Hanna Kim
The Importance of Business Intelligence for All Companies and how it Impacts the Beginning of the Year

After the Thanksgiving holiday, I sat down with Solver’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Corey Barak to talk about the importance of business intelligence (BI) for organizations. Corey is our “Chandler” from the television sitcom, Friends. Everybody admires him for his sarcastic humor, intellect, and his sound judgment. Corey manages the day-to-day operations and focuses on maximizing the service quality to our customers and partners.  He has been in the BI industry for 20 years, and started his career at Solver in 1999 as a Senior Business Intelligence Consultant. Outside of Solver, he is a father of two children and a husband. As 2016 is coming to a close, I was pondering on the New Year, and the kind of impact BI may have on companies. As an author of leading BI books, including “Process Improvement for Effective Budgeting and Financial Reporting” and “BI360 Book – The Ultimate How-To Guide,” I thought Corey would be the appropriate person to pick his brain about the importance of BI for any company.

Watch the interview below or read on for the transcript of our conversation.

Kim: “Why is BI important for companies and does the beginning of the year have an impact?”

Barak: “BI is the framework for setting strategy and managing the success and failure of the strategy.  Companies should create a closed-loop process where they set strategy, set the goals for the strategy, put together the budget or the forecast, and constantly review and analyze the actual vs. the budget/forecast of the goals.  If changes need to be made, then the strategy or the goals may need to be modified, which starts the loop over again.  It has an impact on the beginning of the year as the majority of companies are going through their budget process.  If they have a fiscal year that isn’t based on a calendar year, then this would be a chance to do forecasting. They could reforecast based on the strategy. If the strategy has not been set and finalized, then it makes it impossible for managers to put together a budget that should be dependent on the strategy.”

 

Kim: “What are steps to start adding BI for your organization?”

Barak: “The first step is to determine what impacts your business – the revenue growth and profitability -and determine how to measure that. Some manufacturing companies may have areas around manufacturing speeds or getting things out to the market quicker. Find those Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that drive your revenue growth. If you company doesn’t know what they are, the company needs to find out what they are. If they don’t have the data to determine their KPIs, then it is time to look into a BI tool that can bring in data from disparate systems and display them in structured reports and dashboards that are quick and easy to view. Make sure you’re making progress and improving. If you’re not improving and you’re actually declining, this is where you can start reviewing your strategy as things aren’t going the way you planned. Once it is finalized, then determine if this data is easy to access or it takes time to put this together.  Bring that data in, calculate the KPIs, and compare it to your budget or your forecast every month.

 

Kim: “What are some tips that you can share with organizations that are looking into investing in BI?”

Barak: “Find a tool that can bring your financial data and operational data together. Generally, a KPI is not going to be based on just financial data or just operational data, but a combination of the two. Determine the company’s KPIs and then determine the departmental KPIs, and create dashboards for them as well. Concentrate on the company’s KPIs, what really impacts the entire business and then start moving to each department. Find out how to get the data and what the calculation would be for the KPIs. Next step is try to build those, practice them before you put it into the dashboards. Go manually calculate them, make sure it’s trending properly. The next step is building a dashboard. Start early in the process of implementing a BI Tool and if you have a BI Tool, then start the process of strategy and planning early. There should be regular forecasts based on potential changes to the strategy and initiatives.”

*Side note – A KPI stands for a key performance indicator, which is a business metric used to evaluate factors that are important to the success of a company. For example a KPI can be gross margin, turnover, net income, sales by salesperson, and more. There are thousands of KPIs you can use. The key is to find what is important to your company and industry.

 

Kim: “How does Solver use dashboards that other companies may not?”

Barak: “Solver has completely revamped our financial process.  End of 2015, we decided to change the way we report our financials. In 2015 and prior, we would literally get an email with our financials and everyone looked at different values, but there was no determination of what the most important KPIs are to the executives and to managers that will grow the business to drive profitability.  We rebuilt our allocation model in January 2016, so that it would take into account what was truly important and impacts our decision making.  We brought in more data sources.  We finally built KPI’s and dashboards for executives and then we built them for department managers.  This is how we start meetings rather than looking at a financial statement.  Our financial statements are backups now and used mainly if we have a question or need to drill down.  Our KPI’s show comparisons to the budget/forecast and to prior years.  We show 24 and 36-month trends so we know if we are trending up or trending down. We now are able to make decisions immediately because we have the data and analysis at our fingertips.”

Hopefully, this conversation is helpful for your BI needs and for your organization, no matter the size.

Solver enables world-class decisions with BI360, a leading web-based CPM suite made up of budgeting, reporting, dashboards, and data warehousing, delivered through a web portal. Solver is reinventing CPM with its next generation solution. BI360 empowers business users with modern features including innovative use of Excel in the model design process. If you’re interested in learning more, our team is excited to hear about your organizational needs and goals.

Hanna Kim
How Does Business Intelligence for Dynamics GP Benefit My Department?

This article will focus on the benefits of Business Intelligence (BI) for the sales, marketing, human resources, and information technology departments using Dynamics GP.

Photo taken from Shutterstock.

Photo taken from Shutterstock.

Each department has an important role in a company. As a department leader, you may know what your team needs to achieve department-specific goals. BI solutions that cover budgeting, forecasting, reporting, and analyses can help you meet those goals in an efficient and quicker way. For example, at my own company, the current team of department heads includes Nils Rasmussen for Sales, Gina Louie for Human Resources, IT Manager Allan Bacero, and Marketing Director Vanessa Sierra. I will cover four general departments that you would typically find in an organization and explore how a BI tool would help each department.

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Matthew Felzke
Microsoft Dynamics 365 – What It All Means

Nils High ResolutionOn November 1, Microsoft officially released not just one new version of Dynamics, but two.  And there’s the element of moving away from 4 different products and toward one entity or umbrella that has two different offerings, but more importantly, Microsoft Dynamics is moving to the cloud.  What does it all mean for the traditional, on premise implementations of Microsoft Dynamics AX, GP, NAV, and SL?  How do other Microsoft products factor into this development?  What should customers know about connecting some on premise systems, like Business Intelligence applications, to Dynamics 365?  I had the opportunity to have a hearty cup of coffee and conversation with Solver CEO Nils Rasmussen about this major development from Microsoft and the impact it will have on both the technology and business worlds.

Watch the interview below – or read on for the transcript of our conversation. 

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Matthew Felzke
Data Warehousing for Manufacturing Companies using Dynamics AX

Photo taken from Shutterstock

This article will detail the effects of a commercial data warehouse for manufacturing and distribution organizations utilizing Microsoft Dynamics AX for their financials.

Data is the rightful buzzword for this era of business, perhaps especially for manufacturing and distribution organizations trying to meet their roadmap goals.  As data continues to grow in size and significance, data warehousing becomes a related task for modern business.  Even if you know a thing or two about data warehouses, you might have some questions or curiosities about them and how they relate to your manufacturing and/or distribution analytical processes.  Who manages a data warehouse? Are they like anything besides an OLAP cube?  At what point should a manufacturing and/or distribution corporation install one?  Cloud or on-premise?  How do we set up a data warehouse?  As a manufacturing or distribution Microsoft Dynamics AX customer, you likely have at least one of these questions.  This article will do the work of answering some of the more frequently asked questions, so you can more clearly see how data warehousing can be a solution for data management objectives with Microsoft Dynamics AX.

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Hanna Kim
Common Management Reporter Challenges and Alternatives for Microsoft Dynamics AX Users

This article will focus on alternative report writers for Dynamics AX users who share common Management Reporter (MR) issues.

MRAs a regular subscriber to several Business Intelligence (BI) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) user groups, I’ve come across common issues regarding Management Reporter (MR) for those using Dynamics AX. In today’s business world, a modern, dynamic financial reporting tool is extremely important to making smart business decisions while developing your company and brand. This article will discuss the options for investing in a new reporting tool to expand your organization’s Microsoft Dynamics AX experience.

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Hanna Kim
How to Prepare for Your First Dashboard Implementation

This article will discuss the process of preparing for a successful dashboard implementation.

Photo taken from Shutterstock.

Photo taken from Shutterstock.

There is power in storytelling. As humans, we find purpose in moving people to do great things. We use stories to make sense of things whether it’s giving your friend advice or explaining a business concept to your coworker. Well-designed dashboards tell a meaningful story with data in the form of charts, graphs, and scorecards that exhibit trends, opportunities and challenges with key performance indicators (KPIs) for your organization. Many software implementations can be difficult, and only a few companies today achieve “perfect” software implementations on their first try. If you are reading this article because your company recently purchased a dashboard tool or if you are wanting to invest in one, don’t feel discouraged. I’m here to help. In this article, we will discuss preparing for your first dashboard implementation.

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Hanna Kim
Excel- and Web-based Reporting for Microsoft Dynamics GP

This article will discuss your financial reporting options for your Dynamics GP.

reportingdynamicsgpYour organization needs a powerful and dynamic financial reporting tool to help you stay competitive in your industry by managing and analyzing your data without any disruptions. Navigating through Business Intelligence (BI) is much like maneuvering through the streets of a foreign country without a map or any directions. In this article, I will explore Excel-based and web-based financial reporting options, so you are able to select the best reporting tool to navigate your organization in managing and analyzing your data using Microsoft Dynamics GP. Continue reading

Hanna Kim
Why Simple Dashboard Layouts Are Usually the Best Dashboard Layouts

This article will focus on dashboard tips and tricks that enable organizations to understand their company data better for stronger decision-making.

shutterstock_dashboards

Photo taken from Shutterstock.

All companies, no matter the size, benefit from Business Intelligence (BI). Of all BI tools, dashboards are often seen as a top priority especially to Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and other executives. According to Software Advice, a comparison site for Business Intelligence tools, dashboards, scorecards, and performance management software are priority number one for today’s financial executives. Dashboards provide quickly accessible, easily digestible analytics. It is an overview of your key information at a glance. Data Visualizations are graphs, charts, and scorecards that showcase data trends, opportunities, and challenges with key performance indicators (KPIs) for departments, projects, and/or the entire corporation. Making wise decisions is crucial for every organization because it heavily weighs on the company’s performance and condition, but just because an organization uses a dashboard, doesn’t mean it will be successful. In this article, we will focus on why a simple dashboard layout is typically the best kind of dashboard layout.

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Nils Rasmussen
Top Reasons Why Most Companies Are Far From Business Intelligence Nirvana


What happened to the vision of the easy, self-service, one-stop shop business intelligence (BI) capabilities that countless companies across the world have been seeking? After years of investing in new ERP systems, including cloud-based solutions, home-grown data warehouses and even sexy, new dashboard tools, the vast majority of companies are far from BI Nirvana.

The sad truth is that most organizations I talk to have 5 to 7 different reporting tools between their ERP solution, CRM, Payroll, Web site data and other systems. It does not make it better that more than 90% of them do all- or a majority of their budgeting and forecasting processes in manual Excel sheets. Oh, and then the sales team or certain other departments have sometimes implemented an analytics tool to provide them with dashboards and easy ad-hoc analysis. This will often fix short term pain, but it will not take you to BI Nirvana. In some organizations, the IT department has spent a year or more to build a so-called “enterprise data warehouse”, often with only some of their data sources included, such as General Ledger data and Sales data, and most of the time with IT-dependent report writers, OLAP cubes or pivot tables as the only means of reporting on the data.

companiesfarfrombinirvanaSo, what is the status of companies’ BI capabilities as of today? The bad news is that it is far from the BI Nirvana that managers have been dreaming about for years now after watching slick demos from one BI software vendor after another. But, the good news is that things are getting better. You only need to step back and compare your BI capabilities today with what they may have been in 2005, 1995 or, if you were even around in….1985. Chances are that your information workers now have more and better reporting tools available to them. Of course, today you have more data sources than ever, and market dynamics change faster than at any time in history. So, somewhere along the way, business users took matters into their own hands and the result was that…..Excel became the world’s most popular report writer and budgeting solution. But, although Excel is quite user friendly, extremely flexible and familiar to almost every business user on the planet, it was never meant to be an enterprise-wide BI tool. So, how do one get to this utopian place called BI Nirvana? You might need “a little help from my friends” as Joe Cocker sang in his popular rendition of the original Beatles song. In other words, do your homework, talk to your friends both inside and outside your company and educate yourself. Although every organization should stake out their own BI journey based on their needs, available data sources, internal talent, platform strategies (i.e. database type, cloud versus on premise, etc.) and more, a few things seem to fall into a common formula for BI success:

1) Strive for a single BI solution that covers all or most of these: Reporting (financial and operational), budgeting and forecasting, dashboards/analysis and data warehousing. If some key functionality is not covered by the BI suite you select, then make sure it integrates directly with a powerful 3rd party add-on for whatever functionality is missing in the suite. The last thing you need are more reporting tools in your company….so make sure the BI suite eliminates or reduces the need for your other tools.

2) Don’t ignore the power, flexibility and familiarity of Excel. But it should not be a manual Excel model, it should be an Excel add-in that allows you to build reports and input forms that dynamically retrieves and even saves data to a database. Oh, and it should be web-enabled or be able to convert the Excel templates to dynamic, browser-based templates for easy end-user access.

3) Repeat after me: “I promise not to implement more proprietary BI tools with unfamiliar user interfaces and that also may require all my end users to install client software or use Terminal Server or Citrix to access a remote desktop”. Using cloud, hosted or on premise architecture is not the most critical question. What you need to empower your growing number of end users that are seeking BI Nirvana is a single, self-service, web-based BI portal where each user can run reports and drill down to answer their questions without bothering IT or the accounting department, they can enter their budgets and they can discover trends and answer Who? Where? What? questions in interactive dashboards.

4) Finally, and this is a no-brainer….your BI capabilities are only as good as the data available in your BI suite. So, if you don’t have a well-functioning data warehouse yet to give you that sought-after, single version of the truth, start planning for one. You are going to need it if you want to get to BI Nirvana. It is an exciting road ahead for organizations seeking a competitive edge through BI excellence, even if you meet a few bumps along the way. Vendors like Solver with its BI360 solution as well as several other software providers with modern BI suites are continuously investing to help companies’ BI visions come true. Good luck on your journey!

Hanna Kim
Best Report Writers for Microsoft Dynamics Users Using Management Reporter

This article will focus on Management Reporter (MR) and the options for investing in a new reporting tool.

Management Reporter

Management Reporter (MR) is an interactive reporting application that was designed for business professionals that can use the application to create, share, maintain, and view their financial statements. Microsoft offers MR for their ERP customers as a native General Ledger (GL) report writer in Dynamics AX, GP, and SL, almost aided by the more technical reporting tool, SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) to solve ERP reporting problems. If you attended Microsoft’s Amplify conference in May this year, you probably have heard that MR will no longer have any major releases, but rather go into maintenance mode with only minor updates. In other words, the product is clearly heading for the sunset. Many companies who have used MR and its predecessor, FRx, are already looking for an alternative. This blog article will zoom in on the concerns regarding the impact of this change and the solutions to these concerns.

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