REVIEWER: Geneva Jackson, general accounting manager for NB Handy.

BACKGROUND: NB Handy is a provider of HVAC and roofing equipment and supplies, with 15 full-service distribution centers in the U.S. augmenting its premier metals service center and corporate headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia.  The organization currently employs more than 400 people and reported $250 million in sales in 2005.

HARDWARE PLATFORMS: Dell Servers, Windows 2003 Operating Systems.

PROBLEM SOLVED: The spreadsheet-based budgeting process was becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with as we grew. With 15 branches within the company and 10 or more budget templates for each branch, the process had become a difficult chore of managing spreadsheets instead of a useful exercise that provided us with meaningful projections.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Microsoft Forecaster has substantially helped improve our budgeting process. Our budgeting exercise has completely evolved, and today it's more efficient. For example, we decided to have our sales budget set up as a separate company within Microsoft Forecaster for an even greater level of detail. Managers can input sales projections into the system, and the data is managed and calculated within Microsoft Forecaster for secure access via the Web throughout the year. The sales budget is organized by product line, branch, salesperson and customer. Once complete, these totals are carried over to the expense budget where each branch is considered a standalone entity and is budgeted separately all the way down to the net income level. We then record total sales for each branch and spread seasonally. This is valuable to us because NB Handy experiences its highest level of sales during spring and summer.

STRENGTHS: The main strengths of Microsoft Forecaster are its ability to have one centralized location for all of our data and workflow management. We are also able to import the data seamlessly into our general ledger system, allowing everyone to become extremely involved. There is no question that Microsoft Forecaster has helped improve accountability all the way down the chain. Also, a temporary worker is no longer needed to rekey data, helping cut superfluous expenses. The team can now provide a greater level of detail and more comparisons to upper management.

WEAKNESSES: We consider the main weakness of the product to be the lack of flexibility in some areas. We use the software to budget our sales data in great detail. As with most companies with a sales force, there is always some amount of change due to employee turnover, changing market structures and changing sales territories. These things change constantly, even during the budgeting process. We have found it difficult in most cases to make structural changes to the budget setup once the process is underway.

SELECTION CRITERIA: After reviewing the needs of NB Handy and options available to us, our CFO and controller opted for Microsoft Forecaster. We liked the application's spreadsheet feel, Microsoft Forecaster's reasonable price tag, and the implementation and support options.

DELIVERABLES: We can quickly create income statements for each of our 15 branches and the corporate office. We can also produce detailed sales budget reports for each region, branch, salesperson and customer. These reports give the corporate team insight into how each branch is performing in terms of sales and managing expenses. Projections are now seen as guideposts instead of speed bumps because our managers are involved in the planning and budgeting process for 12 months a year.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We actually purchased the initial Microsoft Forecaster software from a reseller. We then opted to go directly to FRx Software for implementation support and annual maintenance and support. The initial setup did not go as smoothly as it should have, not because of FRx Software, but because of our own lack of planning. Once we got through the initial bumps, FRx Software product support has been great. The support team is very knowledgeable about Microsoft Forecaster. We wouldn't have made it through our budget season without them.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is okay, but there are so many tricks and workarounds that you couldn't possibly put it all in a book. The documentation is good for helping you with your initial setup and to run a basic budget, but it is not geared toward the advanced user and the more complex tasks.

Microsoft Forecaster
FRx Software Corporation, a Microsoft subsidiary
4700 South Syracuse Street #700
Denver, CO 80237
(303) 741-8000

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