NGS Takes Deconstructive Approach to Business Intelligence
July 17, 2007 Alex Woodie
While it may sound trite, there’s an element of truth to the expression “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and it may hold more significance when it comes to business intelligence roll-outs at smaller businesses. To get customers through the knowledge gap, New Generation Software has created a series of solutions, called Decision Assist, that deploy quickly and, perhaps more importantly, allows customers to disassemble and figure out how they work so that additional BI capabilities can be developed.
“The biggest challenge in business intelligence is customers don’t have a concrete idea of what they want, or the ones who are building it have a hard time communicating what it will deliver. It’s a struggle,” says Bill Langston, director of marketing at New Generation Software, based in Sacramento, California. “At this point the market is filled with very effective business intelligence tools. The challenge is ‘How do I use them effectively?’ That’s where it falls down. Business people can’t visualize what they’re going to get, and tech can’t communicate what they can deliver.”
It’s easier for larger companies to get a return on their BI expenditures because they can absorb the large investments in time and staffing that it takes to build, deploy, and run successful data warehouses. But it’s a different story with small and mid size businesses (SMBs), particularly at AS/400-iSeries-System i shops accustomed (and rightfully proud of their capability) to run a data center with a barebones crew.
“We see a lot of business intelligence software become shelfware in environments where it’s delivered as a big project with a lot of capability, but the SMBs don’t have the time and staff for weeks and months that the big customers can justify,” Langston says. “That’s been our push in the last year or so, to determine a way the mid size accounts can start seeing some of the benefits of data warehousing, or a lightweight data warehouse, without having experts on staff and consultants. We’re going to continue to follow that model: Customers buy a packaged application, then customize it to make it fit their business.”
This strategy has given rise to Decision Assist, a prepackaged collection of BI components from NGS. The solution includes a collection of NGS software components, including the flagship i5/OS-based NGS-IQ server, Windows-based development tools, and browser-based dashboards–along with two dozen or so preconfigured reports designed for customers in specific industries, which are delivered as Flash presentations that play in Web browsers.
The first Decision Assist solution was introduced about three years ago as a bundle of reports tailored toward manufacturers and distributors that use VAI‘s popular S2K suite of ERP applications for the OS/400-i5/OS server. NGS followed that with another Decision Assist package designed specifically for users of Siemens MedSeries4 collection of ERP products for hospitals and others in the healthcare field.
Later this week, NGS will be introducing its third Decision Assist bundle, called Decision Assist–Financial Performance. This bundle will be tailored toward the financial analysts and CFOs that are responsible for putting together monthly, quarterly, and annual reports. As such, the new Decision Assist product will tap into general ledgers. NGS sells its own line of financial products, known as the Concert Series, which the new BI product is closely integrated with, but it will also work with the GLs of other ERP suites.
A full assortment of graphical financial reports will be included with Decision Assist–Financial Performance, including: income statement by revenue, gross profit, selling expenses, G & A expenses, operating income, and net Income; YTD trial balance by organization, account, and month; actual vs. budget by organization, account, and month; actual vs. budget by month, by percentage of budget; cash flow from operations, investments, and financing; non-cash deductions from income; changes in operating assets and liabilities; and balance sheet ratios including current, quick, debt to asset, cash, and debt by month.
“We worked backwards to develop this,” Langston says. “There are fairly clearly defined financial analysis reports required in for-profit enterprises. . . . We know what the end results needed to be, and then [it’s a question of] what data do you need to capture for end reports and analytical models.”
NGS has built and customized a fair share of data warehouses and data marts for users of its Concert Series financial applications, as well as for users of other ERP applications, and the company decided it was time to capitalize on that experience by developing a prepackaged BI application. The solution, which includes technical and user training from NGS, should help users of the System i get a quick start to BI.
“In traditional ‘400 shops, many customers are producing this in an Excel spreadsheet. They’re doing a lot of manual work to put this stuff together, and there’s a lot of pressure on companies to produce these more accurately and with higher data integrity,” Langston says.
NGS encourages its customers to tinker with Decision Assist, to take it apart and get a feel for how BI products can be implemented. “It’s a lot easier to learn how to use software if you can learn by looking at things that are already built and deconstruct them,” Langston says. “Business users and tech can see the end results, talk about them, and determine where they’re going. When people can see the end results, they enter [the process] with a whole other attitude.”
NGS will formally introduced Decision Assist–Financial Performance in a Webinar this Thursday at 11 a.m. PDT. Pricing for the product ranges from about $15,000 to about $50,000. For more information and to register for NGS’s Webinar, visit the company’s Web site at www.ngsi.com.