It really doesn’t matter if you call them dashboards, data visualizations, charts, or graphical scorecards, they’re everywhere nowadays. This is probably due to the fact that they are the #1 priority in terms of software that executives are seeking, based on Gartner’s survey on Financial Executive International CFO Technology. Since it seems like we are moving at the speed of light in business, easily accessible, quickly digestible data analyses are extremely valuable. Dashboards provide precisely that – charts, graphs, and scorecards demonstrate trends, successes, and problem areas through key performance indicators (KPIs) and data to best keep a project, a department, or the entire company on track.
All kinds of data visualizations are pretty prevalent, whether you’re monitoring your speed in your car, reviewing your credit card expenses, or even looking over your e-mail account activity report from a provider like Google. Business Intelligence (BI) dashboards offer the same kind of data trajectory insight as these from your daily life, so you can make better decisions for your Professional Services company. BI dashboards are primarily different because you can adapt and interact with your analyses to achieve the analytics to understand the health of your organization. Most BI data visualizations come equipped with drill-down and drill-to functions, so you can zoom in on target data to make stronger decisions. So, we’ve established why dashboards are generally popular – let’s focus on the feature and functionality offerings that can expand your Acumatica processes into more dynamic, accessible data visualizations.
Dashboards can pull information from multiple sources. If you need real-time analytics, specifically regarding financials, you can utilize the built-in dashboard functionality Acumatica offers. Live analyses are preferable for folks who require up-to-the-minute financials – or smaller companies that are fine with simple accounting system dashboards, without the resources to manage a BI data store, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse. Alternatively, bigger companies typically require more than just core financial data – and a faster, more powerful performance for their dashboards – which can be hard to achieve with a live Acumatica data visualization.
BI data store integrations allow larger Professional Services organizations to execute operational and financial dashboards without making the Acumatica server sluggish when pulling information for real-time analytics. If your company has a team of several Acumatica users, who might be simultaneously pulling information, a BI data store typically provides a higher performance. You’ll first have to replicate your information to the data store, but it will still probably be faster, depending on the amount you’re querying. Additionally, a BI data store enables you to store other data types in one place, such as projects, clients, types of service, consultants, etc. Some independent software vendors (ISVs) also build flexibility right into their tools, so you can select how you’d like to integrate your data.
This might ring a bell: some companies insist on a live dashboard for urgent deadlines requiring up-to-date information, but would like to use a BI data store for more routine dashboards. Some executives require real-time operational data analytics, while regular dashboards can and typically are produced using a data warehouse or an OLAP cube. Luckily, hybrid tools don’t have to break the bank. And cost is just one of several facets to evaluate when shopping for the right solution.
Let’s discuss technology platforms. Some ISVs are producing proprietary server dashboard software. These tools are on a platform that has been designed outside of the flexible, popular Excel. Proprietary software might offer power and aesthetics, but because they’re not equipped with Excel formatting, training might be a longer process for your end users. In addition, both Acumatica and standard Excel offer dashboards as a function within their interfaces, but are generally restricted in their abilities due to data visualizations not being the main purpose for the technology, which explains why Excel add-in solutions are so popular.
An Excel add-in solution combines the spreadsheet application’s familiarity with turbo-charged and expanded functionality that enables users to craft modern dashboards. Excel’s native data visualization function does allow you to design dashboards within a workbook, but third party software manufacturers are consistently creating richer and more accessible dashboards for business end users as a direct response to consumer needs. With a focus on ease of use, Excel add-in software is arguably the simplest to implement, but web-based solutions are going to provide the most flexibility to manage and deploy to users.
Web-based software is the newest rendition of technology, offering access from anywhere you can connect to the internet – and dashboards have followed trend. More ISVs are bringing browser-based dashboards to market, on-premises and/or in the Cloud, providing just as many options for drill-down capabilities and KPIs. Relatedly, mobile data visualization applications are responding to the nature of on-the-go business. Deadlines and decision-making doesn’t wait until you are back in the office to look at data, so mobile dashboard apps are one solution. There are just a few ISVs offering mobile dashboards, and due to screen size, they typically focus on one KPI or chart at a time. In exciting news, some solutions combine all three types of data access for the ultimate flexibility – Excel, Web, and mobile.
Nowadays, it’s rare for an ISV to produce a hybrid tool that provides the most flexibility in how you access your data and the dashboards you create with that data. However, some software is positioned within a comprehensive suite of BI tools, offering more flexibility. Some dashboard software is discounted when you bundle with other tool(s). The premier BI suites are crafted with fully integrated, secure tools and sometimes, web portal options, but the real ease of use comes from working with only one team of sales, consulting, and support professionals for all of the software. This means you are saving time, energy, and money.
Here’s what Professional Services companies should know: look for dashboard functionality that enables you to track metrics, such as revenues, expenses, utilization, and margin by project, project manager, consultant, agent, client, type of service, etc. You typically can set goals and project new client revenue by reviewing previous periods. Essentially, you should invest in a dashboard solution that provides you the flexibility for your particular Professional Services organization to focus on the data you use to make strong decisions about the future. Moreover, Acumatica probably isn’t the only data source you rely on, and you likely have professionals across the organization who require easy-to-understand analyses for rich decision-making. Solver would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s Excel, web and/or mobile-based, easy-to-use dashboards module stand-alone and component in the comprehensive suite of BI modules for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for Professional Services organizations using Acumatica.