Automation is the functionality that makes all modern BI features that much more valuable. This article will discuss automated budgeting and reporting for Dynamics NAV as a way to more efficiently analyze company data, so you can get to the other tasks on your plate.
Articles about reporting and budgeting for Microsoft Dynamics NAV are all over the place – in print, on LinkedIn, in search results. In fact, I have written about reporting and budgeting, specifically for Dynamics NAV, on this blog before. I would imagine that someone who reads these articles might have a subconscious response to the authors: “Maybe you think that generating reports and putting together budgets – and reading about them – is all I do for a living.” If this is the case, I understand the sentiment.
Sometimes, with all the text available about these important data management and analysis processes, it might seem like reading, shopping for, and implementing business intelligence (BI) solutions could be a full time job. However, the tools on the market today are meant to actually eliminate the tedium of manually building reports and budgets, whether in Excel, natively in Dynamics NAV, or within a third party, proprietary interface, so that you can get to the abundance of tasks that round out your job.
Dynamics NAV is an established, powerful, and increasingly more popular enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. That said, no product can be all things to all users. I’ve spoken to a lot of NAV customers who have asked why they should be looking outside of their trusted accounting system to spend additional money to manage an additional product for reporting and/or budgeting. I used to get into the conversation about building a best-of-breed product for individual company needs and goals, but now I generally refer them to Solver CEO Nils Rasmussen’s article about Microsoft’s BI stack versus third party solution implementation. I’ve discussed a variety of features and functionalities that incentivize an investment in independent software vendor (ISV) offerings, but there’s an element that makes the rest perhaps even more valuable.
On this blog, we have explored live reporting versus data storage source integrations, reporting beyond the general ledger (GL), options for BI in the cloud versus on-premises, financial consolidations, ad hoc reporting and project budgeting, among several other facets of today’s BI solutions. Over the course of my own discovery about the marketplace, I have emphasized what I believe to be the most important element in any purchase: ease of use. Business user friendliness has applied itself to automation. Automation allows the finance team member to get back to the other responsibilities that are consistently stacking up on their to-do list.
In terms of Dynamics NAV, like with most ERP systems, there aren’t any truly fancy or modern native reporting or budgeting tools to meet today’s data analysis needs. Report Writer is the built-in designer for financial reports. There is also the option to utilize the budget input within the accounting system. Both are naturally limited in their features and functionalities: Report Writer lacks the formatting and calculation abilities of an Excel tool; SSRS reporting tends to be too technical as it requires you to know SQL tables to write a report; and budgeting within NAV is more like Journal Entries without customizable budget forms like Excel offers. Therefore, automation becomes a functionality that takes the processes you already dread in your current analytics and does them for you, as you prescribe – in a more modern, intuitive, and streamlined way.
In some ways, automation functions not just as a feature, but also as an assistant whose primary function is to generate regular or routine reports, including budget updates. Automation as a functionality is something you will not find in Excel, Dynamics NAV’s native modules, or more mature, simpler third party products. This article will explore the options to automate BI reporting and budgeting processes offered exclusively in modern, powerful, and dynamic ISV solutions.
Let’s tackle reporting first. There are products that offer to automate report scheduling, and that includes e-mail distribution. Imagine setting the pattern of distributing a revenue-by-employee report, and the reporting tool goes about running the report and e-mailing out every Tuesday at 10 AM. The only time you would have to get involved again would be to make any changes to the process, whether it be timing, key performance indicators (KPIs), or who is on the distribution list. Additionally, with certain solutions, you can automate the generation of report books. For example, you can set up the automated generation of a whole month-end package of financial statements in a single Excel workbook. It is this kind of expansive work being done – for you, by automation functionality – that will free up your time however routinely you have to put together reports.
Automation also extends to the management of multiple subsidiaries under a parent company umbrella. You can automate your financial consolidations, including currency conversion and eliminations, across either multiple companies or even across Dynamics NAV and other ERPs that may be relied upon in certain subsidiary companies. The flexibility of automated reporting is a supreme benefit – and brings us back to ease of use.
Easy to use, accessible, reliably powerful and intuitive – these are characteristics you should be seeking in any BI solution, including reporting and budgeting. And this extends to the perk of automating your reports and budgets. You want to look for automated out-of-the-box integration with friendly field names, so business users, as opposed to the IT department, can write their own financial reports. There is also the option, for mid-sized or larger NAV customers that require more powerful BI reporting speed, to automate a data warehouse configuration for deployment in days, not weeks or months. All this – and we haven’t even gotten to budgeting.
Budgeting is a process that I assume is the opposite of fun for anyone. Therefore, automation of any part of the budgeting process is naturally going to be a sweet offering in the ISV marketplace. Some third party solutions empower the business user to automate the budgeting process with user-friendly, customizable Excel or web-based budget forms, with easy loading of the completed budget or forecast back into Dynamics NAV. While automation might seem like a non-essential luxury, for others, it means potentially less payroll and more productivity.
Automating reporting and budgeting processes seems like more of a service than a feature, and that is definitely the beauty of this nearly hands-off functionality. Not every ISV product will come equipped with this feature, so it will be important to do your research. Solver would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Excel, web and mobile reporting and budgeting solutions, equipped with automation to make collaborative, streamlined decision-making that much easier.