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Farm gear manufacturer makes hay with Budget Maestro

Longtime user says Budget Maestro is much easier to use than Microsoft Excel for BP&F but needs better formatting for printed reports.

Dave Davis believes he became a lot more productive for a Minnesota manufacturer after he dropped Microsoft Excel and began using Centage's on-premises software for automated budgeting, planning and forecasting.

"It is definitely more efficient," said Davis, controller for Loftness Specialized Farm Equipment, a manufacturer based in Hector, Minn. "I don't have to worry about breaking links to other spreadsheets when I am trying to add a product line or make a change inside one Excel spreadsheet."

Although he said it needs minor improvements for designing and formatting printed reports, Davis said the Budget Maestro software is much easier to use than Excel and allows for improved forecasting in budgets and cash flows by providing better details. Davis said the budgeting software integrates well with the general ledger in the company's ERP software from SYSPRO, which is based in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Davis replaced Excel with the single-user desktop version of Budget Maestro in 2012, two years after he was hired as controller at Loftness. He said he was familiar with the financial software since he had used it at two previous stints as a controller at other companies.

It took about a month of training and then another 10 days to get the software completely set up and ready to generate budgets, he said.

First, an inventory workaround

At the start, implementation was slowed to work around a basic premise in the software, which is that a business sells what it builds in the same month. Loftness, however, builds inventory months in advance of a selling season. Davis worked with Centage and eventually found a way for the software to reflect the buildup of inventory and ensure accuracy in the balance sheet.

He also uses an add-on called Link Maestro to automate the exchange of financial information between the ERP system and Budget Maestro. The add-on allows him to import actual expenses and revenues each month to compare with projections and adjust the budget going forward.

Centage, based in Natick, Mass., markets the software to small to midmarket companies like Loftness, which has 92 employees and sells equipment to about 750 dealers mostly in the U.S. and Canada.

Davis said "the only minor negative" is with formatting and design capabilities. As a result, he rarely prints from Budget Maestro, instead sending reports to Excel for proper formatting and printing. The process takes about 30 minutes for a complete set of financial reports and is mostly the only task he performs in Excel.

When he attempts to format monthly balance sheets and income statements for printing in Budget Maestro, the software does not underscore the subtotals and totals of certain numbers, he said. "If you print the report, those underscores are missing."

He also cited a design flaw in the software. "In Budget Maestro, when you generate the report, it is kind of like a reverse tree that you drill down to get to the level of lines you want on your report," he said. "If you were to print that, at the very top, you would see net income and then income from operations as headings and then you get to your revenues and expense areas. In a proper financial statement, the top-line headings should not be net income and income from operations. Those are supposed to be at the bottom."

Davis said Budget Maestro is, however, good for report writing. One monthly report he creates shows unit sales by product lines, not just dollar figures, which allows managers to see the level of production that will be needed. He deals with 60 to 80 products across five product lines.

The application allows him to generate reports for monthly or quarterly results for the company owners or a bank officer. He also produces reports for department managers to help them understand what is happening in their departments and the overall production picture.

The application is flexible and can do a lot more than just budgeting and forecasting, according to Davis. For example, he produces a monthly report that helps managers determine the cost of manufacturing per hour, then note fluctuations and try to make improvements.

Budget Maestro no budget-buster

Davis said he receives excellent service from Centage, especially during training via a series of Web sessions. He said he likes the training format.

He would not consider cloud software for planning and forecasting, partly because he is a single user and believes the on-premises desktop software stored on his hard drive is more secure and convenient.

Davis purchased the software through a SYSPRO reseller for $7,700 back in 2012 and pays an annual support and maintenance fee of $1,400 a year. An initial eight hours of training was $1,600, and it cost another $3,500 for training when Davis upgraded to a new version last year. Part of the training fee covered converting data to the new version.

There was no extra cost for the software upgrade since it was included in the annual maintenance fee.

"It went really smooth. I didn't find any quirks and or anything that didn't convert or didn't come over correctly. They did a good job."

Next Steps

Read BP&F training tips

Move from Microsoft Excel to BP&F software

Learn about budgeting in ERP

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