This article will explore key considerations in regard to features and functionality you should be looking for in a modern, easy-to-use retail dashboard tool for your Microsoft Dynamics NAV experience.

You’re probably not surprised when you hear that dashboards are at the top of the list of most popular Business Intelligence (BI) solutions on the market today.  Gartner did a study in 2013 on Financial Executive International CFO Technology, which delivered the conclusion that dashboards, scorecards, and performance management solutions are the top priority for today’s executives.  Modern retail business culture is more fast-paced than ever, and dashboards deliver quickly digestible and accessible analytics.  Dashboards are graphs, charts, and scorecards that illustrate data trends, successes, and problem areas with key performance indicators (KPIs), whether you are looking at a store, region, product, one corporate department in particular, or the whole company.

Similar to the dashboards you see in a vehicle, corporate decision-makers can evaluate operational and transaction data trends by looking at an illustration of that information.  The primary distinction between a dashboard in your automobile and one you might produce for your retail corporation is that BI data visualizations are interactive, so you can make adjustments for better interpretation.  More specifically, you can use drill-down and drill-to functionality to ensure that your decision-making results in a successful future for the company.  Okay, you get it – dashboards are heavy hitters on the market today, so let’s focus on how you can harness their power for your retail organization, particularly to improve your Microsoft Dynamics NAV experience.
Firstly, you can query data from multiple sources with modern dashboards.  You can produce real-time data visualizations with a live integration from a Point of Sale (POS) system, Microsoft Dynamics NAV or other data sources, which means up-to-the-minute analytics, which are helpful to those who depend on live data – and smaller companies that really only need simple Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system dashboards, without the resources to manage a BI database, like a data warehouse or an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube.  On the other hand, bigger companies typically need more stability and a higher performance that a BI data store can offer dashboards.
data warehouse or OLAP cube integration enables larger organizations to design dashboards without making the accounting or another data source system server sluggish due to substantial and/or simultaneous data queries.  You will be avoiding a slowdown of your Dynamics NAV server, but you will first be making an additional investment and regularly replicating your data to the warehouse or cube.  And there are some dashboard solutions that give you the choice of integrating live for more pressing analytical deadlines with real-time data like Point of Purchase and pulling your data from a BI data store for more routine dashboards, like Customer Retention.  This hybridity is affordable, too.  Let’s move on to other elements to consider when shopping for the right tool for your retail needs.
Another foundational consideration:  platform type.  This is an interesting time for the software platform conversation because most finance professionals have been relying on Excel in some capacity since their undergraduate career, but the Web is showing its relevance now and in the future, and then there are also third party software vendors that have their own proprietary platforms that are not at all Excel-powered.  You also can go with the built-in data visualization functionality within most accounting systems, like Dynamics NAV, which are usually restricted in their capabilities since that’s not the primary purpose of the tool.  The best dashboard solution for most corporations will be web-based, so you can access and design data visualization from anywhere you can connect to the internet.
Web-based software is more prevalent than ever due to anywhere access and the flexibility of collaboration that the internet can deliver for business, whether retail or not.  If your organization has multiple locations, travelling professionals, and/or an executive team that is interested in the web as a platform, several independent software vendors (ISVs) offer web-based dashboards, hosted in the Cloud or for management on-premises, still delivering the same layout choices, drill-down functionality and KPIs.  Relatedly, mobile dashboard applications are rolling out, which means that you can access your information from wherever you have a web connection – and now, anywhere you have your mobile device.  One caveat: mobile dashboards currently focus on one KPI due to screen size.  But some great news – there are solutions that offer you the accessibility and flexibility of Excel, web, and mobile dashboards.
There are some tools that provide you the ultimate flexibility in terms of the hybridity in how you access your data and analytics.  Some dashboard tools are part of a complete BI suite, fully and securely integrated with financial reporting, planning, and data warehousing, at times even discounted when bought as a package, which translates to only one team of consultant, partner, support, etc.  Dashboards can play a big role in shaping your retail company’s future, rooting decisions in actual figures and business trends.
Retail dashboards are regular executive data visualizations, looking at the big picture and more summarized, aggregated sales information with General Ledger (GL) data and sometimes, with various other types of data, like inventory.  These dashboards are typically ordered by product, region, and store or business unit.  More operational data visualizations are refreshed frequently, most times depending on a data warehouse or an OLAP cube, but sometimes, they are also live integrations.  These dashboards tend to zoom in on sales by professional, region, store, and/or product – and allow you to drill-down to the transactional level, which sales professionals can use for tracking metrics and goals.  Dashboards vary in their focus, but some retail examples involve gross margin, cost of goods sold, customer satisfaction, incremental sales, point of purchase, average purchase value, customer retentions, sales per square foot, etc.  The actuals in dashboards usually are tied directly to sales forecasting, which supports the value of a BI suite.
If you are part of a retail company that is in good health, dashboards are analytical solutions that your executive team wants – and all members of your organization can easily read and understand, so analyzing your goals and what current products can offer you is essential, so you can invest in the best solution for your corporation.  You should only consider dashboard solutions that are easy-to-use for business end users, without having to involve the IT department.  Solver offers an Excel and web-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 retail organizations using Microsoft Dynamics NAV.