For Microsoft Dynamics GP Customers, Choosing The Right BI Tool is Key to Improved Decisions


Companies looking for ways improve to business performance in today’s trying economic times need to have access to the right information to make better, faster, fact-based decisions.
One way companies, like those using Microsoft Dynamics GP, can make the right business decisions is by starting to invest in the latest Microsoft business intelligence (BI) tools like Management Reporter, Office 2010, and SQL Reporting Services, according to Nils Rasmussen, CEO of Solver Inc., a Microsoft Business Intelligence partner.
Speaking at a GP User Group webinar, Rasmussen said companies that invest in BI tools will drive employee productivity as well as performance and ultimately outperform their competitors.
However, Rasmussen said BI tools can’t do much good if companies don’t know how to properly take advantage of them. Every aspect of business performance from formulating an initial strategy through budgeting, resource allocation, forecasting, reporting, scorecarding/dashboards and analysis, has the potential to utilize BI tools to help organizations gain a competitive advantage and improve business efficiencies.
Rasmussen detailed the Microsoft BI technologies that companies, especially smaller to mid-market companies running Dynamics GP, could use to improve their business processes.
PowerPoint, especially the latest version in Microsoft Office 2010, can help map the tactics and goals of a company’s corporate strategy, he said.
And Microsoft’s new Management Reporter, which is replacing Forecaster, and FRx, Microsoft’s financial and reporting analysis software, are both good tools to use to store and manage KPI (key performance indictor) targets like revenue or customer satisfaction scores. ISVs offer a variety of tools for managing KPIs, and companies that want to keep things simple, can also organize their KPIs in Excel, he said.
Today, companies can use the Forecaster and FRx software for budgeting, but because those tools are going away, businesses should really think about implementing Management Reporter, which will be Microsoft’s budgeting and forecasting tool beginning around 2012, he said.
“Right now if you want a pretty decent budgeting tool you would look at Forecaster. It has a SQL database to store budget items and it can link over into FRx to read the general ledger portion of the budget from the Forecaster database and mix it with the actuals to give you variance reports,” Rasmussen said. “That’s today, but both Forecaster and FRx are legacy tools and Microsoft has already launched Management Reporter, so that’s the alternative for all your budgeting and your forecasting. Of course, you also have Excel, the world’s most popular budgeting tool.”
“Roadmap-wise, Management Reporter is definitely the one you should be heavily evaluating,” he said. “In the future, Management Reporter is also supposed to be for reporting on your sub ledgers, not just the general ledger like FRx, which is great because then you can have one report writer for all your data in GP instead of several.”
Rasmussen said Microsoft is also promoting SQL Reporting Services for report writing, especially for sub ledger reporting on GP as well as any other SQL database.
“It’s a tool that Microsoft is spending a lot of money on and I would make an educated guess and say the development team behind SQL Reporting Services is probably quite a bit larger than the team behind Management Reporter,” he said. “SQL Reporting Services has a lot of functionality and Microsoft has built that tool to be almost a Swiss Army knife because it can do a lot of things.”
However, Rasmussen said the drawback to SQL Reporting Services is that it’s still a technical tool and companies would need an IT person to write the report instead of a business person, which would be the case with FRx and Management Reporter.
Excel is also a good modeling tool for companies to develop various revenue scenarios. “There are surprisingly few modeling tools in the ISV space and not even Microsoft labels itself as having modeling tools,” he said. “But the most obvious thing is you can do it in is Excel, the world’s most popular modeling tool. It’s up to you to create some good, well organized, smart models that make it quick to create scenarios that give you valuable output.”
Data warehousing is also a very important capability that ought to force small to mid-size GP customers to think about the data beyond the GP database.
“GP is not a data warehouse,” he said. “The more stuff you squeeze in there that’s not part of the financials, the more you fill up the GP database. So it’s not a bad idea to have a data warehouse outside of GP and that normally means in a Microsoft SQL Server database. Then you can link it to GP and to any other database you have.”
Another tool for data warehousing is Microsoft’s new PowerPivot.
“You need Office 2010 and Excel 2010 for Power Pivot,” he said. “It’s a pivot table on steroids. It looks like a pivot table but it has a new menu that makes it easy to slice and dice the data. It puts power in the hands of every end user to do analysis. It’s power to the masses or BI to the masses.”
But Rasmussen said the key tool that Microsoft is pushing is Management Reporter, mainly because it uses an intuitive approach to report design, a new architecture with 64-bit support and a familiar user interface-and business users can create their own reports with the help of an IT person.
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