Posts

There is a reason Microsoft Excel, among its many merits, is generally recognized as the world’s most popular reporting tool. Three of the top reasons are:

  • It is easy
  • It is familiar to most business users
  • It is “free” (if you already own an Excel license)

However, Excel also has many downsides, especially when it comes to reporting on financial data…

  • Poor user security
  • No database to manage large amounts of data
  • Not truly a multi-user cloud tool built for reporting
  • Models get complex and hard to maintain

This love/hate relationship with Excel and the typical one (to several) days of training that most professional financial report writers require are two of the key reasons that companies increasingly ask ERP and reporting software vendors this question: “How easy is it to learn how to write reports?”

Of course, complex, formatted reports like Cash Flow Statements and certain other financial report layouts will likely always take a certain training and skill level to produce in most reporting tools. In other words, there does not seem to be one solution that offers the best of all worlds when it comes to reporting.

The Difference Between Financial Report Writers and Ad Hoc Reporting Tools

If all power users and end users of reports had time to learn a new reporting technology and there was enough time to design reports whenever they needed to answer various business questions, then the world would be fine with classic report writers. These have a lot of flexibility, financial functions, and strong formatting to deliver presentation-quality reports. However, most of the time, a user just needs to check some data or quickly answer a question. Examples of such questions are:

  • How can I see an account-by-account report with all key GL fields and a balance check?
  • What is the balance on account 4510 for each month so far this year?
  • How much did Lisa sell in May?

With full-fledged report writers, any of the above would typically require knowledge of the source fields, training on the reporting tool, and possibly several hours of report design work. With modern ad hoc reporting tools like Solver’s Ad Hoc Reporting, any user that has been provided access to the data can build reports in a few minutes and with minimal skills. They can also save their reports for reuse next time they or their peers have a similar business question. In other words, ad hoc reporting tools are perfectly complementary to full-blown report writers, with each one serving different needs.

Ad hoc vs formatted report writers

 

How do I give my end users both advanced formatted reports and let them build their own?

Certain corporate performance management (CPM) vendors like Solver handle this by giving the user three options for their reporting needs:

  • Any user: Use Ad Hoc Reporting to design reports and answer questions on the fly
  • Any user (no training): Pre-built report, budget and dashboard templates downloaded from a Marketplace
  • Power user: Excel-based report designer with multi-tenant cloud architecture

In other words, professional, presentation-quality reports built by power users go hand-in-hand with ad hoc reports that any end users can design whenever they have questions they need answered.

How Can Ad Hoc Reporting Also Help When You Migrate to a New ERP?

As large numbers of companies plan to migrate, or have migrated, their legacy accounting solutions from on-premises servers to the cloud, they not only have to review core ERP functionality to make sure it meets their current and future needs, they also have to review the tools they will use for reporting, planning, and analysis. Usually, native ERP report writers are not great at either ad hoc reports or professional formatted reports, and customers therefore do one of two things:

  • Export data to Excel and take care of any needed reporting in manual spreadsheets. This has both the benefits and the limitations discussed at the beginning of this blog.
  • Purchase a best-of-breed reporting and/or CPM solution. This category includes cloud vendors like Solver with scalable platforms that offer both ad hoc reporting and formatted reporting, plus consolidations, budgeting, forecasting, and integrated Power BI dashboards.

A side benefit of good ad hoc reporting tools is that they can be a strong help for ERP implementation users to create reports on the fly as a check for the data they are loading into the new ERP system. This will also give them a flying start to get basic reports up and running while power users design fully formatted financial and operational reports.

How Much Training Will It Take to Learn Ad Hoc Reporting?

If it takes more than 10-15 minutes of video-based training to learn an ad hoc reporting tool, it should probably not be called ad hoc reporting. One of the key value-adds of this kind of user experience is that pretty much any user with any background should be able to quickly learn the tool, so they can benefit from almost-immediate answers to their data questions.

Because it should be a low training threshold and quick time to value for each user, any of these three types of training categories should do the trick:

  • Learn from trial and error
  • Learn from videos
  • Learn from a peer

Either way, a good ad hoc reporting tool should have a high return on investment for a company because it will require minimal training, and users can get their questions answered near real time and without having to ask for help from their accounting staff or report writer super users.

Summary

As reporting technologies evolve, we will likely see most modern cloud vendors offer both professional formatted reporting as well as ad hoc reporting, and therefore limit the need for users to export data to manual Excel files to get their business questions answered. In the 2020s and post-COVID work-from-home era, companies that enable their users to make faster and better decisions will be at a strong competitive advantage.

How to Quickly Get Started with Corporate Performance Management for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance (D365 Finance) was born from the widely known on-premise product known as Dynamics AX. In recent years D365 Finance has become a significant player in the cloud-based ERP market segment, quickly gaining popularity worldwide as Offices of Finance within organizations began to migrate to cloud applications. If you are considering a move to D365 Finance, the first thing to do is make sure the solution fits your needs.

As large numbers of companies plan to migrate their legacy accounting solutions from on-premise servers to the cloud, they not only have to review core ERP functionality to make sure it meets their current and future needs, but they have to also review the tools they will use for reporting, planning, and analyses. Some reporting, planning and analysis tools are native to Dynamics 365. While some others, like the Solver financial reporting and consolidations application, are approved and preferred Microsoft apps because they are considered a best-of-breed complimentary solution in a particular area.

This blog will focus on financial reporting for Dynamics 365 Finance and will look at some of the things you may want to think about to ensure you optimize your experience with Dynamics when it comes to producing:

  • Profit & Loss Reports
  • Balance Sheets
  • Cash Flow Statements
  • Operational Reports

Why Use Third-Party Reporting Apps Instead of the Native Tools in Dynamics 365 Finance?

D365 Finance’s native report writer for financial statements and other GL summary data was previously called Management Reporter. Now it is typically just referred to as “Financial Reporting”. It is an upgraded, web-based version of FRx, which was a popular legacy reporting tool that launched in the 1990s. However, much like almost any other cloud ERP system’s built-in reporting options, the native Financial Reporting tool is not usually the preferred application finance teams use to produce highly professional reports with custom formulas and advanced layout or when they want to consolidate financials across companies. This showcase of forms, templates and reports provides several hundred report examples that show the breadth and depth of capabilities a best-of-breed reporting tool can offer to improve reporting processes and analyses in your business.

While many Dynamics customers supplement their reporting tasks with manual Excel files, SQL Reporting Services (SSRS) and dashboard tools like Power BI, there is still a spot for best-of-breed financial reporting tools to offer a single, purpose-built and professional reporting experience that also helps to automate the month-end reporting process.

How to Pick the Right Reporting Solution for Dynamics 365 Finance

Much can be written about evaluation and selection of financial reporting tools. We will not go into details in this blog, but if you want some ideas, this blog highlights key areas to look at. This interactive tool will also provide a simple way to compare and score vendors. It includes an ROI calculator to analyze the cost and benefit of alternative tools versus your current solution.

In short, progressive finance and accounting teams of the 2020s want financial reporting solutions that are flexible, closely integrated with budgeting and forecasting functionality, and that provide quick time to value during implementation.

What Is Considered a Quick Start with a New Reporting Solution and How Is It Deployed?

Most Dynamics 365 Finance customers want their connected apps, including reporting tools, to be cloud based. Questions that quickly come up include: how hard is it to integrate a best-of-breed reporting solution with Dynamics, and how much cost and effort does it take to get key financials up and running, such as Trial Balances, Profit & Loss Reports, and Balance Sheets?

The typical answer: Weeks or months of effort and tens of thousands of dollars in services. However, some best-of-breed software companies like Solver, that work very closely with Microsoft and its Dynamics partner channel, have developed pre-built GL and sub-ledger integrations as well as out-of-the-box reports. For example, Solver’s QuickStart integration to D365 Finance can set a company up and running in a single day with ready-to-go, pre-built financial reports and Power BI dashboards, as well as, optional budget and forecast templates. All of these can be selected from a Marketplace that grows continuously with new templates.

A note about tools that offer integrations to Dynamics 365 Finance:

While several financial reporting vendors can claim to offer integrations to an ERP system like D365 Finance, there can be big differences in the skill and effort involved to get such integrations ready with your financial data loaded into the reporting tool.

Generally, there are three categories of integrations. Each integration requires its own effort level to get going:

  • Usually gets you there: Generic integration tools that require a lot of skills and time to configure.
  • Works but often with limitations: Connectors specifically built for Dynamics 365 Finance, but do not include an app that configures dimensions and views in Dynamics nor pre-maps to popular fields to “light them up” for its API.
  • Quickest and easiest: Connectors specifically built for Dynamics 365 Finance and that include an app or script(s) that properly and automatically configure dimensions and views in Dynamics. Then it exposes them to its API, including pre-mapped popular dimensions and data. You can see an example of this type of integration here.

What Is a Cloud Reporting Marketplace and Why Is It Important to Your Business?

Most best-of-breed financial reporting tools have by now followed Dynamics 365 Finance and other popular ERPs to the cloud. Many also offer modern and flexible functionality to deliver reports your managers and executives need, however they still have [at least] one problem: Somebody has to write those reports. This can feel very painful, especially when you factor in the time and cost involved. Just remember the effort it took to get all required reports up and running in your old legacy on-premises ERP system.

Nowadays there is a growing trend for cloud business solutions to offer pre-built apps (e.g., reports, connectors, etc.) in their own Marketplaces. Typically, this involves a few clicks to install, not that different from apps you download to your iPhone or Samsung phone. For example, in Solver’s Marketplace (see screenshot below), users can download Profit & Loss Reports and other financial statements, planning input templates, and more than 50 pre-built financial dashboards that plug right into your Power BI web service.

Rapid implementation of financial reports and CPM for Dynamics 365 Finance with pre-built templates from Solver Marketplace

Rapid implementation of financial reports and CPM for Dynamics 365 Finance with pre-built templates from Solver Marketplace

In other words, with true Marketplace templates you should be able to provide your managers with professional reports and dashboards the same day you install the reporting tool! Now that’s a quick deployment!

Summary

For new or existing Microsoft Dynamics 365 customers, the 2020s hold a lot of promise as Dynamics 365 Finance continuously improves and expands their ERP system. Customers are also able to tap into its flourishing ecosystem of third-party apps that further enhance the benefits of a Dynamics ERP system. Picking the right solutions, including one for reporting, can significantly improve your processes, save you time, and drive faster and better decisions by putting the right information in front of your managers and executives when and where they need it.

The information you are reading is more than 2 years old and may be outdated

As many Management Reporter (MR) customers and partners have now heard, there were two announcements from Microsoft in the past few weeks about the future of Management Reporter: one was at the Amplify conference in Anaheim, California on Sunday, May 22 last month, and the other was in writing and can be found here. This blog is a follow up to the first one, written after the Amplify conference, but now with more information available from Microsoft.

For people that like to analyze and read between the lines in vendor announcements, you can read into what is meant with “no major enhancements (of MR for GP)”. For anyone that has been in the software industry for a while, it typically means one thing: MR is going on life support, but there will be bug fixes and maybe some small improvements as well as the typical 10 years of support that Microsoft often offers on major products that are being sunset.

What about MR for Dynamics GP (whose team the recent MR announcement came from) vs Dynamics SL and Dynamics AX? The recent MR announcement came from the GP team, so the slowdown of MR development there is confirmed. Now, MR supposedly has the same engine, albeit different integrations, regardless of it being AX, GP or SL, so it would be quite strange if there would be full development of deep MR functionality (not talking User Interface here) for AX, but not for GP. However, that is just speculation and for sure there will be someone taking care of MR, at least for AX 7/cloud and maybe later AX updates. So, let’s leave that door open as AX in the cloud is a very high priority for Microsoft.

And, it is a known fact that SL has a smaller customer base than GP and thus, less resources behind it, so although there has not been any MR announcements from the SL team, it would be very strange if MR’s destiny is not the same there as it is for GP customers using MR.

What about Dynamics NAV? Microsoft tried to use MR on NAV for a while, but it was discontinued a while back because MR really did not work well on NAV’s multi-dimensional database, and NAV customers moved on and today, use the native NAV report writer or ISVs, like Jet Reports and BI360.

However, Dynamics customers have many choices, probably more than most ERP systems on the market, and reporting and CPM vendors are as usual standing ready to help the customers to greener pastures when they decide the time is right to move off MR.

With that said, while existing customers that are completely happy with MR can easily stay the course with MR for a while, new customers should then decide if it is worth the risk to invest time and money in MR report writing or if they should implement a closely integrated ISV product that does the same as MR and maybe more, like reporting on both GL and sub-ledger data. There are several of these products, including BI360, BizNet, Jet Reports, Prophix and ZAP. Some of them using Excel and some using browser interfaces or both. As with any type of ISV product in the ERP space, the goal of an ISV is to stay relevant and grow by always staying ahead of the ERP vendor’s own functionality, which is often free and embedded, like you will see with MR for AX on Azure.

So, let’s assume that MR has reached its retirement age for all or most of the Dynamics ERPs and is now moving into the retirement home to enjoy the rest of its life there, with “minor releases.” What is next from Microsoft? Are they going to ignore the need for financial reporting? Are they going to look beyond MR’s limitation to only report on GL data? What about budgeting features or embedded visualizations?

Let’s make some educated guesses about the alternatives Microsoft may be thinking about for financial reporting and corporate performance management (CPM). Here are some potential options (not in order of likelihood):

Option 1:
Microsoft can change their strategy on MR and rebuild it into a modern, non-proprietary, cloud friendly report writer and try to expand it into also reporting on sub-ledgers, so customers don’t need to use two or more report writers for their different ERP reporting requirements.

Option 2:
Microsoft can keep MR on life support until they launch a brand new tool. Who knows, maybe they are in stealth mode and already working on something related to expansion of Power BI into a more full-fledged combined BI and CPM tool?

Option 3:
Microsoft can acquire a CPM vendor. It would then be likely be a modern, cloud-based tool since Microsoft is extremely focused on the cloud in almost all regards these days.

Option 4:
Microsoft can develop partnerships with financial reporting or full-fledged CPM vendors while they figure out the future, which again will likely be #2 or #3 above, or they may lean on their ISV channel for the longer term.

Ultimately, Microsoft knows that they will need a good reporting and budgeting tool for AX Cloud, Madeira and NAV, as these three ERPs seems to be what they bet their long term cloud and on-premise presence on.

In the meantime, Microsoft Dynamics AX, NAV, GP and SL customers probably have the best ISV community of any their ERP competitors, so there are plenty of pre-integrated third party solutions ready to take Microsoft Dynamics’ financial reporting to the next level. What that next level is can be food for thought in a future blog.

The information you are reading is more than 2 years old and may be outdated

This article will discuss your options for the best financial consolidations solution to expand your Microsoft Dynamics AX experience as a retail company.

There is a population of retail Microsoft Dynamics AX users who are overseeing the financials for a parent organization’s multiple subsidiaries.  Aggregating operational and transactional data from multiple entities, sometimes with more than one currency, can be challenging without one of today’s financial consolidations solutions.  As the amount and importance of data steadily grows, corporate decision-makers can’t avoid needing a solution that can help consolidate information into a singular set of financial reports.  If you are using Dynamics AX as a retail company, this article will hopefully help you familiarize yourself with options for an easy-to-use, dynamic consolidation software.
Read more

The information you are reading is more than 2 years old and may be outdated

In this article, financial reporting solutions for Professional Services organizations utilizing Microsoft Dynamics AX will take center stage, so you can make the best software investment.

In today’s business world, maybe particularly for Professional Services organizations, a modern, dynamic financial reporting tool is vital to remaining competitive in your industry, making decisions to maneuver through the ups and downs of the economy, while developing the business and your brand.  This article will focus on the best financial report writers today, discussing the premier features and functionalities, so you can invest in the best reporting tool to expand your Professional Services organization’s Microsoft Dynamics AX experience.
Read more

The information you are reading is more than 2 years old and may be outdated

If you’re part of a Retail organization’s finance team and you’re using Microsoft Dynamics AX for your accounting processes, this article is for you, discussing your financial reporting software options.

Financial reporting is arguably the centerpiece of Business Intelligence (BI) analytics as they summarize the financial health of an organization in a hopefully easy-to-read set of financial and operational statements.  Business is moving at quite a rapid pace today, and Retail is no different.  Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, like Microsoft Dynamics AX, typically offer financial reporting functionality built right into the program.  However, with the need for more complex, robust data analytics – and now, industry-specific reporting – the native report writing usually falls short of consumer needs.  This article will discuss your third party options for modern, powerful, and business user friendly financial reporting solutions, offering Retail organizations the information they need to make stronger decisions about the future of their company.
Read more

The information you are reading is more than 2 years old and may be outdated

This article will discuss the top features and functions that you should be looking for in today’s financial reporting solutions to upgrade your Microsoft Dynamics AX reporting and consolidations experience.

Due to the importance of data to drive business decision-making, a powerful, dynamic financial report writer is necessary in order to remain successful in your industry.  In this article, I’ll discuss your Business Intelligence (BI) software options in terms of features and functionalities, so you can invest in the right financial report writing tool to overcome obstacles to powerful analytics and meet your goals as a Microsoft Dynamics AX customer.
Read more

The information you are reading is more than 2 years old and may be outdated

Today, I read one of the best BI articles I have seen in a long time. It was called “Process-Oriented BI: Navigating the Road of Continuous Improvement”. The essence of the article is about how far you should be able to take BI these days by:
1) End-to-End Business Process Knowledge
2) Continuous Improvement Mindset
3) BI Capabilities of Operations
4) Data Governance Discipline
5) Data Latency Reduction
I encourage you to read the article and think about your own organization and what BI could do for you had the right BI tools and your organization was properly prepared. There is no doubt that the impact would be powerful and lasting for the business operations as well as for the bottom line.
With BI360, we have eliminated the classical barriers between “corporate BI” and operational BI, by enabling both real time reporting and data warehouse-based reporting, consolidations and planning. And, just as important, we have strived to provide you with user-friendly interfaces that any business user can manage without the assistance of IT or BI experts.
You can read the full article here:
https://www.information-management.com/newsletters/BI_BPM_process_oriented_data_governance_latency_realtime-10020818-1.html?pg=1

The information you are reading is more than 2 years old and may be outdated

While “Financial Reporting” often used to be synonymous with financial statements such as Profit & Loss reports, Balance Sheets, Cash Flow statements and consolidated reports, these days companies are using dual purpose tools like BI360 to also handle their operational reporting.
A quickly increasing number of BI360 users are developing operational reports such as:
– Reports help them manage inventories with details about standard cost, quantities and physical value.
– That shows purchase orders versus requisitions with related information about delivery dates, unit price, quantity ordered, purchase price and purchase quantity.
– Production orders with trend charts that quantities items ordered by date.
– Work-in-progress reports (WIP), quantity per order, how much of an order has been started and the WIP amount.
The above types of reports are particularly popular amongst Microsoft Dynamics AX customers because a good number of them are in manufacturing or related industries.
We also see more customers deploy the BI360 data warehouse in order to combine their ERP data with other operational data sources. Examples of these are healthcare providers that combine financial data with payroll and patient data to produce reports or dashboards that show average cost per patient day, statistical trends like Average Length of Stay (ALOS), etc.
As companies go operational with their reporting and the business users that truly understand the information needs of the business are able to design the reports, the result if often high value reports that earlier where non-existent or that had to be pieced together manually in spreadsheets.