Dashboards for Microsoft Dynamics NAV

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When it comes to Business Intelligence, Dashboards are the Most Valued Player these days. This article will explore the features and options, so  you can pick the best Dynamics NAV dashboard solutions for your company’s goals.

Hopefully, you’re aware by this point: dashboards are leading the Business Intelligence (BI) tool marketplace in terms of demand.  Results from 2013’s Financial Executive International CFO Technology study by Gartner proved that dashboards, scorecards, and performance management solutions are the top priority for CFOs.  Today’s fast-paced business demands require that decision-making be user friendly and accessible for all levels of the company – and dashboards or scorecards make company performance analysis straightforward.  More specifically, dashboards are business intelligence visualizations of company data.  Dashboards are scorecards, graphs, and charts that utilize key performance indicators (KPIs) to demonstrate your organization’s trends, successes, and challenges – either collectively, departmentally, or focused on a project.

As you might have guessed, dashboards in the BI world get their name from vehicular consoles that we’re so used to reading at a glance to make informed decisions about how we drive our cars.  Similarly, company decision-makers can get a glimpse of the organization’s trajectory with a quick scan of a graphical scorecard.  Business dashboards, however, are uniquely manufactured for adjustment, and interpretative interaction, with drill-to and drill-down abilities so you can evaluate your input transactional and operational data to make informed choices about the future of the company.  Now that we have established the vitality of dashboards, let’s discuss the variety of technology offerings to consider and understand before investing in a functionality upgrade to Microsoft Dynamics NAV.
Firstly, dashboard solutions can pull their information from disparate sources.  You can produce dashboards live from Dynamics NAV, analyzing real-time data.  This option empowers users to know how the company is performing at the moment they produce the dashboard.  The ability to analyze data in real-time from NAV is optimal when managers, CFOs, or accountants must have real-time reports, as well as smaller organizations that only require the simple ERP dashboards, without the time and money needed to manage a BI databases, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse.  On the other hand, bigger corporations probably need something a little faster and more stable than just integrating live from Dynamics NAV.
An OLAP cube or data warehouse integration allows bigger groups of professionals to generate dashboards without the sometimes slow data queries from NAV for real-time analysis.  The data storage source integration is perfect for high performance BI.  However, replicating data from NAV to the OLAP cube or data warehouse is a requisite.  Pulling from a stable BI data storage source ensures that the Dynamics NAV server does not have to slow down.  At the same time, you can also consider the hybrid solutions that offer both methods.
There are a few solutions for sale that empower the user with the ability to produce dashboards live from NAV and/or pull from a static data source.  Real-time analyses are usually utilized for important operational data reporting, as in inventory or sales analysis where department heads may require up-to-the-minute information.  Other data visualizations only require periodical updates because they are focused on routine analysis (weekly, monthly, quarterly), so utilizing an OLAP cube or Data Warehouse integration is sufficient.  However, software that invites both integration types are obviously going to be more flexible, but not always more costly.  There are additional aspects that you should consider in order to best meet your company’s needs by implementing the right product.
Today’s data visualization solutions work on different technology platforms, and it is a customer essential to comprehend the differences.  Some third party dashboards run on a proprietary server.  These all rely on a vendor-specific interface that can be a potentially big learning curve for those that are used to Excel.  Some products wow with their graphical capabilities, but require an education on unique formatting and functionalities.  Excel and Dynamics NAV come equipped with their own dashboard options, but are organically restricted in their abilities due to the fact that dashboards are not the focus of either product.  But there are add-in products that function within Excel.
Solutions that work within Excel will empower your finance team to work with the nearly universal familiarity of Microsoft’s spreadsheet application, employing formulas and features that most of us already know like the back of our hand.  The native Excel dashboards can be created in the spreadsheet, but because dashboards are the number one BI product for CFOs, there are several vendors manufacturing more powerful options.  Excel add-ins will probably be the most accessible route to take with dashboards because of the ease of use paired with more powerful results, but there are options to meet your around-the-clock, around-the-globe demands more adequately.
Web-powered software solutions are becoming quite popular due to their accessibility and mobility.  Dashboard web options are no different.  There are several web-based dashboard products in the Cloud, or for on-premises installation, building from a variety of visualization choices, with drill-down and KPI analysis – all the while through a web portal that can be securely accessed anywhere with an internet connection.  Relatedly, mobile applications are building momentum.
While web portal dashboards only require an internet connection, mobile dashboards just require that you have a smartphone.  As the marketplace becomes more globally focused, executives are moving around the globe and making business decisions around the clock – and dashboards can inform these choices nearly anywhere.  Dashboard solution manufacturers are taking note, and some are already offering a mobile application.  Because of the mobile screen size, these apps tend to zoom in on just one KPI or chart at a time.  Regardless, you might be in the boat where you want it all when it comes to dashboards – Excel, web, and mobile – and there are options for that as well.
There are a few products on the market that have more than one of the dashboard modalities for increased flexibility, accessibility, and mobility.  Additionally, some of these dashboards are positioned as a module in a comprehensive suite of BI tools, and dashboards are sometimes offered at a discount when purchased in a bundle of other tools.  Suites offer a secure, fully integrated experience – and web portal – with one vendor, one support team, and one consultant for all modules.  Simple?  Absolutely, and it’s all about time saved and ease of use.
Anybody comfortable using Dynamics NAV might be a little resistant to learning new software, and if it isn’t easy to use, why invest at all?  Before committing to a product, make sure that you think your co-workers will be able to effectively generate dashboards without IT assistance.  Today’s dashboard offerings should be easy to implement and use by business users without IT management.  Solver offers an Excel, web and/or mobile-based dashboards module 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 visualization solution for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities with Dynamics NAV.