FRx Poised To Permeate Many More General Ledgers Part One: Executive Summary




Event Summary

FRx Software (www.frxsoftware.com), 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).

It 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.

This is Part One of a four-part note.

Parts Two and Three will discuss the market impact and vendor challenges.

Part Four will cover competitors and make user recommendations.

Integration Designer

To 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.

The 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Another 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.

The 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.

Forecaster 6.5

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 an individual.

  • 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 displayed details.

Forecaster 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 mechanisms.

Forecaster 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.

This concludes Part One of a four-part note.

Parts Two and Three will discuss the market impact and vendor challenges.

Part Four will cover competitors and make user recommendations.

 
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