Data Warehousing for Professional Services with Dynamics AX

In this article, data warehouses for Professional Services organizations will take center stage, with a focus on expanding Microsoft Dynamics AX analytical processes.

Data is increasingly more important in today’s business world, perhaps especially for Professional Services organizations.  As data informs decision-making at all levels, Professional Services organizations are striving to stay on budget and on track with projects, vendors, clients, and so forth, a data warehouse can be positively impactful in supporting Business Intelligence (BI) analyses.  If you’re new to data warehousing as a solution, you might have some questions.  This article will go about answering your questions about data warehousing as a Professional Services organization using Microsoft Dynamics AX.

Defining the term.  A data warehouse is a multi-dimensional database.  Moreover, data warehouses can be defined as a virtual storage place or a database housed on a stand-alone or shared server.  As a comparison, external hard drives provide a space where you can house diverse file types and software whereas a modern data warehouse offers a place to store a variety of data sets, both operational and transactional.  Another conceptualization: if you took an Excel spreadsheet and three-dimensionalized it, you could order your operational and transactional information in consolidated, efficient, and impactful ways, which is exactly what data warehousing does, avoiding errors with easy-to-use technology.  Modern commercial data warehouse solutions are managed with a technical database management application, like Microsoft SQL Server Visual Studio or Solver’s own tool, called the BI360 Data Warehouse Manager, with a business user friendly interface positioned with the BI360 Suite.

Implementation.  As for deployment and automation, commercial data warehouses typically come “out of the box,” which makes for a simple installation.  Then, you’ll replicate your organizational data from Dynamics AX and other data sources.  A consultant who has expertise in the extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) of your data will install your data warehouse and then, go about automating the ETL process from your database(s).  If you’re hoping to achieve a seamless solution, you’ll want to go with a data warehouse that comes equipped with a pre-built integration directly to Dynamics AX.  Next, a consultant who specializes in making your financial reporting, planning, and data visualization processes more efficient and effective will train your team on how to pull data from the warehouse for financial statements, budgets, and dashboards you need to make smarter decisions about the future of your Professional Services organization.  After your warehouse is configured and your staff is trained, business end users across the organization can use the solution without relying on IT to get involved.

Why do I need one?  Certainly not every Professional Services team will want or need a data warehouse, and it’s not a simple threshold to cross that determines if it is a necessary product.  If you think about how vital utilization, or the function of hours billed per week divided by 40 hours/week, is to your business – or even evaluating your bill rate, or what the typical billing per dollar is that you charge your clients and how it is increasing, you know how essential all of this information can be to remaining competitive.  Usually, this data comes from more than one source, and many organizations are typically aggregating it all in a tool like Excel, but data warehousing can help you avoid error, time and money wasted, and the frustration of manual documentation.  Additionally, if you’re slowing down the Dynamics AX server because of substantial and sometimes simultaneous data pulls, a data warehouse delivers a stable, high performance without making the ERP system or operational database server sluggish.  Data warehousing allows you to produce powerful, richer reports, budgets, and data visualizations because you’re able to include data from diverse systems like sales order, payroll, and CRM systems.

Why not OLAP cubes?  Regarding the storage of diverse data types, plenty of BI solutions suggest or require online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes, so you might be curious how data warehouses stack up to OLAP cubes.  Because OLAP cubes are not transactional server databases, managing the software requires personnel with OLAP skills and experience, like MDX query language fluency, because of their technical complexity.  Furthermore, most cubes are focused on analytical information instead of transactional data.  Data warehouses are organized by topic, and you can replicate multiple data types to the business user friendly, dynamic platform for accessible data analytics and management with your BI software.

Data Warehouse Management.  Business power users can manage modern commercial data warehouses, and the ease of use starts with configuration and automation of your Professional Services data, whether you’re pushing information once or more regularly.  It’s so easy to move your data over by simply clicking a button.  Because most data warehouses are Microsoft SQL Server relational databases, ordered by subject, like GL data, billing detail, projects, and clients, IT doesn’t have to be involved.  Data warehouses naturally provide cross module analytical and financial consolidation, as well as drill-down capabilities, by housing multiple, various data types from disparate sources.  Transactional processing, concurrency control mechanisms, and recovery are not typically required, except when backing up your database, because they stand on their own.  Data warehouses typically come equipped with attributes, dimension trees, and adjustment functionality, like currency conversion, data cleansing, eliminations, and integration techniques for a more streamlined process.  You can also utilize a data warehouse to expedite and simplify the migration process from an older ERP system to Microsoft Dynamics AX.  You can house the historical information from the old accounting system in a data warehouse, produce a historical analysis there and only bring the most recent period’s closing balance over to Dynamics AX, for example.

Data will continue to steadily grow in size and significance to your organizational decision-making – and that goes for Professional Services organizations, too.  Therefore, data warehousing will also continue to become more prevalent, especially because you can combine diverse data (and the systems they originate from) into one place to enrich your financial reporting, budgeting and dashboard analytics.  If your preference is to depend on one solution to aggregate all of your data into one high performing space without IT involvement in the management of the tool, data warehousing delivers precisely that.  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 Microsoft Dynamics AX experience as a Professional Services organization.

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