Retail Data Warehousing for Microsoft Dynamics AX

This article covers data warehouse solutions, both in general and in specific for retail companies who are seeking to expand their Microsoft Dynamics AX analytics.

In today’s fast-paced business world, perhaps especially for retail corporations, data is essential.  Because data is driving decision-making, retail companies are strategizing to stay on budget and on track with their stores, customers, vendors, managers, and so on – and a data warehouse can be really impactful in supporting Business Intelligence (BI) analyses.  As with most technology, if you aren’t already using a modern offering, you probably have questions.  This article will go about answering the most common questions you might have about data warehousing with Microsoft Dynamics AX for your retail company.

Definition, please.  Let’s start by understanding that a data warehouse is a multi-dimensional database.  Should that not make everything crystal clear for you, data warehouses can also be described as a virtual storage place or a server-staged database, shared or stand-alone.  To compare, an external hard drive provides a place where you can house multiple file types and applications whereas a modern data warehouse offers you the space to store multiple operational and transactional data sets.  Additionally, if you think about making an Excel spreadsheet three-dimensional, you could order your operational and transactional information in consolidated, simplified, and efficient ways, which is exactly what a data warehouse can do, avoiding errors in an easy-to-use technology.  Modern commercial data warehouses are managed with a technical database management application, like Microsoft SQL Server Visual Studio, or something like the BI360 Data Warehouse Manager, which is Solver’s offering and an easy-to-use platform that is part of the BI360 Suite.

Deployment.  In terms of deployment and automation, commercial data warehouses typically come “out of the box,” which basically means a simple installation.  The next step is replication of your company information from Dynamics AX and other data sources.  A consultant who specializes in extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) of your information will install your data warehouse.  This consultant will next automate the ETL procedure from your database(s).  It is preferable to implement a data warehouse that comes equipped with a pre-built integration to the Dynamics AX Cloud or on-premises installation if you are hoping to achieve a seamless solution.  Next, a consultant who can simplify and streamline your BI analyses will train your team to pull information from your data warehouse for financial reports, budgets, and dashboards you rely on to make better decisions about retail organization’s roadmap.  After configuration of the data warehouse and training of your staff are complete, business end users across the organization can access the solution without needing the IT department.

But why?  Not every retail organization is going to want or need a data warehouse, and there’s no specific set of criteria that you have to meet to start shopping for one.  However, if you think about all of the different types of data, whether it is product-oriented, customer behavior, sales by store or regional manager, or other metrics, you could easily understand how this diverse data can add up – and managing all of these sources separately can be challenging when it comes to consolidated analytics for richer understanding of company health.  A lot of corporations are usually aggregating data in a software like Excel, but a data warehouse can eliminate errors, wasted time and money, in addition to tedious manual documentation.  Moreover, if the Dynamics AX server is slow because of substantial and sometimes simultaneous data queries users are needing, a data warehouse offers stability and high performance without a sluggish ERP system or operational database server.  Long story short: the main reason to invest in a data warehouse has to do with producing more robust reports, budgets, and data visualizations because you can include data from diverse sources, like Point of Sales, CRM, marketing, and inventory systems.

Why not an OLAP cube?  When it comes to housing multiple types of data, plenty of BI solutions suggest or even require an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube, so you might be wondering why data warehousing versus an OLAP cube.  An OLAP cube is not a transactional SQL server database, so you will need personnel with OLAP-specific skills and experience for management of the technology, with MDX query language fluency as an example, due to how technically complicated they tend to be.  Furthermore, a lot of cubes are for analytical information as opposed to transactional data.  Data warehouses are organized by topic, and you can replicate diverse kinds of data to the business user friendly, modern platform for flexible data management and analysis with your BI solutions.

Management.  Business professionals across an organization can manage modern commercial data warehouses.  Configuring and automating the replication of your retail data is simple, whether you’re pushing data once or more regularly.  You can pull your data with a click of a button, and because most data warehouses are Microsoft SQL Server relational databases, organized by subject, like GL information, customers, vendors, sales, and products, you can leave IT out of the mix.  Data warehouses naturally provide cross module financial and analytical consolidation, as well as drill-down capabilities, by housing a variety of data types from disparate sources.  Concurrency control mechanisms, transactional processing, and recovery are not usually required, with the exception of backing up your database, because they are stand-alone products.  A data warehouse typically comes equipped with attributes, dimension trees, and adjustment functionality, as in currency conversion, eliminations, data cleansing, and integration techniques for a more streamlined procedure.  You can also use a data warehouse to expedite and simplify a migration from an older accounting system to Microsoft Dynamics AX by storing historical data from the old ERP system in the warehouse, perform a historical analysis there, and then only bring the most recent period’s closing balance over to Microsoft Dynamics AX.

Data is going to continue growing exponentially in amount and significance to your company decision-making, perhaps especially for retail organizations.  Relatedly, data warehouses will also grow in prevalence, particularly because you can consolidate diverse data types into one place to expand your financial reporting, budgeting, and data visualizing.  If you’d like to depend on just one device to bring together all of your data into one high performance space without involving IT to manage the solution, a data warehouse can provides you exactly that.  Solver offers a fully built, configurable Microsoft SQL Server-based data warehouse 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 Warehouse solution that enables collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for your Microsoft Dynamics AX experience as a retail organization.

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