Needing to migrate from a legacy accounting system to an ERP such as SAP Business One is a great sign your business is growing.
Accessing financial data across multiple platforms can cause CFOs all sorts of issues. Choosing the right business intelligence solutions supplier can be tricky. Here are some useful insights to help you find the right business intelligence tool for you.
ERP upgrades are a fact of life for SMEs and enterprises today. As your business becomes more successful and grows so does its need for data capture and storage. But data is only as valuable as how it’s used. There is no benefit to a business in having vast amounts of data stashed away where nobody can get to it.
When data is inaccessible, stored across multiple platforms and in many different formats or document types, it’s perhaps the CFO who experiences the biggest headache in trying to use that data in a meaningful way. They are the ones in charge of consolidating information into financial reports that indicate how well the business is performing. Without easy access to this data, generating reports is difficult at best, almost impossible at worst.
Of course, there are many different platforms – and incredible ones at that – designed to store and present data in all sorts of ways. The problem is that larger, established businesses will almost certainly be running more than one system simultaneously, reluctant to retire costly legacy systems that may still be relevant to one or more areas of the business.
The result? As new systems are added, data becomes increasingly siloed and hard to reach. Accessing that data, let alone using it for business intelligence or reporting, is extremely time consuming.
If you’ve reached the point of knowing you need a single system that can easily connect all your databases, extract data from them and allow you to use it in a meaningful way, you’ll know you’re looking for a business intelligence solution.
But there are so many on the market. How do you know which one is best for you?
Which business intelligence solution is right for you?
There are many solutions available that will create a connection between two or more databases. The trick is knowing how to narrow your search to find a reporting and BI tool that will best fit with your ERP finance software, in fact, any of your business applications, your organisational structure and your timescales for implementation.
Before you embark on your search, make sure you have the information the suppliers you approach will need from you: the names and versions of all platforms you’re working with and the business data you need to access on each.
Once you are clear on what you have, here is a list of key questions you need to ask in order to create a shortlist of solutions that could work for you:
1. Which systems are your data integration software compatible with?
Make sure you understand from the outset that you’re dealing with a company that can really help you. If you are migrating from Microsoft GP to SAP Business One, for instance, you need a system such as Sharperlight that is compatible with both MySQL and HANA databases. Sharperlight is particularly advanced, in that it allows reports to be moved between these two platforms without any database changes.
If you’re working with many different platforms, perhaps the right question to ask is: Are there any systems your software is not compatible with?
You need a single point of access to all your platforms. Ideally, you should be able to write your report in that single interface and the rest is all done automatically by the business intelligence solution.
2. I need a system that feeds data back and forth between data bases – can you do that?
If you want a system that allows your data to be kept up-to-date in real-time, whether it’s you updating it or one of the sales team updating it remotely, you need to ask about bi-directional data flow. The best systems allow anyone with permission to make file changes that keep all your data accurate, with all changes visible immediately.
This vastly improves your business intelligence and allows you to generate 100% accurate reports minutes after information is updated.
3. I don’t want to export data – can your integration tool connect live systems?
If you don’t want to download data to another space known as a ‘warehouse’ or ‘cube’ for analysis, then have to upload it all again, this is an important question for you.
Some business intelligence tools don’t allow all changes to be made ‘live’. They require data be extracted, analysed and re-uploaded. The main down side to this is that while you’re busy updating files your teams might be acting on data that is no longer current. This can lead to poor decision making or delays in activity that could negatively impact the business.
4. Can my teams capture and upload data remotely on their mobile devices?
If you have a remote workforce with everyone needing access to the same data, mobile data entry is going to be something you want.
Ask how your teams can use their mobile devices to capture, track and share data wherever they are. Connectivity on every level is what you’re looking for so ask about context-sensitivity in a supplier’s data entry system.
Also ask about different available data views on all devices because as well as data entry, you want your remote teams to be able to see stored data presented in ways that are meaningful and helpful to them.
5. I’ve set up many custom tables and fields. Will this be a problem with data integration?
A good supplier will be able to work with any existing custom tables and fields. Regardless of end points, your experience of using the interface should be smooth and seamless.
This is all down to the supplier’s connector. Ask about how flexible and adaptable their connector is and how easily it can keep up with your organisational data needs as your business grows.
6. I need to access data across multiple companies – how do I do this?
If your organisation has gone through a merger or acquisition, or has subsidiary companies whose data you also need to access, you need to ask about support for company consolidation. The best solutions will be geared to allow you to multi-select companies and execute complex queries easily.
7. Can I drill down to the most detailed data?
The devil, as they say, is in the detail. Many data integration tools are not powerful enough to access the very detailed data you may need to use. Ask about being able to access data on a transactional level. The best tools will be able to maintain this ability, even on consolidated queries.
8. I need to use data from all types of documents in my financial reports – what’s the best way to do this?
Accessing data across multiple document types might not be an obvious issue but many data integration tools don’t allow for this. It can leave you with a lot of leg work if you still have to manually access, analyse and extract data you need from documents that aren’t recognized by your data integration system.
Ask about how each supplier’s solution accesses different document types and be sure to mention all the document types you need to access, particularly if there are any unusual ones in there.
9. What about data security?
The GDPR is looming and you need to be sure that your clients’ data is stored securely, can be accessed quickly and deleted if necessary in line with the new regulations. Additionally, you need to be certain that your business sensitive data is safe.
Ask about their layers of security and how they support security across all the platforms their system connects with. Are you able to determine accessibility groups?
10. What is the set-up time, and what training is required?
Business Intelligence no longer has to be a mammoth project requiring a team of project managers and weeks of staff training. The top solutions can be implemented without the need for vast amounts of resource, and with minimal training due to the use of intuitive interfaces.
We are running a webinar around Sharperlight, one of the best business intelligence tools available. Join us to gain a greater understanding of what great business intelligence looks like and how you can make sure the right data in your business is presented to the right people at the right time.