Shopping for the Right BI Tool for Dynamics, SAP B1, and other ERPs

Approaching the sometimes confusing process of shopping for a BI tool can mean a lot of questions – and that is exactly what you need.  This article will arm you with some of the best questions to ask when shopping for the right solution for your company.

Whether you are running Microsoft Dynamics GP, AX, SL, or NAV, some version of Oracle, something cloud-based like Netsuite, Intacct, or Acumatica, finding Business Intelligence (BI) tools to enhance your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems can be a very foggy process – and for good reason.  Despite typically being a very salesy process, it is also something that you have to engage in every once in a while.  I have met professionals of various ages that are beginning the process of seeking out BI solutions, usually as a part of a big picture strategy to take their analytics, decision-making, and collaboration into the 21st century of powerful, dynamic, and intuitive products and processes.  Most seem overwhelmed enough about wading into the depths of research, sales pitches, demos, and trainings that they don’t even know where to begin.

Asking the right questions is exactly where you should begin.  First, learning a little bit about what options are out there will naturally require you to ask questions regarding your company’s BI needs and goals.  What solution(s) does the company need right away?  Do we prefer to work in the cloud or on-/off-site, using an ERP server? How much can we spend?  What are our long-term BI objectives, and how should we plan to build our toolbox of analytics to meet these goals?  These are just some preliminary questions to get you started, but most people I’ve talked to have found the amount of products and their sometimes subtle feature and functionality differences to be debilitating.  This article will address the questions you should arm yourself with when navigating the acquisition of BI software.

For the sake of organization, I’m going to divide suggested questions into three different types: questions about the software vendor, questions about the ease of use, and questions about the price.  These can be approached in any order, but I put them in this particular order for a reason.  Since this can potentially be a big investment of time, money, and energy, I want to know how stable and supportive the company is before I get too carried away with the specifics of the product.  After that, I want to know how easy the product is to implement, use on a regular basis, and maximize for a solid return on investment (ROI).  And finally, I want to know how much of a financial investment my company will really have to make to get an optimal experience for our needs.  It is these sets of questions that will guide this article, but no question is a stupid one.  Be the expert with all the right questions until you are the expert with all the right answers.

In asking questions about the software vendor,I want to know what kind of stability and support I can rely on over the coming years as I try to get the most out of my software purchase.  You might want to ask if you can look at your technical support web site or customer forum – to find any common problems and how the vendor resolves such problems.  You could also ask if there are ways that the software company can help you with our BI goals in addition to just producing and implementing a product.  This will show if their intelligence runs deeper than technology, specifically in how versed they are in the task of corporate performance management in conjunction with and outside of their technology.  In terms of the customer experience, you might want to ask if you can get in touch with one or more of their current customers who have similar BI needs – or at least ask if they have any customer testimonials or case studies.  You might also ask who their competitors are to see how they stack up in regard to meeting your needs, perhaps especially when it comes to the ease of use.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: business user friendliness is so important, especially when it comes to ROI.  Questions about the ease of use can start with something simple like, how long will it take to implement the solution?  The answer might be surprising – for how quick OR how long it can take.  Does the vendor offer all the necessary modules for a comprehensive BI solution?  If you are focused on financial reporting now, but would like to add budgeting or dashboards later on, does this company offer a fully integrated suite?  How easy will it be to run reports off of the data that is stored in primary information sources?  How accessible are multiple data sources when it comes to integrating all company information?  How much training does the vendor think the average business user will require?  How flexible is the software in regard to deployment – on-site, off-site, Software as a Service (SaaS), and/or in the cloud?  Of course, you will have to have some idea of what priorities your company has for BI analysis to have a context for the answers a vendor will provide, but you also will need to know how much you have budgeted for this investment.

This blog has tackled the cost of BI products before, but not necessarily some of the right questions about the price.  You’ll want to know how many licenses you would need to purchase for your team.  Additionally, what other products or purchases are required to make the product run?  In the future, what are foreseeable purchases from the vendor to address upcoming projects?  As you get into the cost specifics, more questions might arise, but this category of questions seems to come the most naturally for financial professionals.

There are countless questions that you can ask of a BI software vendor that will make your decision to invest a lot easier – and there’s no way one article could cover them all.  It is important to evaluate your BI needs before you can narrow down the product options and start questions of a BI solution manufacturer.  I would suggest a simple features questionnaire: do we want the product to be Excel-based, web-based, and/or available on a mobile application; in terms of data integration, do we want a product that is live on the ERP and/or requires an OLAP cube or data warehouse; will we only ever need just one product or would a full suite be more helpful; and does the product come with an OLAP to manage or a fully built, configurable data warehouse?  Solver would be happy to help you answer these question and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use, comprehensive BI suite for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities.

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