Financial reporting is perhaps the cornerstone of Business Intelligence (BI) analyses as they quantify a company’s financial health in what should be an easily digestible set of operational and financial reports. Business is moving so fast these days, and Retail is exactly the same. Accounting systems, like Microsoft Dynamics NAV, usually provide built-in financial reporting functionality. But with consumer demands for complex, richer data analyses – and reporting that is specific to your industry – the native report designer is typically subpar for end user objectives. In this article, we’ll explore independent software vendor (ISV) offerings for dynamic, easy-to-use, and modern financial tools that provide Retail companies the analytics they require to make informed decisions about the future.
It’s probably easier to start by discussing financial report writers in general, then zoom in on reporting specifically for Retail organizations. First, good news: you have more options than ever because ISV reporting software is becoming more prevalent due to their consumer-driven functionality. You should be looking for three primary characteristics in a solution that can help you make your financial reporting process more efficient and modern: business user friendliness, flexibility, and security. We’ll employ these three criteria to evaluate what you should be thinking about in a financial reporting tool: integration methods; platform options; mobile reporting; and investing in a full suite of BI modules versus stand-alone reporting software.
You can pull data from more than one data source – and via different methods. Whether you’re pulling accounting data from Dynamics NAV or information from Point of Sale (POS) systems, you can elect to integrate live from the source with some of today’s financial reporters, or you can integrate from a BI data store. Reporting directly from your data source means real-time analyses for more pressing or ad-hoc deadlines, but it can result in a slower Dynamics NAV server, depending on the number of users pulling larger data sets (especially if they are simultaneous queries).
If you decide to go with a BI data store, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse, you will experience a high performance without making the server sluggish, but you’ll have to replicate your information to the storage space, and you will be making an additional investment. Also, OLAP cubes require staff that has device-specific skills and experience to manage it. However, you first need to evaluate your particular Retail business demands and analyze how specific report writers deliver on the business user friendly and secure flexibility fronts.
Another fundamental aspect: technology platform. Finance teams have been relying on Excel internationally for decades, so Excel add-ins expand and upgrade the trusted spreadsheet application with modern, powerful functionality for richer Retail reporting. However, proprietary programs have also carved out a space for themselves in the marketplace, usually asserting that Excel can be logistically messy, regarding the manual linking together of spreadsheets, formatting, and lengthy email conversations. Today’s Excel add-ins have responded to these issues with features and functions, but the Web is getting a lot of buzz. Browser-based reporting, whether on-premises or in the Cloud, delivers the flexible access of data management and analysis to modern businesses from wherever you can connect to the Internet. But the flexibility doesn’t stop. Think hybrid.
There are some report writers that embody hybridity by being driven by Excel, but also staged online, with a few also coming with a mobile application. If your retail company has many locations, a spread out task force with both store managers and regional managers and/or remote employees, the Web provides a flexible and secure option to stay informed and connected. Excel delivers business user friendliness associated with the finance team’s familiarity with the product, so when Excel formatting and calculations powers the online platform as well, it makes for a dynamic product that can universally finance teams. Of course, you’ll have to know what you specifically need and compare it to the software options, but flexibility and hybridity is arguably the way of the present and future.
Flexibility in the context of today’s business culture is closely tied to mobility. With staff across a Retail company potentially out of the office or traveling between stores, access to your data with the ability to contribute to decision-making is pretty value-laden. While rare and relatively new in the marketplace, mobile reporting apps continue to roll out for the frequent traveler in your organization who needs reporting access while visiting a client or even in an international airport. At this point, mobile apps are restricted to report viewing, with typically only one KPI at a time due to screen size, but you should monitor this development in financial reporting as it will probably expand since mobile devices continue to increase in importance to consumers.
Let’s now focus on Retail reporting. Usually, Retail statements consolidate Sales data with General Ledger (GL) information, at times with operational numbers, like inventory. Based on your organizational structure and what you need in terms of analyses, you can organize your reports by region and store or business unit. You may produce operational statements more regularly, probably depending on an OLAP cube or a data warehouse, but you can also integrate directly from Dynamics NAV. The more routine reporting typically focuses on sales and margin by staff, region, store, and/or product – and should offer drill-down functionality to get to the transactional level, which is utilized by the sales team. Retail financial statements can be diverse in focus, but you may want to evaluate cost of goods sold, average purchase value, customer satisfaction and retention, incremental sales, sales per square foot, and so on. Your historical actuals in financial reporting typically correlate to sales forecasting, which is a great segue to complete BI suites.
You might be shopping particularly for an upgrade to your financial reporting currently, but if you look ahead and can envision expanding other BI processes, like budgeting, data visualizations, and data warehousing, you should really be thinking about a reporting investment that is positioned within a completely integrated suite of BI solutions. You can more easily, flexibly, and securely manage your processes with just one team of sales, support and consulting professionals for multiple tools within a suite. You have a lot to consider, but Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Excel, web, and mobile platforms for real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis and collaboration, with the option of email distribution of reports, as the best report writer for Retail organizations using Microsoft Dynamics NAV.