Manufacturing and Distribution Dashboards for Microsoft Dynamics AX

Today’s dynamic, business user friendly dashboard solutions are expanding the Microsoft Dynamics AX data management and analytical experience for Manufacturing and Distribution companies.

Dashboards, dashboards, dashboards.  I feel like every time I turn around, I’m hearing about some kind of dashboard – and that is especially true in the Business Intelligence (BI) realm.  This is probably because they are such a popular investment for executives, especially with their accessible, digestible data visualizations.  Dashboards deliver quick and easy analytics for the fast pace of business decision-making.  Also known as data visualizations, dashboards come in the form of charts, graphs, and scorecards that illustrate your data in trajectories, challenges, and opportunities through key performance indicators (KPIs) for projects, departments, and/or the entire company.

Much like the dashboard you can see in every vehicle, companies can make directional decisions by looking at transactional and operational trends in a BI data visualization.  The primary differentiation between dashboards in everyday life and a BI offering is that the BI software allows for interpretation and interaction, for more in-depth analytics and necessary adjustments.  In addition, a BI data visualization comes with drill-down and drill-to functionality, so you can decide how to forge ahead using your Microsoft Dynamics AX information for your manufacturing and/or distribution company.  Now that we’ve established how prevalent and popular dashboards are in the modern business world, let’s discuss the product offering for manufacturing and distribution companies relying on Dynamics AX.

A fundamental place to start: data integration options.  Today’s data visualization solutions can integrate company information from multiple sources.  You can produce real-time analytics by integrating live from Dynamics AX and/or Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), in addition to other data sources.  Dashboards that are populated via direct integrations are perfect for professionals who need up-to-date information and smaller organizations that only need the more basic Dynamics AX data visualizations, without the abilities to maintain a BI database, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse.  On the other hand, larger companies typically require a more stable integration that a BI data store can deliver for your analytical processes.

Going with a data warehouse or an OLAP cube for integrating your data enables bigger corporations to produce dashboards without slowing down the AX server – or other data source system servers – because data queries are too big or at times, simultaneous.  You would have an additional cost with a BI data store, as well as the task of setting up and monitoring data replication to the warehouse or cube, but your data pulls won’t make the server sluggish.  Perhaps better yet: some data visualization solutions offer the choice to integrate live when you have urgent decision-making deadlines, with real-time information like customer order logs – AND querying data from a BI data store for more regular dashboards, like employment and staffing.  Without being too pricey, this hybridity is precisely what modern businesses need.  Next up, you should be weighing your platform options.

You have options when it comes to the software platform: Excel, web, and/or proprietary.  Microsoft Excel is nearly ubiquitous internationally for finance departments, but proprietary software is also popular on the market, and the web is really taking off in the world of technology.  On top of these options, some data sources, like Dynamics AX, come with built-in dashboard functionality, even if they are usually limited in their abilities essentially due to data visualization not being the main function of the software.  Today’s premier dashboard software will likely be web-based, with accessibility to design from anywhere you can connect to the internet.  A web-based platform has become increasingly more popular in the BI tech world.

Browser-based tools are becoming pretty prevalent these days because of how accessible and flexible the web is as a platform for the business culture of today, manufacturing and distribution or otherwise.  If you’re charged with managing multiple warehouses, plants, and/or distribution centers, some employees working on-site and some road warriors, and/or with an executive team seeking a web platform, there are more and more third party software vendors bringing web-based data visualizations to market, hosted in the Cloud or on-premises, equipped with the same drill-down functionality, KPIs, and layout options.  As an extension of this flexibility, mobile dashboard apps allow you to get to your data visualizations wherever you carry your mobile device.  Currently, mobile dashboards can only showcase one KPI at a time due to the small screen sizes of mobile devices.  Some tools offer ultimate hybridity with Excel, web, and mobile dashboards.

Some solutions allow you to access your dashboards in more than one way.  Furthermore, there are data visualizations that are positioned within a comprehensive suite of BI modules, securely and completely integrated with financial reporting, budgeting, and data warehousing tools, at times even discounted when bundled in a package.  Going with a suite of software means just one team of sales, consulting and support professionals to lean on for your success with AX-driven BI analyses.  Dashboards can be specifically impactful in helping to make decisions that shape the future of your manufacturing and/or distribution organizations, compiling actuals, budgets figures, and data trends in visual ways.

There are several ways that data visualizations can have a positive effect on your manufacturing and/or distribution company decision-making processes, so let’s discuss a few examples.  You could craft a dashboard on sales margin by product or product group, which allows you to review margins per product.  You can also utilize Dynamics AX or another data source to view manufacturing output by facility and by product.  This dashboard allows you to evaluate the highest output for a particular product – and analyze facility efficiency.  A final example could zoom in on the largest sales margin by client or customer, so you can understand who brings you the most profit at the littlest expense to your company.  Dashboards are easy to configure and customize, and they provide important information.

If you’re part of the management team for a manufacturing or distribution organization, dashboards empower you to be aware and remain competitive with accessible and easy-to-understand analyses.  Take the time to pinpoint your particular needs and compare with today’s dashboard solution offerings, so you can make the best investment for your company.  The right software will be business user friendly, while powerful without involving the IT team.  Solver would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Excel, web and/or mobile-based dashboards module stand-alone and as part of the comprehensive suite of BI modules for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for manufacturing and distribution companies using Microsoft Dynamics AX.

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