Business Performance and Technology Corner
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The Ultimate Tool for Business Analytics

February 8, 2012 | By | 8 Replies More

The process of laying out the right combination of meaningful numbers or business metrics is part art and part science. It requires an understanding of the business, knowledge of the application(s) which contain the numbers, a mastery of various number crunching and presentation mechanisms, and the acumen for creating something that people will not only use without impunity, but take action from.

I am tempted to say, that the world of reporting, analytics, and business metrics is unlike any other, because the view of the final product is as varied as the pattern of a snowflake.

Let’s take the simple word ‘chair’. For some this conjures up a wooden four legged stool, for others, it could be a recliner, a rocking chair, or even bar stool; and the chair could be constructed of metal, mahogany, maple – or even plastic.Business Metrics

Now, let’s take the word ‘cost’. At first glance, you might be tempted to say – “well how many ways can you look at the word ‘cost’? Cost is cost”. Cost of what? Is it manufactured? To you include the cost of labor? You haven’t paid somebody for two weeks, so your payroll costs are not up to date – what is the cost of the hours? How to you determine that? If it is an inventory item, do you include freight? Landed costs? If it is a project cost, do you include overhead? How do you calculate that? Should you include administrative expenses? For what time period? How do you determine what part of overtime hours are apportioned to a job from an employee who worked on several jobs during the time period? How do you allocate my marketing expenses if you have cross sell strategies?

And you haven’t really gotten started. Not only are you trying to understand what should be included in the ‘cost’ then we have to figure out how we are keeping track of the ‘cost’. Are you going to take a bill and split it into 60 cost centers? Are you going to allocate costs every month – and how are you going to do that? How do you keep track of a specific non-inventory item, but your accounting package doesn’t do it? How do you take a simple chart of accounts and make it work for management reporting which may need to ‘cross-thread’ multiple accounts to get the answer? Will classifying the account do the trick? What happens when you change gears, and the existing class structure doesn’t work?

And then after you have figured out how to store the data to get it out, you have to create a mechanism that makes it easy to look at the ‘cost’, without needing a rocket sciences degree to gather the information and present it.

So how do you do all of this? Isn’t there a simple way to do all of this?

Answer: There isn’t a simple way. Oh sure, there are age old metrics that are rather easy to generate, such as sales vs. previous period sales, or a Profit and Loss comparison, Cash Flow Activity. However there is one problem – while these types of reports tell you the trend or health of your operation, they don’t tell you HOW the numbers got there, and they don’t tell you WHAT to do in future to change them.

Here is another way to put this: It is one thing if you see that sales are down from one month to the next. It is entirely a different venue when you see that the daily % of closed opportunities is down, or that the number of requests is down. Each one of these two metrics would get you closer to knowing which action to take. How about the number of calls made, or the quality of leads who have called; wouldn’t that type of metric get you closer to taking action?

One of my favorite client questions from 30 years ago, is something that I still keep on my wall: ‘Our financial statement said we made more money than last year? How come my bank account isn’t bigger?’

I remember explaining a few things to him, and even dusting off a cash activity report, but my client still had glazed eyes at the end of our discussion – and for the following few weeks. I had to come up with creative ways of SHOWING him, not just explaining to him. The proof was in what he saw, not what I said.

If I had some of the tools available today, I would have an easier time showing my client how inventory had grown, or that the inventory turnover rate had increased, or that receivables had increased, or that the number of days to pay had increased, or that we paid off more debt than expected, or that payables had decreased, or that we had increased payroll, or that sales or production per employee had increased, etc. etc.

It is one thing to create a report that somebody already wants. Simply ask for a picture, discuss the sources of the data in each column, and then find a way to produce that for the client.

But what do you do when the client is trying to find answers, and asks you a question about why their numbers appear the way they do. Do you have a quiver large enough to contain the types of arrows to draw down to the bull’s eye?

In my experience, the fast food mentality has perpetrated the notion, that there is a tool, or software application that will ‘dissect at will’ and can be used by a 4 year old. While this notion keeps me up at night, we are no closer to this ideal than sewing buttons on the moon.

So what’s the answer? A brain that thinks and can utilize the right tool for the correct situation. We haven’t found an application to replace the experienced brain quite yet.

We still need the ‘art’ to go with the ‘science’.

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Category: Chuck's Business Performance and Technology Corner, Expert's Corner, Technology/Trends

About the Author ()

Chuck Vigeant is the Managing Partner of CLEARIFY, LP and is known as the “grandfather” of Crystal Reports and Business Intelligence for QuickBooks. He is considered the foremost expert on QuickBooks ODBC connectivity and both the Intuit SDK and IPP offerings for data analysis and integration, and his company is the world's largest provider of Business Analysis, Business Intelligence, and custom management reporting systems for a variety of Intuit products. Chuck has recently expanded his efforts into creating specialized small business data warehousing applications, which have fundamentally changed the way people extract and use their data. His QQube application now makes it possible to do the most complex QuickBooks data analysis in Excel or SAP Crystal Solutions applications without an engineering or programming degree – or even knowledge of tables or relationships. Chuck achieved several technical certifications - most notably MCSE and CCNA; and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Public Administration from The University of Hartford, and a Masters of Education degree from The University of North Texas. He is the author of the Business Performance and Technology Corner column for QuickBooks and Beyond.

Comments (8)

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  1. Lyn Barr says:

    I love this post! Thanks, Chuck!

  2. Nice to see a post from you Chuck. We need to clone your brain and put it in pill form! :) I appreciate all the advice I have received from you, it has been very helpful.

  3. David Somers says:

    Wow!

    Well said.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

  4. Doug Sleeter says:

    Chuck,
    Excellent insight here. It’s what you and I have been discussing for years. Everyone wants to know “how to do reporting,” but I’ve always found that to be particularly difficult to “teach” in any meaningful way. Yes, we can show people how the tools work by discussing features, buttons, filters, formats, but that’s a far cry from learning “how” to do good reporting.

    You’ve nailed the issues here, so we thank you. It kinda reminds me of when we heard “it depends on what the meaning of “is” is… :)

  5. William Murphy says:

    Chuck

    What we all want is for you to hurry up and put the finishing touches on the ‘Hal 9000′ version of your QQube software….so we look the big red eye on the screen in the face and just tell it what we want and within nanoseconds the reports, graphs, and tables are all being displayed on our tablet, smartphone or multi-54″-monitors.

    Now that would be the ‘ultimate tool’ for analytics!

    Murph

    “Dave, what are you doing Dave…..i’m better now Dave, stop….”
    …..”Daisy…..Daisy……give…..me……the…..answer….now”

  6. Kamal says:

    Well said.

    Regards

  7. Tony Battaglia says:

    Chuck,
    Agreed and thanks for your development of valuable reports from QQUBE. Business Metrics could assist but too often they are overcomplicated and fall back into the dilemma you describe above. A useful metric is one that can translate owner value and which makes sense to the individuals doing the work for example billable hour to total hour’s percentage. You are correct it will not tell the owner how to change it but at least it would give them a better understanding of the end result and perhaps answer the why.

  8. Sophia Tseng says:

    Hi chuck,

    great post–gave me some more insight into the challenges the finance professionals face when trying to make sense of all the data that is out there. I’m curious if you have ever come in contact with any of the Business Analytics/enterprise performance management products from Oracle? I would be interested in your perceptions/opinions of these products if so. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you would like to discuss further.

    kind regards,

    Sophia

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