Business Intelligence (BI) Part 1: Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 BI Out of the Box
Much has been announced in the past two years relating to Business Intelligence by Microsoft. For the Dynamics AX user, consider the laundry list of technologies and concepts:
SQL Server Reporting Services
SQL Server Analysis Services
Cloud vs On Premise
Extract, Transform, Load
Natural Language Query
Real time data vs Batch processing
Big Freakin’ Data
Okay, some liberties were taken with that last bullet point. And, while this is daunting, this should be broken down to:
What’s the need/goal
Who needs it
On what device
Where does the data reside and does “freshness” count
In what format (transaction/relational, data warehouse/cube, etc. and how should it be presented)
Most would agree that the goal of a business intelligence strategy is to help make better decisions through actionable insight. And, since organizations have subject matter decision makers in different parts of their organization, the strategy must accommodate these unique data, delivery and visualization requirements.
To start, business intelligence in Dynamics AX come with some standard cubes and visualizations intended for targeted roles. This will be followed up with a look at Power BI, Datazen and other tools and concepts (e.g., in memory computing, etc..)
Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 was released with the following pre-built content:
- Role Centers – over 30 home pages tailored to specific user functions/profiles
- Analysis Cubes – 11 analysis cubes geared towards functional areas – finance, supply chain, manufacturing, professional services and business processes (for most customers out of the box cubes are just the tip of the iceberg and custom cubes are always needed)
- Key Performance Indicators – Over 50 of the most common KPIs that are used to monitor the health of an organization or functional area
- Analytical Reports – dozens of reports are provided
While Dynamics AX kick starts any organization’s business intelligence platform with pre-built roles, content and visualizations, each organization will have unique data, insights, and visualization requirements to become actionable. The point is: Expect this pre-built content to accelerate your time to value but don’t assume that it will be that valuable right out of the box. On the other hand, Dynamics AX reporting allows super easy joining of tables and filtering without IT aid, which enables users to easily locate the information they are seeking and to easily export to Excel. This means that users can join additional data sources on the fly without customizations and thereby use their familiar analysis tools very quickly and easily.
Role Centers use web parts to provide content and context to a landing page which can be tailored for a user or groups of users. Experience shows that Role Centers, out of the box, are a great start but are generally tweaked to provide the relevant information users need to improve visibility and their decision making.
The Role Center is a Landing or Home Page that normally provides at least the following:
- Insight (visualization)
- Operational Detail (Values and drill down)
Role Centers can contain the following types of Web parts to display business data from Microsoft Dynamics AX.
Alerts are generated as part of a notification system that helps you track events in Microsoft Dynamics AX. The system generates alerts based on the alert rules that are created for you in the Microsoft Dynamics AX client. Alert rules can be associated with an event that occurs with a record in a particular table. For example, a record is created or deleted. When the selected event occurs for the specified field, or for a record in the specified table, the user receives an alert. Alert notifications can be delivered via email, AX client or Enterprise Portal. However, you must use the Microsoft Dynamics AX client to create or modify alert rules.
Cues display a visual representation of your workload appearing like a stack of documents which are indicative of the number of results (bigger stacks have more results). Cues also provide an overview of your remaining work items, such as sales leads, overdue activities, and other tasks that you must finish. You can create and modify cues, which are saved filtered views of the information in a form or on a list page. When you click a cue, the associated form or list page opens, and the filtered view is displayed.
Work lists display alerts, work items from a workflow, and activities that you can act on or must be notified about. You can use work lists to view the status of items and see when action is required. When you click a link in a work list, information about the list item is displayed.
Reports and Key Performance Indicator (KPI) lists
Reports Web parts display Reporting Services reports from the Microsoft Dynamics AX database or from online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes that are set up in Analysis Services. You can also use these Web parts to display lists of key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs are business metrics that can be summarized by a comparison, goal, value, or status. For example, you can use KPIs to compare actual expenditures with budgeted amounts. These indicators can also include stop lighting (i.e., red/yellow/green indicators) to quickly assess the “health” of an indicator.
You can use business overview Web parts to display measures, or calculations, from the OLAP cubes, and compare those measures for various periods. You can also display KPIs that include information about period comparisons. For example, you can display information about this month’s sales versus last month’s sales.
Quick links provide access to forms, reports, list pages, and other Web pages that you frequently use. You can modify these links to meet your needs.
The Connect Web part
The Connect Web part displays links to online resources, such as training, support, product updates, and information from the Microsoft Dynamics Community. The resources that are displayed in the Connect Web part are managed by Microsoft Connect. The resources vary, depending on your role in Microsoft Dynamics AX. The Connect Web part displays information on slides that automatically rotate. When the computer is offline, the Connect Web part displays information about CustomerSource, the Microsoft Dynamics Community, and online services for Microsoft Dynamics ERP.
AX has other ways of improving the way in which is information ingested. A good example is FactBoxes.
Ever been frustrated by having to navigate to multiple screens to find detail content relative to a single record? FactBoxes aggregate content from multiple screens to a resizable box that eliminates the need to unnecessarily open new windows or navigate to other screens.
Analyze Data Report Button
Power View can be used to create interactive ad-hoc reports in Microsoft Dynamics AX. Several list pages have an “Analyze data Reporting” button that launches a Power View report designer. The Power View report designer connects to an Analysis Cube and allows you to drag and drop fields for quick analysis.
Summary of what tools are used where:
So this is an introduction to Dynamics AX business intelligence. There’s a lot more to digest when assessing different user types, Power BI, external data, mobile needs, other visualization options… Check out Part 2 and Part 3 of this blog series for even more information!