Finance teams often work with business intelligence (BI) tools to analyze data, identify trends, pinpoint discrepancies, and build informative, compelling reports for management. Unfortunately, most BI tools require substantial development effort just to get up and running, such as deep technical expertise, access to development software such as Visual Studio.net, and a significant time commitment.
That substantial development effort can be frustrating for finance teams, not only because of the expense, but also because of the bottlenecks that exist in organizations with limited development resources. The problem goes deeper than simply needing more developers, though. Setting up a BI environment and then building and maintaining databases in that environment typically requires highly specialized training that includes understanding programming languages like Multidimensional Expressions (MDX) and Data Analysis Expressions (DAX).
In addition, you will also need some knowledge of tabular models, as well as understanding the underlying database architecture of the ERP system or other applications that you are reporting against.
Finally, you will likely spend a great deal of time formatting and manipulating all of that data so that it is presented in a way that makes sense to the people reading it.
In most companies, the job of building and maintaining a BI environment falls to the most experienced technical employees, or it is outsourced to external consultants who specialize in BI. Rates for that kind of work are high, and the hours can add up quickly.
The good news is that an alternative exists that enables members of the finance team to set up and maintain a BI environment without all the hassle and expense.
Most finance and accounting teams include people with strong analysis skills who have built elaborate Excel spreadsheets. They have mastered many of the advanced features of Microsoft Excel such as connecting to multiple data sources, building pivot tables, performing lookups, and so on. With the right BI tools, those same finance and accounting professionals can easily master BI development too, without having to learn custom programming or scripting.
What Makes a Good BI Tool?
Microsoft Excel is a phenomenal tool for ad hoc analysis and reporting. Excel’s pivot table functionality offers the kind of multidimensional analysis capabilities that are typically found in robust BI products. Unfortunately, there are limits to how many data you can read and manipulate using Excel alone. Truly efficient and effective reporting requires a BI engine capable of organizing and preprocessing large data sets and managing replication with operational data sources.
In addition, it can be very helpful to have a metadata layer in place that can help non-developers make sense of the information in the database. In other words, good BI software should translate the arcane language of the database into terminology that finance and accounting professionals (and anyone else who is reading the reports) will understand.
In the Microsoft Dynamics NAV database, for example, table names and field names are usually fairly easy to decipher, but their contents can be cryptic, to say the least. A vendor document type that shows up as “Invoice” or “Credit Memo” in the ERP system will appear as a “1” or “2” in the database. That’s a simple example, but virtually every table in any ERP database will contain similarly cryptic information.
Furthermore, it can be challenging to draw the proper connections between header tables (for example, the table that contains one record per sales invoice) and the associated detail tables (for example, the line item details associated with each of those invoices). In Microsoft Dynamics NAV, for instance, the fields that link those tables together are often unclear.
The Easy Path to BI
With Jet Analytics from insightsoftware, users in the finance and accounting department can connect easily to Microsoft Dynamics data (and to other data sources) to get immediate access to all of the information they need for robust reporting and analysis. A non-developer can easily build a basic data warehouse including OLAP Cube or Tabular Model with Jet Analytics in as little as 30 minutes. An experienced BI Developer (without Jet Analytics) might require several hours to accomplish the same thing as part of a custom project in Visual Studio. This is because it lacks all the data warehouse automation and modeling features that come with Jet Analytics. Developing a data warehouse using Jet Analytics is known to be five times faster than alternatives.
Jet Analytics offers a step-by-step wizard that enables users to click through the process instead of writing custom scripts. It allows users to cleanse and transform data on the fly and to visually see how to improve their data flows.
Jet Analytics comes with pre-configured adapters for Microsoft Dynamics NAV, Microsoft Dynamics Business Central, Microsoft Dynamics Finance & Supply Chain Management, and numerous other applications. Regardless of which Microsoft Dynamics version you are using, the experts at insightsoftware have already done the heavy lifting so that finance users can develop the BI reports they need without depending on IT. That includes a metadata translation layer that makes it easy to navigate the underlying database and decipher the information that is stored there.
As an added bonus, reports developed with Jet Analytics will generally upgrade smoothly from one ERP software version to the next, so when you transition to a major new release of your ERP system, your reports will not require a major overhaul. That can save thousands of dollars and many, many hours with every upgrade you do.
Standard ERP reporting tools are typically designed to present information from a single source – the ERP system itself. Robust BI tools, on the other hand, generally have the capability to connect to more than one data source.
That’s important because most organizations today are running multiple software systems. Digital marketing automation, for example, has become very popular in the past few years, because it helps organizations leverage the power of online advertising, e-mail, and social media. Those systems contain valuable information. Combining that information with data from the ERP system can provide even more valuable insights.
Jet Analytics offers numerous adapters for ERP and CRM solutions, including the Microsoft Dynamics family of products, so it offers quick and easy access to a wealth of information from multiple systems.
If your organization would like to leverage the power of robust BI without the time, effort, and expense of writing custom code, insightsoftware can help. Contact us today to discuss your project or to arrange a free demo.