CATEGORY: Analytic Applications

REVIEWER: James Bendle, finance manager for General Bandwith, Inc.

BACKGROUND: General Bandwidth, Inc. is a telecommunications equipment manufacturer that enables toll quality voice services to residential and business customers across emerging broadband access networks such as digital subscriber line (DSL), cable and wireless. The company's voice-over broadband approach provides multiple independent voice lines over a single broadband connection, allowing service providers to offer packetized voice services that meet and exceed the quality and functionality of today's POTS (plain-old telephone service).

PLATFORMS: A dual Xeon processor Dell PowerEdge 6450 with 3GB RAM was purchased to run SQL Server 2000 and OutlookSoft Financial Planning and Analysis (FPA).

PROBLEM SOLVED: General Bandwidth required a very flexible financial forecasting system capable of translating the budget inputs of many managers into detailed financial-planning reports. The system needed to utilize a familiar input interface, allow Web-based transmission and provide the ability for rapid, detailed, ad hoc reporting and analysis by finance staff members. More importantly, the system had to allow intelligent Web reporting that put feedback and responsibility for hitting the numbers directly into budget managers' hands. The desired result was to achieve significant scalability and productivity of finance staff while simultaneously increasing the accuracy and detail of forecasts provided to executive management. The existing forecasting solution had been a cumbersome maze of linked spreadsheets that required careful and time-consuming maintenance to ensure that any template changes or additions ultimately flowed into forecast numbers.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Forecast migration to OutlookSoft FPA has generated many benefits including ease of input consolidation, a significant reduction in potential errors in the forecast process and rapid, accurate reporting. Budget managers now have high visibility to their expenditure data and associated department financial performance. General Bandwidth now has the depth and quality of financial projections typically available only at larger companies with more expansive financial staffs.

STRENGTHS: OutlookSoft FPA excels as a spreadsheet interface to the power inherent in database technology. The ability to customize applications is almost boundless, allowing precisely the depth of information required for a specific need. Consolidation and report generation have become rapid and highly scalable, resulting in high quality analyses.

WEAKNESSES: The OutlookSoft Web functionality was designed to be simple and accommodate many needs, but may have lost some value in the process. Information is relegated to boxes of various sizes and long documents can end up with two sets of scroll bars. The ability to print attractive reports from a book published to OutlookSoft FPA is lacking.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Vendor solutions were evaluated using many criteria including price, but needed to meet three primary functional objectives. The product needed to be easy for department mangers to use without creating a significant learning curve. The product needed to fully embrace the latest Web technologies. The product's technology platform needed to coexist and integrate seamlessly with the large number of business applications that General Bandwidth had already developed. OutlookSoft FPA stood alone as a product built from inception for the Web, utilizing Microsoft SQL Server technology and created with a true Excel user interface.

DELIVERABLES: The WebExcel component of OutlookSoft FPA is used extensively for data submission by budget managers and report generation by financial analysts. The OutlookSoft Enterprise Application Portal (EAP) is a Web-based platform used as a distribution medium for monthly reporting.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Initial application development and implementation was managed by an on-site OutlookSoft consultant and went very smoothly. A few product issues arose, as we had expected being an early customer for a new product. Our consultant and OutlookSoft rose to these challenges admirably by devoting the time and resources necessary to solve our problems. A relatively new online support system has become a valuable resource for submission of trouble tickets and feature enhancement requests.

DOCUMENTATION: Product documentation has been sparse, presumably due to the age of the product and its point in the development cycle. However, adequate training materials and courses are available from OutlookSoft on a fee basis.

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