Matt Felzke
Dashboards for Dynamics GP

Dashboards are an in-demand Business Intelligence tool because they are both brains and beauty.  This article will lay out how to pick the right Dynamics GP Dashboards tool to meet organizational needs.

In 2013, Gartner’s Financial Executive International CFO Technology Study revealed that the number one imperative for CFOs is Performance Measurement, Scorecards, and Dashboards, which makes a lot of sense.  In the fast-paced nature of business today, decision-making is simpler when utilizing dashboards or graphical scorecards to analyze company performance.  Simply, dashboards are a business intelligence tool used to analyze company data in a visual format.  More specifically, they are charts, graphs, and scorecards using key performance indicators (KPIs) to showcase the trends and trajectories of the entire enterprise, a particular department, or even an operational project.

The name, dashboard, derives from vehicle consoles of the same name – and they are accordingly very similar, telling the story of a company visually.  However, business dashboards are equipped for interaction and adjustment, as well as drill-down and drill-to capabilities to analyze the detailed input information to make decisions for future business.  When considering a dashboards solution, there are a handful of types and technologies to explore and understand before settling on an enhancement to Dynamics GP.

First of all, dashboard software can get their data from different places.  Some dashboards are live on Dynamics GP, pulling data in real-time.  This allows users to see where the company is performing up to the minute they generate the dashboard.  The option to run live from GP is most advantageous when real-time information is key to managers – or for small companies that only need basic ERP dashboards, without the skilled personnel and time required to maintain a Business Intelligence (BI) database, such a data warehouse or an OLAP cube.  However, larger companies might require something a little quicker and sturdier than a live integration from GP.

A data warehouse or an OLAP cube integration empowers larger teams of individuals to create dashboards without the sluggishness of multiple, sometimes simultaneous retrievals of real-time data directly from GP.  The option of a data warehouse or an OLAP cube is great for high performance, but it requires replicating the information from GP to the data storage unit.  Since the dashboard then pulls from a static data storage space, it does not slow down the network within which GP is running.  Meanwhile, there is also the option to combine the two types of integrations.

Some products on the market offer the capability to generate dashboards with real-time data – and other dashboards can rely on a data warehouse or an OLAP cube.  Live integrations from GP are typical for essential operational data analysis, such as sales or inventory where managers may want up-to-the-minute data.  Based on monthly financial data and/or budgets, other dashboards maybe only need periodical refreshes, so utilizing an OLAP cube or Data Warehouse integration makes sense.  Products that allow for both types of integrations are going to naturally be more flexible, but not necessarily more expensive.  Regardless, there is more to consider when it comes to meeting organizational needs with the best product.

Dashboard tools today function on different types of technologies, and it is important to understand the difference.  First, some vendors’ dashboards function on the client server.  These all have their own unique interface, which can be a hassle to learn.  Some are visually stunning, but come with a whole new set of formulas and functions to absorb.  In fact, Dynamics GP and Excel offer their own dashboards, but are naturally limited in their capabilities given that data visualizations are not their bread and butter.  However, there are products that function within the familiar Excel platform.

Excel-based options allow finance teams that are generally very familiar with the spreadsheet software to create dashboards without learning a whole new set of formulas and functions.  Excel’s own dashboards can be built manually in the spreadsheet, but there is also an assortment of vendors providing Excel add-ins for dashboards.  This might be the most comfortable way to approach dashboards as an organization because of Excel’s ubiquity in the finance world, but perhaps less accessible in the around-the-clock, global marketplace.

Web-based solutions continue to build momentum as they provide a secure way to access company business anywhere there is an internet connection.  Dashboards have also found their way onto the web.  Some vendors are offering web-based dashboards, utilizing the same KPIs and visualization options, but with the ability to build and drill down from a web portal.  Similarly, mobile options are also growing in popularity.

If web-based solutions only rely on an internet connection, mobile dashboards rely only on having a smartphone.  Since financial executives are making decisions around the clock, sometimes around the globe more and more, mobile dashboards can empower those decisions.  Some vendors are adding the mobile module, which are optimized for viewing on mobile phones.  They usually show one KPI or chart at a time, due to the screen size.  However, some finance teams want it all when it comes to dashboards, and there are vendors responding to that.

There are varied options on the market that include two or more of the dashboard modalities, enabling flexible access to graphical scorecards.  Furthermore, some of these dashboard options are part of a full suite of BI tools.  In this case, the dashboard module may be cheaper as part of a bigger package.  Additionally, suites offer shared user security across reporting, budgeting, and dashboard modules, a shared web portal interface for all modules, and one vendor to deal with for implementation, support, upgrades, and maintenance.  Easier?  Yes, and ease of use is perhaps the most important characteristic to seek in a Dashboard solution.

Whether deciding on a web portal or client-server solution, it is important for the new generation of dashboards to be user-friendly, so it doesn’t require IT to manage the application.  Consider if customer and business users can learn how to build their own report before committing to a dashboard program.  Many of the dashboard tools that were built in the 90’s or early 2000’s required heavy technical skills both to get data-prepared through a data warehouse or an OLAP cube – and to design dashboards themselves.  Now, the current generation of dashboard technologies are at a point where most, if not all of the implementation can be managed by business users without deep technical skills.  Solver offers an Excel, web and/or mobile-based dashboards module stand-alone and as part of the comprehensive suite of BI modules and would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use data visualization solution for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities.

Matt Felzke
FRx Replacement Cost

The motivation to replace FRx may already be there, but the cost of doing so is a mystery.  This article will lay out all of the figures to consider when thinking about replacing FRx, Microsoft’s now-retired report writer.

Reporting within FRx just doesn’t cut it for business today, not only because Microsoft officially retired the product a couple years ago.  Reporting software is available to truly accelerate Excel and deliver drill-down, drill-to, beyond the General Ledger reporting features.  Organization-wide, departmental, or even ad-hoc reporting are important capabilities today as the growth and maturity of a company relies on its ability to analyze transactional data.

Microsoft has replaced FRx, the tired reporting software, with another offering, Management Reporter (MR).   However, the product has not been much of an upgrade, besides some more modern aesthetics – and after years of FRx, it is time for a legitimate upgrade, but what will that cost?  This blog will aim to remove the mystery of the costs of investing in reporting software and the potential return on that investment.

Reporting software solutions have become increasingly more powerful in recent years due to the consumer-driven moves for simple, secure, and sophisticated reporting.  There are several report writers that are Excel add-ins, meaning that the financial professional’s familiar spreadsheet software is simply enhanced for added capabilities while remaining business user friendly.  Moreover, reporting tools use accounting and business logic that allows for automation and template reuse.

Furthermore, some critics of Excel-based solutions argue that Excel is problematic when it comes to security and the linking of spreadsheets.  These critics are usually those with their own proprietary software, or more specifically, web-based.  However, Excel add-in reporting tools are actually built with security and collaboration in mind.  Excel-based report writers don’t require the business user to learn a whole playbook of formulas and functions that comes with a proprietary software, web or not.  Additionally, there are options for Excel-powered, web-based reporting that allow for ease of access, with mobile reporting gaining in popularity as well.  Regardless, there are several options on the market for modern, powerful financial reporting that are built with the business user in mind.

From here, most people then ask themselves, “How much is this going to cost me?” Pricing a reporting software solution can be broken down in categories: software cost, implementation, annual support and maintenance, and personnel cost.
Software cost can be a direct purchase, which is an upfront price, or it can be a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, where the buyer essentially rents the software, and it is hosted in the cloud or in-house.  Direct purchase pricing ranges from $3,000 to $10,000 at the lower end of the market up to a $30,000 – $50,000 range or more at the higher end.  If interested in looking at SaaS solutions, it will typically run from a few hundred dollars per month, up to five or six grand a month, depending on the user count.  In terms of breaking even for SaaS versus an upfront purchase, it is usually around three years, but SaaS often becomes the more expensive option after that as it relates to software cost.

Implementation typically involves the initial installation, training and consulting.  Training and consulting might seem like a place to save money, but in order to maximize the investment, it is highly recommended.  In terms of costs, a modest reporting implementation can cost $5,000.  The more complex, highly capable reporting solutions can be as much as $50k for implementation or more.  Additionally, maintenance and support are an expected cost.

Support and maintenance are two different things.  In terms of support, contracts vary by the vendor, but the price tag usually starts at $1,000 annually and goes up from there.  Pricing is often based on the number of users and the original software cost.  Maintenance is for updates or upgrades to the report writer and fixes to any errors.  Generally, it is around 18% of the software cost and also paid yearly.  For SaaS-based software, maintenance is a part of monthly SaaS fees, so it is not a separate fee.

Personnel cost is the time in-house staff spends managing and running the purchased reporting solution.  With a business user friendly, modern modality, this should be less overall cost, including and perhaps especially the cost of time, than maintaining FRx or MR.  Reporting tools takes the overly simple, limited FRx model and dream bigger, integrating live from the accounting system or directly from data cubes or data warehouses – either way, creating relevant, insightful reports that empower better business decision-making.  ISVs are producing these report writers with the modern business user in mind and are able to propose the value of their solutions as direct answers to the frustrations finance teams are having with their current model, whether it be FRx, MR, or some other software.

Any company evaluating whether to move from FRx or MR to a modern reporting software should look at the return on investment (ROI) of the new solution, compared to the amount of frustration, time and energy spent with FRx.  Additionally, there are potential hidden costs of reporting with FRx, including the aggravations associated with the limitations and lack of integration and platform options for reporting, and lack of support due to FRx’s retirement and the completely separate MR.  Comparing that nuisance with the benefits of a secure, automated and accelerated software can very well make every penny worth it.  A reporting solution can move the report writing and analysis processes along.

Finally, when looking at financial report writers, consider that some options are positioned as a module within a suite of Business Intelligence (BI) software.  Therefore, if purchasing other BI tools for enhanced decision-making abilities, such as budgeting, dashboards, and/or a data warehouse, now or in the future, it might be important to think ahead and go with a module within a suite, so that you can keep your BI tools within the same product line.  A report writer might also be cheaper when ordered as part of a larger suite.  Solver offers a reporting module stand-alone and as part of the comprehensive suite of BI modules and would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use report writer for secure, empowered decision-making capabilities.

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
Ad Hoc Reporting: A Powerful Self-Service BI Tool

Ad hoc reporting allows business and financial professionals to leverage self-service BI by easily building their own reports without extensive training. In less than an hour of training, users can learn how to use ad-hoc reporting to quickly answer their business questions.

With BI360’s Composer, part of BI360’s Reporting module, end users can access their information quickly and easily, and drill through report data for powerful information analysis. The layout of BI360 Composer is similar to MS Office, so it’s very intuitive for users.

The BI360 Composer ad-hoc query tool empowers anyone in your organization to access data in a structured and organized fashion, directly from your ERP, CRM or the BI360 Data Warehouse, to quickly answer those key questions when they need it!

In the following video, we cover real-world scenarios that demonstrate how BI360 Composer can help users increase their productivity, while decreasing their reliability on your IT department.


Watch the video here:

Aaron Chirolo
Factors to Consider When Evaluating Budgeting Software – Cost / Benefit Analysis (Part 2)

As a selection tool, a cost / benefit analysis helps you focus on the most suitable category of software, rather than trying to differentiate between similar budgeting solutions. For example, it can help you find out if your needs are better served by:
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  • High-end or low-end software
  • SQL-based or OLAP based software
  • Web-based or standard client-server software

In addition to helping to distinguish between different software categories, a cost / benefit analysis can help you decide whether to stay with what you have or make a new software acquisition.

If you were to look at a range of companies using the different budgeting packages on the market, you would see that their levels of satisfactions range from highly satisfied to dissatisfied. Finding success with a particular solution is dependent on several factors:

  • Software features
  • Skills and involvement of key employees
  • Long term support and software upgrades from the software vendor

In the software selection phase, matching the organizational needs and constraints with software features is essential for success. One of the best ways to do this is to devise a list that weighs the benefits against costs. (See below)

A cost / benefit analysis table can become rather subjective because it is hard to assign a value of intangible items. However, because each item is weighted, it usually provides a better indication than simply drawing up a list of pros and cons with no assigned values.

Note: Scoring from 10 to -10 for each item, where 10 is the highest score and -10 is the lowest score. A total score above 0 shows that the company most likely will achieve an overall benefit by purchasing the new software.

To help you in your search for budgeting software that best fits your organization, our solution BI360 Planning can be viewed anytime in a recorded webinar  “Looking to Take Away the Pain of this Year’s Budgeting Process?“. Following the webinar, if you should need any additional information or would like to request a live demonstration email us: info@solverusa.com.

 

Mike Applegate
Configuring the BI360 Warehouse just got easier

Our mantra here at Solver is “make it simple, sexy and powerful”. Traditionally, Data Warehouse projects are reserved for the IT folks in an organization, but we have set out to change that notion with the BI360 Data Warehouse.

We are busy working on many new and exciting features for the upcoming version of the BI360 suite. Here is a quick sampling of two items in the cooker: 1) Adding Attributes and 2) Time Dimension.

Adding Attributes in a Snap

It is a common practice to want many attributes for each dimension. In the current BI360 Data Warehouse (BI360 DW) version, dimension attributes can be added using the Data Warehouse Manager user interface or they can be configured through SQL Server. We have now also added a dimension and attribute import wizard In order to accelerate the time to design and deploy to the warehouse. The wizard automates the process of creating a large number of dimensions and related attributes. Simply create the dimensions and/or attributes in an Excel or text file and import using the Warehouse Manager.

Once the new dimensions and/or attributes are loaded, then they are immediately available to be managed within the Warehouse Manager as well as the Reporting, Planning and Dashboard Modules.

Take Control of your Time Dimension

Configuring the time dimension has always been quick and easy and met most requirements out of the box.  However, we decided to take it to the next level and add controls to define the date ranges within each period from the Warehouse Manager.  Now, configurations such as 4-4-5, 5-5-4, 4-5-4 or any other fiscal configuration, then the BI360 Warehouse Manager can easy implement it.

Aaron Chirolo
Become a BI360 Power User on Your Own time!

Too busy for training? Solver has a fantastic new resource just recently added to their arsenal of education material. The ‘BI360 Self-Paced Technical Training Guide’ is designed to get you more familiar with the technical side of BI360. It is organized into sessions, enabling you to manage the pace of your own education.  If you care to ‘get it all done straight away’, take each session, one immediately following the other, to complete the entire curriculum in record time.  Alternatively, take one or two sessions every few days, over a longer period of time.  You can choose the method that works best for you!

This document is meant to be used as a self-paced guide for power users (consultants, customers, and partners) to educate themselves on the technical aspects of BI360. You will find product functionality, how to design reports, how to design planning input forms and models, how to administer the data warehouse and much more.

Download Now: BI360 Technical Self Training Guide

Access this document and other valuable resources on our Customer and Partner Portal.

 

 

Seiji Naganuma
Benefit from Automating your Report Distribution

As part of the BI360 Suite, financial reports can be created. But what’s the point of creating the financial reports unless trained eyes from your organization are analyzing the numbers to find the strengths and weaknesses of your business.

A very valuable, yet underused part of the BI360 Suite is the Report Publisher. Through the use of the Report Publisher, you can publish financial reports and budgeting/forecast forms in static Excel workbooks based on a BI360 template designed in the Report Designer. In addition, you can integrate the security settings that have already been configured for your organization to safely and securely distribute reports throughout different members in your organization. Finally, the Report Publisher can easily be configured in the built-in Windows Task Scheduler so that you can schedule the previous month’s financial report or the current month goal to be distributed on a set date. There are many more features like the output format or the report delivery method that you can utilize to customize the distribution of your reports.

Prith Naidoo
BI360 now supports Binary Stream’s Multi-Entity Management

Binary Stream’s Multi-Entity Management (MEM) solution provides the ability to process transactions from different corporate entities within a single company database.  By utilizing a centralized database intercompany transactions can be automated and master files can be shared across entities (ie General Ledger Accounts, Customers, Vendors, etc). 

This consolidated Dynamics GP database has all the information Executives, Managers and Analysts need to review their business; the only question is how do you access this information for analysis?

Solver has recently announced support for Multi-Entity Management with BI360!  With REAL-TIME access to the consolidated Dynamics GP database, you are able to further extend the power of MEM by producing consolidated or entity specific information at the General Ledger and the Sub-ledger levels (eg. Segmented reporting, Top 20 customers, Top 10 vendors, Projects by Entity, etc).  Real-time access also increases efficiency, by not waiting for IT to update a middleware system in order for reports or analysis to begin.  Since BI360 also ‘pulls’ information directly from Dynamics GP into Microsoft Excel, you are able to produce dynamic boardroom quality reports, charts and graphs that contain a ‘single version of the truth’.

BI360 and MEM make a powerful combination for any multi-entity company.

For more information on either of these products, please contact:

Solver at info@solverusa.com

or

Binary Stream at sales@binarystream.com

Nils Rasmussen
Solving the Classic Division vs HQ BI conflict with Multi-level Data Warehousing

In most mid-sized and larger organizations with multiple divisions, classic BI tools have never been good at satisfying both local division needs (detailed reporting, local budget models, etc.) as well as corporate HQ needs. In the screenshot below, you can see an interesting methodology where a company can install the BI360 data warehouse (DW) at each division as well as at corporate HQ and then transfer whatever interesting detail/summary they want from the local DWs to the central DW. Historically, this would often not be a feasible model when companies had to build homegrown, custom data warehouses from scratch, because it could get very expensive. With a pre-configured data warehouse like the BI360 DW however, it is very fast and low cost to install it anywhere in the organization where a data mart or data warehouse is needed. There are many other benefits with this multi-level DW architecture, including the ability to then use the same report writer, budgeting and dashboard (like BI360) technology everywhere, thus reducing training cost, license cost and more.