Nils Rasmussen

About Nils Rasmussen

As the CEO of Solver, Nils Rasmussen is responsible for the development of both overall company strategy as well as software & services delivery. Nils founded Solver, Inc. in December, 1996. Since then, he has led the Solver team to complete close to 1,000 implementations worldwide. Prior to this, he worked in international sales and consulting roles in various countries.

Nils Rasmussen
Microsoft BI Stack or Best-of-Breed BI for Microsoft Dynamics AX, NAV, GP and SL?

When it comes to selecting a Business Intelligence (BI) solution to get the most out of your Microsoft Dynamics ERP investment, you have four choices:

1) Use the tools that come natively embedded within different Dynamics ERPs
2) Extend or replace the native ERP BI tools with the Microsoft BI stack of tools
3) Implement a best-of-breed third party solution
4) Some combination of the three options above

These options and much of the discussion below would apply for any ERP system, not just the Dynamics (AX, NAV, GP and SL).  This decision has a critical impact on the success of an ERP/BI deployment, and is often not discussed as thoroughly as it should be during the ERP/BI pre-sales process.

Let’s begin with a definition of BI (as per Microsoft):

“Business intelligence turns information into action through data gathering, analysis, monitoring, and forecasting to identify opportunities, minimize risk, and improve management insight.”

Before we go into detail on BI for the Microsoft Dynamics ERP solutions, let’s look at BI from the standpoint of the partner organization that will be reselling and implementing the ERP and BI solutions and then customer that will be using these tools:

1) Philosophical viewpoint
Is it better for a Dynamics ERP customer to get both the ERP and the BI components from a single vendor, in this case Microsoft?

a) Typical, initial customer opinion: Yes
Why would I not want a single ERP/BI solution from a single vendor? That must mean that I get something that is fully integrated out-of-the-box, where ERP/BI releases are synchronized and always compatible, and if something ever goes wrong, I can just call the helpdesk and whether the issue is ERP-related or BI-related, they will take care of me. If I am dealing with a big, global vendor like Microsoft, I can expect a fully integrated support solution.

b) Typical ERP partner (reseller) opinion: Yes
My prospective customers don’t want to hear that I propose a BI solution from a different vendor than that of the ERP system I am selling them. They would want to hear that it is all one integrated package from Microsoft, so I will lead with this offering and then, if the Microsoft BI stack does not cover their needs, the customer will hopefully come back to me later and ask for something better, at which point I can bring in a third party BI solution.

The situation above plays out every day all over the globe.  There are both pros and cons to this “single vendor” approach:
• Pros:
Unless there are any objections in the sales process, the partner gets to sell the ERP system and do the implementation. The customer will spend less money up front on software as many of the BI tools from Microsoft are included in the underlying platform, and the customer gets to deal with a single vendor if there are issues.

• Cons:
As we will discuss below regarding features and functionality, the customer will often find that all their BI needs are not fully covered. However, as they typically have already sunk a lot of money into the implementation for report writing, OLAP cube and/or Data Warehouse design, and the various tools in the Microsoft stack have already been installed, there is a great barrier to changing strategy “midstream.”  Having to now rewrite the deployment architecture, to pay for a 3rd party BI tool, and to deal with a second vendor is a great departure from the initial plan. Furthermore, the customer might have discovered that calling the ERP helpdesk with a BI problem (such as a broken Cube or PowerMap issue) is often not the right helpdesk for a BI issue. Additionally, if a report or cube has been customized by the partner, the partner consultant is probably the only place to go for help, as Microsoft does not directly support customizations and other consulting organization resources will have steep learning curves and will be expensive to get up to speed on the custom reports.

In summary, what initially during the purchase process looked like a great ERP/BI combo story with reduced risk, integrated platform, single vendor support, single Microsoft BI suite, and simplicity (number of tools, etc.) may turn out to be a solution in need of a 3rd party, best-of-breed BI software investment after the fact, with the possible reworking of some of the initial implementation of reports, budget models, or other collateral.

Now, you would think that Oracle, SAP, or other mega ERP vendors have their act more together than Microsoft, but the truth is that they don’t:
• Oracle tried to solve their BI problems by acquiring companies like Hyperion, Siebel (where Siebel Analytics originated), Brio and other companies.
• SAP went on a shopping spree and bought Business Objects (who again had acquired SRC, Crystal Decisions, Cartesis, etc.), Outlooksoft and more.

The fact is that while Microsoft may have their own issues when it comes to delivering a comprehensive BI suite for their Dynamics customers, so does every other ERP vendor.  The case can be made that Microsoft actually has a better BI story than most ERP vendors. And because Microsoft has a massive, global independent software vendor (ISV) program, there is a rich ecosystem of third party BI vendors supporting the Microsoft platform with integrations to all four of the Dynamics ERP systems.

Note: If you are into the history of BI, here is a good overview of the many BI acquisitions of the last decade.

2) Functional Viewpoint
So, if we go beyond the higher level arguments presented above, and we dig down into features and functionality, is it best to go with the Microsoft BI stack of tools or a third party solution?

Let’s start by looking at what the Microsoft BI stack looks like. The following list is not all-inclusive, but covers at least 90% of the available tools:

Microsoft BI tools:
- Excel
- Power BI
- Power Map
- Power Pivot
- Power Query
- Power View
- SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)
- SQL Server
- SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and various Dynamics OLAP cube builders
- Management Reporter (has replaced FRx for GL reports)
- SharePoint (to set up dashboards, host reports, etc.)
- Native Dynamics ERP Report Writers
- Native Dynamics ERP transaction query/list tool
- Forecaster (budgeting and forecasting tool late in its life cycle)
- Native Dynamics ERP budgeting

So, if you are a potential Dynamics ERP customer, the most obvious observation is likely that this list contains approximatly15 different tools. Some of them are Excel add-ins, some are proprietary report writers and budgeting tools, some are web-based and some are platforms to build data warehouses or OLAP cubes. So, even though many of the tools are free, the implementation, training and ongoing maintenance of the tools is not free. More importantly, as an end-user, where do you go for a Payables report, for a P&L report, to create a quick trial balance query on the fly, to enter a payroll or revenue budget, to see a sales dashboard, and so on? Well, the answer is that you would be going a lot of places (tools, interfaces, etc.) in the Microsoft stack for these needs and if you are the power user on the finance team, you will be going to a number of training classes to learn the different tools.  Some of these tools, like SSRS, SQL, SSAS and SharePoint are highly technical developer oriented tools, and most users may need IT’s help to develop and maintain their critical BI applications.  Then there is the concern that if something truly breaks, you will likely have to deal with multiple different helpdesk resources at Microsoft due to the complex interdependencies that exist in the Microsoft BI stack.

Now, again, it is important to state that Microsoft is by no means a laggard amongst ERP vendors when it comes to BI. If anything, they provide more tools, with more features and choices than perhaps any other ERP vendor out there.

But wait, there’s more…..

3) Which solution is it better for the Partner to sell?
If you are not an ERP customer reading this, but rather, you are a partner, you have additional items to consider when it comes to proposing the Microsoft BI stack versus a 3rd party BI solution:

• What will help win more ERP deals?
This is a tough one, if your prospective customer is happy with the Microsoft BI stack and how it solves their business’ needs and you don’t think they will come back after the ERP implementation and ask for major additional functionality such as budgeting, forecasting, financial reporting, dashboard or data warehouse functionality beyond what you just implemented for them, then you probably helped them make the right choice. If not, then you have some explanation and “selling” to do once your customer asks you why you did not advise them to look at some best-of-breed third party solutions before they sunk time and money into the existing BI implementation.

It is commonly seen in our experience that most prospective customers hope and believe that their new ERP system has all the BI they need built right in. If you explain that this really may not be true in fact, and explain why right up front, chances are good that you will be rewarded for your consultative, “trusted advisor” approach, as it is highly appreciated by almost anyone ready to go into a big ERP investment.

• Software margins and maintenance
Most of the Microsoft BI stack is free or included in the software scope of the ERP deployment, and that means no software margin and no recurring maintenance for the partner, while the opposite is true for 3rd party BI vendors. And, because the software is being paid for, there is also a staff of motivated developers always working away on a new version of the BI tool, while the opposite is often true when an ERP vendor acquires or puts free BI software into their solutions. Furthermore, as a partner, when you get margin on software and maintenance, you are also helping pay for your own company’s selling expenses, and which will allow you do a better job with presentations, proof-of-concepts, and other sales materials that will ultimately win you more ERP deals and maintain happier customers.

• Solving most or all of the customer’s functionality needs
Does the pure Microsoft BI stack or the third party best-of-breed BI solution give your customer the simplest, yet most complete solution? Chances are that the answer here is: No single one of them do the best job on their own. Take Dynamics AX 2012 for example.  There are hundreds of pre-built SSRS reports and Analysis Services cubes that come out-of-the-box for the various ERP modules. There is generally no reason to not use these included tools and to try to recreate everything in a third party BI tool. However, the need to look beyond the base material for better functionality or specific customizations often is driven by the pre-existing business requirements.  When an assistant controller or analyst sits down at the end of, or after the ERP implementation and says, “Hmm, I need to design a rolling 12 month Cash Flow statement with a trend chart.  Where is that included report?” or “I need to create a budget model that replicates the layout of our old, manual Excel spreadsheet templates and I need to integrate it to the GL and Payroll. Where do I go? ” SSRS? Management Reporter? Forecaster? The Excel add-in for AX? Each tool has its own interface and user manual. Each tool has its own specific strengths and weaknesses.  The truth is, you would need most of these tools and complete knowledge of how to deploy them appropriately.

So, what do you do? In many cases, you would get the optimal solution for your customer by combining some of the pre-built, native BI tools with the best-of-breed third party BI solution.

• I sell multiple ERPs; which BI tool do I use so I can build a sound BI practice?
Many Dynamics ERP vendors typically sell more than one ERP system. For example, they may sell Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV, or Dynamics SL and Acumatica or Dynamics GP and Intacct. This adds even more complexity to the BI picture because although some of the Microsoft BI stack is universal and will work across many of these ERPs, there are still the native (built-in) ERP report writers that always differ from system to system, as with native ERP budgeting and sometimes dashboard functionality. So, in summary, there is great advantage to be had in aligning with a single third party BI suite that works for all the ERPs you are selling will that will allow you to build a BI practice within your partner organization that can thrive, even with limited staff.

Summary
Should Microsoft follow SAP and Oracle and acquire more BI tools and hope that this results in the “BI singularity” and the coveted “one version of the truth?” Probably not. If history tells us anything, it has not worked for any ERP vendor so far, and it is not likely to do so any time in the near future. What Microsoft does very well is to attract a host of software companies that develop best-of-breed solutions to fill gaps in Microsoft’s story or cater to specific industry verticals. If you went to any of the recent Microsoft Convergence conferences, you would see 15+ BI vendors in the exhibit hall, most of them thriving and growing even though Microsoft alone has 15+ tools in their own BI stack and despite many of them being completely free.

Even though many Dynamics ERP partners try hard to stick with a “pure” Microsoft story. The fact is that this is a living, breathing eco-system of Microsoft teams, partners, customers and best-of-breed ISV vendors, and in the end, customers will want to find the best solutions they can in order to maximize the value of their investment in Microsoft Dynamics. The question is, is it better for them to discover the optimal BI solution during the ERP sales process or after they have made significant investments in time and money trying out the “pure” Microsoft BI stack first?

Nils Rasmussen
Partners and Family, It’s the Same Thing.

At Solver, our partner-centric culture is one of the biggest reasons behind our success. Our partners help us deliver superior BI solutions to the marketplace in a way that just wouldn’t be possible through direct sales. We see our partner channel as part of our own organization and treat them like our own employees. In fact, I see our partners as the reason we grew our customerbase in record numbers worldwide this year. While North America and EMEA have been core markets since we launched BI360 four years ago, we are now also firmly established in the Asia-Pacific region, less than two years after we entered the market there, and we have started our roll-out in Latin America.

We’ve learned through experience that if you want to take your product worldwide, there’s no better way than through strong partnerships. There are a few reasons for this. First, they can be local everywhere in the world. They are literally your “eyes and ears on the street.” This eliminates the need for offices in every country. Partners know the local cultures, they know local transactional systems that we integrate with and so on. So if you’re going to succeed with a channel strategy, you need to consider your partner channel part of your own family, because in a very real sense, they are.

Lastly, I would advise anyone looking to develop a successful partner strategy to invest in them like you would your own employees. Because essentially, they are! They require the same training and need the same access to resources as your own staff. When you achieve that, you’ll achieve nirvana with your partner channel. Admittedly, we’re still fine-tuning our strategy after just four years, but I would say that we are well above most other partner channel-driven organizations in our space. I also believe a good channel strategy is a little science and a little art. The scientific part can be adjusted, tweaked and tested, and the artistic part is about connecting with your people to achieve mutual success. I’m always asking: how can I better enable my partner channel? And I’m excited to see the results in 2014!

Watch this video to learn more about our partner program offerings and reasons for success!

Nils Rasmussen
BI360 Budgeting and Reporting: Usability from the Inside Out

One of the reasons Solver’s software is so intuitive and easy to use is because we built it for non-technical users. In fact, before we developed our software, we were business intelligence consultants, so we understood the unique challenges BI users faced. In the ’80s and ’90s, organizations typically had technical reporting experts in their finance department, or they used IT staff to do this—formal experts who were responsible for creating reports, budget models, etc.

When the 2000s came along, there was more focus on usability and ease of use. As a result, many of the tools from the 90’s were simply repurposed with a more user-friendly skin, but still had legacy platforms under the hood. This required a great deal of technology to be put in place before the end users could effectively use these tools. Even then, BI tools were still fairly rigid and difficult to use.

When we created the blue print for BI360 in 2007, we started from a completely different angle. Ease of use was our number one priority. Every time we built a feature into the product, we measured its success through usability testing. When we finished and launched BI360 in 2009, customers immediately recognized the difference. Suddenly, normal business users could take ownership of and create useful reports, budget models, dashboards, and even manage the data warehouse. It completely shifted the power from traditional finance users to everyday business users.

Nils Rasmussen
BI360 Dashboards: Powerful Insight in Just Minutes

Getting an overview of your sales, top customers and products is quick and easy with BI360 dashboards. With intuitive, drag-and-drop simplicity, you can customize your data and create dashboards on the fly with pre-defined widgets and modules.

BI360 dashboards are web-based for both designers and end users, and offer total visibility into your business. Like every other BI360 product, our dashboards are created for business users and don’t require advanced levels of technical expertise. Plus, they offer out of the box integration for real-time ERP or data warehouse-driven dashboards. BI360 dashboards are part of the BI360 Portal and come integrated with the BI360 web reporting module, providing a single environment both for financial reporting and for dashboards. In other words, if a manager is looking at a sales dashboard, he or she is just a click away from running a live balance sheet report and drilling down into a cash account to see live transactions from the ERP database. BI360  is the only BI suite that provides this type of flexibility within a single solution and a single web portal!

Watch this quick demo of how to easily design your own dashboards with key metrics in just minutes!

Nils Rasmussen
Built for the Mid-Market from the Beginning.

People often ask me about our focus on the mid-market. There’s no question this is our area of strength. We’ve always been committed to over-delivering for our partners and customers, most of which happen to be in the mid-market. While we have customers in the multi-billion dollar revenue range, and our BI360 solution can certainly address the needs of any-sized enterprise, we like the mid-market because we know we can out-perform the competition and over-deliver on world-class customer service.

Another reason we thrive in the mid-market is because that’s where we started. Even our old consulting-focused business in the past has always been in the mid-market. We started working with ERP systems and grew our partner channel, all of which are pretty much focused on mid-market and the Microsoft platform.

Lastly, mid-market organizations traditionally haven’t needed—and probably couldn’t have afforded—a full-blown business intelligence solution. When I say business intelligence, I define that as financial reporting, consolidations, operational reporting, budgeting, forecasting, dashboards and data warehousing. We’ve always seen this as a competitive advantage, because our BI360 solution does provide all of these capabilities, and is priced for the mid-market enterprise.

As we continue to develop cutting-edge BI solutions for the mid-market, we’ll also continue to expand and serve those larger customers who want a highly flexible, cost-effective BI solution, some of them are currently using legacy solutions like Hyperion and Cognos and looking for a more modern platform that their business users can manage without constant IT or consulting assistance. But truth be told, we’ll focus on listening to our customers’ needs and develop BI360 accordingly, always thinking about ease-of-use when we develop new functionality, because that’s where we’ve built our foundation from the beginning!

 

Nils Rasmussen
What Makes a Great Reporting Solution? A Few Things to Consider.

There are a number of features that are desirable in a “report writer” today. At the core, it is important to have great calculation features and flexible formatting in order to produce high-quality financial statements, as well as operational (sub-ledger) reports. There is little doubt that Excel add-ins tend to be much stronger in this area than proprietary reporting tools.

On a higher level, there are other features to consider such as:

  • Automated report distribution to end-users.
  • A web-based front-end option for end users to run their own reports.
  • Mobile access for the busy executive that wants to see fresh financials on the go.
  • Collaborative features so managers can discuss and explain variances and other pertinent observations while analyzing a report.
  • Integration of the report writer beyond the live ERP database, such as to a Budgeting module and data warehouse that also can integrate other data sources.
  • Ad-hoc reporting (when a user needs an answer on the fly and it does not make sense to run or build a formatted report).

We designed the BI360 4.0 reporting module with all of the above criteria in mind. Hopefully, we are pushing the limits of the concept of a “report writer” to the next level so financial professionals and end users can help drive efficiency and analytical capabilities in their organizations.

Nils Rasmussen
Committed to Our Partners

With the New Year around the corner, it’s the perfect time to announce all the exciting upcoming initiatives we have planned for our amazing partners. We value our partner relationships above all else and we’re more committed than ever to creating a superior partner experience.

Q1 On-site Training in LA Office
Solver is offering a 2-Day on-site training course that provides a deep dive into learning both BI360 Reporting and Budgeting module.

    • BI360 Reporting, January 29-39, 2014
    • BI360 Budgeting, March 6-7 BI360 Budgeting

    For more information, please email our Project Manager Diana Sanchez to register today!!!

    Additionally, in Q2 Solver will be hosting 2-Day Onsite training on the East Coast and the dates will be announced before the end of the year.

    Re-launch of Solver University
    We have 24 new videos that are now available on Solver’s partner portal. This is a result of recording all the sessions during our Focus 2013 User Conference so BI360 users worldwide can benefit from content covered by Solver Consultants and BI360 product experts. You’ll find videos on topics such as Excel Tips and Tricks, Advanced Reporting, Tips for Budgeting and Forecasting, Product Roadmap, and more.

    Additionally, we’ll be publishing all whitepapers associated with Focus 2013 and posting them to the portal this month. Look for a new Solver University web portal platform in Q1 of 2014, which will offer a curriculum-based, consolidated view of all Solver training courses in one place.

    These are just a few ways we will continue to provide our partners leading-edge business intelligence software solutions in 2014! More to come!

    Already a partner? Login to the Partner Portal to access the new training videos. .

    2013 Partner Awards Categories
    Solver would like to show appreciation to its top partners by recognizing these partners.

    The BI360 Partner Awards are issued by category:

      • Partner of the Year (All)
      • EMEA Partner of the Year
      • APAC Partner of the Year
      • Rookie Partner of the Year/li>
      • Microsoft Dynamics AX – Partner of the Year
      • Microsoft Dynamics GP – Partner of the Year
      • Microsoft Dynamics NAV – Partner of the Year
      • Microsoft Dynamics SL – Partner of the Year
      • Sage – Partner of the Year

      To learn more about how to become a BI360 Partner and gain access our portal, click here.

Nils Rasmussen
Transform your Monthly Reports with BI360 Reporting

If you’re like most business and financial professionals, you look forward to creating your monthly reports like a trip to the dentist. But with BI360, you can transform your monthly reports into a single “DecisionPack” report package with everything you need to run a business unit. Auto generated executive summaries, scorecards for KPIs, financial and operational reports, and dashboards, all result in decision advice based on your predetermined goals. And, this report package can be scheduled for automatic distribution or run on-demand with drill-down to answer even the most detailed questions.

This DecisionPack report package can be populated dynamically, live from your ERP system or from the BI360 data warehouse. It can be run on-demand or published for distribution. Simply press run, and the report executes a call-out to your ERP system or data warehouse, resulting in presentation-quality reports.

From executive summaries to sub-ledger details, see how BI360 Reporting will transform your monthly reports into amazing financial and operational reports with ease. Watch the video!

Nils Rasmussen
Better Reports = Better Decisions

If you took a poll to find out which financial reports businesses most frequently use to monitor their performance and decision-making, you’d probably get hundreds of answers. But if we drilled deeper into the questioning, we would probably start seeing the 80/20 rule take effect. In other words, 20% of a company’s reports are used for 80% of performance monitoring and decision-making.

P&L Report

So, which reports would you say are the top 4-5 that truly help you get the FULL picture (albeit at 10,000 foot level of what is going on with the company)?

1. Profit & Loss Report with all the typical columns (current month actuals, last month, last month prior year, budget, year-to-date, etc.)?

2. Balance Sheet?

3. Cash Flow?

4. Narrative management summary report?

Narrative Report

5. KPI/Scorecard report for the top metrics?

6. Sales report showing e.g. the top 50 sales transactions for the month?

7. Payables report showing e.g. the top 50 payments made this month?

8. Receivables report showing e.g. the top 50 aging receivables?

9. Graphical trend reports or dashboards?

10. Other reports?

Aging Report

Assuming you have a set of “favorite” reports that you and your managers consistently use to help manage the company, here are the next questions:

•  Do you have the technology to produce all of these reports as part of an automated process, or is it a manual process to pull everything together and to deliver it to your management team?
• Do you have a process to capture the discussions once managers have reviewed the reports?
•  Do you have agreed upon thresholds in your report package that can trigger management ACTIONS based on the thresholds (for example, if free cash flow passes a certain level, a manager can make a certain investment without delaying the decision with approvals and meetings)?

Revenue Analysis


Hopefully this could spark ideas for anyone trying to put together the ”ultimate” management report package.

Nils Rasmussen
BI360 for Microsoft CRM: Free White Paper

Every Microsoft CRM customer seems to be exporting data to Excel. Now, with BI360, you can have completely automated live Excel-based reporting for fully formatted and graphical reports. BI360’s Excel- and web-based report writer is not only easy to use, but is one of the most powerful reporting tools on the market. Its live integration with MS CRM delivers incredible flexibility and performance-driven benefits:

• Flexible, user-friendly report writer for your CRM data.

• Run reports on demand from Excel, web or auto-distribute reports by email.

• Any entries in MS CRM are immediately available in BI360 reports with no delaying transfer to OLAP cubes or external systems.

• Install BI360, download the pre-built CRM report templates and in less than 5 minutes start seeing your CRM data in ways you have never been able to before.

• Integration is out-of-the-box, with an interface to add custom CRM fields if needed.

• Pre-joined tables across CRM (e.g. Owner, Account, etc.)

• Pre-defined period logic (CRM date fields linked to weeks/months/etc. for easy reporting on e.g. trends, month-to-date, year-to-date, etc.)

• Get increased visibility and control of your CRM data and at the same time watch the sales team quickly become motivated to capture updated data in CRM due to vastly improved reporting output.

Additionally, BI360 delivers out-of-the box integration with the following CRM modules:

• Accounts
• Contacts
• Opportunities
• Leads
• Campaigns
• Competitors
• Products
• Quotes
• Sales Orders

For a list of FAQs, and even more options and examples for reporting, planning and dashboards that run live on MS CRM, get our free white paper here.