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.