Top Microsoft Features in the Best CPM Software Apps

    This article is part 6 of an 8-part series on evaluating the best xFP&A/CPM tools for your business. Part 6 focuses on the many Microsoft integration capabilities to look for in the best xFP&A/CPM software applications.  

    Most organizations in the world use one or more technologies from Microsoft. So, when selecting a new cloud Extended Financial Planning & Analysis (xFP&A)/Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution the benefit of close Microsoft alignment can be from “slight” to “very important” or “required.” As the world’s businesses have migrated one application after another to the cloud, they have had to re-establish whatever connectivity they had between their solutions when they hosted them in their own server room. For the reasons mentioned above, most of the top xFP&A/CPM vendors have integrations to the most popular Microsoft technologies in order to increase their customers’ productivity. Here are some of the top Microsoft integrations to look for in the best xFP&A/CPM solutions based on which Microsoft technologies your organization uses, one or more of these integrations may be beneficial (or even highly important):

    1. Microsoft Office / Microsoft 365 integration
    The below xFP&A/CPM integrations to Microsoft Office / Microsoft 365 can probably be ranked in this order of importance to a Finance and Accounting team:
    • Excel integrations can offer everything from the xFP&A/CPM report designer being an Excel add-in, to report export to Excel and data import from Excel.
    • PowerPoint integrations are typically used to display and refresh reports or dashboards within a corporate financial presentation.
    • Word integrations are less popular but can be critical for governments and other organizations that need to refresh financial and other figures inside lengthy annual or quarterly report documents.
    Example of a Power BI dashboard live inside a PowerPoint presentation: Power BI inside PowerPoint
    1. Power BI integration
    Power BI (closely followed by Tableau) has risen to be the most popular dashboard tool in the world. A large number of companies use it already and more will do so in the future. For this reason, an increasing number of xFP&A/CPM vendors have developed Microsoft-certified connectors that easily transfer data and dimensions to Power BI. Some xFP&A/CPM vendors even go as far as offering Power BI as their main best-of-breed dashboard solution and include out-of-the-box financial dashboards to get customers ramped up quickly. If you already own or plan to buy Power BI, this approach eliminates the need to buy a xFP&A/CPM vendor’s proprietary dashboard licenses and enables the finance team to learn only one visualization tool.
    1. Microsoft Teams integration
    Teams is Microsoft’s widely popular collaboration portal. Numerous third-party vendors have built apps to surface their cloud applications inside the Teams portal. While all of the best xFP&A/CPM solutions can export fully formatted reports to Excel, and these can be imported to Teams, not many have built apps that enable you to open the xFP&A/CPM app from Teams and, for example, run reports while inside a Teams group discussing profitability or liquidity with other managers.
    1. Microsoft Dynamics integrations
    Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and MIcrosoft Dynamics 365 Business Central are Microsoft’s cloud ERP applications. If you already own or plan to implement one of these ERPs, it is important to closely review how well the xFP&A/CPM vendors you are evaluating connect to those solutions. A tight and easy integration between your ERP system and the xFP&A/CPM solution enables dynamic reporting, as well as budgets and forecasts that have updated historical data. Some integrations even allow for easy write-back of budgets to the General Ledger (GL). If you are on a legacy Microsoft Dynamics ERP such as GP, SL, NAV, or AX, the new xFP&A/CPM solutions integration is equally as important. If you plan to migrate to Dynamics 365, you can even use the xFP&A/CPM as a storage of your old historical ERP data, making the migration to the new ERP faster and easier.
    1. Azure deployment
    Since xFP&A/CPM vendors manage their own cloud applications, it is typically not visible to an end user which cloud platform, such as Azure or AWS, their xFP&A/CPM portal is running on. Azure may be more important for certain IT departments if they already have plans or projects using other Microsoft Azure tools such as Power Apps. Does deep Microsoft alignment have an extra cost? This will depend on each xFP&A/CPM vendor. The cloud platform (in this case Azure) is always built into vendor pricing, but oftentimes vendors charge a price per integration connector (e.g., to Power BI, PowerPoint, or Dynamics 365). While it is important to do your homework to ensure that the vendor you choose has the key Microsoft integrations needed for a successful and efficient deployment, the total savings in time and effort, as well as improved decision making, are just as important. Here is a free vendor comparison tool to help you compare vendors across a number of different features. This tool also includes a simple return on investment (ROI) calculator that is part of the total vendor score. Rapid deployment tools will also help speed up an implementation while reducing risk and cost. Here is an example of the advantages of a pre-built ERP integration and how it can enable users to get immediate, “day one” benefits from out-of-the-box budget and forecast input forms, reports and dashboards. Conclusion In summary, ensuring that a new xFP&A/CPM solution integrates well with productivity and ERP applications helps ensure longevity of the solution as well as user satisfaction. In other words, integration should be on the checklist of features to review in demonstrations and vendor conversations. Links to useful software research and evaluation assets