In 2009, Microsoft announced that they would retire FRx, phase out support for their reporting product and replace it with Management Reporter. Five years later, tens of thousands of finance teams are still holding onto the reporting product that has been around since 1984. However, as support continues to fade out, executives and accounting teams are faced with an important decision about their Business Intelligence (BI) needs. Navigating that decision requires some thought about the current and future needs of the organization. Migrating from FRx to Management Reporter (MR) would perhaps be the easiest replacement, but there are several things to consider when moving the organizational BI needs to another solution.
Arguably, moving to MR as a reporting solution is a replacement, while it might be time for a more significant upgrade. It is an easy transition for current FRx users as there is a migration wizard and a similar user interface, as well as very similar features. However, the features might be too similar, without enough updates. There are several options for BI solutions on the market today that would be more of an upgrade and a worthy investment as technology and Software as a Service (Saas) solutions are starting to make more of an impact in helping business leaders make informed decisions regarding the future of their organization. Considering all your options and the key differentiators between products will help to invest time, money, and energy into a product that speaks to specific business needs.
Do reports generate from a live integration to Microsoft Dynamics? To a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system? To other data sources? Reporting doesn’t have to mean that first, the data needs to be replicated from Dynamics to a data warehouse, a data mart or a cube. There are BI options on the market that can take live data from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or CRM systems, making the reporting process live and up-to-date. At any moment, financial executives can see how the company is performing in real time. Furthermore, look for software than can run ad-hoc reports and present the data with secure access to multiple business users to make informed decisions about pressing issues with drill-down capabilities, moving beyond just the General Ledger, which is more than can be said for FRx or MR.
Is the reporting solution Excel-based? Most accountants and financial executives have been using Excel since college, so the software and all the formulas and resources are second nature to those who are creating the reports. In looking at reporting solutions, avoid products that utilize proprietary software to organize the data in a configured schema that is then exported to Excel. This type of solution generally requires different formulas and formatting, specific to the proprietary software, rather than the established Excel set. Therefore, the financial team has to learn a whole new product, so that the new report writer can integrate back into Excel. Instead, consider report centers with native Excel interfaces where the reports themselves are designed within Excel.
Is the report writer web-based? More and more companies are relying on web-based platforms, utilizing the cloud for storage and reporting on data. Simply put, web-based reporting allows for international companies to get in and out of the information at any time, from any coordinates on the globe. When looking at web-based solutions, be sure to figure out if the report writer integrates seamlessly back to Excel for interchangeable financial data management. Depending on the needs of the company, or specifically the finance team, Excel-based or web-based may be better, but it would also be advantageous to have both capabilities.
Is there a mobile interface? As tablets and smart phones become more intrinsic to running a business, mobile accessibility is no longer a luxury. More specifically, multinational companies are working around the clock, and a lot of times, this involves travel to different global offices. Access to financial data in the form of reporting allows for the on-the-go executive to maintain a grasp of what is going on at any moment, from any airport or taxi, in any time zone. Webinars, conference calls, or mobile strategy sessions might require real-time financial data, and a mobile application can offer that flexibility.
Is there a full BI suite of solutions? While the current search might just be about replacing FRx or MR, there may come a time when budgeting, dashboards, and/or data warehousing becomes an additional priority. If that time comes and those needs arise, the option to expand within a fully integrated suite makes for a simple solution. It only requires one partner, one consultant, and one support team or help desk. Additionally, the familiarity with the system and the screens is already established if the finance team is already using the reporting module. Furthermore, look for BI suites that allow for modularizing the purchase and implementation. Some companies might only need reporting, but other organizations might also see the need to have a data warehouse as well. Having to purchase an all-inclusive suite can be expensive and less desirable if the needs are not there at the current time.
Is the data warehouse fully built and configurable? What used to be a developer task is now a product. Data warehouses are available to purchase already built and customizable in a way that speaks to organizational needs. Additionally, data warehouses are no longer exclusive to financial data. Some BI software creators have developed data warehouses that allow for literally any data, including payroll, statistical transactions, etc. Data volumes continue to grow as companies become more efficient and wide-reaching – and data warehouses are secure spaces to store relevant company information. They should not be something the IT department has to manage, but instead an option for multiple business users to access pertinent data to run reports, build budgets, and create graphical scorecards.
The end of the FRx era is here. The search for an FRx replacement – or upgrade – can be a tedious one, but the important thing to remember is to understand what is needed to ensure financial decision making is easier and more precise through smarter, more intuitive BI software. Solver, Inc., creator of the BI360 suite, is happy to answer questions, clarify feature options, and generally assist in the review of BI360 as an FRx Replacement or as a full BI suite.