Business runs on data and today there’s no shortage of it. Financial records, customer files, inventory and project details — the amount of information processed by a single business unit today would overwhelm the largest enterprises just a few decades ago. Fortunately, technology has made it easy to organize and store all of this information. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have also made it easier to manage it by eliminating departmental data silos. While each department may only need access to a subset of this information, bringing it all together within a single system provides a much richer dataset for analysis.
To take full advantage of corporate data, companies need good analytics, including tools for producing reports, tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) and creating dashboards. While many software providers offer these tools, all systems are not created equal. Choosing the wrong solution can severely limit an organization's ability to leverage the information they have and ultimately impact performance. With this in mind, here are five signs that your analytics capabilities may be holding you back.
1. Inflexible reports. Accounting and ERP software providers typically offer a variety of pre-formatted reporting templates that can be used to produce financial statements and other standard reports. ERP solutions also include standard reports for other modules that are part of the system, such as warehouse management or manufacturing execution. This saves time and money by eliminating the need to create frequently used reports from scratch.
While having a set of predefined reports is useful, a format that works for one company doesn't necessarily work for others. Financial statements, for instance, may need to be tailored to present data in different ways for different audiences. The board of directors may be satisfied with a summarized income statement, but internal leaders require more detailed information. Changing the layout or including additional data elements on a report should be easy, but it often isn't. Hard coded designs can be difficult or impossible to modify, preventing companies from communicating information in a way that makes sense for their business.
2. Using the wrong tools. No matter how many pre-defined reports come standard with an accounting or ERP system, there will always be a need for custom reports. For instance, a sales manager may want to know why a new product isn't selling well in a given region. Or, an organization may want a specialized report to track performance in a way that is unique to their business.
In the past, creating ad-hoc reports required a level of technical expertise that few people in an organization possessed. These experts were often members of the IT department with advanced training, and because their skills were in high demand, it could take weeks to have a new report created. Given the pace of business today, waiting around for someone else to do the work is no longer acceptable. If building custom reports is still a labor-intense task or requires extra training, you're likely missing opportunities to improve performance.
Spreadsheets are also a popular reporting tool due to their ease of use, but they have important limitations, making them a poor choice for running analytics. Foremost of these is the use of static rather than real-time data. Spreadsheet-based reports are out of date almost as soon as they're created. To ensure accuracy, they must be updated frequently, creating version control issues and making it harder for everyone to stay in synch.
Working with spreadsheets also increases the risk of reporting errors. Spreadsheets are easily modified and inherently insecure. Changing a single formula in a widely distributed report can have significant consequences, causing recipients to question the accuracy of the underlying data and damaging personal credibility.
3. Inaccessible data. One of the benefits of having good reporting tools is the ability to combine data elements in unique ways, such as by bringing together financial, production and organizational data to evaluate the cost of producing a given product at one location versus another. By providing centralized access to data from different departments, an ERP system makes this easy. If information is being captured within the system, it should be available for analysis.
If your business is using separate systems or spreadsheets, this may not be possible. Your analytics solution may only have access to financial data, for instance, but not project management details because the two modules have different architectures. While most common in organizations with multiple, department-level , this can also be a problem with some ERP systems.
4. Limited KPIs. Key performance indicators are an important management tool. They help organizations focus on achieving specific objectives, allow managers to see how their team is performing against those objectives and let everyone know if performance is falling below targets.
To be effective, KPIs must be matched to the specific business model and objectives of the company. No two companies are exactly the same. Even companies in the same industry may have different goals and objectives. Software providers often overlook this, assuming that a handful of standard KPIs are all that any business needs. You can't manage what you can't measure, so having the right KPIs is essential. If your analytics tools don't support industry-specific KPIs or allow you to track custom KPIs, they aren't doing you any good. Some software packages come with industry-specific KPIs preconfigured in standard reports and dashboards.
5. Rigid dashboards. Dashboards are also an important tool, not just for managers, but for everyone in an organization. In addition to displaying KPIs, they help individual team members stay focused by alerting them to tasks that need to be completed or issues that need to be addressed. They also increase efficiency by making it easy to access important information right in front of them so time isn't wasted searching for reports or features that are used frequently.
To make the most of this capability, for different roles so team members from different departments only see information that is relevant to their job. This eliminates the need for each person in the company to create their dashboard from scratch. Individual employees should also be able to easily customize the dashboard to meet their specific needs.
Dashboards that are difficult to tailor to specific roles or hard to personalize are often more of a hindrance than a help and are unlikely to provide insights and efficiencies your business needs.
Flexible Analytics for Everyday Users
NetSuite's analytics solutions give you the tools you need to produce meaningful reports, track KPIs in real time and glean new insights that lead to better decisions and improved performance. Hundreds of standard and industry-specific reports are easily adapted to meet the needs of your business. Powerful reporting and analytics tools are designed so even inexperienced personnel are comfortable working with them. While flexible, configurable dashboards provide critical information at a glance. Combined, NetSuite's powerful reporting and analytics capabilities help your team make smarter and more informed business decisions.
Join the webinar Improving Financial Visibility Through Dashboards and Reports to see a live demo of how NetSuite helps improves financial visibility.