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Financial Reporting and Accounting Blog

Seven Keys to Cost Effective Business Intelligence: Part 5

Adam Jacobson April 28,2015

Ask: Is Your Data Clean?

Whether you need dashboards, pivots or reports, there’s one thing you need first: Your data must be clean. We all know the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” What most people don’t understand is that their data—the data they love; the data they prize; the data they’re basing million dollar decisions on—may be garbage.

But maybe you’re different. Maybe you recently installed an ERP system where the setup was consistent and no one entered a strange transaction just to “get it done.” Maybe everyone in your organization agrees what “gross margin” and “contribution margin” mean. Maybe your data quality is good, and you can get started with dashboards, pivots and reports.

But that’s not the world we live in. Just like happy couples don’t go to couples therapy, straightforward businesses don’t need consultants. Our clients often have one or more of the following challenges:

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Tags: data business intelligence

Seven Keys to Cost Effective Business Intelligence: Part 4

Adam Jacobson April 23,2015

Think Reports First

Put broadly, Business Intelligence software creates three kinds of output:

1)    Dashboards. Allow executives to “grasp the big picture.” They’re often filled with fancy charts, KPIs, etc.

2)    Pivots. Data sets that allow advanced analysts to slice and dice. Generally, pivots resemble the good old Excel Pivot Table.

3)    Reports. Detailed listings and reports so people can get their jobs done and see the details they need.

Many of you have probably attended demonstrations of Business Intelligence software. You’ve seen lots of dashboards and charts, many with special colors to show whether your key metrics are “red, yellow or green.” You’ve seen how someone can see a number, ask a question about it, and then drill down to get the answer. You’ve seen how a tool can present all kinds of data to a skilled end user, allowing them to pick and choose. And that’s all wonderful. And at Red Three, we’re happy to do that for you.

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Tags: Reports business intelligence

Seven Keys to Cost Effective Business Intelligence: Part 3

Adam Jacobson April 21,2015

Users Aren’t Report Writers

Mark Twain said, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” He also said, “Your users can write their own reports.”  Well, maybe not, but he would have if he’d been a data consultant today.

But seriously, many of you have been involved in the purchase of an ERP or other complex software. You sat through demonstrations. You asked about reports—because you know everyone needs good output to do their jobs and senior management wants nicely printed reports on their desks. When the report you wanted wasn’t there, you were assured it wasn’t a big deal to create it. Heck, even your end-users could become report writers!

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Tags: business intelligence report writers

PDF vs. Excel—Does a PDF Really Secure Your Data?

Adam Jacobson April 16,2015

I recently presented to a Dynamics GP user group on SSRS. It was a very interactive session with lots of questions. (Which was great. I hate when people just sit and nod.) One particular discussion was about the merits of delivering data in Excel vs. PDF. Some folks thought PDFs were more secure because people couldn’t manipulate the data as they can with Excel. Others said their users wanted data in Excel and, therefore, they got it in Excel.

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Tags: Excel PDF

Crossing the Business IT Divide: 4 Keys to Good Software

Adam Jacobson April 14,2015

The growth of our Business Intelligence and Data Integration practice means I don’t get out in the field to work directly with customers as much as I used to. Still, I like taking on the occasional limited scope consulting engagement just to keep my skills sharp. In that vein, I was recently asked by an IT department to review some of their systems—in particular their systems controlled by users. IT doesn’t think this is a good situation and wants an outside expert's opinion.

I’m wary of taking on engagements where the client already has an answer in mind. Lots of consultants make good money providing management with justifications for what they’ve already decided to do. But that’s not me.

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Tags: data IT

Good Developers Need Subject Matter Expertise

Adam Jacobson April 10,2015

We’re a consulting firm. It says so on our website. And so, two to four times a month, I get unsolicited emails (and sometimes even calls) from folks in India or elsewhere who want to “partner with us.” The idea is to lower our costs by using overseas developers.

While the pitches differ, they all include a low price per hour and list of languages (Java, C#) and other tools they know.

But what’s missing is any reference to the kinds of business problems they solve. The implication is that their developers can do anything—from shopping carts to payroll, from CRM to ERP. I don’t believe that’s true in our business.

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Tags: developers subject matter expertise

Can a Mid-Size Company Use QuickBooks?

Adam Jacobson February 23,2015

I’ve been using QuickBooks for my own business for almost 14 years as a user.  I only consulted on it once when I helped my accountant with one of his clients. Lately, I’ve been thinking it’s time to move on. I want a database I can run reports from. And besides, shouldn’t the shoemaker get some shoes once in a while?

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Tags: Accounting Software

On Focus and Being the Elephant

Adam Jacobson January 16,2015

There’s an old story about a group of blind men who touch different parts of an elephant. They’re all convinced they understand what the elephant is. But, of course, their understanding differs depending on whether they touch the trunk, tail, tusk or leg.

Sometime I think I’ve become the elephant. When I speak to folks about what I do (and especially when they read my blog), they often latch onto a part that relates to their own experience. It’s really nice when someone’s interested in what you do. But, as someone given to distraction, I’m often led astray. I think, “Wow, someone’s interested in that. I should pursue it.”

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Tags: Focus

Creating a Financial Reporting Project Charter

Adam Jacobson January 15,2015

Organizations sometimes ask me to help them clean up a mess. Messes such as, “The numbers aren’t trustworthy,” “The close takes too long,” and “The software is ancient.”

Whatever the type of mess, when cleaning it up we often encounter the same challenges:

  • The folks you need to work with don’t trust you. People don’t like change. People don’t trust consultants in general. And most employees view the accounting department as a bunch of trolls.
  • There’s a ton of stuff to do. Problems that took years to create can’t be solved immediately.
  • Priorities are unclear. When there’s a ton of stuff to do, people think you’ve forgotten about what THEY think is most important—no matter where you start or how you proceed.

To address these challenges, I often create a one-page charter, or project overview, for new projects. The charter helps people grasp the key issues quickly, without having to flip through notes or talk to five different people.

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Tags: project charter project overview

Five Key Changes—Why Didn’t I Do It Earlier?

Adam Jacobson January 14,2015

In my previous post, I discussed the five key changes I made in 2014. As I wrote about these changes, I had to ask myself why it took me so long to make them. I’ve always known that my business, while profitable, was a “freelancer on steroids” model. We had the classic freelancer problem: get a great gig, work like heck on it, panic and start marketing like crazy when the “gig is up” (as it were).

Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. Thankfully, we’re not dependent on one client—we have a base of about 10-15 recurring clients. But for most of the past six years, one big client has regularly “made our year.” And because we’ve been dependent on that one big client, we’d often get dragged into different technologies. Or at least that’s what use to happen until I hit an emotional and physical wall this year. Which proves what I’ve always said: people only change when they’re in extreme pain.

So, why didn’t I change my ways sooner?

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Tags: marketing project overview

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