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SQL Server on Linux—Why It Doesn’t Matter to My BI Clients

Adam Jacobson April 12,2016

Rarely does a technology I work with it make it to the pages of the Wall Street Journal, but Microsoft’s recent announcement that SQL Server will be available for Linux is one of those times.

I’m sure I’ll get questions about this. So, I thought I’d prepare my answers here. (If you want analysis of this announcement from a technical guru, check out Brent Ozar's post.)

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Tags: Financial Reporting Software

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: Business Intelligence ROI Financial Reporting Software

Seven Keys to Cost Effective Business Intelligence: Part 1

Adam Jacobson November 19,2014

Don't Oversell

Data is hot. So, as with any trend, folks begin thinking that data is the way to solve their problems. As financial data consultants, this is great.

But while we love the enthusiasm, we want to acknowledge that what we do is rarely transformative in itself. Don’t be oversold. As our data consultants like to say, having good data can keep you from being stupid. But being smart is a whole lot harder.

Here’s why:

1. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

We hear that disclaimer in mutual fund ads. It’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely true. Things change. For example, in the early 90s, my family’s chain of men’s clothing stores had a mediocre year. Why? Because sweaters, which had been a leading category for years, stopped selling. This impacted the entire clothing industry. Consumer desire changed and suddenly everyone had too many sweaters on hand.

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Tags: Business Intelligence ROI Financial Reporting Software

Do You Know Your RQ?

Adam Jacobson September 9,2014

“RQ” or “report to query ratio” is key to reporting success. When you know your ratio, you can determine the resources you need to build your reports.

Let me explain. Every report is built on two processes:

1) Extract the data from the database.

2) Present the data with appropriate formatting, sorting, summarization, etc.

If you’re one of the (lucky?) folks who have Crystal on your desktop, you may not see the distinction between these two processes when reporting. Crystal (and other tools, like SSRS) have nice screens that allow you to select your tables and immediately build your report, making the two processes seamless.

But once you get beyond straightforward reports, these visual tools are no longer sufficient. Also, when extraction and report logic are combined, it’s hard to figure out where your issues are.

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Tags: Financial Reporting Software

Finance vs. Sales—Why Your Data Marts Don’t Tie Out

Adam Jacobson March 25,2014

In this blog post, I describe a challenge we're having with SSAS cubes. In this case, the challenge isn't caused by technology. It's caused by data.

Here’s the situation: Our client has used SSAS to build several cubes for reporting, which they’re using to replace a no longer supported version of Business Objects. We’ve been asked to review the Business Objects reports and create new reports using SSRS with these cubes as a data source.

While my client has some technical challenges and room for optimization, my technical folks are handling that aspect of the project well. But the project also has a larger challenge: The client has two different SSAS cubes, one built from sales data from the order processing system and one built from general ledger data. And the two cubes don’t always agree. This is a problem. Only the sales cube can give information by product. And only the financial cube can give true profitability.

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Tags: Financial Reporting Software

Can You Save 80% on Software Maintenance?

Adam Jacobson January 23,2014

Many of my Lawson clients are solid mid-market companies. As Lawson focuses ever more on healthcare, my clients ask me whether it’s time to move. And recently, clients have been asking whether they should switch to Microsoft Dynamics GP. GP is much, much cheaper. And for those who made their Lawson investment 15 or more years ago, they’re pleased and surprised to think that such a small package could fit the bill at a savings of 80% in maintenance costs.

I’ll be writing additional blog posts about the feasibility of replacing Lawson with Dynamics GP. But in the meantime, for those of your considering a switch, here are three questions to get you thinking:

1. Is Lawson “just financials” for you—or does it provide real ERP functionality?

Many of Lawson’s original mid-market customers use Lawson for General Ledger (GL), Accounts Payable (AP) and Accounts Receivable—or “Just Financials.” They use other systems to process orders, coordinate merchandising and business processing.

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Tags: Financial Reporting Software

New Year’s Resolution: Spend Less Money on Consultants

Adam Jacobson January 8,2014

One of my CFO clients recently asked his staff, “Why does everyone think I’m all about cutting costs?” Shortly after, he asked me whether I could reduce my rate. I said no.

But I do believe in helping my clients save money. So, in the spirit of the New Year, here are five signs that you’re wasting money on consulting:

1. Every time a question arises, you hear the same example. Again and again and again.

Great consultants have a broad area of expertise to draw on. But too many consultants learned how to do things one way and try to make every client do it the same way. Their 10 years of experience is really only six months repeated 20 times.

2. The phrase, “That’s not best practice,” starts to infiltrate your dreams.

This is something I warn all my employees about. What’s best practice in another company, or (even worse) in a book, is not necessarily best practice for the client in front of you. Too often, big consulting firms push “best practice” to cover their staff’s lack of experience or consulting ability.

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Tags: Financial Reporting Software

The Pivot Table Gateway Drug—Don’t Let This Be You

Adam Jacobson December 9,2013

That pivot table was so seductive. It made it easy to get your data out when all IT would give you was a huge data dump. The boss was happy. And the numbers worked fine. So, why worry?

But then next month, someone asked you to combine that data with a dump from another system. What harm could there be? Just a simple VLOOKUP? You didn’t even have to copy and paste data between spreadsheets—just specify the file you wanted in the formula and everything was fine.

But then, the pivot table wasn’t enough. Someone wanted special formatting. And you thought, it’s really time to get this into the system. But the report writers were backed up. And IT had other priorities. But with just a few more formulas and GETPIVOTDATA, and you could be the hero. So, you worked through the weekend, and the numbers were fine.

But then, you went over the edge. Someone asked for adjustments that you couldn’t get into the current system. You weren’t just combining data from someplace else. They wanted you to track data that existed only in your “system.” IT said it would take six months to get it done. And they really wanted those numbers now. So, you thought about it. You had Access on your desktop as well as Excel. Maybe, you could hook your spreadsheets up with Access and get everything they wanted. And it worked. You were riding high. You could do no wrong. Sure, you had a few jitters now and then, but you always managed to get it done.

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Tags: Financial Reporting Software

Standard Procedures Deliver Standard Data

Adam Jacobson December 5,2013

I’ve written before about the importance of having good processes to get good data (for example, not making sub-ledger entries in the general ledger).

The importance of good processes was underlined to us again recently when writing some complex Crystal Reports against Sage’s Timberline construction software for a client.

I’m not a Timberline expert, but I’ve done my fair share of job costing/project management over the years, and the same general concepts apply. Here, the challenge was to get a consistent set of report numbers when the system allows users to make entries in different places.

Let’s take changes to project costs, for example. Managing scope of work changes is critical for any business, but it’s especially critical in construction because you’re always working from an estimate. The original estimate is only a best guess; subject to change once the project starts. This is especially true in New York City, where large amounts of commercial space date back to pre-WWI.* Consequently, it’s crucial to track changes in both your costs and your billing.

In Sage’s Timberline, one way to track these changes is through change requests. For example, if you need to increase a payment amount to a subcontractor, you enter a change request. The change request status reflects where it is in your process. For example, in this screen it’s marked “pending,” as in pending approval:

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Tags: Financial Reporting Software

You’ll Always Know What I Think

Adam Jacobson November 4,2013

Once in a while, (every 18-24 months or so), I get criticized – if not quite in trouble – for saying what I think. Usually it’s because I’ve criticized a piece of software and someone who’s using or implementing that software gets annoyed. They say I’m being negative and hurting the progress of their project. But saying what I think is one reason why clients stay with us year after year. They know that if they ask me a question, they’ll get a straight answer. Of course, that sometimes leads to my comments being taken out of context, and they end up annoying those who’d prefer that certain opinions not be aired.

Generally, I believe that openness to a wide variety of opinions is important to progress. If people can’t express negative sentiments openly, they wind up muttering them to friends; then real issues remain unacknowledged and unresolved. That said, I recognize that even when I think something is, shall we say, suboptimal, certain rules still apply. People who’ve worked with me know that without saying. But for those of you who haven’t, here they are:

1) Opinions are just opinions.
Disagreements about software (unless the salespeople were really, really, really bad) don’t rise to the same level as stealing or personal injury. It’s just a difference of opinion.

2) Opinions about software are true in context.
While it may be interesting to speculate about what software is the “better solution” in broad terms, what really matters is what’s better at a given time, in a given situation. For example, if you want a global, for-profit solution, then, overall, Oracle is a better choice than Lawson. But that doesn’t mean your finance people are going to find Oracle easier to use.

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Tags: Financial Reporting Software