesses will turn to cloud Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) software for their budgeting and forecasting needs.

To understand why, first we must know the capabilities of both Power BI, which is a Business Intelligence (BI) tool and FP&A software, such as Limelight.

This begs the age-old question - what is the difference between BI and FP&A?


What is Business Intelligence?

Microsoft Power BI screenshot

The term business intelligence was coined in 1989 as an umbrella term to describe methods used to improve business decision-making through facet-based support systems. BI is a set of tools focused on information delivery and is typically driven by the IT department. It is used for general-purpose reporting and analysis across the enterprise.

Business Intelligence products like Power BI, Tableau, QlikView and Domo are Data Visualization tools. These business analytics applications provide interactive visualizations with self-service business intelligence capabilities, where end-users can create reports and dashboards by themselves, without having to depend on IT staff or database administrators.

Where Business Intelligence tools fall short however, is in explaining the reason behind the data they are depicting. “It doesn’t tell you what to do,” said Michael F. Gorman, Professor of Operations Management and Decision Science at the University of Dayton to CIO Magazine. “It tells you what was and what is.”

Essentially, BI tools are descriptive - they may describe a current or past state, but they are not designed to help users discover the reason behind their numbers and perform deeper analysis beyond visualizations. BI products do not help to gather or consolidate data, especially for budgeting, planning, and forecasting.

BI uses advanced analytics to find trends in your data. The platform allows the user to investigate data through exploration and drill down features. However, the BI solution does not offer a way to pinpoint what you should look for, and which datasets will drive business goals.

Instead, companies turn to a different type of tool for data gathering, consolidating and analysis - FP&A software.

What is Cloud FP&A?

Limelight Operating Expenses Template

Cloud FP&A evolved from Corporate Performance Management (CPM), also known as Enterprise Performance Management (EPM). Gartner details it as “an umbrella term that describes the methodologies, metrics, processes and systems used to monitor and manage the business performance of an enterprise.” The term CPM originated around 2001 to include not only aspects of BI but also financial applications, such as planning, reporting and consolidation. Gartner now refers to the next evolution of this software as Cloud FP&A.

This software takes your business information to the next level by monitoring and tracking the progress of your business based on historical data, planned and forecasted information, and actual results. So, rather than reporting on the here and now, which is what most BI systems do, the right FP&A software analyzes not only how your business has performed but also how it is currently performing and how it is likely to perform in the future.

Cloud FP&A systems can help manage performance by analyzing data from across the business against a defined set of KPIs to better plan and forecast the strategic direction of your company.

Designed for accounting and finance processes, FP&A software drills down into financial and operational analysis, linking key financial data to specific objectives and monitoring performance and highlighting where potential risks might lie. FP&A software puts data into context, explaining what the facts mean for the future of the business, and presenting an accurate picture of today’s business performance alongside a future forecast. For business leaders, this level of insight into future performance is crucial to driving business growth.

After defining KPIs and performance metrics specific to your business, Cloud FP&A software then helps executives see how close or far away the company is to achieving those goals. Budgeting, planning, and forecasting features are built into the software to help create a timeline for reaching organizational goals. These features include everything from modeling and planning to financial consolidations, to reporting and analytics. These built-in features are distinct from BI software, but metrics and KPIs displayed by FP&A software can look like BI tools.

Why Budgeting with Power BI is Difficult

To analyze data, businesses need real-time financial information from their ERP or other source systems. This enables a single approach to all aspects of planning, whether it be sales forecasting, operational budgets, cashflow, or workforce and asset planning. The more time spent on consolidating data and creating reports, the less time businesses have for analysis. This area is where Microsoft Power BI falls short since data entry into the program can be difficult.

Finance professionals run into trouble when performing budget analysis in Power BI because of the different granularities of their data, modeling and input.

The question should then become - is it worth spending valuable time and resources on learning how to maneuver budgeting and planning processes into Microsoft Power BI? Shouldn’t the platform work for the business and not the other way around?

With Limelight, businesses can easily budget and forecast using data directly from Microsoft Dynamics, just like with Microsoft Power BI. Finance teams get the best of both worlds: native integration with their data system and an easy-to-use financial planning platform.

To learn more use cases for BI and Cloud FP&A, watch our on-demand fireside chat with Limelight’s CTO Jade Cole.

Watch Limelight Product Tour

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