In this article, today’s dashboard solutions for Microsoft Dynamics SL will take center stage for Professional Services organizations hoping to expand their analytics.

You can call them dashboards or data visualizations, charts, graphs, or scorecards, but it doesn’t matter – they’re nearly ubiquitous.  And that is because if you do a quick search on the internet about the top software priorities, specifically in the BI realm, dashboards are #1 for executives.  Because business is moving faster than ever (or so it seems), analytics that are quickly accessible and easily digestible is essential.  Dashboards deliver just that: graphs, charts, and scorecards illustrate trajectories, victories, and challenges through key performance indicators (KPIs) and your information to effectively keep a project, a department, or the whole organization on track.

The whole gamut of dashboards are pretty popular, whether you’re checking how fast you’re driving, monitoring credit card expenses, or even reviewing any kind of account activity report.  Business Intelligence (BI) data visualizations provide the same sort of data trend intel as these everyday examples, so you can make richer decisions for your Professional Services organization.  BI dashboards differentiate themselves by being adaptable, inviting interaction with your analytics to achieve the strongest interpretation of your professional services organization’s health.  Most BI dashboards have built-in drill-down and drill-to functionality, so you can get to the detailed data you need to make the best decisions.  Now that we’ve discussed why data visualizations are so popular, let’s discuss features and functionalities that can upgrade your Microsoft Dynamics SL tasks into accessible, more dynamic dashboards.
Dashboards can be comprised of data from multiple sources.  If you require real-time analyses, particularly in terms of financials, you can use the native dashboard functionality within Dynamics SL.  Live analytics are a great solution for professional who need up-to-date financials – or smaller teams that can suffice with basic accounting system data visualizations, without the resources to maintain a BI data store, like a data warehouse or an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube.  Bigger organizations, however, usually need more than financial data and a higher performance for their data visualizations, which can be difficult to get with a live Dynamics SL dashboard.
BI data store integrations enable bigger Professional Services companies to produce financial and operational dashboards without slowing down the SL server when querying data for real-time analyses.  If your organization has more than one Dynamics SL user, where data queries might be sometimes simultaneous, BI data stores usually deliver a higher performance.  Replication of your information to the data store is an added step, but it will probably still be quicker, depending on the size of your query.  Also, a BI data store allows you to house other types of data in one space, like clients, consultants, projects, types of service, etc.  Some independent software vendors (ISVs) also incorporate the flexibility to choose how you’d like to integrate your information, depending on the task.
You might relate: some organizations need live analyses for something urgent that requires up-to-date data, but would like to utilize a BI data store for more regular dashboards.  Some execs need real-time operational data analyses, while routine dashboards can and usually are built using an OLAP cube or a data warehouse.  Fortunately, hybrid solutions don’t have to be unaffordable.  And cost is just one of several aspects to consider when looking for the best tool.
One of those aspects: technology platform.  Some ISVs are manufacturing proprietary server data visualizations.  These software are on a platform that has been created outside of Excel.  Proprietary tools might provide aesthetics and power, but since they’re not equipped with Excel formatting, training might take longer for your end users.  Additionally, both Dynamics SL and standard Excel come equipped with charts or basic dashboard capabilities within their interfaces, but are overall restricted in their abilities because data visualizations are not the primary purpose for the software, which explains the popularity of Excel add-ins.
Excel add-in software brings together the spreadsheet program’s familiarity with accelerated and extensive functionalities that empower users to design dynamic, “homegrown” dashboards.  Excel’s built-in charting functions does allow you to create dashboards within a workbook, but ISVs are always producing smarter, more flexible data visualizations for business end user management, as a response to customer demands.  Because Excel add-ins offer business user friendliness, they are probably the easiest to deploy, but web-based offerings deliver the most flexibility for implementation and management to end users.
Web-based tools are the new kids on the block of technology, providing access from anywhere you have internet access – and dashboards are following the trend.  More ISVs than ever are building browser-based dashboards, both on-premises and/or in the Cloud, offering you the same drill-down functionality and KPIs.  Similarly, mobile dashboard applications are extending accessibility for on-the-go professionals.  Decision-making deadlines don’t pause until you are back in the office to review the data, so mobile dashboards apps are offering the solution.  There are only a few ISVs producing mobile dashboards, with screen size limiting the focus to one chart or KPI at one time.  That said, some software offers the ultimate flexibility by combining all three types of data access – Excel, Web, and mobile.
Today, it isn’t common for an ISV tool to be equipped with the flexibility that allows you how you want to access your data and dashboards depending on the task.  And then there are some software solutions that are part of a complete suite of BI tools, providing more flexibility.  Some dashboard tools are discounted when bundled with other tool(s).  The best BI suites are built with completely integrated, secure modules and hopefully, a web portal, but the real business user friendliness is a result of having just one team of sales, consulting, and support professionals for all of the tools.  Savings in your time, energy, and money.
Professional Services organizations should seek dashboard functionalities that empower you to track metrics, such as expenses, revenues, margin, and utilization by agent, client, consultant, project, project manager, type of service, etc.  You usually can establish objectives and project new customer revenue by looking at previous periods.  Basically, you should invest in a dashboard tool that offers you the flexibility your specific Professional Services team needs to zoom in on the data you rely on to make smart decisions about the future.  Furthermore, Microsoft Dynamics SL likely isn’t the only data source you depend on, and you probably have professionals at all levels of the organization who need easily digestible analytics for strong decision-making.  Solver would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s Excel, web and/or mobile-based, easy-to-use dashboards module stand-alone and component in the comprehensive suite of BI modules for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for Professional Services organizations using Microsoft Dynamics SL.

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