Some people might think that non-profits are functioning outside of the typical business model, but in reality, data is driving the same vital decision-making for not-for-profit organizations. As non-profits do the hard work of staying on track with budgets, donors, grants, members, and so forth, a data warehouse can be really effective and efficient for your Business Intelligence (BI) processes. With online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes being a common technology presence, the difference between OLAP cubes and data warehouses might seem confusing to you. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of data warehousing for non-profit data management and analytics tasks using Intacct.
I first struggled with the concept. What is it? A data warehouse solution is a multiple dimension database. More specifically, it is a virtual storage space, a database staged on a shared or standalone server. In other words, if you three-dimensionalized an Excel spreadsheet, you could organize your operational and transactional information in aggregated, streamlined, and effective ways, which is precisely what you get from a data warehouse, eliminating errors through business user friendly software. Comparatively speaking, an external hard drive offers space to store different kinds of files and software while today’s data warehouses provide a place to stage multiple types of operational and transactional data. Today’s commercial data warehouse offerings are maintained by a technical database management program, like Microsoft SQL Server Visual Studio or Solver’s BI360 Data Warehouse Manager, which provides a dynamic and intuitive interface that is part of the BI360 Suite.
The term “out of the box,” which refers to an easy installation and implementation process, might get thrown around in the technology world, but with most modern data warehouses, you just install, configure and then replicate your information from Intacct and other data sources. A consultant who specializes in the data extracting, transforming, and loading (ETL) process will deploy the data warehouse, then automate the ETL process from your source databases. The arguably wisest investment will be a data warehouse with a pre-built integration right to the Intacct Cloud. Then, a consultant with expertise in streamlining and optimizing your financial reporting, budgeting and dashboard tasks will teach you how to effectively query information from your data warehouse for financial statements, planning and data visualizations you depend on to make smarter decisions about the direction your not-for-profit organization will take toward the future. Once the warehouse is set up and training is complete, business end users at all levels of the organization can manage the device without involving the IT team.
Look, not every non-profit is going to want, let alone need a data warehouse solution – and there isn’t a specific threshold you would cross to know for sure if it’s a necessary investment for your team. However, consider how drastically fundraising has expanded for non-profits in the past couple of decades, moving from exclusively direct mail and special events to online and mobile donations, social media marketing campaigns, e-newsletters and so on, on top of the traditional methods. All of these efforts are producing data that you have to consolidate, typically from different programs, with a tool like Excel. Data warehouses can help to eliminate error, wasted time, money, and the morale-killing experience of manual documentation. In addition, if the Intacct server is sluggish due to significant and sometimes simultaneous data queries, data warehousing provides a stable, high performing solution without slowing down the ERP system or operational databases. In other words, data warehouses offer the simplicity and power of one space to pull data from multiple sources like CRM, membership, and payroll systems to produce richer reports, budgets, and data visualizations.
Let’s get back to OLAP cubes. In terms of data storage, plenty of BI software recommend or require an OLAP cube. OLAP cubes are not transactional SQL server databases, so management of the technology requires staff with OLAP-specific skills and experience, such as MDX query language fluency, due to their complicated technological nature. Moreover, OLAP cubes are mostly focused on analytical information instead of transactional data. A data warehouse is ordered by subject in a single database that is an easy-to-use interface for flexible data management and analyses of your multiple types of diverse information with your BI tools.
One of the most important aspects to note about commercial data warehouse solutions is that business end users can manage them. Configuration and automation of the replication process for your non-profit organizational information is easy, whether you have a one-time query or a routine task. You can also grab data with the push of a button. Since most data warehouses are SQL Server relational databases, organized around subjects, like administration costs, donors, and volunteers, IT can be left out of management. Data warehouses organically enable cross module financial and analytical consolidation ability by storing multiple disparate data types from a number of sources. Because they stand on their own, data warehouses usually don’t require concurrency control mechanisms, transactional process, or recovery, besides backing up the database. Data warehouses usually come with built-in dimension trees and attributes, adjustment functionality, like currency conversion, and data cleansing to ensure more streamlined processes, eliminations, and integration techniques. Also, you can use a data warehouse to help in migrating your data from an older ERP system to Intacct. Rather than moving years of historical data over to Intacct and potentially cluttering what could have been a clean, new Chart of Accounts, you can store this information in a data warehouse and produce a historical analysis there, then bring over the last period’s closing balances to Intacct.
Data will continue to steadily grow in amount and importance for organizational decision-making, maybe especially for not-for-profits. Relatedly, data warehouses will also continue to become more prevalent, especially since you can aggregate your diverse data types and sources into one space to expand your financial reporting, budgeting, and dashboards. If you’d prefer to rely on one solution to consolidate all of your information into one high performing place without IT involvement in terms of managing the technology, data warehouses can deliver that exact solution. 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 Intacct experience as a non-profit organization.