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I was recently asked to make sense of and summarize a financial report package.  Sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast. The report package was going to be five-inches thick.  How on Earth would I make sense of that much information and explain it to management?  Ugh...  I felt a migraine coming on just thinking about it.

This is where the right technology as well as the right approach can really help you get ahead of the game.  But how do you know what the right solution is?  Is it the most expensive one? Is it the one your ERP vendor really wants to sell you?  Is it just an add-on that gives you some value yet remains a very manual and error-prone process?  Much like buying an automobile these days, you have to do your homework prior to the first demo.  You simply cannot afford to come to the table uninformed.

I can't decide for you necessarily what to buy, but I am hoping to help inform you on some of the basic guidelines you should be aware of and some of the questions you should ask.  From my experience, these are the most critical.

1. Is the data coming out of my system and into yours?  

I carried on a bit about this in my last post.  Why would you want the hassle of additional clouds, cubes or warehouses (whatever you want to call them) that have to be updated on a periodic bases?  Didn't you already spend a lot of money building an ERP system to hold that data? Leave it there. Financial transactions belong in your ERP, not a cube.  When this is the case, your answers are always real-time and you can always drill down to the lowest level of data.

2. Who's doing the work? 

How long will it take and how much will it cost?  Are you getting a discounted software price that they're going to make up for in a lengthy implementation cycle?  And when you need changes or upgrades or even new reports or dashboards, can you do them yourself or do you have to rely on consultants?  The point here is to know upfront exactly what vendors are charging and what to expect.  Better yet, choose a solution that is meant for YOU to implement and manage yourself.  Take charge of your own destiny!

3. Why do you need a different product for everything? 

If the same solution solved your reporting, analytics and planning needs, it would certainly minimize the amount of training you and your users would need and simplify maintenance.  Imagine creating a P&L that you can easily web enable and morph into a graphical KPI while still allowing for full drill-down as well as real-time access.  Then take the same P&L and within minutes turn it into a budget form and roll it out as a continuous forecasting tool.  All on your own, no consultants. That my friend, is the holy grail and what you should expect from your business performance management solution.

Your big data doesn't have to be a big headache.  Finding the right tool makes it far easier to turn all that data into useful information.  After all, insights and trends are a lot harder to spot in a five-inch thick financial binder.

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