5 Ways to Get More Mileage from Your General Ledger

We don’t have to tell you how cut-throat your business world can be. Clients always feel the need for speed and if your practice can’t keep up, they will take their accounts across the street to your competitors.

To compete, practices cannot afford to run a lengthy, convoluted budgeting process. Across-the-board budget data from departments, databases, and reporting tools must be immediately accessible and revisable. If not, budget administrators and line managers will be unable to keep up with shifting marketplace demands and respond to unforeseen business challenges.

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5 Ways to Get More Mileage from Your General Ledger

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Without a cutting-edge efficient, day-to-day budgeting and planning system that aggregates all available financial data, a practice will encounter trouble managing resources, keeping clients happy, and meeting their bottom line.

Budgeting products such as Microsoft Forecaster offer the streamlined, automated capabilities that will allow your practice to quickly respond to industry changes and stay both profitable and compliant with corporate regulations. A browser-based analytic solution accelerates and simplifies the budget planning process, by mapping the historical data from your general ledger in a manner that promotes efficiency, productivity and profitability.

"Most people—and especially accountants—can't live without Excel, but there comes a point where there's too much data for Excel," explains Nancy Gibbs, senior applications consultant for FRx Software, a division of Microsoft. "If you upload the Excel data into an Microsoft Forecaster database, it makes reporting and consolidation much easier, and makes everyone more productive."

From templates to deadlines to calculations, budgeting software such as Microsoft Forecaster can boost productivity when planning and adjusting quarterly budgets:

1. Templates - When budgeting in Excel, each department usually has its own template. If you add a company-wide budget line or account, then you have to add it to every single spreadsheet. Microsoft Forecaster allows you to create templates for each department or cost center. When there's a change, all you have to modify is the template, not the individual spreadsheets applied across multiple cost centers. "That's a huge time savings," says Gibbs, noting that the same concept applies to formulas and calculations. "If you have a formula in a template that needs to be recalculated, you only have to change it in one place."

2. Deadline Control - One sure productivity killer for the accounting department: having to constantly prod contributors to submit budget data. Draconian though it may sound, Microsoft Forecaster allows the accounting department to set deadlines for budget updates and then lock out people who don't meet the deadline. "It gives your financial department more control over input," says Gibbs, "and lets them monitor the process more efficiently."

3. Standard Calculations -One of the most tedious activities in accounting is the application of standard calculations, but Microsoft Forecaster speeds this up in a variety of ways. For instance, Excel has no specific payroll tax function—someone has to create the formula. Microsoft Forecaster, on the other hand, builds the payroll tax function into the budgeting software, "because every company does payroll tax the same way," says Gibbs. The same goes for foreign currency translation—once you input an exchange rate, all the templates access that same rate. Finally, if you need to allocate an entire department's budget across a group of other departments, such as administration, facilities or IT, Microsoft Forecaster can automatically do that based on the data entered into its database.

4. Access Control - Like any database, Microsoft Forecaster incorporates functionality-governing access for specific users. Even this relates to productivity, because to offer access to specific reports, all you have to do is send out a URL for an internal Web address. With the right passwords, users can access the report directly. The same goes for budgeting—you can send users directly to where they need to input information. "That makes it much easier for the end users," says Gibbs. "They love it because the budget administrator has done all the work. If you make access that simple, it really encourages end users to get the work done."

5. Version Control - Once you approve your budget, it's cast in stone—you don't want anyone altering the data. Microsoft Forecaster, however, makes it easier for people to copy the budget and start doing forecasts based on other input. It also offers version control, so you can easily identify what's current and what's a forecast. "Letting people adjust the numbers leads to better information, which leads to better business decisions," says Gibbs.