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Posts Tagged ‘BI Tools’

BI_TipsIn our previous two posts we looked at one Business Intelligence (BI) provider’s advice (Solver, Inc.) when it comes to picking a BI reporting tool.  In those two posts we looked at “access” and “alignment.”  In today’s concluding post we’ll review their comments on “acceleration,” the third leg of their BI tool selection criteria.  Once again, the full text of their white paper may be found here.

Solver is a bit self-serving insofar as their advice is obviously intended to guide you to their solution.  With that in mind, here are a few points (which we’ve reduced and edited) they suggest you keep in mind of “things that might regularly get in the way of your decision-making processes”:

  • On-premises data management and analysis software that requires users to be in the office to get their hands on company information
  • Lack of a supported web portal and/or mobile application to extend the BI functionalities for the on-the-go team member
  • Relying on multiple data sources that are not integrated to store different types of data as opposed to having one platform, like a configurable data warehouse
  • Using proprietary, hard-to learn software designed to run financial reports
  • Designing and running reports, budgets, and/or dashboards from stand-alone BI tools that are not part of a fully integrated suite of tools
  • No platform to truly organize and streamline it all

Our takeaway:

While self-serving to Solver, the above considerations are offered with the intent of making you aware that there are such tools out there, able to consolidate a wide range of data from an even wider range of sources than ever before.  These tools certainly represent an investment in both time and money.

But they are also intended to move companies from the status quo (old style reporting and even new style dashboards) into an entire new realm of business intelligence, data gathering and decision-making capabilities.

These new collaboration tools are aimed at bringing you the most flexible access to your data ever available to business.  Tools like Solver’s BI360 and Jet Reports (from Jet Reports, Inc.) are today’s most advanced means of extracting, analyzing and making good business use of the enormous trove of data that is growing in most companies’ databases today, especially those using today’s more modern ERP systems.

With that “investment” (of time and money) consideration in mind, BI tools are definitely worth looking into for companies seeking a competitive edge – as the byproduct of understanding their own operational results better than they ever could before.

Just remember, it’s not a single step, decision or product purchase so much as it is a journey to improved business intelligence and analytics within your own firm.  And as your instinct will probably tell you, this won’t happen overnight.

Still, you might want to start investigating tomorrow.

 

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BI_SolverIn our prior post we looked at one Business Intelligence (BI) provider’s advice when it comes to picking a BI reporting tool.  In that post, we looked at the first of Solver, Inc.’s three key selection criteria, ones they think make for ripe discussion at any company considering the selection of a BI tool.  (As we noted then, two key providers of these tools for the Microsoft Dynamics NAV community include a product called Jet Report, and Solver’s tool, dubbed BI360.  The full text of Solver’s white paper can be found here.)

As we noted, Solver suggests that “Today’s best financial reporting and budgeting tools are designed to access, align, and accelerate your data-driven decision-making.”  Our first post looked at “access.”  Today let’s look at what they have to say about “alignment.”

Solver uses the term “alignment” to acknowledge that in today’s collaborative business environment, “Collaboration has always been important, but because of the structure of business today and the impact of social networking on connecting the global community, the value of collaboration can be qualitatively summed up as alignment.”

As decision making generally has to happen within the context of teamwork – and as data and text communications (email, social media, and more) continue to grow in size and importance, you need to organize and streamline your collaborations.

Solver’s point is to have companies think about utilizing a single tool aimed at consolidating all this disparate information (and of course, they’d like that tool to be theirs).  They note that “When it comes to corporate decision-making made through financial reporting and/or budgeting, BI collaboration becomes a new product category.”

They add that… “The best tool designed to align your teamwork will bring everything you need to collaborate into one, single platform: strategic and budgetary discussions, project-specific communications, status updates and surveys, real-time data analysis and collaborative decision-making, web reporting and dashboards.  Instead of digging through your e-mail inbox (and the folders you have created to try to organize the staggering amount of e-mail correspondence you have to manage) to figure out what decision was made regarding a task at hand for you and your team, collaboration tools offer topic-specific conversation spaces that showcase the trail of communication exchanged.”

With the best collaboration tool, note the folks at Solver, you can access financial reports and dashboards “that empower you to analyze company data at the click of a button whenever you need data to discuss a company decision and wherever you have an internet connection.”

Their conclusion: Such a data delivery and reporting tool can accelerate your decision making process – a subtle nod to their third and final BI tool decision criteria, and the one we’ll close this topic with in our next post in this three-part series.

 

 

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BI_picBusiness 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…

 

 

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In its research on the new BI tools and how power users are reshaping the dimensions of fast and up-to-date reporting in today’s business environment, Aberdeen Research drew some key conclusions that we will briefly encapsulate here:

  • First, business users (becoming power users over time) using the newer BI tools are more likely than most to “have the ability to customize the BI environment to suit their own particular needs.”  As they point out, this tailoring opens a broad array of possibilities for presenting information in very precise ways, including (or excluding) data on dashboards, for example, to amplify certain key performance indicators.  Configured wisely, managers are more likely to have the information they need at their fingertips.
  • Second, these managers are more likely to have powerful “drill-down” capabilities enabling them to see the details underlying their data.  This is a key step beyond simple “managed reporting” that builds towards a more interactive and exploratory style of BI.
  • Third, while drill-down is enlightening, it is also inherently limited.  Sometimes, you can only follow pre-defined paths to your data (though we know of software where this is simply not true).  Thus, power users trained in visual and interactive BI tools are often able to go more off-road in their explorations, gaining greater latitude in their ability to analyze data and produce better action conclusions.

In the end, three takeaways come from our BI analysis:

  • Shrinking decision windows today challenge IT to deliver –quickly – even as business and data volumes grow.  Given this volume growth, IT is hard pressed to keep up.  Instead, better BI tools put into the hands of power-user managers can provide a better means of keeping up.
  • Visual and interactive BI solutions have strong appeal for business managers being squeezed by this shrinking window.  Organizations are finding this a better way to deliver BI, and it helps relegate IT to more of a support role, as opposed to the traditional managed-reporting creators.
  • Visual and interactive BI solutions increase the ability to meet the shrinking window.  According to research byAberdeen, just 17% of firms that rely solely on traditional reporting are “always able to provide business managers with the information they need” versus 44% of those that use just the newer interactive tools.  That figure rises to 50% for firms using both methods.

Ultimately, the newer approach heralded by the newer BI tools and their inclusion in many of the newer ERP systems takes responsibility for understanding and discovering relationships, patterns and trends within a firm’s data out of the hands of IT, who are often challenged to understand what to look for in the first place, and places it into the hands of experienced business managers, where it’s likely to do infinitely more good.  This trend can only continue.

 

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We noted in part two of this post series on BI that smart companies today are moving to ‘agile’ business intelligence (BI) systems, and that these decisions are comprised of two key components: interactive, or ‘self-service’ BI tools for quick access to data, manipulated by power users.  A power user is simply someone who’s taken the time to become very adept at using a particular software tool or program.  Most companies have one, and can call them by name.  Every company should.

In a recent report, Aberdeen Research makes the observation that the characteristic that really stands out regarding power users is their aptitude – which they define as not only the ability to learn such tools, but perhaps even more so that “they are always willing to explore and experiment to discover new capabilities of the tool and insights into data.”

Companies wishing to exploit these tools in order to gain more instantaneous access to critical decision-making information need to confront two needs then: they need access to the newer BI tools (via add-ins, or the tools contained in many of the newer ERP system), and they need to have (or to sponsor and nurture) their own power users.

This takes some time.  IT staff need to show the way for budding power users, who need to be trained in analytics, in the use of the tools, and who need to have time to experiment.  Ideally, the power users, at least in a few cases, will be among the key business managers, so that when quick access to information is required, they become the Go To Guy or Gal to do so.

Firms with a higher proportion of self-service BI users tend in general to have more employees using business intelligence thus leveraging their tech investments more wisely.  It’s as though knowledge begets knowledge, as tools and skills proliferate throughout the ‘informed organization.’  It’s a culture to aspire to!

In fact, formalizing the role of a power user can often provide a more decentralized mode of support and information gathering, especially in larger organizations.  Regardless, it’s important that firms large and small do everything to further empower their power users, and try to provide them when able the tools to empower their analysis.  Again, these tools are often embedded within their ERP systems (at least the newer, more modern ones) and the best of them are integrated with Microsoft Office tools for added functionality.

With the right software and BI tools in place, all that’s left is a dedication to training and a commitment to continuous education.

In our final post of this series, we’ll draw some key conclusions…

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In our previous post we noted how the ‘traditional’ approach to business intelligence involves collaboration between management and I.T.  Most of the control rests with the I.T. staff, as it’s charged with gathering, sorting and formatting the information.  The result is usually ‘fixed’ in the sense that a static report is generated, one typically that can be modified with variable data such as a range of dates or departments.  It’s all organized into a report or a chart, and this approach is typically called something like ‘managed reporting.’

For most managers, most companies, for most of the past couple of decades, and for most places today… this is how mission-critical data is gathered and presented to the business’ key decision-makers.

Which is all well and fine until someone reports that a production run has gone awry, and the supporting information to correct the problem is required… now.

So today, we see businesses looking more closely at more ‘agile’ forms of business intelligence.  With their business needs constantly changing, managers seek a more flexible mode of gaining access to critical information.

With research showing that the competitive pressures of a ‘shrinking decision window’ are only rising, agile business intelligence becomes an increasingly important competitive factor.  Increasingly, companies are turning to the more visual and interactive business intelligence tools, oftentimes blending these with their traditional reporting, and in so doing they find themselves significantly more able to deliver the needed information in the requisite timeframe, one more often measured in hours than days.

Today’s newest ERP systems typically contain dashboards and built-in BI tools that provide much of the muscle needed to accomplish agile, ‘self-service’ BI. 

Aberdeen Research recently concluded that companies using a more visual and interactive approach to BI “are more likely to provide information to business managers in the time they require – even though those business managers are, on average, more demanding in their time constraints.” 

So what did Aberdeenconclude about the power inherent in the more agile BI systems, and the people behind them?  “Organizations that use interactive BI tools have a significantly higher proportion of self-service BI users, and a much higher proportion of power users too.”

These two concepts go hand in hand, and they put some companies confronting them at a virtual crossroads.  We’ll explore that topic next…

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Happy New Year to YOU from everyone at PSSI!  May 2012 be filled with all the good things you work and pray and strive so hard for…

Businesses today are under constantly increasing pressure to make decisions more rapidly.  So we thought it was a good time to look at what’s happening today in the realm of “Business Intelligence,” a critical analysis and planning discipline (and tools) that seems timely to present as we begin a new year.

This requires the ability to deliver better business intelligence more rapidly which, in turn, requires modern tools, relevant and up-to-date business data, and for good measure, a ‘power-user’ or two thrown into the mix.  In this series of posts we’ll look at Business Intelligence (or “BI”) – its role in business today, how it’s evolving, and what you need to do to harness its benefits for your organization.

First up: What is BI, and why is it important to your business?

BI starts with the understanding that businesses often struggle to get the right information to the right employees at the right time.  Add to that the fact that what constitutes the ‘right information’ can change quickly, and the ‘right time’ can be not just days… but hours, and you begin to understand the challenge.  When, for example, a sudden ‘bad run’ of product requires immediate action, how do you get access to supplier data, or the shop floor production info of just a few hours prior?  In today’s world, fixing it next week doesn’t get it.  You need answers today.

Which begs the question: Do you have the data, the systems, the tools, and the people to answer the query?

The traditional approach to business intelligence usually involves two parties: the business managers, who have a need for information required to drive better decisions; and an I.T. or “computer person” tasked with creating the right reports, forms or drill-down screens, with links to the right data, to satisfy management’s needs.

The problem with this ‘traditional’ approach is that studies show it takes on average about a month to complete a support request to create a new dashboard, and about 8 days just to get someone to add a column to a report.  Oh sure, you can ‘rush’ the request, but you can only use that bullet so many times, and in each case, you have to ask what other important need got shelved or delayed because or your emergency request?

Besides requiring a lot of collaboration, the traditional approach is increasingly encumbered by the increasing pace of business.  Sometimes you want to go to the restaurant and have someone serve you up the meal.  But sometimes, it’s just easier and more efficient to cook it yourself.  It’s the same with B.I.  With today’s modern systems, and a little time and determination, the determined manager can create her or his own dashboard, report or form.  True, it pushes you into borderline ‘power-user’ territory… but the gains are worth the effort.  And increasingly, business pace-of-change simply requires it. 

Hence, we see the move today from IT-created reporting, to ‘self-serve’ business intelligence.  And we’ll look at that in our next post…

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