The next version of Microsofts budgeting and planning software, Microsoft Forecaster 7.0, will be released to manufacturing March 28 and will be generally available in early April.
Pricing for the software, developed by Microsoft subsidiary FRx Software, starts at $8,500 for the server plus one user, with each additional user costing $500.
Those customers currently on the Microsoft Forecaster support and maintenance plan will be able to get the upgrade at no additional charge as part of their support and maintenance agreement.
This latest upgrade focuses on enhancements in three core areas: usability, adaptability and visibility, said Andy Kamlet, the director of marketing and sales for FRx Software, based in Denver, Colo.
Usability is improved with the introduction of a new user interface and streamlined navigation, helping reduce the time it takes to learn the application, while, on the adaptability front, Microsoft Forecaster 7.0 lets users take advantage of up to 10 segments or dimensions for more precise budgeting, he said.
That is a big positive for Duncan Shaw, the co-president of Cogsdale, a Microsoft partner based in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
"Our clients are all utilities and local governments, most of which need more than three segments, so the expansion to 10 is a very big plus. Other key benefits include the integration with the core accounting system, and the intuitive user interface, a huge benefit when presenting the product in sales situations," he said.
The new Total Types functionality found in Forecaster 7 also reduces the number of calculations or trees to be maintained by the user, helping reduce implementation time and streamlining regular maintenance, Kamlet said.
The new product also still allows users of financial reporting software Microsoft FRx, which is licensed by more than 110,000 sites across the world, to integrate their general ledger and budget data from Microsoft Forecaster into reports generated by Microsoft FRx, he said.
But this new release will also extend visibility by including new functionality related to what fields can be viewed, especially in the human resources area of the application, as well as a variety of new formatting options, such as numeric, font and conditional formatting, which allow those responsible for creating templates and reports to meet the needs of their users.
"Our customers and partners have told us they want an affordable application that will make budgeting and forecasting less cumbersome, faster to implement and easier to use and that will offer greater adaptability to changing business conditions, all of which are addressed in Microsoft Forecaster 7.0," Kamlet said.
Some customers, like MariAnne Woehrle, the director of Information and Technology for the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing in Alexandria, Va., are upbeat about Microsoft Forecaster 7.0.
"Wed like to be able to budget and do reforecasts more often, and we think Microsoft Forecaster 7.0 will make that possible. This version makes it easier to keep everything in one place. So if something unforeseen happens, such as an invoice being a lot higher or lower than expected, we can immediately identify the issue, recognize the impact, then re-forecast it into our quarter and reflect it in our financial statements, and have a better picture," Woehrle said.
CTAM, a nonprofit association for the cable industry, is also hoping that the product will also help it save time on budgeting, too.
"In the past, we used Excel spreadsheets and then tried to consolidate them and then find the backup. With Microsoft Forecaster, users can put in their line items—whether theyre trips or hotels or whatever theyre doing—and the program accumulates all of the data for them into the cost centers. Then the data all roll up into a sheet, so we can see automatically where we are to produce the budget," she said.
A September 2006 report by market research firm IDC predicts that budgeting and planning applications will be a prime driver of growth in the worldwide financial and business performance management analytic applications space in 2007.
The report, titled "Worldwide Business Performance Management Applications 2006—2010 Forecast and 2005 Vendor Shares" predicts these applications will account for 31 percent, or some $600 million, of the projected $1,984 billion total market revenue.