Help with Business Plans
Can you really use a software program to help you write a business plan? Reid Anderson, a senior business consultant at Physicians Business Network, certainly thinks so. Anderson uses Ronstadt Financials, a $299 planning and budgeting program from Lord Publishing (800-525-5673) to produce pro forma financial statements.
"It's so much more valuable than just a spreadsheet," he says. "You get actual financial statements, which bankers and investors are more comfortable reading."
Anderson adds that one of the program's strong points is its ability to perform business evaluations with what-if scenarios. Financial modeling can be done with ordinary spreadsheets, but the process is laborious because you need to sift through tedious formulas, such as "B23 A14=Q15." Ronstadt lets you enter "Assets Liabilities = Equity."
It also has analytical capabilities that let you model various aspects of a business (for example, sales, costs, taxes) and automatically prints income statements, balance sheets, cash flows, revenue forecasts, break-even analyses, and key ratios and measures.
There are a number of products that model business plans and produce financial statements, but each has different features. The biggest seller is BizPlanBuilder Interactive, priced at $139 (from Jian Tools for Sales; 800-346-5426 or 415-254-5600; www.jianusa.com). This program asks you questions about your business and prompts you through the steps to achieving answers. It then prints out text that you can use as a business plan--a unique feature among these programs. Nevertheless, the product has fewer analytical capabilities than Ronstadt.
The $995 program Business Maestro (from Planet Corp.; 800-366-5111; www. planet_corp.com/cfo) has more analytical capabilities, as well as the ability to compare budget projections to actual numbers. The company also offers Business Maestro Enterprise, a version for $2,495 that allows the CFO to develop a financial model and distribute the file to the company's various departments. Each department provides its own data, and the software then consolidates all the files into a single enterprise model. Certainly the price is high, but it's hard to beat that kind of assistance.
Clime on Board
With its recent release of accounting consolidation software Clime (Coopers & Lybrand Information Management Environment), Coopers and Lybrand LLP (860-241-7000) is going up against the well-entrenched market leader Hyperion Software Corp. and its Hyperion Enterprise (203-703-3000 or 800-286- 8000; www.hyperion.com). Which product you choose will ultimately depend as much on your budget as on your business needs.
Clime is a Windows-based rewrite of C&L's previous DOS-based consolidation program, PlusPlan. "The Coopers product has some nice features that large conglomerates might like, such as automating accounting and consolidating the statements of many subsidiaries," says Dennis Keeling, author of a report on corporate financial systems and an international finance consultant with the London-based Dennis Keeling Partnership. In addition, Clime has a built-in programming language that allows the user to configure Clime precisely for the company's needs.
Clime has a built-in online analytical processing (OLAP) engine that allows for multidimensional access to the data for decision support. Hyperion, on the other hand, has acquired both an OLAP product and a budgeting product from other companies to round out its program. These two acquisitions give the software much greater functionality in total. But integration isn't always seamless, because three separate companies developed the three original products. Nevertheless, says Keeling, "Hyperion is easy to use, and it works with every accounting system and every platform."
But here's the rub: the Clime consolidation and OLAP software costs $100,000. By contrast, Hyperion Enterprise costs $150,000, Hyperion OLAP costs $60,000, and the Hyperion Pillar budgeting program costs $45,000. "Hyperion's products meet most corporate requirements," says Keeling, "but I always get one big complaint from users: it's very expensive."