This article will discuss data warehouses, both in general and specifically for non-profit organizations, who are seeking to expand their Intacct analytical processes.

In the world of business today, data is everywhere, perhaps especially for non-profit organizations.  Because data informs decision-making, and non-profits are working hard to stay on budget and/or on track with donors, grants, members, and so on, data warehouses can be really impactful to Business Intelligence (BI) processes.  I know I had questions about data warehousing when I first heard of the product category, so you might, too.  This article will aim to provide you the answers to general and specific questions about data warehouses for managing and analyzing your non-profit data with Intacct.

Define it.  To start, you should know that a data warehouse is a multi-dimensional database.  Too abstract?  Data warehouses can also be described as virtual storage spaces or server-staged databases, which run on a shared server or their own.  Just as a point of comparison, external hard drives provide you a place to house multiple file types and software whereas modern data warehouses offer you a space to store diverse operational and transactional data sets.  One more way to conceptualize a data warehouse: if you took an Excel spreadsheet and made it three-dimensional, you could structure your transactional and operational data in consolidated, efficient, and impactful ways, which is exactly what a data warehouse does, avoiding error in easy-to-use technology.  Modern commercial data warehouses are managed by a technical database management system, like Microsoft SQL Server Visual Studio or Solver’s own technology for warehouse management, appropriately named the BI360 Data Warehouse Manager, with an easy-to-use platform and positioned within the BI360 Suite.
Implementation.  In terms of implementation and automation, commercial data warehouses typically come “out of the box,” meaning that it is a simple deployment, then a replication of your organizational data from Intacct and other data sources.  A consultant with expertise in extraction, transferal, and loading (ETL) of your data will install your data warehouse, then automate the ETL processing from your databases.  If you’re a savvy shopper, you will select a data warehouse with a pre-built integration directly to the Intacct Cloud.  Next, a consultant who can help you simplify and optimize your financial reporting, planning and data visualization processes will train you on how to effectively pull data from your warehouse for reports, budgets, and dashboards you rely on to make better decisions about the future of your non-profit organization.  Once the data warehouse is configured and you are trained, business end users across the organization can oversee the technology without IT department involvement.
Why?  Not every non-profit will want or need a data warehouse, and there is not really an exact indicator that you need one.   But if you think about how much fundraising has changed for non-profits in the past 15-20 years, you know that you’ve moved from direct mail and special event fundraising to online and mobile giving, social media marketing, e-newsletters and more in addition to the traditional methods.  This is all generating data that you have to pull together, usually from disparate systems with a program like Excel.  Data warehouses can assist in avoiding error, wasted time and money, and just the general frustration of manual documentation.  Additionally, if the Intacct server is slow because your team is pulling big data sets, sometimes simultaneously, a data warehouse offers a stable, high performance without making the ERP system or operational databases sluggish.  Simply, the answer to why is that a data warehouse can easily allow you to craft more robust, well-rounded reports, budgets, and dashboards because you are pulling information from multiple systems like CRM, payroll, and membership systems – all from one place.
How do they compare to OLAP cubes?  When it comes to storing your diverse data, a lot of BI solutions suggest or require an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube, so you might be wondering why not an OLAP cube?  OLAP cubes are not transactional SQL server databases, so maintaining the technology entails personnel with an OLAP-specific skill set and experience, such as fluency in MDX query language, because of their technical complexity.  Furthermore, analytical data is the output for multiple cubes, as opposed to transactional information.  Data warehouses are organized by topic in a single database, and you can replicate multiple, varied kinds of data to the business user friendly, dynamic platform for flexible management and evaluation of your data with your BI modules.
Management.  Business end users can manage modern, commercial data warehouses.  Configuring and automating the replication of your non-profit organizational data is simple, whether it is a one-time push or an established, more regular process.  You can also pull data with the click of your mouse.  Because many data warehouses are Microsoft SQL Server relational databases, organized by subject, like donors, volunteers, and administration costs, IT does not have to be involved.  Data warehousing naturally provides cross module analytical and financial consolidation functionality by housing a number of different kinds of data from diverse sources.  They typically do not require transactional processing, concurrency control mechanisms, or recovery, besides backing up your database, because they stand on their own.  Data warehouses are often equipped with dimension trees and attributes, adjustment functions, like integration techniques, currency conversion, eliminations, and data cleansing to ensure more efficient processes.  You can also employ a data warehouse to assist in the migration of your data from an older accounting system to Intacct.  Instead of converting years of historical information over to Intacct, you can house this data in a data warehouse and produce a historical analysis there – and bring the last period’s closing balances, as an example, over to Intacct.
Data is continuing to exponentially grow in amount and significance for organizational decision-making, perhaps especially for non-profits.  Because of this, data warehouses will continue to become more relevant and popular, particularly because you can consolidate the diversity of your data and the systems that they come from, into one place to upgrade your financial reporting, planning, and data visualizations.  If you’d like to depend on one technology to bring all of your data into one high performance space without involving IT in management of the software, data warehouses can offer you the solution.  Solver offers a fully built, configurable Microsoft SQL Server-based data warehouse 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 Warehouse solution that enables collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for your Intacct experience as a non-profit organization.