A technical paper for Microsoft Dynamics AX users

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1 s c i t y l a n a g n i Implement. d e d e e N is h c a o r Why a New app A technical paper for Microsoft Dynamics AX users

2 ABOUT THIS WHITEPAPER A TRADITIONAL APPROACH TO BI A NEW APPROACH This white paper explores the various stages of traditional business intelligence (BI) implementations from a technical lead s perspective, identifying the common issues to arise in such projects, and highlighting an alternative approach now available to Microsoft Dynamics AX users WHY DO TRADITIONAL BI PROJECTS GO WRONG? SO WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? CONCLUSIONS The rapid proliferation of data and IT systems is now common to all organizations, irrespective of their size. Organizations are accumulating data, some of it may be inaccurate due to duplications, missing or incomplete records, and they are struggling to find a way to make good use of all their data. Business analysis and reporting software has emerged as a result of such issues, and is an essential tool for consolidating accurate information from across an organization and supplying the reporting and analytical facilities to turn this data into actionable intelligence. Traditional BI projects have been marred with a perception of being a risky, complex, expensive and resource draining exercise. However, BI tools and applications present an immense opportunity to aid organizations in readily accessing the information they need to make well informed business decisions. So what has led to this negative outlook on BI projects when the benefits of faster, more accurate decision making as a result of enhanced analytics and reporting are well known? 2

3 A TRADITIONAL APPROACH TO BI IMPROVED WITH ZAP BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE Most approaches to business intelligence implementation follow a common methodology as outlined below. While this approach can be ultimately successful, such a lengthy and risky implementation has typically led to budget overruns, delayed time lines and eventual project dissatisfaction. This section identifies each phase of a traditional BI implementation, and ZAP s approach to ensuring a successful project. Business Requirement Source System Review Design Implement Security Maintenance BUSINESS REQUIREMENTS This is the process of gathering reporting requirements from the users of the organization. This task is typically undertaken by a consultant interviewing users around business process and determining the information those users require to successfully perform their job. Security is a major consideration in the requirement gathering stage as some of the information being analysed or reported on may be sensitive. In these cases security must be maintained throughout the implementation. ZAP S APPROACH ZAP Business Intelligence shortens this process by showing users pre-built content which they can review and modify, or use as inspiration to define new reports. It is much easier for users to define their requirements when looking at analytical content which is currently being used by similar organizations. ZAP quickly addresses the question of security by being able to inherit security settings from Microsoft Dynamics AX. SOURCE SYSTEM REVIEW Once the business requirements have been gathered, the consultant will then team up with a technical consultant to evaluate the reporting and analysis requirements. The technical consultant will establish what data is essential to delivering the users requirements, and where this data currently resides. 3

4 ZAP S APPROACH ZAP s patent-pending productivity tool, ZAP CubeXpress, extracts the required data from your transactional data source, including customizations and vertical solution tables. Using a wizard driven process designers are able to control which data is imported for analysis into one or more cubes, using simple tick box selection, and reducing the need for specialist resources. DESIGN In traditional BI projects, the design phase consists of several key components: Extraction Transformation and Load (ETL) - The data is extracted from the source system into a staging database. This database is transformed into a Star Schema structure. Each ETL task must be designed to do this task efficiently. The transformation of the data also needs to be designed at this point e.g. modifying methods of converting complex Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) structures into simple reporting structures. Data Warehouse Design - The warehouse must be designed in such a way to allow large volumes of data to be accessed rapidly. It must also have a structure that will allow reports to be easily constructed. Cube Design - Cubes are constructed of measures and dimensions. Measures represent how an item is quantified, e.g. a sales representative is measured against revenue and margin. Dimensions break the measures down into business categories, e.g. a sales representative is a dimension, the customer is a dimension and the date is a dimension. The cube is designed so that it can support all of the business requirements. Report Design - Reports must be designed to meet the business requirements. Report parameters, subtotals, headings and formats need to be thoroughly considered. ZAP S APPROACH ZAP CubeXpress for Microsoft Dynamics AX processes all the underlying tables of your transactional database, building relationships as it extracts data and builds the data warehouse. ZAP CubeXpress identifies customizations such as new fields, tables, or security settings, with a tick box routine to push or skip these items into the newly designed cube. With this approach, data profiling takes hours, rather than days. Cube structures can be amended as further changes are made to your Microsoft Dynamics AX application. ZAP provides pre-packaged content which is quickly mapped to your chart of accounts using an import wizard. Report designs can be altered or new content created from scratch using drag and drop routines. 4

5 IMPLEMENT Once the design phase is completed, typically a BI developer or consultant is then called upon to perform the solution implementation involving each of the following tasks: Installation - Install the ETL jobs, cubes, data warehouse and reports. Testing - The whole process is tested to ensure that the cube and the reports are delivering the correct results to the user. This is normally done by reviewing reports from source systems and then validating them against the BI system. Training - Ensure that the users can exploit the cubes and reports efficiently, and that technical support staff have the ability to maintain and customize the system over time. ZAP S APPROACH ZAP Business Intelligence is designed to minimize network bandwidth usage on familiar technology and to minimize the skills and resources required for deployment. ZAP s zero footprint web architecture ensures no intrusion on your endusers computers and enables users to view analytics from within Microsoft Dynamics AX Role Centre, Sharepoint, or through ZAP s web based portal. Customizations can be a major stumbling block in traditional approaches to deploying and maintaining analytics. A key component of ZAP s solution is ZAP CubeXpress, which allows users to automatically import customizations and bring them through for analysis. This minimizes the ongoing maintenance of changes to customizations and ensures they are always available for analysis. ZAP has a structured training program for system administrators and analytical content designers. The training program is integrated with the installation and configuration phase and provides a working environment, including initial content, which typically takes 4-5 days. SECURITY In this stage of a typical BI implementation, the security system (usually consisting of roles) must be designed. Levels of access will be defined across the solution consisting of cube access, report access and cube views. Security is both a legal and regulatory issue for all database system access, and should be carefully scrutinized early in the Business Requirements stage of the implementation. 5

6 ZAP S APPROACH ZAP CubeXpress automatically migrates security settings from Microsoft Dynamics AX. Each role within Microsoft Dynamics AX is simply replicated into the ZAP solution data cube, applying the same security restrictions as in the transactional system. MAINTENANCE Once rolled out, the BI tool implementation should be properly assessed by business users, project managers, and IT staff, to allow them to voice concerns, frustrations and achievements of the system. The BI application will also require considerable changes as updates and alterations to the source system will need to be replicated, e.g. customizations and security settings. ZAP S APPROACH Because ZAP Business Intelligence is a packaged solution based on 100% on Microsoft technology, it minimizes the skills and IT resources you need to deploy analytics in your organization. If new modules are added to Microsoft Dynamics AX at any time, ZAP CubeXpress identifies them and easily adds them to the cube, reducing the need for highly skilled staff or outsourced consultants to add the new items to the cube. A NEW APPROACH As you have read, ZAP Business Intelligence provides a new approach to implementing BI. Rather than a linear project line, ZAP uses an iterative approach to the BI project to reflect its natural need to evolve and importantly to speed up the process so that business users see results quickly. ZAP has assisted hundreds of organizations globally to deliver a seamless BI implementation through its unique approach for Microsoft Dynamics AX users. The ZAP approach to BI implementation provides rapid insights and return on investment (ROI) by using non-traditional methods to overcome the common obstacles that hinder BI projects, enabling customers to implement their solution in a matter of days, not weeks and months. 6

7 As ZAP Business Intelligence for Microsoft Dynamics AX is a packaged solution, it enables business users to have immediate access to pre built analytical content, as well as being able to create their own web-based dashboards, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), scorecards, management reports, and ad-hoc analyses on their Microsoft Dynamics data. ZAP Business Intelligence is able to dramatically streamline the implementation processes by enabling users to automatically identify customizations and security for import, even for entire industry solutions. ZAP s approach to BI implementations overcomes the challenges of traditional methods of data warehouse design through the use of ZAP s CubeXpress, a wizard-base application. ZAP Cube Xpress utilizes a variety of artificial intelligence techniques, heuristics and domain specific expertise to automate this process, requiring no knowledge of database query languages or specialist BI concepts. This means you spend less time focused on back-end setup, and more time on producing and fine-tuning business analytic outputs to meet project objectives. Due to this, ZAP CubeXpress is able to effectively consolidate multiple steps in a traditional BI implementation process, not only saving you time and money, but also enabling business users to start utilizing the benefits of BI analysis almost immediately. 1. Install Solution Software, Predefined Data Warehouse and BI templates 1 Day ZAP S INTERACTIVE APPROACH TO BI 2. Process Customer Database Include customisations 2-4 Hours 5. Testing Validation of reports, etc 1 Day End User Training 5 Days 3. Map Customer Data to BI Templates 1-2 Hours 4. Develop Reports Company-specific reports, KPIs, etc 1-2 Days 7

8 WHY DO TRADITIONAL PROJECTS GO WRONG? The traditional implementation process outlined above is typical of most vendors in their approach to BI implementation. Because of this common process, most projects also face comparable challenges: LONG AND COSTLY PROJECT PARAMETERS Due to their complex nature, BI project time lines frequently far exceed initial estimates, taking many additional months or even years to implement. The problem in most projects is that the building, implementing and testing phase is complex, labour heavy, time consuming and costly. INCREASED PROJECT RISK Managers don t want to fund BI tools or information management initiatives that they perceive as lengthy and risky. Longer implementations associate higher project costs in terms of resources committed and consultancy services required, unfulfilled objectives and low project satisfaction. With so much at stake you should seek a solution that can be implemented quickly to reduce project risk. A LACK OF IN-HOUSE IT EXPERTISE Limited in-house skills and IT resources are often key elements in traditional BI implementation failure. External expertise is often required for BI deployment and maintenance, as sufficient BI skills are rarely found in-house. This leads to either taking on new staff or putting additional pressure on already stretched IT resources. End-users can also increase pressure on IT resources when faced with a complex application they do not fully understand. In some instances managers and executives are technical enough to use a BI tool, but lack the time to work with a complex system. It is essential to have a BI application that makes accessing the information you need fast and easy. ADAPTABILITY ISSUES TO FUTURE ORGANIZATIONAL REQUIREMENTS Traditional approaches to BI deployments only see business users (the ultimate end-users of the solution) involved in the initial stage of the cycle. This means that should business requirements change in any way, the entire process must be undertaken again to realign objectives. BI solutions must be swiftly adaptable to changes in your organization s analysis and reporting requirements. 8

9 SO WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF USING ZAP? ZAP s innovative approach to BI implementation projects allows organizations to drastically reduce deployment times, IT resource and training requirements, and overall project costs. REDUCED PROJECT COST AND TIME PARAMETERS, RAPID ROI DECREASED PROJECT RISK, INCREASED USER SATISFACTION USER FRIENDLY AND FAMILIAR, LESS DRAIN ON IT RESOURCES It is well known that ballooning software implementation costs directly correlate with prolonged implementation times. Typically implemented in days, not weeks or months, ZAP Business Intelligence takes a buy, not build approach to analytics, meaning you have everything you need to get up and running immediately. Even on heavily customized systems, ZAP handles AX customizations and security out-of-the-box and deploys quickly to achieve a rapid return on investment from the solution. ZAP s approach empowers AX users to move from business requirements to reporting outputs so quickly that they can adopt an iterative approach to their implementations. Users can gather requirements, run ZAP CubeXpress, and take the reporting outputs to management for review, then incorporate feedback into their design by simply re-running the ZAP CubeXpress wizard. This greatly mitigates project implementation risk and ensures the desired outputs are achieved quickly and easily. One of the key issues for organizations seeking to implement BI is overcoming the challenge of putting analytics in the hands of the business users without the need for help from IT resources or extensive training. ZAP s solution overcomes these obstacles by allowing users to access reports and analysis anytime, anywhere, using a web browser. The interface is designed to be extremely user-friendly, ensuring only minimal training is required. This enables users to create their own custom content easily without the need for IT support. 9

10 CONCLUSIONS BI implementations are major projects, requiring careful planning and consideration by organizations of any size. With the right organizational support, success with BI can be a significant competitive advantage, ensuring you get the right information at the right time to help make informed strategic decisions. However, the ultimate success and ease of a BI project hinges on taking the correct approach to the implementation. Only the right approach and application, tailored to your business needs, will ensure your organization gains the maximum benefits of a BI tool and avoids the common pain points. Making the right decisions regarding which BI application to choose and how it is implemented can mean the difference between success and failure with your project. Long and inflexible solution implementations typically incur budget blow-outs, low end-user satisfaction levels, heavy resources drain and on-going costs and training. You need to ensure that your selected analytics tool can keep pace with ongoing changes and customizations in your organization, without the need for long and cumbersome manual input processes. Maginus give best advice around Business Intelligence (BI) and Reporting from Dynamics as well as getting the most out of SharePoint and SQL Services. With years of experience, we can help you get the information you need from your Dynamics solution to help make informed business decisions. Recognised by Microsoft as a leading software partner, Maginus has been awarded the prestigious Gold Partner Status. For more information on how Maginus can help your business, call +44 (0) , or visit ZAP s approach to BI implementations allows organizations to overcome these common project risks by drastically reducing deployment times, training requirements, IT resource drain and overall project costs. ZAP Business Intelligence for Microsoft Dynamics AX can help turn your transactional data from AX into a strategic management tool with the power of advanced analytics out-of-the-box. With ZAP s BI tool, including ZAP CubeXpress for Microsoft Dynamics AX, your organization can significantly reduce the amount of time, money and hassle typically associated with BI projects. An easy to use BI application that integrates with your Microsoft Dynamics AX software, ZAP Business Intelligence can be implemented in a matter of days, is highly scalable, and is simple to navigate even for first time users. Putting analytics in the hands of your business users can create a culture of performance and accountability in your organization, so make sure you avoid the pitfalls of traditional BI implementation approaches. 10

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