In the Business Intelligence world, today’s powerful, accessible dashboards are helping Manufacturing and Distribution companies understand company data for better decision-making.

According to Software Advice, a comparison site for Business Intelligence (BI) tools, dashboards are king in the BI technology marketplace. Their study focused on technology for CFOs, and results indicated that dashboards, scorecards, and performance management software are the number one priority for executives today.  If you are managing a manufacturing and distribution organization, you know how fast-paced business can be.  Dashboards offer easy-to-understand, quickly digestible analyses.  More specifically, dashboards range from graphs and charts to scorecards, illustrating data trends, success, and challenges with key performance indicators (KPIs) for projects, departments, and/or the whole company.

Much like the dashboard you look at all the time in your car, professionals can make significant decisions by looking at operational and transactional data trends in a BI data visualization.  The main distinction between a vehicular dashboard and a BI dashboard is that the BI product offering allows for interaction and interpretation, for more in-depth adjustments and analysis.  Furthermore, BI dashboards offer drill-to and drill-down functionality, so you can make data-enriched decisions about your manufacturing and distribution organization’s future.  Alright, alright – I could go on and on about dashboards, but you get it.  Dashboards are quite prevalent in the business world right now – and for good reason.  This article will explore data visualizations for manufacturing and distribution companies.

Let’s start with data source integrations.  Modern dashboard solutions can integrate your company data from multiple sources.  You can produce real-time analytics by integrating directly from Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and/or accounting systems or other data sources.  Dashboards generated from live integrations are preferable for professionals who rely on up-to-date information as well as smaller organizations that really only need less complicated accounting system data visualizations, without the resources to maintain BI databases, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse.  However, larger companies typically require a high performance and stability that a BI data store can provide for analytics.

Choosing to integrate from a data warehouse or an OLAP cube enables bigger companies to produce data visualizations without slowing down the data source system server because of simultaneous and/or significant data queries.  An investment in a BI data store is an additional requirement, as well as the task of replicating your data to the cube or data warehouse, but your data queries won’t make your system server sluggish.  What’s even better is that some dashboard software give the user the choice of a live integration when you have more urgent analytics, with real-time information like when tracking customer orders, and querying data from a BI data store for more regular dashboards, like employment and staffing.  This flexibility is extremely helpful and valuable, without having to be too pricey.  And there’s plenty more to consider when seeking the right solution for your company.

You have options when it comes to the software platform: Excel, web, and/or proprietary.  It is undeniable how internationally popular Microsoft Excel has been for finance teams, but there are also proprietary interfaced tools on the market and the web as the new cool kid on the technology scene.  On top of all that, some data sources have data visualization functionality built right in, although they are usually restricted in their functionality, basically because dashboards are not the software’s main purpose.  Nowadays, the premier data visualization solution for most companies will be on the Web, with web-based design and accessibility from anywhere you can connect to the internet.  The Web has proven to be increasingly more popular for BI technology platforms.

Web-based software is extremely attractive today because of how accessible and flexible an internet platform can be for the business world, whether used for manufacturing and distribution or not.  If your team manages multiple plants, warehouses, and/or distribution centers, consists of road warriors, and/or with executives looking for a web interface, several third party software manufacturers are bringing web-based dashboard solutions to market, hosted in the Cloud or on-premises, designed with the same drill-down capabilities, KPIs, and layout options.  Mobile data visualization apps are the next phase of this flexibility, translating to data analytics from wherever you carry your mobile device.  Mobile data visualizations are currently only capable of focusing on one KPI at a time because of screen size.  However, there are tools that provide the flexibility of Excel, web, and mobile dashboards.

Some solutions offer the flexibility of more than one access point for data visualizations.  More specifically, there are data visualizations that are positioned with a comprehensive BI suite, fully and securely integrated with financial reporting, budgeting, and/or a data warehouse, oftentimes discounted when packaged with other modules.  All of this means you can interact with one team of partner, consulting, and support professionals for your BI toolbox.  Dashboards can have a big impact on the future of your manufacturing and distribution organization, informing decisions with historical figures and data trajectories.

There are several ways that dashboards can help manufacturing and distribution companies build a stronger future, but let’s discuss a couple of examples.  You can craft a data visualization of sales margins by product or product group, which allows you to visualize margins in relation to the product.  Another great example would involve illustrations of manufacturing output by product, by facility.  This dashboard allows you to evaluate highest output for a particular product – and compare facilities for efficiency.  A final example could zoom in on the largest sales margins by customer, so you can see who is responsible for the most profitability at the least expense to your company.  Dashboards are extremely customizable and powerful in delivering rich information.

If you are part of a manufacturing and distribution organization’s management team, dashboards can help you remain competitive and informed with easily and quickly digestible analyses.  Take the time to evaluate your particular needs in comparison with today’s best dashboard solution offerings in order to invest wisely.  The best tool will be business user friendly, avoiding 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 for manufacturing and distribution management.

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