In 2014, a good financial report writer is essential for any company that is committed to growing into a mature, competitive organization. However, this article is about understanding the spectrum of features and options, so that picking the best financial reporting tool is easier for any company or finance team that is using Microsoft Dynamics GP.
A financial report writer generates customized reports utilizing financial figures from a data source, whether that be from a data warehouse, an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube, or directly from Microsoft Dynamics GP or a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. GP has its own built-in report writer, simply called Report Writer, and there’s also the now retired Microsoft FRx or its replacement, Management Reporter (MR). However, a number of modern third party reporting tools on the market allow finance teams to create customized, reusable report templates that speak to whatever corporate decision-makers need to understand the state of the organization and then, make informed plans to move the company forward. When searching for a report writer to work with Dynamics GP, there are several things to consider, from data source access options to proprietary software versus Excel or web-based platforms and the ease of learning and implementing for business users, among other things. Dynamics GP has had its own built-in Report Writer since its inception, but there are articles and blog entries all over the Internet complaining about its limited functionality. Most finance teams have at least moved on to Microsoft’s FRx, a reporting tool it acquired in the late 1990’s, which has now been replaced by Management Reporter. Both are initially free to use, with additional licensing and consulting fees, but are limited to General Ledger reporting that is not Excel or web-based. If a company is going to spend money on licenses, consulting, and/or support, there are several options on the market that are easier to learn than FRx or MR that also offer accounting logic, sub-ledger reporting, live integration to ERPs and CRMs, and have reusable reporting templates. Data access is a critical factor to consider when deciding which financial report writer to purchase. The question is, does the report writer grab data from a data warehouse, an OLAP cube, or some other proprietary staged data source, or does it run reports live from Dynamics GP for real-time analysis? Live integrations mean that the data does not have to be routinely replicated to a separate database, which will cost additional money, whether in development or in the purchase of a data storage product. On the other hand, depending on how many users are running queries in Dynamics to create reports and how large the data queries are, it could create an inconvenient slow-down for everyone involved. FRx and MR, as well as Solver’s BI360, BizNet, and Jet Reports all offer live integrations to Dynamics GP and other systems, while most report writers only offer the option to run reports from a separate reporting database or cube. In addition to making a choice regarding live integration versus a data warehouse or OLAP, it is also important to consider the platform on which the report writer functions. Is Excel worth all the respect it has established over the years? Some Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), usually selling products that have proprietary and/or web-based software, would argue that Excel is a pain when it comes to linking and maintaining spreadsheets and that it is generally unsecure. However, most financial team members have been using Excel since at least college. The formulas and infrastructure of the product are planted deep within the financial world, and furthermore, Excel-based report writers are add-ons that enhance the spreadsheet software, with features that speak to collaboration, security, and period and financial functions. While FRx and MR are not Excel-based, Solver’s BI360, BizNet, and Jet Reports all offer add-ons to the Excel software, making it easy for business users to learn and utilize. Excel has been around for decades, but web-based software arguably represents the trending topic for present-day computing. Web-based software, sometimes referred to as cloud computing, allows for secure data storage with access anywhere there is an Internet connection. In the financial reporting realm, analytical reports can be built and run online, allowing for accessibility, collaboration, and drill-down capabilities. Generally speaking, most of these solutions pull their data from OLAP cubes or data warehouses, so real-time analysis is not always possible unlike with some Excel-based report writers. However, where data should be replicated regularly to data stores, these reports would analyze data that is routinely updated. With today’s global marketplace, companies are made up of many moving parts – and that means around the world and the clock. When it comes to access and collaboration across time zones and outside of the intranet of a company’s headquarters, web-based reporting makes a lot of sense. Adaptive Insights, Prophix, deFacto, and Bio Analytics all offer web-based reporting modules, and BI360 also offers the opportunity to run web-based reports with drill-down capabilities in addition to their Excel-based solution. Web is an attractive platform, but in terms of building reports, understanding how business user-friendly a product is will be key to selecting the right product. If the web is the present, mobile reporting is the future. While a report writer that allows the user to design financial reports on a mobile phone is not currently in production and may not be desirable due to the size of mobile screens, Business Intelligence (BI) software manufacturers are racing to provide a mobile application that are capable of running reports with drill-down capabilities. There are already a number of mobile dashboards so financial report apps seem to be a natural next step for BI vendors. Web-based reporting paved the way for this accessible platform, as more smartphones connect the personal and professional spheres in one device. As this is not a fully functioning reporting module, search for the report writer that best meets the needs of the organization and view the mobile application as a perk – for now, anyway. More manufacturers are going to want to offer mobile accessibility as smart phones permeate the culture, and the companies that already have a mobile component have a head start on developing their application, based on the needs of the modern finance team. Searching for the best report writer for Dynamics GP has a lot to do with the needs of the company and more specifically, the finance team. It is an important search and decision-making process. Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Excel, web, and mobile platforms for real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis and collaboration, with the option of email distribution of reports, as the best report writer for Dynamic GP.