Posted by Trey Johnson on 03 May 2021
If you’re working with an ERP tool, you’ll know that it’s the beating heart of financial and operational decision making. You’ll also know that getting fast, accurate reporting out of your ERP tool can be a challenge. Perhaps you have custom or extended data sets or data in add-ons from ISVs. Perhaps you want to also visualize your data through Power BI, another BI tool? Or maybe you are yet to put a BI layer in place? Whatever stage you’re at, these 10 steps will be the basis of an action plan to truly conquer your ERP
One of the most enjoyable aspects of reporting is the visualization, but it’s important to start with the source – your data. If your data isn’t organized or doesn’t contain the necessary information to extract useful insights, no amount of visualization will make it valuable. It’s important to get your data in order first and foremost.
The first and most important step to getting your data in order is to identify and evaluate all your data sources, from your CRM and spreadsheets, to your ERP tool. Some may be well-oiled machines, while others are stuck in the dark ages.
Once you identify the problem areas, you can fix them and connect everything else. Making sure all your data sources are functional will ensure that your reporting is reliable and consistent, which is necessary for taking action based on the insights generated.
The most important thing to remember when designing your reporting is to build for the
end user. That end user will have a job to do and won’t want to wade through irrelevant or superfluous reports to get to the value they need. For that reason, role-based dashboards are the most effective way to organize reports and dashboards for actionable insight.
(You might also want to read "“Dashboards are sexy, dashboards sell”... But how can dashboards deliver success?")
Too often, businesses become siloed by department, function or companies within that business. Most would probably prefer to have all their data and BI centralized, but the idea of consolidation feels overwhelming.
But it doesn’t have to be. There are cross-functional BI solutions available that will help end users gain a view of all relevant areas of the business without unnecessary siloes or partitions.
The real value in reporting emerges when you start to piece together data sets that may not obviously go together. Data from different departments – like sales, marketing, production and accounts – can be analyzed alongside each other to create even more valuable insights. Department-specific insights will help you grow that department, but 360-degree insights will help grow the business as a whole.
Trendspotting is one of the biggest benefits of 360-degree BI; interlinked data sources mean that you can identify connections and causation that would otherwise not be visible. For example, using cloud-based customer behaviour data alongside your ERP data could help you create more effective marketing campaigns around peak buying times, while also reallocating resources during the off-season.
You don’t have to start from scratch. Pre-built data connectors and dashboards will help you get started straight away and will give you something to build from. For example, our library of pre-built dashboards for Power BI have numerous options that will act as a starting point, allowing you to get actionable insights relevant to your role and your goals within an hour of installation.
Once you have your pre-built dashboards up and running, you can use them as a starting point. Adapting these reports to your exact business requirements and processes will be much easier than starting from scratch, and it will reduce your time to insight significantly.
Now that you have a BI and reporting strategy that fits your business needs, make sure you revisit it frequently and make it a part of your regular auditing process. Robust data governance should be at the heart of your BI and reporting. As part of this, make sure that all changes, updates and errors are trackable to enable this process. You’ll also be able to quickly identify and address any data siloes or disconnects that are occurring.
As the business grows, so will your reporting needs, so you should also assess frequently whether your current setup is suitable for whatever the next level is for your business.
(We also recommend reading "The Why's and How's of Automating your Data Governance")
Just because you’re on one ERP tool now doesn’t mean you can’t migrate platforms to support your changing reporting needs. In fact, depending on your tech stack and the data management systems you have in place, it may not be much of a migration at all.
Whatever the reason for your transition, having a strategic data partner in your corner will make it far easier for your business to create, maintain, optimize and scale a reporting strategy that will carry your business well into the future.
(Want to save a copy of this blog post? Download the full whitepaper version "10 Steps to Conquer your ERP Reporting")
Trey is Chief Evangelist and leader of ZAP’s Americas business with a background of 25 years working with SQL Server and Microsoft Data Platform technologies. His other roles include being an industry speaker, published author, a former Board Member of the PASS organization, member of Microsoft’s Advisory Councils and community enthusiast for the last two decades.
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