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 AXUG Summit.

Hosted in October every year, The Microsoft Dynamics Summit is about to be in full swing.  Attendees are flocking to the conference with the intent of upgrading their data management and analytics.  User groups under the Dynamics umbrella, like NAVUG, GPUG, CRMUG, and AXUG, are coming together to discuss and compare best practices, Independent Software Vendor (ISV) products, and crafting their own best-of-breed solution for heightened efficacy, a more dynamic workflow, and an effect on the bottom line.  In this article, I will focus on shopping for the best Business Intelligence (BI) solutions for your team’s specific business needs, with special attention on the premier features and functionalities of the best ISV software for Microsoft Dynamics AX.

Let me first say that I approach this search with two ways to evaluate options: core competencies and feature differentiations.  Core competencies are the bigger picture elements that should guide you in the direction of selecting products that accelerate processes and speak to particular business needs or goals for Dynamics AX customers.  Feature differentiations refer to more differences in software specifications and functionalities.  Both frameworks should and easily can function as a guide for your experience at the Dynamics AXUG Summit.  Let’s begin with core competencies.
Core competencies you should shop for in a third party product to help you craft the best-of-breed Dynamics AX experience that you need include ease of use, flexibility, and collaboration.  Firstly, if you are going to put time, money, and energy into implementing software, you should invest in a tool that is not too difficult for your staff to use.  Otherwise, you will have to involve the IT department to maintain the product – or you might have to replace the “solution” before the end of the shelf life, which is a waste of your time, money, and energy.  At the AXUG Summit, look for a true solution that is user friendly for business professionals, so you don’t have to rely on the IT department.  Flexibility is all about your access options for management and analysis of company data on the go.  More specifically, shop around for products that offer both on-premises and web accessibility, with a mobile application being a newer bonus.  As for collaboration, this is an important facet of organizational success – software should naturally and securely offer collaboration as a key functionality for BI processes.
Core competencies are higher level ways for evaluating ISV software to enhance your Dynamics AX experience.  This article will utilize core competencies as a framework to get a better understanding of specific features and functions of today’s best BI tools.
Appropriately up first: integrating your data.  On this blog, I’ve written about depending on a live integration from Dynamics AX  or relying on a BI data storage source, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse.  It is still a vital and perhaps even fundamental aspect to deciding on a product to implement.  If your company is smaller in size, with fewer Dynamics AX users or tend to need real-time analytics, integrating live from AX is going to be your best bet.  However, if your company is bigger with a larger number of AX and BI users, who might be querying data at the same time, this can make the AX server sluggish, so BI data stores provide a high performance integration method.  For example, a customizable data warehouse is a fully built option to keep multiple kinds of data in one place, with consolidation functionality organically built into the product.
Some solutions give customers the hybridity of both integration types.  While this is not common, there are some tools that invite you to integrate live from Dynamics AX and/or query data from a BI data store.  This flexibility allows you to deal with varied analytics needs – and should you grow into the company you hope to be, this hybridity will continue to serve you when both integration options become requisite.  Beyond that, you should also evaluate how the platform ranks in terms of ease of use.
Some ISV tools are specifically Excel-powered, some are web-based, some are proprietary, and then there are several that are a combination of these options.  In terms of business user friendliness, Excel add-ins are perhaps the obvious choice for implementation because of Excel’s established popularity around the world for decades.  Proprietary interfaces require the user to acclimate to formatting and coding that is simply not the familiar Excel, which could translate to more money spent on training and/or consulting.  The web is building momentum as the newest software platform.
Financial reporting, dashboards, and most recently, budgeting software are becoming extremely popular in the Cloud as they enable professionals to access, manage, and analyze company data from anywhere with an internet connection.  Furthermore, a few ISVs are equipping their web portals with Excel-like formatting.  Web portals and some more recent mobile applications are bringing all three core competencies together to accelerate Dynamics AX: Excel brings the ease of use to users, almost-anywhere access contributes the flexibility, and secure contributions from anywhere you have the internet naturally makes collaboration possible and impactful.  I’ll say it again: hybridity is going to provide you the options you need in this era of business.  Envision the reality that modern software can bring you and your team: generating reports, dashboards, or even budgets from the office, a coffee shop in the airport, AND everywhere else you bring your smart phone or tablet.  Finally, seek flexibility in a suite of easy-to-use, flexible, and collaborative BI tools.
Some third party manufacturers offer full suite of BI tools that you can buy as a complete package – or one module at a time.  A comprehensive suite specifically means that the tools are completely integrated, with just one team of partner, consultant, and support specialists.  Maybe you are shopping for a financial reporting solution this year, but down the line, you might see the need for a budgeting tool.  If you go with a stand-alone report writer, you will have to deal with a whole other team – or replace the reporting tool for one that is part of a suite that also includes a budgeting solution.  Solver will be at the Dynamics AXUG 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 AX experience.
On Friday, October 17th at 9:30am CT, Solver presents “BI360 – Excel and Web-based Reporting, Budgeting and Dashboards for Dynamics AX” at the 2014 Microsoft Dynamics AXUG Summit in St. Louis, MO.

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