Professional Services Reporting with Microsoft Dynamics SL

This article will discuss financial and operational reporting options for Professional Services organizations using Microsoft Dynamics SL, so you can invest in the right software for your team.

In the modern business culture, perhaps especially for Professional Services organizations, a powerful, user friendly report writer is essential to staying competitive in your sector, navigating the ebbs and flows of the economy through smarter decision-making, so you’re continuing to evolve as a business and a brand.  In this article, I’ll lay out some of your options for today’s quality financial and operational reporting solutions, zooming in on features and functionalities, so you can make the best investment to expand your Microsoft Dynamics SL analytics as a Professional Services organization.

Independent software vendor (ISV) solutions usually pull data from an accounting system and/or other data sources, either by directly integrating from Dynamics SL or from a Business Intelligence (BI) data store.  Like most enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, Dynamics SL has a built-in reporting function, Management Reporter, as well as Crystal Reports and SQL Reporting Services options.  However, more Professional Services teams are implementing ISV report writers because they are easy to use in addition to delivering dynamic output that goes far and beyond the native SL reporting.  You can produce reusable report templates with the right ISV tool, which enables business end users to oversee and analyze their own information, with insight to provide to decision-makers, so they can identify the direction the organization should take.  As conversations around Management Reporter’s perceived shortcomings or PowerBI’s rise continue to happen, there’s still the question of whether or not to go with ISV solutions versus the Microsoft Business Intelligence (BI) stack that is “free.” Since financial reporting is such a vital task, you really need to pinpoint what your needs are and how different solutions fit into your BI plan.  And you should be considering at least the following handful of aspects:  how you want to integrate your data, which platform you prefer (Excel, Web, and/or proprietary), and business user friendliness.

Let’s begin with data integrations because they are arguably fundamental to financial reporting.  Does your team require real-time reporting that can be accomplished via a direct integration from Dynamics SL, or do you like to query information from a BI data store, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse – for a higher performance?  A live integration allows you to pull information right from Dynamics SL without any replication of company data to a cube or warehouse for up-to-date reports.  Whether a cube, a mart, or a warehouse, BI data store solutions can house multiple data types in one place.  But if your organization has more than one Dynamics SL user that sometimes have to simultaneously pull substantial data sets, it can slow the ERP server down.

In regard to ISV solutions produced for Dynamics SL, most reporting tools are typically integrating live OR from a data store, but not both.  There are tools, like Solver’s BI360, that provide consumers with the hybridity of live reporting and BI data store integration.  You’ll also have to consider platform options when weighing which tool to deploy.

In regard to software platform choices, your options have recently evolved a bit.  Excel is here to stay, but the web is steadily becoming more prevalent as a platform, and proprietary offerings are still having success on the market.  You’ll want to think about whether you have to have the familiarity of Excel, the flexibility of the Web – or both.  Very few solutions are browser-based financial report writers that are also Excel-driven, consolidating the familiarity with accessibility for your analytics, also offering you the ability to securely manage and link spreadsheets from anywhere with an internet connection.  There are also proprietary software that come with their own platform that doesn’t include Excel features, formulas, and functionalities that most know, but one of these tools could be precisely what you need.

A solution that is web-hosted, off site by a provider, which is called Cloud computing, allows you to securely analyze and manage your Professional Services data from anywhere you can connect to the internet.  You can produce reports on the web, and some tools offer drill-down and collaboration abilities.  Generally speaking, pure ISV Cloud reporting offerings usually pull company data exclusively from BI data stores, so live integrations are not an option, but a hybrid Excel-driven, web-based tool provides you with more flexibility.

Modern business basically insists on teamwork, even with teams being as spread out as they can be today.  Browser-based reporting enables team members to flexibly access the data you need.  Pure Cloud options include Adaptive Insights and Host Analytics, while a hybrid web/Excel tool, like BI360, invites you to piece together and distribute financial and project-specific reports with information from Dynamics SL right within Excel, a web browser, and/or a mobile application.  You can also choose between an on premise installation or go with the Cloud.  When seeking the best tool for your team, ensure that the technology is easy to use for your business end users.

Flexibility in regard to Web and mobile access for financial and operational reporting is only going to increasingly become more valuable to consumers – and Dynamics SL fans are on board because there are straightforward perks to accessing their data.  But what should Professional Services organizations be looking for in a product?  You should be seeking report writing functionality that empowers you to track data by client, consultant, project, project manager, and type of service, and you can usually estimate and set new client revenue objectives by looking at previous periods.  Furthermore, you should be looking for a financial report writer that offers you the flexibility to meet your specific Professional Services organization’s analyses goals, so you can make the smartest decisions for your team’s future.

You have a lot to think about when looking for the best reporting tool for your Professional Services organization, but the main considerations include data integration routes, platform options, and how easy to use and accessible the product is for your business end users to expand your Microsoft Dynamics SL experience.  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 Professional Services organizations using Microsoft Dynamics SL.

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