How to Get Better AX Reporting and Prepare for Future D365 Migration Today

insightsoftware -
January 5, 2021

insightsoftware is the global provider of enterprise software solutions for the Office of the CFO to connect to & make sense of data in real time, driving financial intelligence across […]

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Most customers running Microsoft Dynamics AX are acutely aware that at some point in the future, they will need to make the leap to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Supply Chain Management (D365 F&SCM).

Fortunately, Microsoft plans to support AX for at least another eight years, but its investments in new functionality will focus on Microsoft D365 F&SCM as AX goes into maintenance mode. For customers of AX, that means their aging ERP systems will fall further and further behind the times, and at some point those customers will need to take the leap and migrate to a more modern system.

Although Microsoft’s rollout of its two ERP cloud products (D365 F&SCM, and for smaller businesses, D365 Business Central) has been going on for some time, the current climate of economic uncertainty has prompted a lot of companies to hit the pause button on migration, choosing instead to stay the course with their existing Dynamics AX systems.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that companies should put off investing in system improvements, however. Current economic conditions call for greater visibility to inventory and the supply chain and closer attention to key financial metrics. By making smart investments in an existing Dynamics AX environment, business leaders can achieve greater control while running their current ERP systems. Even better, those investments will continue to pay dividends down the road, when it’s time to make the move to Microsoft D365 F&SCM.

The investments you make in reporting and business intelligence tools today can provide added value to your current AX system and pave the way for a smoother, less expensive migration process down the road. Moreover, those same investments can continue to provide lasting value on your new Microsoft D365 F&SCM system.

Reporting Limitations of Dynamics AX

Companies running Dynamics AX are all too familiar with the limitations of system-generated reports. The existing Management Reporter in AX is a legacy tool that comes with limitations. Modifying reports, or building a new report from scratch, requires specialized technical skills.

Even with the necessary training and experience, Dynamics AX’s Management Reporter is inflexible, inefficient, and difficult to use. One customer we know is managing over 20 distinct legal entities on AX. The customer found that its system’s built-in reporting tools were poorly suited to intercompany reporting and required significant manual effort, especially throughout the month-end closing process when time is more valuable.

Using Management Reporter, every time the accounting team wanted to produce a report, this customer needed to run over 20 different versions of the given report, one version for each entity. Then the team needed to extract the information to Excel, consolidate it, format it, add formulas, and double-check the results. This was a lot of work to get a big-picture view. With all the required copying and pasting in Excel, and with the need to manage formulas in those spreadsheets, the team also found that errors could be easily introduced into the process. With Jet Analytics, the customer has streamlined that process and vastly simplified intercompany reports.

Many AX customers have invested heavily in data warehouse solutions or in robust Power BI implementations that produce considerably more powerful reports and dashboards. Those solutions tend to require heavy investments not only at the outset, but on an ongoing basis. We frequently encounter organizations that have a half-dozen (or more) full-time business intelligence experts on staff to keep those systems up and running.

Customers whose BI solutions are reaching their end of life have an opportunity to replace those highly complex data warehouse architectures with far simpler, more automated tools that can meet or exceed the functionality in those legacy BI applications. In the process, they can streamline costs associated with the upkeep of those systems and produce better, more efficient reports that benefit the entire organization.

For customers considering a move to Microsoft’s Power BI, a word of caution is in order. As we have noted elsewhere, Power BI is still a relatively new platform, and it is heavily focused on dashboard analytics. Unfortunately, Power BI is poorly suited to financial and operational reporting.

Its rich visualizations make it great for management-style dashboards, but organizations may find it challenging to find a way to simplify and streamline the deployment of Power BI. A full Power BI implementation involves significant investments in architecture, expertise, and time spent building the underlying programming to populate Data Lakes or data warehouses with ERP information from AX or Microsoft D365 F&SCM. Because the full Power BI stack is so complicated, it can be expensive and cumbersome to maintain. Business leaders should be clear about the risks before going ahead with a full-stack Power BI implementation.

Now More Than Ever, Reporting Is Critical

As companies consider all of these possibilities, they also feel the need for efficient and effective reporting is increasing dramatically. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, product demand has fluctuated wildly, affecting revenue, cash flow, inventory, payroll, production planning, workforce management, and more.

Amid these highly unpredictable economic conditions, it is more important than ever for business leaders to stay on top of key metrics on a day-to-day basis. Cash flow is a primary concern for many. That, in turn, prompts managers to follow some of the key cash conversion metrics much more closely than ever before. Accounts receivable, including aging and DSO, takes on greater importance. Finance teams pay close attention to accounts payable to preserve cash while ensuring continued good relationships with suppliers and other vendors, as well.

Most of all, finance teams need increased visibility to inventory and the supply chain. Fluctuations in demand, combined with a disruption in sales and delivery channels, have created an environment in which it is more important than ever to know how much stock is on hand, where it is located, how long it has been on hand, and what the potential sales pipeline looks like.

Many business leaders find themselves frustrated by the fact that different reports give them conflicting versions of the truth. Managers find themselves arguing over which number is correct, rather than focusing their time and attention on solving critical business problems.

A robust, well-designed reporting solution addresses that issue by providing a single source of truth across all systems, warehouses, retail locations, and legal entities. By doing away with a disjointed reporting structure that relies on manual consolidation using copy-and-paste processes, an effective centralized reporting tool provides clear, accurate, and timely information on an up-to-the-minute basis.

Demand is volatile. Sales channels are shifting from brick and mortar to online and often reaching different market segments through different channels. Inventory is piling up, and cash is tight. At a time when many companies need to rapidly reconfigure priorities in the supply chain, they simply cannot afford to have poor visibility into the critical information around supply, demand, inventory, and logistics.

The Path Forward for Dynamics AX Customers

Jet Analytics from insightsoftware provides a modern, powerful reporting platform for companies operating Dynamics AX as their core ERP platform. It offers the benefits of a data warehouse–high-performance, sophisticated analysis capabilities and the capacity to manage and analyze very large data sets. Yet unlike legacy data warehouse systems, Jet Analytics offers significant automation capabilities and ease of use.

For companies running AX that do not currently have a business intelligence platform in place, Jet Analytics provides a means for bringing together information from all the systems used by your organization, including Dynamics AX, or Microsoft D365 F&SCM when you eventually migrate. Consolidating all of your data in one place makes it possible to run reports and dashboards that provide a holistic view of your organization, based on a single source of truth.

Jet Analytics provides prebuilt adapters to connect to your ERP data, so the deep technical work involved with building a data warehouse, mapping data from ERP and other applications, and then populating and updating the data warehouse is all but eliminated. It does not require the kind of deep expertise that legacy BI tools demand.

When you do eventually migrate to Microsoft D365 F&SCM, your reports will come along with you. Instead of rebuilding an entire library of reports from scratch using a new tool, Jet Analytics enables you to migrate seamlessly, with little or no effort spent on report modifications. For companies going through a major migration (such as from AX to Microsoft D365 F&SCM), that significantly reduces implementation time, costs, and risks.

The insightsoftware Advantage

Providing comprehensive access to information is what insightsoftware does. We have tailored our Jet Analytics solution to Microsoft D365 F&SCM and made self-service reporting a central design feature of our software. To lower the impact on your IT staff and finance teams, we offer an approach that creates a foundation that simplifies Power BI deployments and significantly reduces costs and effort, while providing superior reporting.

To learn more about how insightsoftware can enable agile, streamlined reporting against Microsoft D365 F&SCM in your organization, contact us for more information or a free demo.