a prominent provider of financial analytic applications to mid-market and corporate
businesses, has largely remained on its established track after being acquired
first by one of its erstwhile greatest partners, former Great Plains
Software in 2000, and particularly after its new owner subsequently
ended up under Microsoft's roof in 2001 (see Microsoft
And Great Plains - A Friendship That Turned Into A Marriage) to finally
be a part of Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS).
appears that the truly differentiating traits of the group of products recently
renamed Microsoft Business Solutions for Analytics, have established
the FRx financial reporting application as arguably a "de facto" financial analysis
and reporting standard in the mid-market. This fact has also convinced Microsoft
to continue to enhance the product for its loyal customer base and resellers,
many of whom ironically belong to MBS's fierce competitors. Its flagship product,
Microsoft Business Solutions for AnalyticsFRx (formerly FRx
Financial Reporter), is used by more than 115,000 sites worldwide,
primarily in the mid-market segment, to help them with financial reporting processes.
Thus, the "if you can't beat them, join them" adage might be best described
by FRx Software's continued autonomous operation despite changing owners twice
during last few years.
is Part One of a four-part note.
Two and Three will discuss the market impact and vendor challenges.
Four will cover competitors and make user recommendations.
the end of expanding its feelers throughout the vast enterprise applications
mid-market, in October, FRx Software announced the availability of Microsoft
Business Solutions for AnalyticsIntegration Designer 1.0, a new application
that accelerates the process of integrating FRx Software's financial reporting
application with nearly any mid-market segment general ledger (GL) system. Integration
Designer was designed with the aim of helping FRx Software's value-added resellers
(VARs) grow their business in financial analytics by offering FRx to customers
who do not have a way to use the application with their particular GL.
product release follows up on the FRx Software Analytics Solution Provider
Program, which was launched in mid-2002, and which allowed qualified
organizations to expand their business by giving them the opportunity to sell
and implement FRx Software products that use enterprise resource planning (ERP)
applications that are not supported by one of FRx Software's many (nearly fifty)
ERP system interfaces. The idea behind the program was to empower resellers
with the knowledge necessary to become the analytics consulting expert for their
existing customers as well as markets that they have not yet penetrated. Reseller
partners should thereby be able to expand their businesses by selling value-added
implementation and training services associated with rolling out analytical
solutions to new markets at an enterprise level. FRx Software believes the program
offered a number of options and benefits for qualifying organizations, since,
not only should companies be able to fully resell FRx Software applications,
but also significant sales and marketing support has been made available to
resellers. That support includes media relations, product collateral, remote
sales training, a co-op marketing program, webinar (Web seminar) participation,
and automatic enrollment in a program designed to assist resellers with certification,
marketing, and sales activities.
Integration Designer should automate and simplify the process of transforming and loading data from the GL to a financial data mart (FDM) that can be read by FRx. This tool should enable VARs to cut weeks off the traditionally painstaking integration process and should greatly reduce the technical expertise required to integrate with FRx. Once the integration is set up, minimal customer assistance is required, since the customers should be able to upload data from their GL with the click of a button as often as they like, or it can occur on a regularly scheduled basis. In addition, VARs should benefit from the ability to leverage an integration built for one data source across multiple customers who are using the same GL, which establishes a substantial revenue generator for FRx Software's Analytics Solution Provider channel. To accomplish seamless integration, Integration Designer relies on two components:
Data Integrator automates the otherwise time-consuming process
of mapping data from general ledgers that allow schema discovery to the FRx
FDM. Users should rapidly map and transform data using drag-and-drop functionality,
whereas the task lists keep track of required items as well as those yet to
be completed. Upon completion of the mapping process, the Data Integrator
tool automatically creates scripts needed to move the data from the GL to
the FDM, saving the user from manually writing thousands of lines of code
to accomplish this same process.
Data Refresher executes the scripts created by the Data Integrator
and ultimately populates the FDM with the GL data collected, with both full
and incremental data loads. This component's aim is to put control into the
hands of users, giving them the ability to perform updates and access data
with minimal training, while, with the scheduling functionality, manual intervention
should also be kept to a minimum. Built into the Data Refresher tool is a
security administrator function, which applies security roles and rules around
the ability to execute the scripts for a given GL company.
product that has lately also received significant investment is Microsoft
Business Solutions for AnalyticsForecaster (formerly FRx Forecaster),
which is a browser-based budgeting and planning application that enables organizations
to budget in a fully integrated, Web-based environment. At the end of July,
the Forecaster 6.7 release was made available, with significant
new functionality that includes expanded human resources (HR) features, giving
users the ability to more effectively plan for, manage, and make more-informed
decisions related to staffing requirements and costs. Additional specific features
and benefits mid-market and corporate businesses should realize using Forecaster
6.7 include these:
Simplified installation—as part of Microsoft's Trustworthy
Computing initiative, deployment and application connectivity changes
were made. Two steps have been eliminated from the installation routine, and
the connectivity between Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS)
and Microsoft SQL Server has been redesigned to simplify
installation. As a result, new installations now reportedly take a fraction
of the time they used to take. In addition, password encryption has been implemented
through the application.
Pay Type support—Forecaster 6.7 allows organizations to define
and customize the pay types that are important to them, such as second shift,
nonproductive time or personal time off, enabling them to budget additional
HR planning details and better understand staffing needs and associated costs.
ExpressLink—which is an application designed to help customers
build their baseline budgets using data from select GL systems, has been updated
to allow organizations to flexibly map GL accounts to Forecaster account segments
in any order desired. For example, users that have a four-segment chart of
accounts in their GL system can use ExpressLink to rearrange the segments
to match how they budget.
above release follows up on the enhancements unveiled in mid-2002 in version
6.5 of both flagship products, which were then still called FRx Financial Reporter
and FRx Forecaster. Both product offerings from FRx Software showed several
enhanced features, the most significant of which was the products' ability to
integrate more extensively with one another. FRx Financial Reporter
6.5 and FRx Forecaster 6.5 offered additional features
to increase the two products' usability and compatibility with one another,
and with supporting general ledgers. To that end, two new features showcased
the integration between FRx and Forecaster. The above-mentioned ExpressLink
has enabled users to populate the Forecaster database directly from the GL,
and to consolidate information from the GL before populating budget fields as
well as perform periodic updates of segments and balances. The FRx DirectLink
feature, on the other hand, has enabled users to prepare reports that compare
actual versus budget data more easily because budget data can be accessed directly
without moving it back into the GL. Users can choose from twelve output options,
including on-line analytical processing (OLAP), extensible markup language (XML),
and Microsoft Excel.
The Forecaster 6.5 release has made great strides to enable users to take control of their budgeting and planning processes, by being able to define the input of sets, view models, add account information, and speed plan development and variance analysis, all of which make building and tracking budgets far more efficient than before. There is also an improved human resource component, which has allowed companies to track employees using multiple categories. In addition to the introduction of ExpressLink and DirectLink, other features worth mentioning are the following:
Users have been able to define a flexible input screen with up to 100 periods
from multiple budget versions and create calculated columns such as variance
between plans as a guide for a new plan. A single account row entry screen
has been added for users to input and compare the current account's budget
against a baseline.
Users have been able add more detailed budgeting data to specific personnel
and include more flexibility in designating salaries and bonuses, which facilitates
budgeting employee assets in complex scenarios and viewing employee information
across multiple cost centers for quick determination of time allocation by
The Benefits screen has allowed users to define benefits for employees by
the budget version.
Detailed views using the Z to A breakout feature show detailed information
for each of the accounts being broken out. Previously, only the summary account
was formerly known as ebudgets, a product that FRx Software
acquired through its acquisition of ebudgets.com in March 2001.
The earlier release 4.01 of Forecaster, which
was made available in 2001, immediately after the ebudgets acquisition, in addition
to the enhancements to the system's administrative, setup, input, and reporting
features (for example, a simple user interface, line-item account breakdown,
and modules for personnel, capital, and revenue planning) and its completely
Web-based architecture that allows budget administrators and other authorized
personnel to input and view data and reports from anywhere via an Internet connection,
supported the XML standards for streamlining the exchange of data. These standards,
which FRx Software and Microsoft have been actively evangelizing, have a promise
of greatly facilitating the exchange of information between best-of-breed solutions
that include systems from multiple vendors. The use of XML should help users
shorten implementation times, alleviate errors and the re-keying of information
imported from multiple sources, and eliminates the need for customized interchange
is possibly the first budgeting software solution to support these industry
standards, which are endorsed by the American Institute of Certified
Public Accountants (AICPA), and a consortium of more than thirty organizations,
with names such as Deloitte & Touche, EDGAR Online,
Epicor Software, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young,
Grant Thornton, Hyperion, IBM Corporation,
BearingPoint (formerly KPMG), Lawson
Software, Oracle, Reuters, and SAP.
The extensible business reporting language (XBRL) standard was developed by
a committee of global financial, accounting and software organizations to provide
common data structures for the transfer of information between back-office systems,
such as those for budgeting, financial reporting, enterprise resource planning
(ERP), and procurement. The standard describes the type of data an output file
contains, turning output from one system into a database in which data can be
exchanged with other systems. Still, Forecaster does not fully support XBRL.
The user can, however, access data from Forecaster with FRx (using the DirectLink
capability) and tag Forecaster data with XBRL tags in FRx.
concludes Part One of a four-part note.
Parts Two and Three will discuss the market impact and vendor challenges.
Four will cover competitors and make user recommendations.