Useful Business Intelligence Add-on Products for SAP Business One

This article will discuss the third party offerings that will expand data management and analytics for SAP B1 users seeking best-of-breed corporate performance management.

A question I run into regularly has to do with SAP Business One users wondering why you might need to implement independent software vendor (ISV) software in addition to the accounting system.  It is always interesting to discuss this concern, maybe as a hurdle for ISVs, but a legitimate confusion for some SAP B1 customers.  A couple recurring clarifications tend to naturally surface.  Firstly, no software manufacturer can produce a technology that solves every single organizational problem.  For example, Apple iPhones offer the built-in Maps application, but still allow users to download Google Maps, just like any of today’s flexible accounting systems, like SAP B1.  Since every company who uses SAP B1 has specific goals, particular budgeting requisites, and rules, the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system will vary in effectiveness for each organization.  ISVs offer corporations the ability to personalize their data management and analyses.

Another top comment tends to focus on “best-of-breed.”  PC Magazine explains best-of-breed as “the best product of its type.”  The very best solution of any type is pretty much impossible to design from the manufacturer’s perspective, so “organizations often purchase software from different vendors in order to obtain the best-of-breed functionality for certain key business areas.  While ERP vendors provide a wealth of applications for the enterprise and tout their integrated system as the superior solution, every module may not be best-of-breed.  It is difficult to excel in every niche.”  Translation: even if you are loyal to SAP B1, it’s perfectly normal to add an ISV offering to expand the ERP’s output to achieve your particular analytical objectives.  Now, what is available to upgrade your experience?

Some people are rightfully unaware of what you have as options for upgrading analyses, consolidations, budgets, dashboards, and data storage for today’s powerful, business user friendly, and flexible Business Intelligence (BI).  That’s where this blog article fits into the conversation.  In this article, I’ll highlight the distinct processes where ISVs are offering solutions to add to the SAP B1 experience.

The arguable centerpiece, in terms of prevalent and impactful ISV solutions, has been financial reporting.  This blog has covered SAP B1 report writers before, and they’re not going anywhere.  SAP B1’s native reporting functionality doesn’t even compare to modern solutions on the market today.  Nowadays, there are tools providing accounting logic, sub-ledger analyses, reusable reporting templates, and a direct integration to SAP B1 as well as other data sources for business user friendly, rich analytics.  Some are Excel-based, some on the Web, and some combine both for flexibility and accessibility.  Speaking of flexibility, some ISVs are producing financial reporting mobile applications.  Relatedly, budgeting is also popular for budget managers who are trying to achieve a best-of-breed solution for the financial planning component of corporate performance management.

In terms of budgeting and forecasting, I always hear about the tedium involved with these processes.  Lengthy e-mail threads, security concerns, distributing disparate spreadsheets, and a manual budget building process in Excel – it makes perfect sense that most would prefer to avoid budgeting.  But financial planning is streamlined by business user friendly, Excel and/or Web-based, accounting logic-driven ISV tools.  Today’s planning solutions allow users to securely simplify and own the budgeting process.  If you’re already asking why you would need to implement an add-on product with SAP B1, you are likely also confused why Excel would need any supplemental software.

As trusted as Excel is, plenty of ISVs are producing Excel add-ins that not only expand SAP B1 processes, but also more specifically incorporate features and functionalities into Excel through a toolbar ribbon – without training on a brand new set of formulas and coding.  Regarding templates you can reuse, as well as accounting logic that simplifies the report and/or budget building process (amongst plenty of other features), Excel is not designed to be that high functioning.  You can produce charts, graphs, and other data visualizations in Excel, and still, dashboards are the #1 priority BI solution for CFOs on the market today.

Data visualizations or dashboards illustrate your data in quickly digestible formats, whether that be graphs, charts, and/or scorecards.  Even though you can design dashboards in Excel using SAP B1 data, neither program specializes in data visualizations, so they tend to be underwhelming in this area.  ISVs have stepped up to answer that consumer need, offering impactful, bright, easy-to-understand, robust dashboards.  While Gartner concluded that dashboards are a top BI priority for today’s buyers, we’ve also seen that SAP B1 users are not only interested in visualizing trends in their data, but also focused on how to best store and manage it.

Whether you are interested in online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes, data marts, or data warehousing, ISVs are answering the call for storage of large (and growing) amounts of data for analysis, record-keeping, and any industry standards.  OLAP cubes do not operate on an open, relational SQL server platform, so the technology requires someone with OLAP-specific skills and experience to manage it.  OLAP cubes are everywhere, so apparently, the corporate world has enough personnel with the skill set for management.  Alternatively, some third party software manufacturers have taken on the traditionally in-house development project of data warehouse design and produced fully built, configurable SQL server offerings for corporations to install.  Data warehouses can house more than just financial information – and you can replicate your data to a warehouse with the push of a button or in more of a routine.  Report writing from a BI data store can translate to high performance since you don’t have multiple users making the SAP B1 server sluggish with live reporting.  In terms of ISV software and where they fit in the data management marketplace, they are identifying and responding to consumer demands for easy-to-use, powerful, and streamlined collaboration for BI processes.

You have plenty of software options today – and I didn’t exhaust the list of noteworthy ISV products, but I hopefully helped to clarify how and why BI software enhances the SAP B1 experience.  It will be important to pinpoint what specific functionalities are vital to your organization and do your research to make your process(es) more streamlined, effective, and overall, more successful.  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 SAP Business One.

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