One of the most active areas at the Accountex 2017 exhibition featured a host of new reporting and forecasting tools. Tom Herbert takes a closer look at what’s emerging.
With so much macroeconomic uncertainty surrounding them, many of the UK’s accountants and businesses are looking for answers. There is also a major technological shift underway, and while many within the profession still rely on Excel for reporting and forecasting, the evidence from Accountex indicates that software developers are moving away from spreadsheets to specialist online tools.
Established cloud players such as Futrli and Spotlight Reporting continue to improve and expand their offerings but are facing challenges from new tools such as Beyond Labs, Truecash, 9Spokes and DataDear, all of which are using cloud-based technology to drive more collaborative, data-driven approaches to reporting, budgeting and forecasting.
As previously reported, Microsoft Excel is not going away either, with the enhanced Power BI data tools rekindling the spreadsheet’s position as the accountancy profession’s preferred management reporting application. Available as part of the Office 365 suite, Power BI is spawning a new generation of reporting services and applications such as Suntico BI and BDODrive.
The demise of Sage’s WinForecast desktop forecasting tool a few years ago left a gap that developers including Castaway, Forecast5 and newcomer Proforecast are hoping to fill.
For Debbie Spooner, customer success specialist at Spotlight Reporting, the rise of reporting and forecasting tools indicates both a technological and generational shift.
“Consumers are in control now,” she told AccountingWEB. “It reminds me of seven years ago when Xero first came out and cloud disrupted the market: accountants were saying, ‘My client has told me to go on Xero.’
“People expect more from their software now. Younger people have grown up with instant information at their fingertips that’s used to rate everything, whether that’s with tools like Google Analytics or TripAdvisor. And they’re expecting the same in their business lives.”
For James Williams, founder of start-up tool Beyond Labs, budgeting is the last bastion of the ‘command and control’ 20th-century business processes.
“In the workplace of the future employees don’t want to be told exactly how to do their jobs, and they don’t want to do data entry,” Williams told AccountingWEB. “Our role is to automate manual processes away and allow for a more collaborative experience.”
While Excel remains the dominant tool for business reporting and forecasting, Amy Harris, co-founder of forecasting and reporting app Futrli, believes the new wave of cloud tools reflects a popularising, democratic trend in this previously exclusive application market.
“These tools have been talked about since the ‘80s,” said Harris, “but they’ve never really taken off before now. However, as soon as business owners realise there’s a better way, that’s when the tipping point will be.”
Accountex reporting and forecasting tools at a glance
- Beyond Labs: this London-based start-up offers a real-time collaborative budgeting tool that enables all employees in a company to track spend and update their budgets.
- Castaway Forecasting: originally a replacement for WinForecast, Castaway now markets itself as a business advisory tool for accountants and small-medium business managers.
- Forecast5: built specifically to replace WinForecast, this cashflow forecasting tool is designed to look and function in a very similar way to allow for simple migration of data.
- Proforecast: new to market, this cloud-based WinForecast replacement aims to offer finance directors and accountants a comprehensive opportunity to visual and drill down into their data.
- Truecash: a drag-and-drop ‘cash calendar’ forecasting tool for Xero users.
- 9Spokes: a smart dashboard environment that brings together different data sources to deliver powerful business insights.
- DataDear: a Xero add-in that enables accountants to create consolidated reports across a group of unlimited related organisations directly in Excel spreadsheets.
- Foretagsplatsen: this Swedish newcomer to the UK reporting tool market is designed to turn accounting data into customisable visual reports.
- Onion Reporting Software: produces automated Sage accounts in Excel based on a transaction extract from any of the Sage 50 family of accounting products.
- Panintelligence: offers users a customisable dashboard reporting solution for financial applications (for example Exchequer, Sage or Exact).
- Silverfin: billed as “Salesforce for financial data”, this cloud-based, live reporting platform integrates data sets from accounting, CRM and CMS software packages.
- Futrli: this all-in-one forecasting and reporting application offers businesses and their accountants real-time KPI analysis and scenario planning.
- Spotlight Reporting: allows business owners and their advisors to create integrated performance reports, dashboards, forecasts and consolidations.
- BDODrive: outsourcing and reporting service from the Top 10 firm.
- PwC Impact: forecasting centre from the Big Four firm.
- Suntico BI: using Power BI as a platform for consolidated reporting from Sage 50 Accounts.
What’s your stance on reporting, forecasting, planning and analysis technology. Have you migrated to a new wave, collaborative cloud tool, or are you still using Excel? Take part in AccountingWEB’s Software Excellence survey to help us find out which applications are making the most impact in this sector.
About Tom Herbert
Tom is editor at AccountingWEB, responsible for all editorial content on the site. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.