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Business Intelligence and the Value of the Business Applications Suite
Matt Kenney, Principal - Tech. and Management Consulting, RSM US LLP
A comprehensive Business Intelligence (BI) initiative is critical to increasing operational insight and making more informed decisions. However, while the strategy yields a significant amount of actionable information, it is more than just charts and graphs. What makes BI effective is the work done to gather data from various systems and organizing and relating it to roles so it makes sense.
“A successful BI initiative requires important elements, which NetSuite can satisfy”
Sales, operations or administration executives might view BI as charts, maps, KPIs and dashboards. However, professionals who develop meaningful BI systems know the effort involved in the Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) processes that precede these useful data visualization outputs. One way to streamline the ETL process is to adopt a business applications suite, such as NetSuite, which encompasses multiple business process workloads in a single system and a single database.
Since NetSuite provides an accelerated path to solve BI challenges, it is a business applications suite we at RSM US LLP (RSM) frequently recommend to clients. It encompasses financial, supply chain, CRM, service and e-commerce systems in a broad suite of applications that run on the same database. Even if you leverage external applications to create more sophisticated visual elements, NetSuite organizes the data to eliminate much of the work typically needed to extract data and link records.
A successful BI initiative requires important elements, which NetSuite can satisfy. BI pioneer Ralph Kimball defines three steps for effective deployment:
• Senior management commitment: You must have an executive sponsor, although if the BI project is based on NetSuite, senior management is inherently committed to an ERP system, because it is essential to running the business.
• Business need: Are you solving a need that actually exists? You can evaluate data in NetSuite and use the ad hoc query tool to determine if the information is useful and helps in decision-making.
• Amount and quality of data available: Data in NetSuite has already undergone a level of validation through the rules you have established. In addition, information is typically stored in NetSuite over many years, providing a depth of information and naturally organizing the information needed for a BI project.
NetSuite includes several features to better organize data for a major BI project, without the need for special projects or additional visualization tools. It provides role-based access, presenting only the information an employee needs, instead of volumes of disparate metrics. In addition, information is available in real time, and is actionable, providing drill-down access to source data.
Easy comparisons are also available, with visibility into current metrics, the same figures from previous periods and variance. NetSuite can produce several visual elements, such as dashboards, gauges and bar charts to illustrate key business and operational metrics. In addition, the saved search query tool provides self-service BI for end users.
Some organizations might choose to leverage supplemental tools to perform BI, but NetSuite can still aid in significantly streamlining the process. Organizations might want more sophisticated graphics and analysis than NetSuite inherently provides, such as scatter graphs or geospatial charting. In those situations, NetSuite can still serve as the data repository and provide organized and accurate information.
Many organizations seek to streamline the ETL process, and evaluate tools to help accomplish that goal. However, as mentioned earlier, NetSuite inherently brings a considerable amount of efficiency to those key BI functions. For example, the extract and load processes may not be necessary within NetSuite, as the key data sources of the business are housed within the system, and different views of key data can be written and presented directly in the platform.
However, if necessary, NetSuite eases the extract process with natural syntax queries and information organized with categories in plain English, instead of obscure database IDs. If you need to load data into an external repository, you can leverage NetSuite’s Web services and ODBC APIs.
The transformation process is where NetSuite provides the most value, with several potential efficiencies. Because all ERP, CRM and e-commerce information is located within NetSuite, the same nomenclature and identifiers are used from vendor transactions to customer interactions and e-commerce purchases. A significant amount of BI effort is spent converting information to a common taxonomy and relating data in multiple data sets. Those issues are solved in NetSuite, as information is related with common attributes from the start.
With data relationship keys clearly defined within NetSuite, you know how much of a product was sold, who it was sold to and the sales activities that led to the sale. The key relationships you need to report on are already defined.
One of the greatest BI challenges often arises when systems do not accommodate unique business needs. In that scenario, essential business data is stored outside core systems, commonly in Excel or Access databases. However, with NetSuite’s customization capabilities, you can create fields, forms and workflows to capture unique processes with common attributes and relationships. You don’t need separate spreadsheets; instead, information is captured in NetSuite in a way that is already related to other records to support reporting.
At RSM, we understand that BI is an imperative process for competitive organizations. And while there are a number of business applications suites available to support your efforts, NetSuite provides several inherent advantages, organizing key data in a queryable format to accelerate projects. Many organizations can solve BI needs within NetSuite and without outside applications and the effort involved with extracting and loading data. However, even if a larger BI initiative is necessary, NetSuite can provide a head start, because of how it organizes and relates data.