[IMGCAP(1)]The reasons to begin conversations with both current and potential clients with an emphasis on report writers are more compelling than ever, particularly as this technology has become more available and easier for small businesses to use and deploy.

Companies are increasingly anxious to keep pace with the economy and the right tools can now be implemented sooner rather than later and help small businesses in particular, harness benefits similar to those of larger corporations.

To overstate the obvious, the easier a product is for nontechnical users, the greater the chance an organization will use it and companies that have invested in and updated their flagship business intelligence suites have proven that they’re serious about their data.

Financial challenges occur in companies both large and small. Such challenges include cutting costs, driving profitability, making financial reports more transparent, partnering with operating units in business planning and capturing all costs. Small and midsize companies in particular have relied on spreadsheets and manual budgeting and forecasting processes since the earliest days of personal computing, and spreadsheets remain the standard for day-to-day analysis. Indeed, well-crafted spreadsheets could be all the technology that a new small or midsize company needs to get up and running quickly, because they are easy to understand and use, and nearly all professionals are at least somewhat proficient in Microsoft Excel.

In recent years, however, companies that may have had a software audit or concerned about Dodd Frank and even HIPAA have migrated from spreadsheet-dependent processes toward more sophisticated automated planning, budgeting and forecasting tools. These tools provide more operational detail for analytical purposes, more robust financial reporting and quick consolidation of financial data, and they encourage more input from management. These tools enable finance departments, which previously used entry-level software and manual processes to export data, to focus on more key performance indicators throughout their business areas.

Companies are increasingly looking to business intelligence report writer software, which is a report-building tool for administrators or power users. With a report-building tool, administrators create new templates, and nontechnical users define reports’ color schemes, logos and fonts. These templates ensure that nontechnical users’ reports adhere to organizational style standards.

To ensure a smooth transition to the new software, administrators can introduce application tutorials covering common tasks, such as creating new reports or dashboards, or choose a reporting tool that is easy to deploy across the entire organization. Administrators also can set up security parameters, so if another department wants to access a report, that department can see only its own node and thus has to ask permission to access the report. Additional features of the software include the delivery of reports via email and the elimination of an option to print a report; this is to reduce paper waste.

Providing access to reporting is certainly an investment, and the size of the company determines what options are available. In addition to the up-front cost of the new reporting vehicle, there is an annual fee for software assurance licensing.

Deployment time and cost should also be considered, for example, a typical basic deployment could include two days of installation and training, whereas deployment for advanced reporting can include full or all-report setup. Also, to reduce costs, plan to have in-house resources create the reports after training.

BI is becoming the foremost conversation in today’s ERP marketplace and there are a multitude of solutions. It is safe to say that with technology changing, and as the customer needs evolves with various lines of business or with multiple companies,  that easily analyzing data presented in a format that makes sense to their business needs is becoming a standard request.

Accessing the data, even with other outside systems has become more frequent and we can all rest easy when it’s all working properly and the customer has a solution that is self-serviced. Mutual satisfaction and a referenced site is the goal. 

Anne-Claire McAllister is president of New York-based Microsoft Dynamics and Acumatica partner Accountnet Inc. The firm focuses on software for ERP, reporting, workflow and procurement with specialties in the nonprofit, financial services, healthcare and professional services market. McAllister is a member of the Hedge Fund Association and serves on the board of a nonprofit organization.

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