Business Analyzer Builds Executive Dashboards

Written By: Mark Polino

from December 11, 2013

Accounting and finance organizations across the globe are having a common conversation that sounds a little something like this:

CFO: “I saw this great presentation the other day and now I’m convinced that we need to have a financial dashboard.”

Business Analyst: “Sure. What would you like to see on the dashboard?”

CFO: “Well, a friend of mine who is the CFO at a service company showed me his.  But, we are a manufacturer so his dashboard really doesn’t apply to us.  I think you can figure it out – put something together and I’ll let you know if that’s what we need.”

Maddening isn’t it?
It is frustrating to contribute a lot of time and effort only to find the solution delivered was not what the CFO wanted. It would be nice to be able to pull something together quickly – preferably with minimal time and cost – to improve the feedback loop.

Microsoft Dynamics GP provides a tool that handles this pretty well. The tool is Business Analyzer and it comes with Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 and Microsoft Dynamics GP 2013. At its core, Business Analyzer presents SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) reports in an easy-to-consume format. The application is available on the Microsoft Dynamics GP home screen, as a standalone desktop program or as a Windows 8 application. Microsoft Dynamics GP also comes with several hundred prebuilt SSRS reports. Many of these are formatted as Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) making them well suited for use in a dashboard.

The desktop version of Business Analyzer works particularly well as a dashboard. In the application, the Microsoft Dynamics Business Analyzer drop down menu lets a user select the reports to include by clicking Options and choosing the Report Selection area. Reports can be from one or more companies and Business Analyzer can handle multi-company reports. These built in reports become the building blocks for a dashboard.

When Business Analyzer opens for the first time, the typical view is one large chart or Key Performance Indicator (KPI) with multiple smaller ones below. While that generally works, it does not feel like a traditional dashboard. The key to fixing this is an icon in the upper right that looks like four boxes. Hovering over it shows that it controls Dashboard/Split mode. The default mode with one big report in the center is Split mode. Clicking the icon to activate Dashboard mode changes the view to show all of the reports at once. Each report appears in its own box in a grid. This looks much more like a traditional dashboard and makes it easy for a user to view a lot of information at a glance. Users can easily switch back to Split mode if they need a bigger representation of a particular graphic, and they can drill back to the full SSRS report for additional functionality.

Ideally, boxes holding individual reports should be as big as possible in Dashboard view to make them easier to read. Accessing the Microsoft Dynamics Business Analyzer drilldown menu and picking Options and clicking User Information controls this. It is usually best to set this to the maximum size of 300(w) x 200(h) pixels.  Depending on the machine, this creates a grid that shows four items across and three down on a single screen. In the same place define how Business Analyzer should refresh data from Microsoft Dynamics GP. For most businesses, once an hour is adequate.

There are a couple of added bonuses when building a dashboard this way. First, each report does not have to be particularly complicated and they do not have to relate to each other. Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Cash and Units Sold can all be on one dashboard. Each is an individual component. By keeping the reports simple, it is much easier to create a custom dashboard element either from scratch or by modifying and existing report.

Another nice benefit is presentation mode. Many organizations like to show key indicators on monitors in their lobby or in employee work areas. In addition to Dashboard and Split mode, Business Analyzer has a full screen mode that will cycle through each report at a defined interval, say every 30 seconds. It is perfect for these types of applications and does not require another tool to learn and manage.

Business Analyzer provides an inexpensive, easy way to get started with a dashboard. Many organizations will not stop there and may move on to more sophisticated business intelligence tools, but Business Analyzer provides a great starting point and it can quickly help user give something to the CFO to make it easier for them to figure out what they really want.