This article will discuss the key features, functionalities, and competencies that you should consider when searching for the right BI tool at the Microsoft Dynamics GPUG Summit.

The Microsoft Dynamics Summit is right around the corner, in session during October every fall, and attendees are looking to improve their data management and analysis processes.  Several user groups, including CRMUG, GPUG, NAVUG, and AXUG, will convene to seek out best practices, third party tools, and building best-of-breed solutions for increased productivity, better streamlining, and an impact on the bottom line.  This article will zoom in on the search for the right Business Intelligence (BI) tool for your team’s Microsoft Dynamics GP experience, with a focus on the key features and functionalities of today’s best third party BI solutions.

First of all, I would offer that there are two ways to narrow your scope: core competencies and key feature and functionality differentiations.  Core competencies refer to the more general ways that a product will enhance workflow and solve specific business problems for Dynamics GP users.  Key features and functionality differentiations speak to the differences in product capabilities.  Both can and should guide your search at the Dynamics Summit.  Let’s start with the former.
Core competencies that you should be seeking in an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) tool to help you build a best-of-breed Dynamics GP include easy-to-use, flexible, and collaborative characteristics.  If you invest in a tool that is too technically complex for your team of business end users, they may never be able to successfully implement the software.  Then, you end up relying on the IT department to manage these processes, or you might have to replace the software much sooner than expected, which is a waste of money.  Therefore, you should shop for a product that is business user friendly, without a dependence on the IT team.  As for flexibility, this more specifically has to do with your ability to access, manage, and analyze your data in this on-the-go era of business.  At the Dynamics GPUG Summit 2014, look for truly flexible solutions that offer not only on-premises access, but also a web portal and even a mobile application for your smart phone or tablet.  Finally, collaboration is already an established aspect of corporate success – your software should organically and securely invite collaboration and ownership into BI processes.
These core competencies are higher level frameworks to look at ISV solutions you are considering to accelerate your Dynamics GP workflow.  In this article, we will use these core competencies as a context to better understand why certain features and functionalities are vital if you’re going to invest in a modern solution.
First on the list: data integration methods.  On this blog, we have covered the differences between relying on a live integration from Dynamics GP and implementing a BI data store, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse.  However, it remains an important, arguably foundational element to your decision-making process.  If you are a smaller company with fewer Dynamics GP users or consistently rely on real-time analyses of company data, a live integration is going to be a requisite when you are shopping for a tool.  Alternatively, if you are a bigger company with multiple GP users, potentially querying data simultaneously, this can slow down the GP server, so a high performance option would involve a BI data store.  A solution like a fully built data warehouse offers businesses the option to easily store multiple types of data in one space, with customizable structure that can host consolidations as well.
Some software offers the flexibility of both methods.  While it is somewhat rare, there are a few solutions that allow users to integrate live from Dynamics GP and/or pull data from an OLAP cube or a data warehouse.  This flexibility gives you some room to meet diverse business needs – and as you grow and develop as a company, hybridity gives you the options to continue with the same software.  But you should also consider platforms for their ease of use.
Some products are exclusively Excel-based, some are proprietary interfaces, some are browser-based, and there are several that are mixes of these options.  For ease of use, it is perhaps common sense that the Excel add-in solutions will be the easiest to implement – the software has nearly been ubiquitous around the globe for decades now.  Proprietary platforms require you to learn a new set of formulas and coding outside of the familiar Excel interface, which might mean more training and/or consulting dollars, depending on the learning curve.  Web-based solutions are relatively new, but definitely picking up speed.
Web reporting, dashboards, and more recently, budgeting solutions are building momentum as they allow for management and analysis of your data from anywhere you have an internet connection.  And some solutions are Excel-powered on the web, meaning that you can build reports, budgets, and dashboards using familiar and flexible Excel formatting.  Web portals and even newer mobile applications are truly a combination of all three core competencies when Excel drives the experience: easy to use because of the Excel formulas, flexible due to nearly-anywhere access, and organically collaborative with contributions from anywhere you have the internet or your mobile devices.  Again, hybridity is going to be a key feature of the best solutions.  Imagine if you can run your analytics from your office, a coffee shop with Wi-Fi, AND anywhere you carry your smart phone.  Now, let’s discuss a final big picture combination of easy-to-use, flexible, and collaborative: a suite of BI tools.
Some ISVs bring a comprehensive suite of BI solutions that you can buy all at once – or one piece at a time.  A complete suite means that the tools are fully integrated, with only one team of partner, consultant, and support professionals.  Maybe you are looking for a budgeting tool right now, but a few years down the line, you might need a reporting tool.  If you go with a solution that is positioned within a full BI suite, you won’t have to find a tool from another third party manufacturer – or replace the budgeting program for a fully integrated one in the same suite. Solver will be at the Dynamics GPUG Summit and would be happy to answer any questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use, comprehensive BI suite for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities that will accelerate your Microsoft Dynamics GP experience.
On Thursday, October 16th at 10:45am CT, Solver presents “A Powerhouse in BI! – Excel and Web-based Reporting, Budgeting and Dashboards for Dynamics GP” at the 2014 Microsoft Dynamics GPUG Summit in St. Louis, MO.

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