Posts Tagged ‘Business Intelligence’

Reporting and business intelligence can both be of critical importance to a company today.  After all, it’s often said that in the past we adopted technology to aid the business (or perished along the way), whereas today, we are all technology companies.  So let’s take a quick look at a few key distinctions between these two entities.

A Washington D.C. company called T3 Information Systems offers the following two definitions which seem to fit the bill nicely:

Reporting refers to an account or statement that describes in detail an event or situation. The purpose of reporting is to give a detailed status update of a situation.

Business Intelligence (BI) refers to technologies, applications and practices for the collection, integration, analysis, and presentation of business information. The purpose of Business Intelligence is to support better decision-making in business.

Reporting is mostly concerned with what happened in the past (recent or otherwise) or with the current status of things (i.e., sales, receivables, inventory).  Aging reports, sales analyses, customer ledgers and income statements are examples of reporting.

Business intelligence, on the other hand, is concerned with what has happened so far, or what exists in our repositories of data, that can be used to effect and improve future business performance.

3T explains BI simply as… Business Intelligence is built using multiple sources of data, giving the user the ability to cross-analyze and explore relationships that may not have been previously considered. The main goal of BI technology is to be flexible and open to discovering new insights.

An easy-to-understand example of a real-life business intelligence situation would be discount cards. Stores use discount cards to track customer purchases and targeted marketing campaigns. Business intelligence then analyzes and explores this data to inform future decisions.

In short then, business reporting is about status updates, past and current.  BI is about making future decisions. They involve different tools (a topic for another time) provided by an ever-increasing range of software vendors.  In some respects, it’s fair to say that one is intended to pick up where the other leaves off.

Yet you need both — eventually.  It’s just important to recognize the distinctions, and to decide for yourself when you need more than just reporting.  Then you can start exploring your options.


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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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cube-photoWe’re borrowing from a Product Manager by the name of Steve Little at Jet Reports today to talk about a powerful tool that many are just beginning to understand.  “Cubes,” sometimes referred to as “OLAP (or Online Analytical Processing) Cubes” are a handy way to organize, extract and report upon the many dimensions of your company’s stored data.  Today, we’ll keep it simple, but we hope illuminating, by following the Little’s comments from the Jet Reports Blog.

(Jet Reports, by the way, is a powerful reporting tool that acts as an extension of Microsoft Excel.  It allows users of full-fledged ERP systems like Microsoft Dynamics to build, save and update reports of data that resides inside the databases and tables of their ERP system.)

In his original post (found here) Little starts with a simple hypothetical question one might ask: “How much profit did we make selling Sno-cones to Icelanders last year?”  In a Dynamics NAV database you might need to combine data from 6 or more tables (Customer, Region, Item, etc.) to deduce the answer.  Then you’d have to “mash up the data and extract the data to get the information that you need.”  That can be a slow and resource intensive process, Little points out.  What you really want is a fast and easy process – and that’s where Cubes come in.

Cubes make it easy to answer questions like this by reorganizing a copy of the data so that it’s easy and fast to get information out.  They are a multi-dimensional way of organizing data – which means they offer a near instant analysis of large amounts of data.

A few term definitions may help, as you ponder the illustration above:

  • Dimension: a category used by which to slice your data (say, by Company, Salesperson or Item)
  • Measure: a calculated numeric value (like a sum, count or average)
  • Level: a grouping within a dimension (like Customers by Salesperson, or Territory)
  • Hierarchy: a group or organizational level (like date by year, quarter or month)

Our three-dimensional cube illustration would be an example of a way to view sales and profits of products and territories over a period of years, for example.

Cubes such as those utilized by the Jet/Excel combination allow ERP system users to use a tool like Excel to extract data from their ERP databases and thereby improve and maximize their reporting capabilities.  If you’re handy with Excel, you can learn to master cubes.  In the Jet Report Blog, Little closes by dispelling 3 common myths about cubes:

Myth #1- Cubes require months of planning and implementation before users can get value out of them.  As of maybe three years ago, this myth was probably true. It would take months or years to get any value out of them. With Jet Enterprise, it’s typically installed and running in two hours or less for Dynamics customers. With pre-built Cubes, it’s easy to go in and get that done without the months and months of planning.

Myth #2- Customizing cubes is slow and difficult.  The Jet Data Manager, which is included with Jet Enterprise, allows you to customize or create Cubes in a simple drag-and-drop interface. You can add dimensions, measures, or create unique measures on the spot and apply these into the Cubes – often in minutes, with no programming.

Myth #3- Cubes are a luxury, applicable only to large companies with BI development teams and large budgets.  This is no longer true. Jet Reports has over 600 customers currently running Cubes.  You no longer have to have a large company with a BI development team to be able to get value out of the Cubes.



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jet BI2In our prior post we looked at what the folks at Jet Reports had to say in a white paper about building a Business Intelligence repository.  The authors contend that you want to build it first, and then work on the accuracy of your data, for some rather counter-intuitive reasons.  Read that post first, then see today what 4 steps they recommend to ensure that when it comes to implementing Data Governance, you are the “Data Governor.”

Step 1: Identify and Establish the Vision.  Make clear what you’re trying to accomplish with your reporting and data, then break down what you’ll do to accomplish that.  For example, the vision might be “Be the easiest company to buy from by offering one-step ordering and 100% on-time delivery with competitive prices.”  From that, goals can be established, like

  • “to increase customer satisfaction and encourage repeat business by streamlining the order process”
  • “to increase loyalty by instilling trust” and
  • “to increase quality of revenue through corporate retention”

Each of these goals can then have specific action items that pertain to how your BI system works and how you interact with the customer.

Step 2: Appoint Your ‘House of Representatives’.  The point here is to make sure that the way you collect, handle, store and process data is efficient and proper.  Major roles would include:

  • An Executive Sponsor – a senior person passionate about the task at hand
  • Data Stewards – Your IT and subject matter experts
  • Data Governance Driver – The coordinator for all tasks

Step 3: Build the Process.  When bad data finally surfaces in your data warehouse, it’s a good thing.  When numbers don’t make sense, you drill down, identify, locate and correct.  Jet’s people talk about three process stages:

  • Upstream Processes – What processes capture, create, import, transform or update and introduce data into your company’s system?  Too often the collectors of the data have little knowledge of (or sometimes, concern for) those who will use it.  That’s why an Executive Sponsor can evangelize and enforce proper methods.
  • Stewardship Processes – Managing the rules, policies and standards that govern your data in order to ensure it’s clean, well-managed and properly escalated when necessary.
  • Downstream Processes – The operations and analytics that consume, protect and store the data. This is the user interface: dashboards, reports, drilldowns, etc.  This is where the ROI happens.

Step 4: Policing the State.  Your forms and policies govern everything from the state of your CRM system to the integrity of your data.  It governs the data input process.  Be sure your data governance policies then include:

  • Data accountability and ownership
  • Organizational roles and responsibilities
  • Data capture & validation standards
  • Data access and usage

The Jet Reports white paper’s authors make some critical points about how you collect, manage and utilize your data.  Their suggestions on building the repository and then managing and improving the data as you go also fit perfectly into today’s ‘agile’ environment, and are worth a read.

For a copy of their white paper, leave a comment on this blog and we’ll send it out.


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jet BIIn a recent white paper the folks at Jet Reports, a leading reporting engine for the ERP industry that’s extremely popular with users of systems including Microsoft Dynamics, authors Jonathan Oesch and Tara Grant make some very smart – and counter-intuitive — suggestions about how to go about building business intelligence, even when the data isn’t quite right.

They start from the premise that, when you think about it, you don’t know that data is bad in a business intelligence world (i.e., reporting and analysis) when you’re putting the data in – you only know when you’re getting the data out.

So if you have an urgent need to manage, say, three or four inventory-related KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), the time it may take to understand whether your inventory data is actually accurate can be, or seem, like a very long time.

Their prescription: build the business intelligence first.  If you build your reports and dashboards early, your key stakeholders are very likely to know when the system is spitting out bad data.  It will, most of the time, be obvious to your subject matter experts.  And that’s precisely when you can start drilling down into the data to determine just where the mistakes are occurring.

In other words, your BI (Business Intelligence) environment itself will make your numbers accessible, and the errors will usually reveal themselves.  That’s when you can start to get down to the root causes behind those errors, on the way to building a better data repository in the long run — and most importantly then, rendering better business decisions.

The Jet White paper (available free, just ask us in the Comments section for a PDF copy) then goes into some impressive depth explaining data governance, and teaching readers how to become their owner “data Governor.”

We’ll take a look at some of their key ideas in our next post.  Stay tuned…

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