The Cloud & The Evolving Role of the CFO

In today’s business environment, we are seeing an exciting shift in the role of the CFO. Through the leveraging of Cloud solutions, CFOs are showcasing their business savvy to partners by providing more than historical, rear-view information; rather, the Cloud is aiding them in delivering forward-looking analyses of organizational growth, opportunities, and vulnerabilities.

With the Cloud, financial departments are no longer simply collecting, paying, and reporting as in the past; they are spearheading and undertaking value-added, strategic activities, using the Cloud as the groundwork to automate and execute day-to-day business processes. By embracing Cloud ERP systems’ ability to provide real-time data, the CFO is able to focus on expediting processes and providing key stakeholders with accurate, timely, and in some cases, live-time business acumen reporting. Further, the flexibility of the Cloud opens the door for creative problem solving, providing limitless potential to create custom, role-based dashboards. This specialized visual data can not only reveal new growth potentials within the organization, but it keeps team members focused on the task at hand.

Moreover, the dynamic dashboard data can deliver each member of your organization’s board of directors with unique reporting to track company financials and health. With complete control over the information, individuals can essentially ask and answer their own questions. Instead of assigning the finance team to compile large, intensive reporting documentation to present at a board meeting, board members can focus on the true reason they are there: To develop the organization’s strategic strategy and direction. In turn, by leveraging cloud computing technologies to collect and visually report company information, the finance department has man hours open to focus on process improvement, streamlining workflows, and executing on big-picture business objectives.

With all of the technologies available in the marketplace today, adopting a Cloud ERP system to provide your organization with the means to have a daily financial close streamlines and automates otherwise manual, involved business processes. Ultimately, this results in higher visualization into your business and provides improved tracking and decision making abilities to optimize your business spend and drive revenues.


stuart_tholenStuart Tholen is the Director of Eide Bailly Technology Consulting’s
Enterprise Resource Planning services. With more than 30 years of
experience in tax, audit and IT, Stuart has focused on building and
developing a consulting department to customize and integrate
business solutions for the end-user.

stholen@eidebailly.com

 

Will We See You There?

sage_summit2014

Sage Summit 2014 is coming up July 28th through the 31st in Las Vegas, and the event line-up looks great! Eide Bailly Technology Consulting’s own Eric Anderson will be leading two sessions this year covering “Sage Intelligence: Run Your Business Better” and “Sage Intelligence: Why It Should Be a Part of Every Consultants’ Toolkit.”

Join us on Wednesday, June 30th for our Eide Bailly Technology Consulting client appreciation social and mixer at Mandalay Bay!

 

Will you be there? For more information on Sage Summit 2014 or to register, go here.

Podcast | What Can Windows 8.1 Do For Your Business

There has been a lot of hype and confusion surrounding the Windows 8 operating system (OS) since it’s launch in 2012 and the subsequent updates that have followed. As such, our latest podcast covers some of the features and functionality of the new and improved Windows 8.1, as well as it’s key shortcomings for business users.

As a whole, 8.1 is the OS that Windows 8 wanted to be at its launch. The series of sytem updates have streamlined compatability and integrated ease-of-use gestures that have greatly improved the overall user experience; however, users still find the new interface intimidating, and a few poorly designed initial features have left a sour taste in the mouths of many businesses despite its strides in the right direction.

 

With all of the improvements, could Windows 8.1 be right for your business?

 

Windows 8.1

 


mike_arvidsonMike Arvidson is the Director of Eide Bailly Technology Consulting’s
Infrastructure Services. With more than 20 years of experience in
the IT industry, Mike’s wealth of knowledge includes network
systems implementation, integrated new technologies, and
information security.

marvidson@eidebailly.com

 

What Distributors Can Learn From Amazon

When it comes to e-commerce, Amazon has been doing everything right. The online B2C retail giant has been making headlines since announcing their plans for “Prime Air,” a 30-minute delivery-by-drone strategy that they will implement in as soon as four years. But Amazon is also making serious strides in wholesale distribution, setting itself up to be a game changer with sites like AmazonSupply.com, stocking over 750,000 SKUS in business-related products in over 14 category types. It goes without saying that current business-to-business distributors will be soon be staring down a very serious competitor.

Nearly sixty-percent of businesses reportedly purchase products from online retailers today and over half expect to increase that online spend in the future. Additionally, buyers are increasingly demanding a unified shopping experience, whether that’s on a consumer platform or in B2B. Business buyers, just as consumers, expect product availability, convenience and ease-of-use, and top-line customer service.

All this said, there are ways for distributors to learn from Amazon’s successes. The following are 5 key B2C practices that, when implemented in a B2B market, can deliver the buyer-experience to set you apart in the marketplace.

Real-Time Updates
Business 101: Buyers follow the product. Regardless if you’re in B2C or B2B, if an item is unavailable, the buyer will order elsewhere. Product availability, according to a 2013 survey conducted by Acquity Group, is the number one factor buyers use to select a retailer, followed by speed of delivery, breadth of inventory, customer support, and the product price itself. By managing your inventory and providing real-time product availability updates, you are encouraging purchases by notifying customers of limited availability items and eliminating out-of-stock back orders and order cancellation frustrations. Happy customers mean return customers.

Self-Service
Tools such as customer support forums, order tracking, and quality product images and information provide buyers with the information they need to purchase a product. Implement self-service options on your e-commerce site for customers to troubleshoot or research products or company policies.

Click-to-Order
Purchase history with click-to-order capability saves B2B buyers time as most businesses tend to order the same products cyclically.

Cross-Promote
Consumer facing e-commerce retailers are great at promoting their product inventory. Whether it is cross-selling related SKUs or up-selling, B2B retailers can implement this by offering buyers with product recommendations, providing customers with alternatives and ultimately increasing your bottom-line.

Search
Often, business-to-business sites offer limited search capabilities, making it difficult for a buyer to find what they need without a product number or specific product name. Integrated on any successful B2C e-commerce site, multi-faceted search functionality streamlines this process, making it easy for shoppers to filter results by category, attributes, and keywords.
As Amazon and other big players, like Google, continue to move into B2B markets, distributors must learn to adapt quickly and use systems that offer these consumer-focused capabilities if they expect to stay competitive in this increasingly modern e-commerce environment. In the end, the B2B retailers that make purchasing the easiest will win the market.

 

Stay tuned for our upcoming webinar centered on wholesale distribution.


trina_michelsTrina Michels is a business applications manager with Eide
Bailly Technology Consulting. Analytical by nature, Trina
aims to streamline operations that are often overlooked
by integrating and implementing end-to-end solutions for
her clients that support their unique business objectives,
leveraging technology to maximize goals.

tmichels@eidebailly.com

 

Self-Service Visual Data Discovery in Action

Traditionally, business intelligence (BI) has been centrally managed by IT managers that then distribute predefined reports and dashboards across various departments and management levels, making it a top-down business model. By comparison, self-service visual data discovery becomes a bottom-up BI model that empowers end-users to find the answers they need when they need it by selecting the data that they deem relevant, presenting it with the best visualization method, and interacting with it for insight into smarter business decisions.

Let’s take a look at two examples that demonstrate how users can interact with data and to discover better business insight.

Budgeting Blunders

A CEO views an executive KPI dashboard (Figure 1) and sees expenses in the red, indicating that the organization’s spend exceeded the budget.

Figure 1: Executive KPI Dashboard
Data Visualization_Figure 1

The CEO then navigates to the expenses dashboard (Figure 2) and selects the current YTD. January and March show expenses exceeding the budget, so the CEO lassoes January and March in the bar graph.

Figure 2: Expense Dashboard
Data Visualization_Figure 2

The CEO follows the data (Figure 3) to discover that the new “Corporate Likeability” campaign was not budgeted for. The CEO then selects “Corporate Likeability” to filter the current YTD and discovers that the majority of “Corporate Likeability” expenses occurred in January. The CEO is able to share the dashboards with the PR team across multiple locations.

Figure 3: Expense Dashboard Filtered for January and March
Data Visualization_Figure 3.1 Data Visualization_Figure 3.2

In this example, the CEO was not initially anticipating the need to dive deeper into the expense data, but the capability to leverage the system on an individual level gave the CEO the ability to quickly segment and analyze the necessary data when and how it was needed.

This real-time aggregation of data is made possible by the processing power of multithreading systems, all working together to filter the data and produce an immediate visual feedback. Web and mobile technologies allows users to share and interact simulaneously with the organization to resolve the issues, in this case the budgeting error for the organization’s new “Corporate Likeability” campaign. This is how self-service data discovery ignites interactive business communication.

Premium Play

A manager at an auto insurance company is analyzing loss ratios across Boston districts. Loss ratios less than 100% are considered profitable whereas loss ratios greater than 100% are not. Using the interactive map (Figure 4), the manager digs into a yellow location which is borderline profitable, between 90% and 100%.

Figure 4: Boston Loss Ratios Interactive Map
Data Visualization_Figure 4

The manager navigates to the “What-If” bar chart (Figure 5) displaying the loss ratios within that location by age groups with the premiums received (red dot) and claims paid (yellow dot) for each respective group.

Figure 5: What-If Bar Chart for Zip Code 02130
Data Visualization_Figure 5

The manager uses the sliders to vary the premiums within the entire zip code, focusing on the three age groups above 100%. The manager adjusts claims by 5% for inflation and then varies premiums by 12% to drop the loss ratio to 87.9%.

Figure 6: Adjusted What-If Bar Chart
Data Visualization_Figure 6

The manager dives deeper into the 16 to 25 age group, maintaining the inflation increase but varying the premiums by 20% to drop the Loss Ratio from 139% to 129.9%.

Figure 7: Adjusted What-If Bar Chart for the 16 to 25 Age Group
Data Visualization_Figure 7

In this example, the manager utilized interactive, geographically-based data to identify where insurance premium adjustments were needed. Color-coded, quantitative displays based on location-specific data were layered over a map and the interactive technology allowed the manager to click and follow areas of interest. Adjusting the what-if sliders allowed the manager to forecast a desired loss ratio based on claims, premiums, and inflation. However, this data is not stored; the sliders provide input for real-time calculations and the chart immediately reacts to the changing values with visual displays.

Conclusion

As you can see with both of these examples, the ability for end-users to discover and follow data down unforeseen paths was key to finding answers and solving problems within the business. Self-service visual data discovery provides innate do-it-yourself capabilities, and interactive visual delivery allows business users to quickly respond to constantly changing business environments.

 


 

brian_groteBrian Grote is the Director of Eide Bailly Technology Consulting’s
Business Analytics. Brian delivers a unique skill set, combining
years in senior executive management with ERP and CRM systems
expertise. His experience includes business intelligence software,
accounting principles, systems implementation, and development.

bgrote@eidebailly.com

 

IT Project Planning: Cooking Up Success

Part 2 | Execute On Your Recipe

The actual execution of an IT project can be tricky.

Now that’s an understatement.

While thorough defining and planning can minimize a project’s risk and optimize your odds of a successful deployment (for a refresher on that, read May’s blog post), no amount of preparation can guarantee a smooth and seamless execution. There will always be those unexpected obstacles that pop up when you’re not looking. For projects such as process optimizations, accommodating these unanticipated events may impact the timeline or budget, but they will likely have a minimal impact to the overall project. However, when it comes to software deployments, things get a little more complicated. There are so many moving parts in IT projects, from the infrastructure set-up to the software build and process design, one unexpected issue can have a terrible domino effect on the entire project.

An IT project manager is essentially an event planner, the orchestrator behind the complex, highly visible events. While the definition and planning phases helped us develop our menu and collect our necessary ingredients, the execution of an IT project is essentially the day of the party. Everything needs to come together in just the right way to make the event a success. In IT projects, this would be the considered the build phase.

Cook Your Meal

The execution/build phase is generally when project managers start holding their breath. This is where all your hard work in the planning process is tested. This is also the phase where unanticipated issues have the highest level of risk. Once the meal prep begins, a missing ingredient or an overlooked cooking requirement could throw the whole timeline or menu out of whack. There are, however, some basic approaches that can keep your project on track and help you handle the unexpected with ease.

  • Communicate Set up a series of status meetings, no less than weekly, during the build phase. Daily scrums or stand-ups are highly effective communication techniques that allow high visibility into the project progression as well as allow timely identification of potential issues.
  • Manage the Plan Track progress and timelines to ensure key deliverables are accomplished on or before the established target dates.
  • Don’t Wait Until It’s Late Be proactive in your follow-ups; don’t wait until a deadline to inquire on a task status. The more proactive you are in your follow-ups, the sooner deliverables will be accomplished.
  • Benchmark A common sports strategy, creating short-term goals and measuring them against your “competition” will lead to a successful long-term outcome. Benchmarking helps define your project’s critical path, allowing you to identify risks to the timeline earlier.
  • Quality Assurance Don’t wait until a module is fully built before initializing testing. Maximize your resources and productivity by performing quality checks and testing incrementally throughout the build phase.

If Nothing Else, Communicate

The key to successful project execution is communication, and the most important role of a project manager is to facilitate that communication. Capturing the necessary information and disseminating it to the appropriate audience should ideally comprise of roughly 90% of a project manager’s effort. A break-down in communication at any level of the project, be it project sponsor or team member, can have disastrous effects to a project. All stakeholders should be informed of the overall progress of the projects from a benchmarking angle, and all project team members need to be aware of the status of the project at the task/objective vantage. There is no such thing as too much communication, as long as it is clear, consistent, and accessible to everyone who needs it. When everyone on your project team knows what they need to, project success is more easily achieved.


sabrina_schindlerSabrina Schindler is a consultant with Eide Bailly Technology
Consulting. She is a certified Project Management
Professional (PMP) and has more than 7 years of experience
managing software application implementation and
optimization projects covering scope, timelines, and
resources.

sschindler@eidebailly.com

 

Podcast | Windows XP End of Support

Have you heard about the Windows XP end of support, but still don’t understand how it effects you or your business? As with any phase in a technology lifecycle, there are real risks and opportunities presented to end-users. When a product enters “end of life” stage, however, it is even more pertinent that users educate themselves on next steps and their options for migrating off an outdated technology, and in this case, a decade old operating system.

Watch our latest podcast covering what end of support means; what the risks are to your security, software, and efficiency; options and troubleshooting; as well as a six step solution to ensure that you are on track and can rely on your technology.

 

Windows XP EOS

 


craig_dummerCraig Dummer is an IT Procurement Speacialist with Eide Bailly
Technology Consulting. With more than 15 years of IT purchasing
and technology planning experience, he assists clients and
businesses in finding hardware and software solutions that fit
their needs, taking into consideration return on investment, cost,
and implementation process.

cdummer@eidebailly.com

 

Client Experience | The Power of Visualization

A production client in the agriculture industry recently stated that they often felt they were operating in the blind. Product was coming in and product was going out, but their reporting methodology often left the executive leadership team scratching their heads.

Many simply chalk this up to an industry-specific standard and move on, but this is a common misconception within the field. Inefficient or incomplete reporting is not intrinsic to production and manufacturing plants, but it becomes an inherent issue when it goes unaddressed.

Never having been one to wait to be in the bleeding-edge of technology, the client determined a new reporting system was necessary as they took control of their analytics and continued to position themselves in the marketplace. After a thorough review of the inadequacies of their current process and the needs from a future system, it was determined that streamlining the reporting process with an automated system using a single string of data, eliminating unnecessary manual entry, was crucial moving forward. They desired visibility across their organization; everyone from the executive team to the plant managers and line workers needed accurate, live information to base decisions off of and benchmark performance. Moreover, they needed to trust their reporting information. The nagging feeling that the numbers weren’t accurate or that they weren’t representing the whole picture was preventing business decisions from efficiently taking place, often getting hung up on the production manager’s verification. The capability to “drill down” into their daily, weekly, or monthly reports would eliminate that unproductive wait time and allow for immediate actions to be made confidently. Lastly, implementation needed to be as seamless as possible, without disrupting their day-to-day.

Armed with their requirements and some of the business analytic industry’s latest and greatest systems, it was determined that QlikView was the best solution for the client’s current business needs. Offering an intuitive program with dashboard customization, QlikView was able to provide near live reporting and seamless integration. Systems conversion required roughly two work weeks, no more than 100 hours, from the client controller and IT officer before they were up and running, and plant and production managers were trained on end-user functionality from an internal point-person on the IT staff.

Their new reporting system reduces assumptions and provides an all-in-one platform for client demonstrations, along with the future potential to incorporate “in-and-out” production board displays in their break rooms – gauging real-time key performance indicators (KPIs) against the previous week, month, and year. They have recognized through this software selection process that visualization has led to efficient achievement within their organization, made possible by custom dashboard displays and tailored, exact reporting.


darwin_braunagelDarwin Braunagel is a business advisor with Eide Bailly
Technology Consulting. He has more than 15 years of
experience developing and managing business and
technology strategies, with success in the selection
and implementation of ERP, CRM, Cloud, and mobile
solutions.

dbraunagel@eidebailly.com

 

IT Project Planning: Cooking Up Success

Part 1 | Identifying Your Ingredients

It is common knowledge that project management is essential to the success of any project, but let’s be honest with ourselves – How much quality time do we actually spend on thorough planning?

Chances are, not enough.

The outputs of the planning process, such as a defined scope and requirements documentation, are important for any project. When working with IT projects, the quality and detail of these elements is especially key as they are directly correlated to the project success. If adequate time is not spent on thoroughly defining business critical requirements and project scope, there can be significant risks to your budget, timeline, and overall implementation.

Think of a software project like cooking a meal; a missing ingredient or an oversight of a nutritional restriction could wreak havoc on the outcome of the meal.

Plan Your Meal

Like with all projects, preparing a meal starts with an idea, the identification of a need. With a meal, it could be as simple as providing sustenance or as complex as organizing a full course dinner party. The level of complexity of the meal will determine how much time you need to spend preparing. Equally, the more complex the project, the more time needs to be dedicated to the planning process and definition of objectives.

Take, for example, planning a dinner party. Before determining what to cook, there are items that need to be defined, such as:

  • How many people are expected? Cooking for four people is significantly different than cooking for forty.
  • Are there any dietary restrictions or food preferences that need to be addressed? If there are nut allergies among the guests and few like fish, pecan crusted walleye is probably not the best choice.
  • What type of cooking equipment is available? If you don’t own a food processor, ensure that your recipe does not require one.
  • How much time do you have to prepare? If you only have a few hours to prep, a 10-hour smoked brisket will need to be avoided.

These are just a few of the elements that need to be considered before even opening up a recipe book and beginning to plan your menu. In many ways, defining the needs of those you are feeding for a dinner party is the same concept as defining the needs of your business for a project. How can you determine what software package to purchase if your business needs are not fully identified? All too often, a project will enter the design phase, after the vendor contract has been signed, only to discover that the product does not meet the full needs of the business. There may be an integration requirement that was not discussed or interdependencies that were not taken into consideration. When this happens, factors such as timeline and budget can experience significant risk. The entire project comes to a screeching halt, potentially reverting back to the beginning planning phases and often requiring more time and/or money be spent to resolve the issue. If your guests don’t like or can’t eat the meal you serve them, you will end up spending additional time making something else to meet their needs. Likewise, if you do not delegate resources early in your project planning, you may be implementing the wrong objectives for your business.

Make Your Grocery List

Once meal preferences have been defined, it’s time to identify your meal ingredients. Generally, this begins by searching your pantry to determine what you have against what you need. This may result in a menu change if necessary ingredients are missing and you don’t have the time and/or budget to purchase them. The make-or-buy decision is made during this time, and the outcome of this process is your shopping list. The identification of missing ingredients is crucial to making your shopping excursion effective; if it’s not on the list, it may not get purchased, and if it does not get purchased, you will either need to make a substitute, risking quality, or alter your meal plan mid-way through.

Like your shopping list of ingredients, requirements must be defined in order to ensure your end project will fully meet your business needs. This is essential if a vendor will be contracted for a portion of the project; a thorough requirements document is in effect your shopping list that will determine if the vendor meets your needs. All too often, assumptions are made or even discussed but not documented. If a requirement is not noted, your project experiences the risk of impacting quality, budget, and/or timelines in order to accommodate for the missing piece. A project’s only assumption should be that the items documented on the requirements list are the only items that will be included in the end product. As such, this phase of project planning presents a high level of risk to the project as a whole, and gathering your project “ingredients” should be a key deliverable for your team.

KISS the Cook

When it comes to project planning, it is important to be effective and thorough, but this does not mean creating complicated documents that address anything and everything that could possibly arise. Try to refrain from these rat holes of “what if” scenarios that can drain energy from the project and waste time. Instead, remember to KISS when you’re planning and documenting project requirements: Keep It Simple, Silly.

  • Identify the critical-to-quality elements for your project in terms of “need to haves” and “nice to haves.”
  • Engage all stakeholders early.
  • Keep a running list of requirements in a central location that can be easily accessed by all project team members and stakeholders.
  • Keep the project objective close at hand and only discuss items that are value-added.

Effective project planning in the beginning phases of a project minimizes the risks throughout the remainder of the project. A well-defined scope and thoroughly documented requirements are vital ingredients for cooking up project success.

 

Stay tuned for next month’s post on the final project planning phases, including efficiently executing on your IT “recipe.”


sabrina_schindlerSabrina Schindler is a consultant with Eide Bailly Technology
Consulting. She is a certified Project Management
Professional (PMP) and has more than 7 years of experience
managing software application implementation and
optimization projects covering scope, timelines, and
resources.

sschindler@eidebailly.com

 

Selecting Your Next Business Application: Cloud vs. On Premise

There are many factors that should be considered when choosing your first or next business application. Today, one of the biggest questions is whether businesses should buy software and host it in their server environment (on premise) or whether they should subscribe to an application hosted by the software vendor (in the Cloud).

To help you determine which solution is best for your business, we have identified the following questions that fall into three key categories: people, process, and technology.

People

  • Do we need IT staff?
  • Will we need additional staff or resources to support the application?
  • If we need an upgrade, what will it take from our time and resources to complete?

Process

  • What are our organization’s growth strategies and long-term goals?
  • Are we moving toward a mobile workforce?
  • Is the application for a startup?
  • What are our organization’s regulatory requirements?

Technology

  • Is our current technology compatible with the application?
  • What are the costs associated with the application - subscription fees, licensing terms, etcetera?
  • How quickly can we be up and running with the application?
  • Do we have access to vendor experts for application support?
  • If a disaster occurs, what are the vendor’s recovery policies, what options are available to us, and what is the turnaround time?
  • Does the vendor meet our needs, support our growth strategy, and meet regulatory compliance?

How you weight the answers to these questions will depend on your industry and/or current technology environment. For example, if you do not have an IT staff, your existing server is dated and your organization would like to start hiring employees in remote locations, a Cloud solution would be a viable option to consider for your next business application.

The Good and the Bad of the Cloud

Depending on your business requirements, the pros and cons of the Cloud may shift. Below are some potential benefits and drawbacks of selecting a Cloud solution:

Cloud_Pros-and-Cons_edited

The pros and cons will differ from software to software as well as from one business to another, which is why it is important to consider all factors within your organization as you begin the decision-making process on your next business application.

SaaS_Cloud


shelly_earsleyShelley Earsley is the Director of Consulting Services. With
more than 15 years of experience providing strategic
business and IT consulting, Shelley’s wealth of knowledge
includes integrating business processes, work flow and
solution analysis, and new technologies implementation.

searsley@eidebailly.com