Business Intelligence, or “BI” is a hot topic today among ERP providers and the companies that use their products. Clients have been known to ask us how to get critical answers out of their ERP, accounting and production systems, usually without ever using, or even knowing about, the term BI. They may not know its name, but they know they want it.
Simply put, the idea is be able to probe your business management system software for key data points and comparisons, built on the data already inside your system – regardless (at least sometimes) of where these data may reside. This takes the best of two worlds – reporting, and data ‘queries’ – and helps blend them into a means of deriving key business data that ultimately helps managers make better business decisions. There’s a learning curve, to be sure, but it’s all for the best.
In the Microsoft Dynamics world, including Microsoft’s globally best-selling Dynamics NAV product, two companies are leaders in the BI field: Jet Reports (about whom we’ve written several earlier posts) and Solver, whose tips for buying a BI tool we’d like to share in our next couple of posts.
Now, granted, Solver (in the U.S., SolverUSA) and Jet both have something to “sell you.” But it doesn’t make their advice any less valid when you’re looking to mine your company’s critical data for insights, revelations, comparisons and guidance for making those better business decisions.
Let’s start at the beginning. All ERP systems have inherent reporting capabilities – the more modern systems today include ‘dashboards’ too — and those are indeed the right place to start. But BI takes it a step farther. As the folks at Solver, Inc. note: “Today’s best financial reporting and budgeting tools are designed to access, align, and accelerate your data-driven decision-making.”
First, “access”: A BI tool should be easy to use, but it’s even more important that it be flexible. It can allow you to access your data from your desktop or across the country, from an airport or your office. They can deliver solutions based on on-premise databases, the cloud, or both.
So first, we’ll review some of Solver’s key guidelines – things they think you should consider when seeking flexible access in a Microsoft Dynamics BI tool — which they’ve neatly reprised in a document available in its entirety here. (You’ll have to register with the site, but it’s all free.)
- The option to run live on Microsoft Dynamics and/or integrate data to BI data store (i.e. an OLAP cube or a fully built, customizable data warehouse)
- The familiarity and power of a 3rd generation Excel add-in tool that offers user- friendly report development of financial statements, sub-ledger reports, consolidations, and any type of operational reports
- The accessibility of web-based BI, with the report design process itself powered by Excel
- Mobile reporting and dashboards, with access to company financials, operational reports, and KPIs through an application for your tablet and smartphone
- A fully integrated, comprehensive suite of BI modules that synergize BI data analysis processes
Don’t be put off too much by some of the jargon (OLAP, KPIs, etc.)… it simply boils down to finding a good data mining tool that utilizes Excel reporting (both Solver and Jet products do this) and that can be used on a variety of today’s devices like phones, tablets and PCs.
We’ll look at the two other key things to consider in our next posts on this topic, so stay tuned…