Professional Services Dashboards with Dynamics AX
This article discusses dashboard solutions for Professional Services organizations hoping to expand their Microsoft Dynamics AX analytics.
We’re all collecting data – stacks and stacks of data. How do we use this data to make it worthwhile? It often comes down to dashboards and data visualizations including charts and graphs. According to Gartner’s survey on financial Executive International CFO Technology, dashboards and scorecards are top priorities in terms of software that executives are seeking. Companies are bombarded with useful information every day, but they often find it challenging to consolidate the information into digestible bits that can be utilized and implemented. Because business is constantly changing and moving quickly, analytics that are accessible and easily digestible is essential. With dashboards, you have access to graphs, charts, and scorecards that illustrate trajectories, victories, and challenges through key performance indicators (KPIs) and your information to effectively keep a project or the entire company on track.
Business Intelligence (BI) dashboards differentiate themselves by being flexible, inviting interaction with your analytics to achieve the strongest interpretation of your professional services company’s well-being. Your company can get to the important metrics you need to make smart decisions from dashboards. Now that we’ve discussed why data visualizations are so important, let’s focus on the features that can complement your Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP system with accessible, powerful dashboards.
Dynamics AX is typically aimed at the mid-market and enterprise sectors and is a multi-language, multi-currency ERP system, making AX the most full-featured and configurable version of the Dynamics product family for a wide range of industries such as retail businesses, manufacturing companies , and professional services. With dashboards, specifically with a third party product, you typically have the ability to pull information from more than one system. You can also generate real-time analytics by running live from Microsoft Dynamics AX, a Point of Sale (POS) system or other data sources. This allows users to analyze and understand the health of the company at the very second you run the dashboard, which is extremely helpful when decision makers need real-time information. This is also helpful for mid-sized companies that need simpler Enterprise Resource Planning (RP) system data visualizations, without the tools to maintain a BI database, like a data warehouse (DW) or an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube. On the other hand, larger companies usually require something faster and more robust like a BI data store than integrating live from AX.
A DW or an OLAP cube integration enables larger Professional Services companies to produce dashboards without making the AX server sluggish. A BI data store integration offers a more powerful analysis, but you will have to invest in the DW or OLAP cube and replicate your data from Dynamics AX and other sources to the data store. Also, a data store allows you to keep other kinds of data in one space. Some independent software vendors (ISVs) make it easy for you to choose how users would like to integrate their information. Let’s think about a few options that allow you to generate dashboards live from AX and/or query data from a data store that will be the best tool for you and your company. Modern third party dashboard tools function on various technology platforms. Some ISV data visualizations run on a proprietary platform. These depend on a third party interface that might require a sufficiently great learning curve for your organization and your team who are Excel experts. Some of these are graphically impressive, but have their own set of formatting and formulas you will have to learn. Excel add-ins are the next option.
Software that have Excel add-ins might be the easiest choice to implement due to how business user friendly they are and how familiar the Microsoft’s spreadsheet program, formats, features, and functions are for many people who already know Excel very well. Excel’s dashboards can be produced in the spreadsheet, but as mentioned before, data visualizations are important to executives, so there are plenty of ISVs producing more powerful solutions. This next option is gaining popularity in the Dynamics AX world.
Organizations are looking for Web-based tools, including browser-based dashboards, because they provide access from anywhere you have internet access. More ISVs are building browser-based dashboards, both on-premises and/or in the Cloud, offering users the same drill-down functionality and key performance indicators (KPIs). Mobile dashboard applications are being created for professionals who are on-the-go. There are only a few ISVs creating mobile dashboards, with screen size limiting it to one chart or KPI at a time. With that said, some software offer a solution by joining Excel, Web, and Mobile types of data access.
Professional Services companies should seek dashboard functionalities that strengthen them to track metrics, such as expenses, revenues, margin, and utilization by agent, client, consultant, project, project manager, type of service, etc. I recommend that you invest in a dashboard tool that offers you the flexibility your specific Professional Services team needs to focus on the data you rely on to make smart decisions about the future. Furthermore, Microsoft Dynamics AX 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.
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