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Financial Reporting and Accounting Blog

From Reports to Visuals: 4 Steps on a Financial Business Intelligence Journey

Adam Jacobson May 21,2015

A friend commented on a recent LinkedIn update about our series of posts on cost effective business intelligence. His comment specifically pertained to Part 5—Think Reports First. He wrote:

Nice piece, Adam. But the visualization part is what gets everyone engaged....

That’s true, and I believe strongly a picture is worth a thousand numbers. But at the same time, to be cost effective, we still spend MOST of our time writing reports. Therefore, when choosing a tool, it’s best to start with “reports first.” And if you do want to “go visual,” you can start with the tools that come with SSRS or Excel.

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Tags: business intelligence

Following up on Building a Sample Data Warehouse

Adam Jacobson May 19,2015

Some time ago, we wrote about building a simple data warehouse to replace Lawson’s HR170. As our experience grows, we’ve learned a few additional lessons we thought we should share:

1. For your initial build, start with your current data and role backwards

Recently, a client “remembered”—once we began testing—that they’d turned off the “create history” flag during initial conversion. Therefore, the simple “look at HRHISTORY’ logic wouldn’t work. We tried various workarounds and ended up with a very complex program, without the exact results we would have liked. So, in the future, we'll take the approach of “start with today" (which should be clean) and role backwards through time. When you lose a value, you can remove it from your database for that time period.

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Tags: Data Warehouse

SSRS vs. Crystal Comparison

Adam Jacobson May 18,2015

In reviewing our website, we found that this post was getting lots of hits. The problem is the information is no longer up to date and, therefore, not very useful.

Over the past several years, we’ve migrated our business more and more to supporting Microsoft Stack. While we still write comparison posts (e.g. PDF vs. Excel—Does a PDF Really Secure Your Data?), we spend most of our time creating content that relates to our current business focus.

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Tags: SSRS

Understanding the Lawson Database

Adam Jacobson May 18,2015

We recently migrated our blog. During the migration, we realized some of our older posts are still getting a bunch of traffic, even though the content is pretty old. We didn’t want folks to get a 404 error by removing the content entirely, so instead we’re replacing the original post with this one. You can download the original content here—Understanding the Lawson Database.

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Tags: Lawson

Oracle EBS and SQL Server—A Match Not Made in Heaven

Adam Jacobson May 7,2015

I’ve written posts on unusual combinations of software that happen to work for certain companies (for example, see Can a Mid-Size Company Use QuickBooks?). But sometimes companies wind up with software combinations that don’t make sense.

Let me start by saying there’s nothing wrong with having multiple platforms for software. While in an ideal world you’d have a limited number of technologies to support, sometimes the cost of getting there is prohibitive. But sometimes the limiting factor isn’t cost—it’s lack of planning.

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Tags: Oracle EBS SQL Server

Seven Keys to Cost Effective Business Intelligence: Part 7

Adam Jacobson May 5,2015

Use the Tools You Have

The best way to achieve return on investment is to minimize investment. And the best way to minimize investment is to use the tools you already have. Fundamentally, after years of work in this industry using multiple tools and platforms, we believe all the tools out there do the same basic things. Sure, each tool has strengths and weaknesses. But if you’ve already invested in one, it’s really hard to justify switching to another.

We understand our philosophy may disqualify us from your consideration. For example, you may have made a major investment in SAP BusinessObjects. We’ve worked with it in the past, and it’s certainly a powerful tool.  But unless you're migrating away from it, we’re not going to work with it.

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Tags: business intelligence

Seven Keys to Cost Effective Business Intelligence: Part 6

Adam Jacobson April 30,2015

Use Your General Ledger

When you start down the Business Intelligence road, you’ll often hear people talk about data marts, data warehouses, reporting databases, etc. All these are useful. (See our posts The Data Warehouse Scorecard and Data Warehouse vs. Data Mart: What’s the Difference?) But, if you want to be cost effective, you have to ask, “What do I already have that can give me what I need?” Often, your need is for a central repository.

Fortunately, you already have one: it’s your general ledger. All your systems feed numbers into it. (Granted, you can’t put marketing leads in a ledger, but our focus is on the hard cash associated with them, so the ledger works fine.) As an added bonus, when you use the general ledger it puts an end to the most asked question of any report: “Does this tie to the ledger?” When you start with the ledger, you tie to the ledger.

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Tags: General Ledger business intelligence

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

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