I am not the only one to say it – business intelligence is integral to enterprise resource planning.
ERP does a great job of working with individual items, transaction, orders, and so on. Getting aggregate views is generally done in current generation ERP applications, but older versions usually lack the cool, built-in reporting features (often marketed as “analytics” by ERP vendors).
Due to the steep cost of an ERP upgrade or conversion, most small and midsize companies need to keep running their current ERP system and maximize their return on investment by surrounding the ERP system with reporting and analytics software. They may not be as slickly integrated, but third-party reporting products do a better job than hard-coded reports built into the ERP screens.
With custom or “homegrown” ERP software, a reporting solution can make or break a company. Obviously, there isn't an ERP vendor to turn to, and many of the developers who originally wrote the ERP system have probably left the company. Simply deciphering the data base to run reports and to create “analytics” in the ERP is much simpler than modifying the old custom code to do the same.
This tactic can put off the need (and expense) of installing a new ERP for many years.
Are you an NGS-IQ query developer who hasn’t had time to get familiar with our Web reporting features? You’ve probably seen us demonstrate WebRunner and IQ Client’s HTML design features, but up to now, your company has left Web software development and support in the hands of a separate person or team that views your IBM i environment as an uncharted island, best avoided. Maybe you feel the same way about that team’s strangely named Web servers, languages, and development tools. There’s a lot to be gained by connecting these islands. Let NGS help you build a bridge between IBM i and Web experts in your company. IQ Client and WebRunner can be the catalyst.
If you’ve never set up or just rarely used Apache Web Server for IBM i, we encourage you to contact us so we can guide you through the steps. It usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes. If you have NGS-IQ queries that your users might like to run from a Web browser, help us introduce your Web developers to the HTML report design features of IQ Client. We can help them install IQ Client and you can identify a few queries to download and copy. After that, we can teach them how to add the HTML design touches needed to transform your query into an attractive Web report that can be run from a portal or Web page. Along the way, you may both become a lot more comfortable with each other’s area of expertise.
The item file is seemingly a simple file. Use the item number the same way as on sales orders along with the human readable description and maybe a few other fields such as color, weight, and so on. Throw in a few department or categories, too, to make summarizing easier and more meaningful to businesspeople.
Unfortunately, different industries have different ways of identifying, classifying, and describing items. There is no easy way of generalizing a single structure for covering all items that will satisfy reporting needs in all industries. Indeed, even within a single company different departments have different ways of looking at items individually and in groups.
The term "item" covers services, too. Think about the chargemaster in healthcare — basically an item master file used to bill for specific services provided. Other companies in services usually have a list of standard offerings. These are essentially item master files just like a distributor would have in its ERP as far as sales reporting is concerned.
An important point about creating an item file in a data base geared for reporting sales data is flexibility. Inevitably, the industry will change, additional divisions and departments will use the reporting, new ideas on management and sales process will be implemented, and a wide variety of other changes could occur in the company to add to the different ways items are viewed.
Additionally, item numbers will change over time. The same product coming from different vendors may have the same item number now, but will be different in the future.
There are the usual ways around this problem, such as adding additional columns or writing some logic that looks at the invoice date to find the appropriate item description. It seems like everyone can create a system that fits their company’s need if they emphasize flexibility for the future rather than perfection in the present.
IBM, Oracle, HP, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, SAP, and virtually every other major technology company want you and your company to use their cloud. Each quarter, these companies release new products and acquire companies to bolster their cloud offerings and grow their cloud revenue. Industry analysts forecast remarkable growth in cloud spending. Yet, global spending on information technology has been nearly flat for several years now and Gartner expects it to remain that way for the rest of this decade. So what is the source of all this cloud growth?
As consumers, we generally think of the cloud as a place where we can backup and save files, access applications and websites to do online banking, pay bills, share photos and music, or communicate with our healthcare providers. But if you’re a publicly traded technology company striving to meet ever higher quarterly revenue targets, the cloud can be much, much more. Here are some ways technology companies increase their cloud revenue:
Whether it’s software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), infrastructure as a service (Iaas), business process as a service (BPaaS), a private cloud, a public cloud, a hybrid cloud, or even remote backup, all these resources are commonly treated as cloud revenue today.
Yes, new technology is creating demand for cloud computing, and companies are using clouds in an effort to gain flexibility and reduce cost. But technology companies, eager to impress investors, will continue to creatively expand the definition of cloud computing to ensure they achieve their targeted rates of growth.
In my last blog entry, I misspoke. I said there were two main entities – customers and orders – on which sales departments base their reporting. While true, the real world is a little less clear.
For most sales reporting, the most important starting point in the data architecture is the order detail table or equivalent. Sure, there are a lot of reports that will just look at customer characteristics, but those are more suited for marketing than sales use.
For true sales reporting, start with the sales.
I mentioned the detail file because it is the most important. Within ERP applications, there are often order header files which is useful mostly to the ERP application itself. Real world reporting will need to look at the detail level in order to arrive at custom aggregation and tailored analytics.
The data needed for the order detail is simple. The fields needed are broken into foreign keys and facts.
For foreign keys, the simplest ones are who, what and when the sale occurred. Roughly, that is the customer number, item number, date, and salesperson number.
For facts, companies can get a little too wild with this information. Start with the basics of price and quantity. If there is a cost or margin field, grab that, too. Getting more detail might help some people, but the vast majority of sales reporting is handled just by those basic fields.
Keep it simple to start. Too much choice takes up time and creates confusion in the minds of businesspeople.
For a long, long time NGS has worked with customers who have sales related data tied up in their ERP system without easy ways to access and summarize it. Their CRM system (using that term loosely for many companies) does not interface well with the ERP data.
Whether planning marketing strategies or conversing with customers in person, salespeople often do not have accurate information on past order history or comparisons to other customers. Running a green screen application in front of their customers is not something most sales reps want to do. Instead, many simply dodge the issue by saying they will look up order history later and get back to the customer.
That is not a good response to build stronger customer relationships.
Through the years, NGS has come up with a basic data mart useable by virtually any sales department. It takes a few NGS-IQ jobs to populate the tables on a regular basis, but the layout is easily understood by any salesperson who wants to create his or her own views and reports.
Here is the quick overview. The sales reporting data model centers on two primary entities — customers and orders. All the other tables join with these entities. Of course, using the NGS-IQ meta function also eliminates the need for any of the report authors to know what a join actually is.
Upcoming blog entries will highlight critical tables and the fields we have found vital at a wide array of companies. The discussion will not cover in-depth issues or advanced analytics. I will concentrate on the typical needs of companies who use IBM i and want more effective sales reporting on older ERP systems.
In the 1980’s a political consultant coined the phrase “perception is reality,” and over the past 30 years that phrase has become widely used and accepted in both business and social settings to help explain or justify behavior. But in fact, perceptions we can’t verify through data provide a very weak foundation on which to make business and personal decisions.
Our perceptions do shape our individual impression of “reality,” but things aren’t always as they seem. Most of us know from personal experience that when someone says, “(Fill in a number) people can’t be wrong!” that there is a chance all those people just might be. We need to look at the data.
Assuming perceptions are the same as a company’s reality is high risk business behavior. Instead, cultivating skepticism is much more productive for developing a business. Combining creative thinking with the effective use of data to test perceptions and make informed decisions is the way to move your business forward.
Many NGS customers run customized or internally developed enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Given how long many of these ERP systems have been in place, it’s no surprise that every year a few customers tell us they are actively looking for a new system or have already begun a migration that their company expects to complete in the coming year or two.
With a few Google searches it is easy to find numerous articles and white papers on ERP implementation planning. The consensus seems to be that companies should be able to complete ERP implementation projects in roughly 18 months at a cost ranging from $750,000 to $5.0 million, depending on industry, size, and organizational structure. Larger enterprises can certainly spend much more. NGS doesn’t develop or support ERP software, but we do know customers, both mid-market and larger, with active projects that have now gone far past 18 months and who, we assume, have also exceeded their budgets. If you are in this position, we are sorry your company has found its ERP migration so challenging, but happy you continue to need our software and support.
If your company is thinking about replacing its outdated ERP software, remember that the problem is related to the software, not the platform. IBM continues to roll out new generations of POWER servers (now at POWER8) and new IBM i operating system releases. Reliable sources indicate there will be yet another IBM i release in 2016. Every story surrounding that anticipated release suggests IBM and its partners will enable more programming languages, more databases, more development methods, and more applications to run on IBM i.
ERP consultants and vendors are in the business of convincing companies to change ERP software. Sometimes they are right. But when you are driving your business on an actively supported server platform like IBM POWER, a durable and regularly enhanced operating system like IBM i, and a high performance database like DB2 on i, exit with caution.
In our Jargon Crazy game, it certainly has been entertaining to see which IT buzzwords have been the most disliked. Some results have surprised me, and some have confirmed my own loathing. I won't identify any of them, though, because I don't want to sway anyone's opinions in the slightest.
We are now down to the wire. Mashup and Center of Excellence are going head to head for the championship. Which one will be crowned the most hated IT term? Please play along here by submitting your vote in the final round, and check back next week to see who the winner is!
Tired of stupid buzzwords made up by marketing departments or super technical people who think everyone should know all their esoteric acronyms?
I am, too. Not that this is a new phenomenon, but I wish people would use common terms to describe IT related subjects. It just helps experienced IT people know what new technologies are and where they fit. It also helps businesspeople to better understand how different technologies affect their business.
In reality, I am not going to change the way the world works, but I can have some fun with it.
NGS created Jargon Crazy to get our customers and people we work with to say what their most hated buzzwords are in IT. The game works kind of like brackets for a current sporting event. Play along here by submitting your votes in the second round.
NGS supports customers of all sizes and across all industries. These companies create, distribute, and provide products and services that we all rely on or consume on a daily basis – engine parts, steel, agricultural products, snack foods, pest control services, groceries, medical devices, containers, tools, paint, lighting, carpet, newspapers, clothes, healthcare services, tires, financial services, sporting goods, education, and on and on. The bond they share is their decision to run their core business on IBM i.
Unless you work for one of these companies or know someone who does, you can easily take their products for granted and go through life without much thought to their importance to our economy and the quality of our lives. When operating well, they do what they do so reliably that they become almost invisible to us. However, they are no less essential.
In the same vein, we assume you want your essential business information systems to perform the same way – reliably and nearly invisibly. That’s probably one reason your company runs its core business processes on IBM i.
In this technological age where everything from what we’re having for dinner to what darling things our kids and pets are doing is broadcasted instantaneously through social media, virtually no one but vendors and IBM talk about IBM i. Why? Because people talk about the things that surprise, delight, and annoy them. They tweet and post about things that incite emotion, not things they take for granted.
Business software and computers like the ones we run are designed to be taken for granted, just like some of the products and services mentioned above.
So, we will continue being invisible but essential, doing what we do best – developing and modifying business software to meet our customers’ needs.
NGS-IQ operates in compliance with your IBM i security environment and also lets you control data and query access at a more granular level by using the optional IQ SeQure module. But if your company stores credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other sensitive information in DB2 on i, you should be using encryption to further restrict access. By taking advantage of features introduced in release IBM i release 7.1, NGS-IQ, and a proven encryption solution, you can support enterprise reporting and business intelligence without compromising your sensitive data. We encourage you to learn more by watching this short video produced by NGS business partner, Linoma Software. There is a link to request a data security White Paper from NGS and Linoma Software at the end of the video.
Most of us have a strong degree of skepticism about how companies market their products and services. We see “FREE!” and our eyes narrow and our minds say, “Don’t believe it!” Often that caution is warranted, but every once in a while, it isn’t. NGS’s offer of Qport Office is one of those rare times.
Qport Office is a terrific tool that gives IBM Query/400 users a Windows run-only interface so that they can output Query/400 queries directly to Microsoft Excel, Word and Access. You can obtain a two-concurrent user license of Qport Office without paying a license fee. We invite you to read the recent MC Press “TechTip” article explaining the features and benefits of Qport Office.
We encourage you to order Qport Office today. When you do, you’ll receive 90 days of toll-free telephone and online technical support from NGS. After 90 days you can elect to extend support for a nominal fee, but the software will continue to work whether or not you do so.
Of course, we hope you’ll like using Qport Office and discover we’re a great company to work with. Maybe someday you’ll decide to take a look at our more advanced query, reporting, and online analytical processing software for IBM i users. Until then, why not order and use Qport Office? There's no catch.
Interested in knowing how IBM works through the partner channel? It isn’t always straightforward for veterans of the IBM AS/400 to IBM i market.
For small and mid-size customers especially, knowing how the IBM partner channel works is vital to running on this platform. Indeed, most customers will never see an actual IBM employee — their usual point of contact is going to be the local or regional partner.
We are lucky to have had Doug Fulmer present a 29-minute video on how the channel works. Doug is a longtime IBM employee who moved a few years ago to work in the channel for a few of IBM’s hardware partners servicing small and mid-size businesses. Check out the video now.
Here we are again, the start of another year, and the start of another 365 days of new year’s resolutions which we may or may not keep. What’s at the top of that well-intentioned list? For most of us, it’s exercising more and eating healthy.
And with good reason. David Agus, professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California, reports that “86% of employees today are above their normal weight or have a chronic condition, according to a Gallup survey a few years ago. They miss an estimated 450 million extra days of work a year compared with healthy workers, which a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says annually costs American businesses from $150 billion to a little more than $225 billion in lost productivity.” On a more personal level, prescription drug and medical care costs continue to rise at a much faster rate than personal income and can erode your financial security.
These are staggering figures, and they should scare us into being more proactive – both employers and employees. But most of us in the IT industry have sedentary jobs that require long hours sitting in front of a computer screen. Unfortunately, those strong, sitting muscles only make us more susceptible to health risks such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
To combat the problem, David Agus proposes that companies create a new job position – a Chief Health Officer, who would take on the responsibilities of helping our workforce to be healthier without all the guilt strings attached. Some of the duties that the Chief Health Officer might have would be creating health and wellness programs that encourage employees to participate instead of alienating them (in other words, forget about the weight loss contests), redesigning the workplace so that it supports optimal health and productivity (think wireless headsets so that employees can move around while on calls or treadmill desks for those who are desk bound), and creating age-appropriate exercise and healthy cooking classes during lunch break.
While some of his ideas are not feasible for smaller companies or those on a tight budget, I believe that even little steps can make a difference. You probably don't work for a company that will ever have a CHO, but feel free to at least set an alarm to remind yourself to stretch or walk around, or invest in some wearable technology like activity trackers. If you’re motivated by money, consider bringing a healthier sack lunch to work and tracking how much less you are spending on fast food.
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