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It is important to understand the BI offerings on the market today to boost your reporting, budgeting, and dashboard functionality with Acumatica.  This article will explore your options, so you can pick the tool that is best for your company.

In a recent report by Gartner, the marketplace for Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics solutions grew 8% in 2013 to a total of $14.4 billion from 2012.  Arguably, this is a gradual growth, but steady nonetheless, which makes good sense.  If you look at the amount of data you and your team manages and analyzes to make better decisions faster in an effort to stay competitive, you would have to agree that real-time or near-real-time, monthly, quarterly, annual, and sub ledger analytics are necessary.  Moreover, the business world is moving away from IT-managed BI solutions to easy-to-use, modern, and powerful reporting, budgeting, dashboards solutions that enhance your Acumatica experience.  This article will discuss the features and functionalities of third party products for Acumatica users in the current BI software marketplace.

It might be best to start with the element of data integration methodology options when discussing best-of-breed tools for Acumatica.  Namely, there are a couple options for you to integrate your data to and from your web-based accounting system and the BI tool.   Few offerings integrate live to Acumatica, some only providing you with real-time analysis (of both the General Ledger and the sub-ledgers) if you’re using the on-premises solution.  When the CFO or someone on the finance or executive team needs an up-to-the-minute report or dashboard, the live integration would be your best route.  Depending how many users are querying substantial data sets, running live from Acumatica can slow down the server.
If you plan to run reports or pull data on a more regular basis like a monthly report, then you can integrate from an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse.  While this method requires data replication to the BI data store, it does provide higher performance reporting, budgeting, or dashboards, especially if the urgency is not there.  Additionally, a data warehouse can provide Acumatica customers with a very powerful consolidation tool as a great way to combine data from the accounting system and other data sources (such as Salesforce, as an example), so you can design reports and dashboards or budget models that use data from multiple sources for a true enterprise BI experience.  Fortunately, there are products that will offer you the flexibility of both integration types.
The more refined BI offerings in the marketplace today offer hybridity in their integrations, for real-time analysis and data store staged management of your company information, whether it be an OLAP or a data warehouse – for accelerated budgeting, consolidations, dashboards, etc.  Flexibility might be a necessity for some companies and over the top for others.  When assessing your needs, consider how many people will be using Acumatica at the same time where a sizable query could make the server sluggish, and how vital the stability and higher performance of a data store integration would be for your team.  The world of BI is primarily focused on how you manage and analyze your data, so you should also zoom out and consider how you want to store your data for your Acumatica experience.
The two main data store options are OLAP cubes and data warehouses.  OLAP cubes can perhaps best be defined as multi-dimensional spreadsheets or databases of information.  Data warehouses are customizable databases that store multiple types of company data.  To manage an OLAP cube, your staff must have personnel that has OLAP experience in order to set up, organize, and manage the data store as they are complex in nature.  In the past, data warehouses were built and developed over time by the IT staff, but are now being offered as complete products.  Additionally, data warehouses are business user friendly, probably because they are comprehensive and manageable by the financial team, as opposed to the IT department.  When shopping for BI software to enhance Acumatica, the data warehouse route is arguable more attractive mainly due the ease of use.  At the end of the day, BI processes should simplify and accelerate workflow instead of slow it down.
The next element for your consideration has to do with whether the product platform is Excel-based or proprietary.  Since, Acumatica is completely web-based, the built-in report writer is also web-based.  However, most finance teams have been using Excel globally since college.  The familiarity of Microsoft’s spreadsheet program might make an Excel add-in BI tool the most valuable choice.  It is rare that BI solutions are Excel-powered when produced for a web accounting system, like Acumatica, but they enrich the accounting system with an Excel report design experience with all of the flexibility and familiarity of layout, calculations, charting and so on, while still letting you run reports in the browser.  On the other hand, proprietary platforms might be powerful tools, but lack the familiarity, meaning potentially more training and consulting dollars.
As flexibility and mobility become more valuable and have paid off for a web-based accounting system like Acumatica, BI products are evolving in the same direction.  As corporations become more global, web-based accessibility is a consumer-driven result for third party tools.  Web-based financial reporting, budgeting and dashboards have empowered professionals to make important analyses and related decisions anywhere they have an internet connection, with some products still offering the power and familiarity of Excel.  If web BI is the present, mobile BI applications are the future.  Should you need to run a report on the go with data from Acumatica, you can find a BI solution that offers a mobile application for your tablet or smartphone.  Multiple tools – or even a comprehensive suite – are a valuable option for you to consider as well.
Let’s say you are only interested in a financial reporting tool right now.  If you think ahead, whether it is 9 months months or 3 years, a full BI product suite means that if a company wants to add a data warehouse down the line, it is fully integrated with the reporting module and doesn’t require a completely separate consultant or support team.  Some vendors also offer discounts for buying more than one product at the same time.  BI is all about planning ahead, so why shouldn’t you do just that when shopping for your solution?
It might seem like a lot to consider, perhaps even overwhelming, but it is important to prepare yourself before investing in such an important tool.  Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s web-powered, easy-to-use Excel and mobile BI tools with both real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis, budgeting and collaboration as a way to accelerate company performance management beyond Acumatica.

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