By Mohamed Aamer, Business Applications Consultant

In previous articles I have explored the implementation planning challenges that Microsoft Dynamics AX project teams face, the roles of implementation team members, and the reporting needs at different levels of the enterprise. In this article I will explore the information sources that ultimately determine the strategic value of business intelligence (BI) reporting and analytics. 

At its roots, BI relies on capturing accurate transactional data from business processes at a fine level of detail, transforming processes into a daily flow of meaningful entries in an ERP solution like Dynamics AX. Application consultants should take into consideration the reports required by a client and ensure that the needed data points are captured through the daily transactions recording process. Whenever possible, the application consultant has a responsibility to also challenge the business processes owners about the process as it relates to using the data to make changes to optimize the business.

Transactional Data Capture - Microsoft Dynamics AX

Most consultants are splitting their attention between business process workshops during business requirements gathering in the Analysis phase and the establishment of the data structure in forms during the Design phase. It is vital to document the business process - the start point, end point, detailed steps of the process (if needed), data path in each step, and the exception cases for each process. On the other hand, the forms are a translation of the business processes into the real work activities of employees (grid, fields, multiple selection, buttons...).

The major processes that should be addressed in a typical ERP implementation include Banks, Fixed Assets, Procure to Pay, Cash to Sell, Costing, and Budgeting with the General Ledger integration for each.

Business intelligence becomes the second layer in the information hierarchy, using the transactions' raw data to provide useful information to different member of the organization.  BI adds a layer of aggregation on transactions and makes it possible to create a comparative analysis for key measures like actual versus budget.

The consultant should identify the required measures and how they will be utilized from the transactional level. These measures are raw numbers aggregated from specific fields which result from a certain process or combination of business processes.

Comparative Analytics - Microsoft Dynamics AX

Measures need to be informative - not just as raw numbers, but a source for analysis at the management level.  The consultant should identify the analytic dimensions as well the dimensions the process owner will need in order to analyze his/her numbers. The most common example is sales revenue, which could be analyzed by dimensions including customer segmentation, geographical locations, warehouses, customer demographics, and more.

Now that we have seen the importance of building the reporting blocks based on the business processes and daily transaction data, it is worth exploring the common scenario consultants may face where reporting requirements cannot be met by the data that is being captured. That missing data should lead a consultant to revisit the business process, entry of daily transactions, and identifyication of the need for cleansing historical data, which may be missing some information.

The third block in the information source is executive decision support, where all information is summarized and numbers are transformed into KPIs, analytic charts, and dashboards.

Executives do not have the luxury of time to drill down into all the detailed reports. They want a bird's eye view of enterprise performance to support them in taking critical decisions. With the right lower level data, the ERP solution should be demonstrating its worth as a true decision support system that offers this visibility.

Executive Decisions - Microsoft Dynamics AX

The conclusion is that when implementing a Dynamics AX solution, there is no reliable information for executives without a solid BI platform based on a well-defined business processes and the discipline of daily transactions entered by workers with a high level of clarity.