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By Terese Jackson

Hiring and retaining high-quality staff is critical to the success of your business.  You screen candidates thoroughly, interview extensively, and provide competitive salaries and benefit packages.  So why does your Finance team, for example, seem bogged down with busywork, struggling to answer simple questions and potentially overlooking risks?  

Because they need the right tools.

The fact is that you probably have some tools necessary for unlocking the potential of your staff, but the productive capacity of those tools is maxed out, given the way they are presently being used. 

First let’s consider your organizations’ underlying data/applications…. You already use an ERP (Enterprise Resource System)—any type, from QuickBooks to SAP.  ERP systems are indispensable for managing your inventory, sales, accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, and more.  They are fantastic for recording data, but they are not conducive to analyzing that data, much less for using data as the basis of going-forward planning systems.  Instead, as in most companies—and Finance again is a good example—your staff almost certainly makes extensive use of tools like Excel or Access to create analytical measures, KPIs, and the like. And they might be using these tools to model data further, in order to feed it to yet another front-end tool, like Tableau.

Indeed, spreadsheets and other front-end tools can be quite useful for sorting, calculating, and visualizing data (Excel itself does all these things quite well): not for nothing is Excel the most pervasive Business Intelligence tool the world over. 

But the base data these tools use always comes from somewhere else, like your ERP system or a data warehouse.  Far too often, that data comes in the form of an export file (how often have you heard, “But does it export to Excel?”). Consequently, your staff runs reports that capture a single snapshot in time.  All the work they do from that point forward—looking for trends, identifying anomalies, creating dashboards—is done on data that’s already out-of-date on arrival, and getter older all the time. The significant amount of manual work required for your staff to repeat this process in the name of obtaining analyzable data is costing you time and money. 

Sure, these tools can be set up with niftier integration schemes, and just about all of them can work in server scenarios for wider distribution of shared data. Excel itself can accommodate a work group, once hooked up to SQL Server’s Analysis Services capability via one of the Power set of tools.

But these scenarios also lead to “front-end data silos” among different staff: C-level folks will want their dashboards; HR folks may work with online Cloud-based reports…and Finance staff will continue to work in Excel. And if Finance needs to create a dashboard for the CEO, they’ll send an Excel extract or use a spreadsheet as the basis for a one-off dashboard. Inefficiencies exist not only among disparate users, but cross-departmentally.

What should you look for to empower your staff, so that they can be significantly more productive with the tools they use?

  • First, acknowledge that users/groups prefer their own set of tools—give up the battle of unifying everyone on one platform that features one front end.
  • Implement, instead, a unified layer for data-modeling and the creation of metrics (calculated results, KPIs, etc.)—a layer that will serve up data to all front ends; this will go a long way towards keeping a centralized data store, always an organizational priority. It will also take the burden off end users to work up these metrics on their own, as siloed base data for their tool of preference.
  • Recognize that Business Intelligence must address planning requirements, i.e., applications that concern budgeting and forecasting and the like: these are the kinds of applications that most often live apart, in every-expanding separate spreadsheet files.
  • Your needs are unique—get assistance that will provide solutions that match your own unique circumstances. Look for firms that specialize in Business Intelligence technologies solutions rather than just software, so that you can work with the tools—and towards the objectives—you choose.

Some say that a person can only be as good as his or her tools—so empowering people with the tools they choose and creating an environment where those tools work much more effectively will ensure that, happily, your staff works much better!

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