Business Intelligence for Dynamics SL

There are numerous Business Intelligence tools on the market to enhance Microsoft Dynamics SL.  This article will highlight key features and functions to consider when investing in a BI solution.

The Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics solutions market continued to grow in 2013, up 8% to a total of $14.4 billion from 2012, according to Gartner.  It is a relatively gradual growth, but the development is steady – and it makes sense.  More than ever, analytics are informing corporate decision-makers how to best move the company forward from real-time, monthly, quarterly, project-specific, beyond the General Ledger (GL) and fiscal perspectives.   The corporate world is shifting from IT-managed reporting, budgeting, and data storage to business user friendly, powerful BI software that takes Enterprise Resource Planning systems like Microsoft Dynamics SL, to new heights of analysis and planning.

Microsoft Dynamics SL is an established accounting product, around for a couple decades and acquired by Microsoft in the early 2000’s.  There are approximately 12,000 customers around the globe, and that number will continue to grow under the Microsoft umbrella.  That all said, Dynamics SL users do not have their heads in the sand.  The growing world of BI solutions offer a variety of options to make the most of Dynamics SL through data analysis and planning for the future.  Namely, the BI marketplace offers reporting, budgeting, dashboards, and data storage options.  This article will discuss the feature and functionality offerings for Dynamics SL users in the current landscape of BI solutions.

Perhaps the best place to start when discussing the options for BI solutions that will enhance Dynamics SL would be data integration methodology options.  There are a few ways that the data in SL integrates to and from the BI tool.  A few products will integrate live to Dynamics, producing real-time analysis.  In terms of urgency, this is the way to go if someone on the finance teams needs to produce up-to-the-minute reports or dashboards.  However, depending on the number of users and the size of the query, running reports live can slow down the Dynamics SL server.

If the information needed is less immediate and/or reports are a monthly routine, then there are products that allow the user to integrate from a data warehouse or an OLAP cube.  This method is more stable and quicker in nature, but would require data replication to the storage system before up-to-date reporting can be achieved.  Luckily, there are also products that integrate both ways.

Some of the more sophisticated BI solutions on the market will allow users to integrate live to Dynamics SL for real-time reporting and to a data storage option, like an OLAP cube or a Data Warehouse, often for consolidations, dashboards and budgeting.  This flexibility might be priceless for some organizations and unnecessary for others.  Therefore, it will be important to consider how many users could be working in Dynamics SL when a large query could slow down the server, how important it is to have real-time analysis, and how valuable the stability and high performance of a data storage integration would be to the company.  The BI industry is constantly dealing with data – and therefore, solutions for data storage should also be a consideration for the consumer.

The primary data storage solutions are OLAP cubes or Data Warehouses.  Spelled out, OLAP cubes are online analytical processing cubes – perhaps best understood as multi-dimensional spreadsheets or databases of information.  Data Warehouses are configurable storage applications that are databases of company information.  OLAP cubes require professionals that have OLAP experience to set up, organize, and maintain, as they are complex IT entities.  Data Warehouses have historically been developed over time, but the BI marketplace has been offering data warehouses as a fully built, configurable product.  These products are easy to use because they are complete – and manageable by the business user, leaving the IT department out of the maintenance of this investment.  When looking for BI software, data warehouses are an attractive offering because of their ease of use.  Bottom line: BI processes should enhance workflow, primarily because it should be business user friendly.

The next functionality consideration has to do with whether the product is Excel-based, proprietary, and/or web-based.  Most finance teams around the globe are using Excel, Microsoft’s spreadsheet software.  This familiarity might make Excel add-in solutions the most attractive for a lot of companies.  These products do not require you to learn new formulas, features, and functions because they are working within Excel.  Proprietary solutions might be powerful, but have a potentially big learning curve, which could translate to more training and consulting dollars.  Additionally, either way could be web-based.

As cloud computing and internet processing increases in popularity, BI tools are evolving as well.  Excel-based and proprietary software alike are moving to the internet, as companies become more global and around-the-clock.  The accessibility of web-based BI analysis is extremely attractive to the business world, and some products are still able to offer Excel-powered reporting on the web.  Similarly, some vendors are producing mobile BI applications for increased accessibility when it comes to running simple reports and dashboards.  If company executives need analysis on-the-go, with data from Dynamics SL, then perhaps it would be important to find a BI solution that offers web-based reporting with a mobile application.  Multiple solutions – or even a full suite – are an important consideration, even when seeking one product right now.

Even if a dashboards solution is all that is needed right now to create reports for executives from Dynamics SL, a full BI product suite is a more valuable option than stand-alone software.  When thinking ahead, whether it is 6 months or 5 years down the line, a suite of BI tools means that if a company wants to add a budgeting solution for Dynamics SL, it is already a recognizable product with the same support department and group of consultants to assist in the implementation process.  Furthermore, it might be important to look for the flexibility to buy one solution at a time – or the potential discount of buying more than one product within the suite at once.  Planning ahead is the name of the BI game, so why not do it when investing in analytics?

Perhaps it seems like a lot to consider when taking a company into the BI realm, but it is best to get acquainted with the features and functions of today’s BI tools before making an investment.  While Dynamics SL is a strong accounting tool, the analytics of BI solutions cannot be beat these days.  Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Excel, web, and mobile BI tools with both real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis, budgeting and collaboration as a way to accelerate company performance management beyond Microsoft Dynamics SL.

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