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The forecasting methodology recommended in these articles places a lot of emphasis on the knowledge and judgment of the forecaster. This is unavoidable given the nature of the market, but it follows that developing a good forecast is a labour-intensive process.
Computer systems can help here, by providing the forecasters with a productive and flexible environment in which to analyse and manipulate numbers. A lot of companies use spreadsheet based systems. Some use systems that have been developed to run via terminal emulation on their corporate midrange or mainframe machines. Finally, some use the an option from their ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.
None of these approaches are ideal.
Spreadsheet based systems are generally difficult to maintain, in terms of adding new products or customers, updating actuals or rolling forward years. They also tend to show the data in fixed views due to the fixed rows and columns structure of spreadsheet programs. Some analytical capability can be introduced by building clever spreadsheet macros, or by users reformatting data in different ways within their spreadsheets, but this approach tends to be clumsy and labour intensive. In addition, aggregation of data across products and customers tends to require considerable manual processing.
Terminal based midrange or mainframe systems and ERP options overcome the maintenance problems but tend to be inflexible, and do not provide the variety of instant graphical views that a PC based system makes possible. In addition, such systems can sometimes have performance problems - where transaction processing systems and decision support systems operate on the same host, transaction processing systems necessarily get preference in receiving processor time. In addition, it is hard to give terminal based systems the degree of user-friendliness which sales and marketing users generally prefer.
Therefore, whilst these traditional approaches offer elements of the ideal approach, one really needs a system which combines the ease of maintenance and robustness of the mainframe / ERP approach with the speed, flexibility, graphics and user friendliness of the PC.
Nowadays, PC based systems which meet this need are available. Here is a checklist of features to look out for: