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Smart Budgeting: Automating Your Businessís Finances

By Paul Fitzgerald for America's Backbone Weekly

There's no better time than the start of a new year to adopt a strategic budget plan that will help you manage your small business more efficiently. If you want to increase your bottom line and reduce your back office workflow, embracing automation may be the way to go when it comes to budgeting. There are plenty of software solutions available now that can make finance easier than ever. Before looking at those options, let's discuss the reasons for automating in the first place.

First off, managing budgets through spreadsheets can be risky because they are prone to error. Mistakes in data entry, typos and faulty formulas can lead to flawed calculations. Further, manually comparing the current year's revenue and expenditures with projected values is a time-consuming task. With traditional spreadsheets, you don't have the ability to pull up real-time reports that are constructed with emerging data. Yet, according to Aberdeen's most recent Financial Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting and Enterprise Performance Management Survey (2014), 91% of organizations are still using spreadsheets for budgeting and forecasting. Using an automated software solution makes the process much easier, more accurate and, most importantly, far more useful.

Automated budgeting software can save time and money. By directly importing finance data from accounting software, the time spent on traditional manual data entry is eliminated. This means that you have access to immediate reports, and the time savings can result in reduced labor costs for businesses that employ staff for budgeting or data entry. Automated data importing also greatly reduces the risk of error that is found when using spreadsheets. But what budget software should you choose? There are plenty of options out there, and here are a couple you might consider.

IBM Planning Analytics

IBM has long been a leader in providing computational business services. Its Planning Analytics platform can be run in the cloud or on your own server, should you prefer. You can create custom dashboards (drag and drop) and data visualizations (e.g. graphs, charts) that will make reading and analyzing your data easier. IBM Planning Analytics, ideally suited for midsize companies and organizations with 100 users or less, is easily adaptable from the start. Its Welcome Kit customizes the system for your company's specific needs. There is a free trial available, but after that pricing must be negotiated with the vendor.

Budget Maestro from Centage

This product is easy to use and is easily scalable based on business size, making it ideal for smaller operations who are looking to move away from spreadsheet budgeting. It boasts robust budgeting and forecasting tools and allows you to customize report presentation. It can be run on site or hosted in the cloud. It is designed for use in several industries, including retail, manufacturing, healthcare and more. It is simple enough to use (you don't need to be a professional accountant). Data can easily be transferred from QuickBooks for ease of use. Its business logic programming allows you to produce accurate budgets and what-if scenarios that lead to better decision making. A free trial is available, with pricing to be negotiated with the vendor.

These are just a couple of examples. There are many other automated budgeting solutions available. An online search will provide a great starting point. Reading reviews on the different platforms can help narrow down your choice. Most of the products out there offer free trial demos, and this may be the best way to ensure that you find the best fit for your business. In any case, automating the budgeting process will save you the time that would otherwise be spent working with spreadsheets, and will give you better accuracy to boot. Not a bad way to start off 2017.

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