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This article is part 5 of an 8-part series on evaluating the best CPM tools for your business. Part 5 focuses on data warehouse considerations to focus on as you are evaluating the best CPM software applications.

 

In the Digital Era, companies that make faster and better decisions than their counterparts are the most successful – yet accurate decisions require accurate information. Because all businesses have numerous data sources in addition to their ERP system, it takes a lot of time and effort to extract and compile information from all the internal systems. The fact that most of these systems are now based in the cloud does not make it easier.

This fast decision-making requirement has led an increasing number of companies to now implement a cloud data warehouse in order to streamline data collection, reporting, and analysis. Some of these data warehouse platforms are included with Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions. Because CPM solutions already use databases to store financial data and budgets, these vendors sometimes offer an expandable CPM that can also serve as a data warehouse. More about this later.

However, implementing a corporate data warehouse can be risky and expensive without proper technology selection and planning. And, of course, the return on investment (ROI) needs to be positive.

When working through a software selection process to find the best data warehouse platform for your organization, there are some features that are more important than others.

Here are some of the top features to look for in a data warehouse app

While most vendors can probably showcase more than 100 features in their product — something which can make software selection a virtual nightmare — there is a clear 80/20 rule that can be applied to zoom in on critical success factors.

Here is a list of five major functionality areas to consider:

  1. Data warehouse platform

In today’s world, IT departments and business managers are eager to move their applications out of their server room and into the cloud. Therefore, most new data warehouses are now being deployed in the cloud. All the big database vendors offer their own data warehouse platforms including Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon (AWS), IBM, Snowflake, and others.

Internal knowledge, cost, and other factors should be evaluated when choosing a solution. Any cloud CPM vendor that has a solution that expands into a full data warehouse generally also runs on one of these platforms, either with the cloud vendor’s database or a proprietary database.

  1. Homegrown versus commercial data warehouse

In the past, the majority of all businesses either managed to operate without a data warehouse or they purchased a database license like Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle and designed a homegrown system. For a mid-sized company, such a project could take upwards to nine months or more and often cost more than $100,000 in consulting fees (much more for a large enterprise).

Today, however, there are a number of commercial cloud-based data warehouses with user-friendly interfaces that provide menu-driven configuration requiring few technical skills to run. As a result, most companies, especially smaller and mid-sized businesses, utilize commercial cloud data warehouses that are pre-designed and configurable through a web interface.

Of course, it is critical to easily get data in and out of a data warehouse, so any good data warehouse must provide application programming interfaces (API) to allow integration tools and business intelligence (BI) solutions to connect to it.

Here is an example of a commercial data warehouse interface:

  1. Separate data warehouse or combined with CPM solution?

If a selection process is driven by an IT department and the data warehouse solution will be managed by their team, they often prefer a stand-alone commercial data warehouse or may already have an enterprise data warehouse in use. A CPM solution that includes data warehouse functionality becomes a one-stop reporting and planning database that can leverage the data stored in the enterprise data warehouse (where one already exists), as well in the ERP, payroll, and other systems.

This combination approach may offer a lower cost and has the added advantage that CPM tools offer strong report writers, which make it easy to query the reporting and planning data warehouse directly without purchasing yet another third-party reporting tool.

  1. Data extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL)

ETL tends to be the most technical and tedious part of a data warehousing project. This is because it involves extracting data from various transaction sources, transforming it into the format required to store it in the data warehouse, and then setting up automated data loading. Many of the leading data warehouse and CPM solutions offer their own native ETL tools, often with pre-built connectors to popular data sources. In addition, there is a whole industry of third-party ETL vendors that can be “middleware” between your transaction sources and the data warehouse. Of course, these come with their own subscription cost.

You should always request detailed information about the vendor’s integration to your systems, including the time and cost it takes to get them configured. A really good, pre-built integration should take at the most an hour to configure while “toolboxes” can take days to set up and connect to each data source. Which one your vendor offers will therefore usually become clear when you see their estimates for the integration step in the implementation.

Without good, automated integrations to your source systems, your users will end up spending a lot of wasted time on loading and possible “cleaning” of data.

  1. Modules, dimensions, and trees

In general, data warehouses store transactions and dimensions and connect these in their schema. In commercial data warehouse user interfaces, an administrator can typically add business logic to dimensions (accounts, companies, etc.) by setting up hierarchies represented as graphical trees or attributes. These hierarchies are then used by report writers and dashboards to automate reporting and consolidations.

To select the best data warehouse solution for your business needs, it is advisable to get a demonstration of the web portal. This gives you the ability to see how user friendly (or not) it is to manage the dimensions and data, and also to understand the effort it takes to set up user security as well as control access rights.

How much does a data warehouse solution cost?

Cloud-based data warehouses are sold on a subscription basis and vendors have various pricing models that could include factors like:

  • Number of users
  • Number of data source connectors
  • Number of transactions stored in the database
  • Amount of data processing

Vendors that offer multi-tenant solutions versus stand-alone systems per customer have a cost advantage as upgrades are simpler and processing resources can be shared.

Beyond features and the quoted price, here are some things to think about when you get prices from your vendor finalists:

  • Does the annual subscription from each vendor contain the same user count and modules?
  • If you are receiving a discount, how long until it resets to the list price?
  • Does the vendor provide a written policy for annual price increases?
  • Are the implementation estimates from each vendor for exactly the same work?

A good rule of thumb is to ask each vendor for the total subscription cost for the first 5 years. Make sure this includes any potential price increases. And, if the vendor is owned by a private equity firm, chances are that they will be sold while you are still a customer, so ensure that you receive a document stating their policy for price increases in the future, including stipulations if they are sold to another company.

Here is a tool to help you compare vendors and calculate return on investment (ROI).

Why not use the ERP system as a data warehouse?

Some ERP vendors and implementation partners suggest that customers use the ERP system as a data warehouse. This could work if all or most of the data is from the ERP system itself. However, most data warehouse use cases do not work well inside an ERP database for these reasons:

  • Major data loads and processing could slow down the ERP system and make daily work difficult for accountants.
  • Licensing requirements for the ERP may become more costly than expected.
  • Some ERP APIs may not be suitable for flexible and fast data import and export.
  • ERP databases are generally not built to easily handle lots of detail from other data sources such as CRM data, helpdesk information, or other solutions.
  • ERP systems typically don’t offer best-of-breed reporting, budgeting, and dashboards so chances are that you will end up exporting data out of the ERP “data warehouse” and into CPM and BI systems anyway.

Conclusion

In summary, choosing a new data warehouse solution to centralize your important data in order to support front-end tools that drive better and faster decision making has increasingly become a strategic priority for organizations across all industries. As we discussed earlier, certain features are more important than others and can be key success factors – in addition to a well-executed implementation process.

Here is a free vendor comparison and ROI tool to help you compare vendors across a number of different features. This tool also includes a simple return on investment (ROI) calculator that is part of the total vendor score.

Links to useful software research and evaluation assets

In this article, financial reporting solutions for organizations utilizing Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, Business Edition will take center stage, so you can make the best software investment.
 

Image taken Shutterstock.

Image taken Shutterstock.


Last November, Microsoft took the wraps off of Microsoft Dynamics 365. It combines Dynamics customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions into one integrated cloud product offering. As many of you know, there are two versions of Microsoft Dynamics 365. One, the Business Edition, is the lower end version based on the Dynamics NAV product in its structure. The higher end version, Enterprise Edition, is based on Dynamics AX and is designed for the higher end of the market. Both are architected for and deployed in the Microsoft Azure cloud, and it’s managed and hosted by Microsoft. This article will cover financial reporting tools for your company using Dynamics 365, Business Edition. Read more

Have you ever started a new job in an industry you have no experience in? Learning the industry jargon can be overwhelming. I can personally attest to this because prior to working in the

Business Intelligence (BI) and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) worlds, I was in the food, public relations, and entertainment industries, and did not have much experience in BI or CPM. If you have recently been exposed to BI tools, such as report writers, budgeting and planning solutions, dashboards, data warehouses (DWs) and you feel like a deer in headlights, there is no need to panic. In this article, we will discuss ten acronyms in the BI/CPM realm that will help you understand and enhance your experience with BI and CPM processes.

Here are the top 8 business intelligence acronyms that may be resourceful when dealing with BI & CPM solutions

1. Extraction, Transformation, and Loading (ETL)

ETL represents three database functions that are combined into one tool to extract data from one data source. The ETL process is the practice of extracting data from data sources and transferring it into the DW. ETL isn’t necessarily three defined steps, but rather a broad process.

2. Data Warehouse (DW)

Informatica defines a DW as an acronym for data warehouse meaning, “technology that aggregates structured data from one or more sources so that it can be compared and analyzed for greater business intelligence.” The term “Data Warehouse” was coined by William H. Inmon, an American computer scientist. This is an analyst’s dream because all the metrics about the organization’s activities are gathered in one place. You can find out more about the details of a successful data warehouse here.

3. Relational Database Management System (RDBMS)

A RDBMS is a program that enables users to administer, create and update a relational database. Commercial RDBMS typically use the Structured Query Language (SQL) to access the database. A relational database is described as “a set of tables containing data fitted into predefined categories” by TechTarget.

4. Online Analytical Processing (OLAP)

OLAP, also known as “OLAP cube,” performs multidimensional analysis of data and offers the ability for complex calculations, advanced data modeling, and trend analysis.

5. Key Performance Indicator (KPI)

A KPI is a lot like a GPS navigation system as it allows the driver to be in complete control when making decisions about where to steer next. KPIs are navigational tools that your company will utilize to understand whether the business is on a successful route or whether it’s veering off. According to Klipfolio, a KPI is “a measureable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives.” You can learn more about KPIs and KPI strategies in detail in the following articles: 10 Steps to Successful KPI and Metric Design Using Dynamics GP, Part 1 and 10 Steps to Successful KPI and Metric Design Using Dynamics GP, Part 2. Keep in mind that there are vertical specific KPIs; therefore, do some research.

6. User Interface (UI)

In the IT world, UI is designed into a device within which a user can interact. This includes keyboards, display screens, a mouse, and a desktop. It can also include how a user interacts with the application or the website. Companies’ dependence on applications has led organizations to prioritize improving the user’s overall experience, also known as UX.

7. SQL Server

Microsoft SQL Server is a relational database management system that was developed by Microsoft.

  • SQL Management Studio (SSMS) – SSMS is an integrated environment used to administer a SQL Server Infrastructure. If you’re not familiar with a SQL Server, it is a relational database management software developed by Microsoft.
  • SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) – SSIS is used to execute a wide range of data migration tasks.
  • SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) – SSRS is also part of the SQL Server services. It is a server-based report generating system that stores metadata and object definitions. You can learn more about the SQL Server on the Microsoft site.

8. Amazon Web Services (AWS)

AWS is a subsidiary of Amazon, and offers cloud computing platforms. AWS is also the competing platform against Microsoft Azure, formerly known as Windows Azure. Companies will be more exposed to AWS and Microsoft Azure as the cloud gets bigger. Cloud Computing platforms provide an easy way to access storage, servers, databases, and applications. It also provides quick access to flexible and low-cost resources.

If you are in the BI/CPM space, you may have seen the terms above used widely. For those who are new to the industry, I hope defining and laying out these terms give you a better understanding of the BI/CPM industry as well as the industry jargon. We’re happy to answer questions and generally review Solver’s web-powered, easy-to-use Excel and mobile BI tools with both real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis, budgeting and collaboration as a way to accelerate your company performance management experience.

Solver enables world-class decisions with 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.

This article will focus on Cloud Financial Reporting and Budgeting for Banks.

Image taken from Shutterstock.

Image taken from Shutterstock.


New technology has drastically changed the way we communicate. – My 18-year old daughter has just discovered the show called The Office starring Steve Carell.  The show came out in 2005 and we are wrapping up season two. What is striking is that all the sales representatives have flip phones and need to return to the office and login to their laptops or personal computers to transact business.  Read more

In this article, we’ll explore what Business Intelligence solutions can do to help you achieve a best-of-breed Sage 100 experience that drives smarter organizational decision-making.

The modern business world moves at such a pace that it is imperative that our tools be accessible and flexible for our analytical processes.  Mobile applications are just one example of how independent software vendors (ISVs) are delivering Business Intelligence (BI) tools that speak to consumer needs for financial reporting, data management, and analytics for Sage 100 business intelligence users.  Today, you should be investing in BI technology that is nothing short of the flexibility you require, in terms of how you get to your transactional and operational information for more streamlined, smarter decision-making, regardless of where you are working.  Third party software vendors are bringing flexible BI solutions to market for an upgraded, modern end user experience.
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This article will discuss financial report writers in today’s marketplace for manufacturing organizations looking to expand their SAP Business One experience.

 
ManufacturingReporting_PLHave you used a Fitbit before to track your fitness activity, diet and sleep? If you have specific fitness goals to be healthier and the Fitbit carries all the features and functionalities you need, this tracker is perfect because it describes in detail an event, situation or occurrence. Similarly, a financial report writer collects and presents financial data so that it can be analyzed. Reporting is the necessary prerequisite of analysis. Reporting makes data understandable and ready for accurate and efficient analysis so you can better reach your company goals. This article will discuss your options for features and functionalities that third party solutions are offering for your SAP Business One (SAP B1) system, specifically zooming in on data management and analysis in manufacturing companies.
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This article discusses the modern, dynamic, and business user friendly financial reporting options available for Healthcare organizations using Sage 100.

It has been a while since I have blogged, and in that time, I have had several great opportunities to talk to finance and accounting professionals, as well as executives, about their Business Intelligence (BI) and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) needs.  Some of these conversations happened at BI360 Focus 2016, some of these manifested as one-off conversations, and one even occurred on a flight to Portland.  Lately though, it seems like I have not only been in conversation with more healthcare professionals, but I’ve also found myself personally and professionally curious about this industry.  The healthcare industry seems to be one of the most complex and regulated sectors – and for good reason obviously, but the effect it has on financial reporting requires sophisticated, yet business user friendly BI tools.  The best financial reporting tools for Sage 100 users offer Healthcare-specific data management that produces the necessary financial reporting and/or dashboards.
This blog article will focus on modern financial reporting with Sage 100.  I’ll first discuss the bigger picture of what you should be looking for to achieve your financial reporting and analytical objectives.  Then, I’ll zoom in on the financial reporting modules delivered by certain, more dynamic products that can enable Healthcare organizations to produce traditional financial statements, meet regulations, and present information to key stakeholders and decision-makers.
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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. Read more

This article will explore financial reporting features and functionalities in today’s solutions for manufacturing organizations looking to expand their Sage 100 experience.

manufacturingforsage100reporting

In today’s business world, Business Intelligence (BI) and analytics are becoming the modern way of turning valuable company data into rich decision-making for a company’s future. Navigating through BI is much like maneuvering through the wilderness without a map or a compass. It can get overwhelming, but I’m here to help. This article will focus on what users should know about in modern reporting solutions to improve your Sage 100 experience, specifically zooming in on manufacturing data management and analysis.
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