Data Warehousing for Manufacturing Companies using Dynamics AX

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This article will detail the effects of a commercial data warehouse for manufacturing and distribution organizations utilizing Microsoft Dynamics AX for their financials.

Data is the rightful buzzword for this era of business, perhaps especially for manufacturing and distribution organizations trying to meet their roadmap goals.  As data continues to grow in size and significance, data warehousing becomes a related task for modern business.  Even if you know a thing or two about data warehouses, you might have some questions or curiosities about them and how they relate to your manufacturing and/or distribution analytical processes.  Who manages a data warehouse? Are they like anything besides an OLAP cube?  At what point should a manufacturing and/or distribution corporation install one?  Cloud or on-premise?  How do we set up a data warehouse?  As a manufacturing or distribution Microsoft Dynamics AX customer, you likely have at least one of these questions.  This article will do the work of answering some of the more frequently asked questions, so you can more clearly see how data warehousing can be a solution for data management objectives with Microsoft Dynamics AX.

Who?  Let’s start with the who of implementation and automation for a data warehouse.  A commercial data warehouse usually comes “out of the box,” which means a simple installation followed by replication of your key Dynamics AX data and additional source information.  A consultant who is a pro at the process of extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) of your data will deploy the warehouse and configure the automation of your ETL process from Dynamics AX and any other sources you want to add.  Next, a consultant who has expertise in streamlining and expediting your financial statements, budgets, and/or data visualizations will get you and your team up to speed on pulling data from the warehouse.  Once configuration and training is done, a modern data warehouse can be managed by business end users, without reliance on the IT team.

What?  A data warehouse is a digital storage solution and multi-dimensional database, hosted on a stand-alone or shared server.  To compare, an external hard drive gives you a place to store diverse file types and software, whereas today’s data warehouses provide you a unified space to house multiple types of operational and transactional data.  An additional way to get your head around commercial data warehouses: if you three-dimensionalized an Excel spreadsheet, you could organize your finances and operations in one dynamic and efficient place with data warehouse technology, eliminating errors in an easy-to-use space.

When?  There isn’t a particular point when you know for sure that you need to invest in a data warehouse as a manufacturing or distribution company.  If the frustration of manual documentation, too simplistic data management and analysis with an application like Excel, which can mean errors and/or more dollar signs for your time and money, becomes too much, it might be a good time to look at data warehousing as a solution.  Furthermore, if your Dynamics AX server is slow because of typically large and simultaneous data pulls, a data warehouse provides a stable and high performance without making AX sluggish.  If your exec team not only requires reports and dashboards from AX, but also from other data sources, like sales and payroll systems, then a data warehouse is a perfect solution.  Data warehouses provide a single database that consolidates your diversified data sources while streamlining and developing your analytical tasks.

Where? A data warehouse is not a physical device that is stored on a shelf somewhere – it is a digital solution that is hosted on a server.  Data warehouses traditionally were development projects for IT departments, crafted specifically for an organization, spanning years to complete the project.  Today, data warehouses are commercial software solutions that you can purchase and set up to help you achieve your specific goals.  You can manage today’s commercial warehouses with a data source management tool, like Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio or the BI360 Data Warehouse Manager, which is an easy-to-use application for maintaining the data warehouse that is positioned within the BI360 Suite.

Why?  A conversation about data warehouses typically involves a comparison to online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes.  A lot of BI solutions recommend or require an OLAP cube to manage and analyze your information.  However, because an OLAP cube is not a transactional SQL server database, they require a professional with OLAP-specific experience and skills, like an understanding of MDX query language, because of their complexity.  Furthermore, cubes are structured around analytical information as opposed to transactional data.  A data warehouse organizes by topic, and you can include more than one type of data to the stable, business user friendly platform for simple management and analysis with your BI tools.

How?  Employees across the organization can manage today’s commercial data warehouses.  You can configure and automate replication of your manufacturing or distribution data to the warehouse once or regularly, and you can simply click a button to replicate whenever.  Modern commercial warehouses are made so you can access, manage, and analyze your data without requiring IT involvement.  Additionally, they are Microsoft SQL Server relational databases organized around subjects like customer, sales, product, inventory, and supplier.  Because they house information from multiple data sources, they are naturally helpful for cross module analysis and financial consolidation.  Finally, they typically don’t require any concurrency control mechanisms, transaction processing, or recovery, with the exception of backing up the database.  Data warehouses are dynamic and intuitive, with adjustment functionality like currency conversion, data cleansing, data integration techniques, and eliminations to upgrade your processes.

Data warehouses are going to continue to be more and more relevant as data continues to grow in importance and size, especially in regard to aggregating your data source information for enriched analyses that involve customer orders, back orders, finished goods, requisitions, sales orders, ship dates, etc.  If you’re ready to think about a consolidated space to house your Microsoft Dynamics AX data and other data source information without relying on IT, a data warehouse is the 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 Microsoft Dynamics AX experience as a manufacturing or distribution company.

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