This article will discuss the functional and flexible KPI analytics to think about when selecting a powerful, business user friendly retail dashboard solution for your Microsoft Dynamics AX experience.

Is it surprising to you that dashboards are the number one solution in the Business Intelligence (BI) marketplace?  Probably not. Gartner’s 2013 study on Financial Executive International CFO Technology reported that dashboards, scorecards, and performance management solutions are the number one priority for executives today.  The modern retail business moves faster than ever, and dashboards offer easy-to-read, quick-to-digest data analysis.  More specifically, dashboards are charts, graphs, and scorecards that showcase organizational trends, successes, and challenges with key performance indicators (KPIs), whether focusing on a project, a department, or looking at the whole organization.

Much like dashboards you are used to in vehicles, business decision-makers can analyze operational and transactional data trajectories by looking at a visualization of that information.  The main difference between the dashboard in your car and one you might generate for your retail organization is that BI dashboards are interactive, for better adjustment and interpretation.  This translates to drill-down and drill-to capabilities, so your decisions are data-driven for a stronger future.  Now that we’ve established their importance in the marketplace, this article will discuss dashboards for the retail industry, specifically for Microsoft Dynamics AX customers.
First of all, your dashboards can grab information from multiple sources.  You can create real-time dashboards by running live from a Point of Sale (POS) system, Microsoft Dynamics AX or other data sources, providing live analytics, which is beneficial for those who rely on updated data and smaller organizations that only require simpler Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system data visualizations, without the resources to maintain BI databases, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse.  However, larger organizations might require the stability of a BI data store for higher performance dashboards.
An OLAP cube or data warehouse integration empowers bigger companies to craft dashboards without slowing down an ERP system server with simultaneous or more robust data queries.  While BI data stores require a separate investment and a replication of data to the cube or warehouse, the data queries do not slow down the Dynamics AX server.  Additionally, there are some dashboard tools that allow you to decide when you need a live integration (more urgent data analysis, with real-time information like Point of Purchase) and when to reach for stored data (more regularly produced data visualizations like Customer Retention) – hybridity without breaking the bank.  Plus, there’s plenty more aspects to weigh when seeking the best tool for your team.
Another major consideration: Excel, web, and/or proprietary platforms.  This is a major crossroads at this point on the business world’s technology timeline because most professionals around the world have been interacting with Excel since at least undergraduate days, but the web is also absolutely the future, and there are independent software vendors (ISVs) also offering their own proprietary interfaces, outside of the familiarity of Excel formatting.  And there’s also the native graphical scorecard functionality within most ERP systems (Dynamics AX included), which are generally restricted in their abilities because that is not the purpose of the software.  The ideal dashboard application for most companies would be web-based, with the benefits of web design and anywhere, anytime accessibility, and it is important to note that the web is the future – and it has definitely arrived in a big way for BI.
Web-based solutions are more and more relevant because of how accessible and collaborative an internet platform has proven for diverse organizations, retail or not, due to their flexibility.  If your company has more than one location, a team of road warriors, and/or an executive team that wants to move to the web, several third party manufacturers provide web-based dashboards, hosted in the Cloud or for management onsite, still equipped with the same layout options, drill-down abilities, and KPIs.  Similarly, mobile data visualizations are beginning to roll out, meaning that you can access your data from anywhere you have an internet connection OR anywhere you have your mobile device.  However, mobile dashboards are currently zooming in on one KPI, just based on the size of the screen.  More good news: there are tools that provide the definitive accessibility of Excel, web, and mobile dashboards.

There are a few solutions that offer the flexibility of multiple dashboard modalities, due to hybridity in access. Additionally, some dashboards are positioned within a comprehensive BI suite, fully and securely integrated with financial reporting, budgeting, and data warehousing, even sometimes discounted when purchased in a bundle, meaning only one team of support, consultant, partner, etc.  Dashboards can substantially shape the future of your retail organization, grounding decision-making in actuals and business trends.
Retail dashboards are typical executive dashboards, focusing on the big picture and more summarized, combining POS data with General Ledger (GL) information and sometimes with other data like inventory.  These analyses are often organized by region and business unit or store.  More operational dashboards are updated frequently, usually relying on an OLAP cube or data warehouse, but they are also sometime live integrations.  These dashboards tend to focus on sales by salesperson, region, store, and/or product and offer drill-down to transactional level, which are utilized by sales team members and sales managers.  Dashboards can have a variety of focus, but some examples include customer retention, customer satisfaction, point of purchase, cost of goods sold, incremental sales, average purchase value, sales per square foot, etc.  The actuals in data visualizations tend to tie directly to sales forecasting, again supporting the consideration of a BI suite.
If you are a retail organization of a healthy size, dashboards are the analysis format your executive team wants – and all professionals can quickly read and understand, so evaluating your needs and the marketplace offerings is important in order to implement the right solution for your company.  You’re going to want to make sure that the dashboard tool you purchase is business user friendly, without management by the IT department.  Solver offers an Excel, web and/or mobile-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 AX.