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    ORIGINAL POST FROM 2019. Still applicable! Are you a small to middle market company looking to better leverage your data to make business decisions? Have you heard of Power BI and want to learn what it is all about? We want to help answer the common questions we hear from our clients regarding data analytics and Power BI. What is “data analytics”? We are all about data these days. But what does that mean? Businesses are finding new and competitive advantages by utilizing data analytics tools to gain insights into their data. The insights gained are endless. Some quick examples on the value of data analytics could include cost savings, time reduction, efficiency improvement, return on investment, understanding market conditions, sales performance and profitability, robust finance and accounting reporting, etc. Large companies are taking serious advantage of data analytics. But what about small and middle market businesses? The top questions/concerns we hear from clients are: There are many data analytics tools. How do I choose? How much time and effort will this cost us? I hear the term “Power BI” but what does that mean? To help address these questions, we want to share our perspective from both an accounting/ finance and IT perspective. We will dig into answering some common questions we hear from our clients regarding Power BI and data analytics. Note while reading: Always keep in mind the following key objectives/questions prior to investing time and effort into a data program: Data Objective – What value will this data provide? Data Execution – Who will own the data? Who will validate the data and ensure it is complete and accurate? Data Communication – How will we communicate the data? How will we act on it? Below are answers to the top questions we hear from our clients: 1. What is Power BI? How does it work? IT Response: Power BI is a business intelligence and data analytics tool from Microsoft that can deliver powerful visualizations and data insights. As an analytics and reporting tool, the platform was built with the end user in mind. Packaged within Power BI are hundreds of connectors, such as Excel, SQL Database, Share Point, Salesforce, Mail Chimp, and Quick Books, just to name a few. It can help to drive business decisions through insightful representations of data and offers the ability to pull data from different sources. It will mainly help in any scenario where a “total view” is needed of your data. Finance/Accounting Response: Power BI’s innate capability to connect data could be a low-cost alternative to expensive and sometimes ineffective system integration. Power BI’s ability to easily connect with popular financial, operational and sales packages reduces unnecessary costs and leads to an easily obtainable data set(s) to analyze. 2. I don’t have the time to spend learning and implementing a new data analytics system. What is the upfront time and costs of Power BI? IT Response: Power BI costs as little as $10/month per user. You must already have Office 365 to be able to use Power BI. The report writing tool, the Power BI Desktop application, is FREE. We suggest trying out the desktop application to get a feel for Power BI before incurring cost of purchasing licenses. In regard to the learning curve/time costs, Power Query is embedded and is similar in format to Excel. This allows for non-developer end users to make data manipulations logically. For example, data from different divisions are all stored in Excel spreadsheets. Power BI gives the capability to pull those spreadsheets together into one data set. Then with Power Query, add calculated columns, aggregations, relationships, etc. by pointing and clicking, not by writing code. Power Query tracks what you did and records it. The next time you need to do your reporting, simply point to the update spreadsheets and Power Query will repeat those steps you did previously. This is impressive and powerful. What used to require a developer can now be done by an end user with minimal training. Finance/Accounting Response: If the words “repeatable” and “automated” put a smile on your face, Power BI could be the thing of your dreams. Think of the endless monthly grind of reconciliations, financials statement prep and management/board reporting. Just within accounting, eliminating the standard monthly processes to incorporate system repeatable steps can save hours, if not days. Imagine these efficiencies across other departments? 3. I have multiple systems. How challenging would it be to integrate? IT Response: Short answer, compared to alternative data programs, integration is not challenging. Power BI is a great tool to pull data from multiple systems with many pre-packaged connections to common data sources and services. The data-modeling capabilities in Power BI allow for “Access”-like relationship modeling. Have Salesforce and Quick Books data? Use the connectors for Salesforce and Quick Books to pull the table you desire. Once that data is pulled, use the relationship modeling capabilities to relate the Salesforce data to the Quick Books. Have data on multiple servers? Data gateways allow you to connect to those disparate SQL servers and pull your data together. 4. I have an old system, my data is inconsistent, and cleansing has never been done. Can Power BI handle my data? IT Response: While Power BI works best with “clean” data, data cleansing can be done right in Power BI. Power Query can be used to clean up the data without having a deep technical knowledge. Removing duplicates, unused columns, filtering out old/inconsistent data can all be done intuitively and repeatable. That being said, every situation is different. Power BI does not “obsolete” data/IT consultants, but it does give much more power to the end user than before. The best approach to dealing with “bad” data is to fix it in the source if at all possible. Fixing data in the source is always the preferred route. Finance/Accounting Response: It is best to assign a data champion to ensure data is both complete and accurate. In small to middle market companies – finance/accounting generally are the best option to validate the underlying data prior to relying on it. 5. Why Power BI? What can my data tell me? Data is everywhere but in many cases the ability to gain insights from the data in a cost-effective manner can be challenging. Power BI solves this issue. Historically, pulling data from disparate sources and creating meaningful visualizations would be only possible by a database professional. No longer is that the case. If you have a vision for what you want to see to measure the success of your team, department, division, or company, it can be accomplished in Power BI. From gauges, to line graphs, to summary tiles, Power BI brings data to life. See some real examples below: Sales Dept: Problem: Sales is concerned discounts and price reductions are impacting overall performance. A sales manager wants to understand the true gross -margin or profitability of sales per salesperson. Currently relies on a Salesforce report reporting total sales by sales person. Solution: Integrate or “connect” Salesforce data to financial data within Power BI. Power BI can incorporate cost per SKU/item sold to the Salesforce data by sales person. This results in a powerful report, including sales and gross margin per sales person. Accounting: Problem: Accounting has to manually prepare financial statements and management reports in excel on a monthly basis. The current financial system is not capable of meeting the company’s financial reporting needs. Solution: Integrate or “connect” results to Excel reports or the financial system. Once the desired format is setup in Power BI, a monthly process to load or sync to the financial system takes minutes. On a regular basis, financials and management reporting are formatted with respective illustrative exhibits (e.g. charts or other visual aids). These are just a few examples. Data is being used everywhere – from helping hospital and insurance claims understand operations to marketing departments looking to understand the return on their investment. Conclusion: Power BI is a “power”-ful tool to gain insights into your existing data. The learning curve and costs are manageable compared to the alternatives. When implementing a data program for your business remember these key objectives: Work with key stakeholders to understand the overall objectives and potential value of the data. Start simple! Develop a process for the data definitions, processing and analysis. Effectively analyze and communicate the results – and more importantly – act on the results! About the Authors Chris Cutrara, Cutrara Consulting is an industry “fixer”. He has over 18 years of experience, working extensively with companies going through change. He has a keen ability to quickly identify problem areas and implement new systems to create value for his clients. Joe Bonomo, Corterra Solutions, is an IT consultant using creative problem-solving techniques and technology to solve business problems. Throughout his career, Joe has a wide range of experience as a developer, business analyst, solutions architect, and manager. Joe has worked with all levels in an organization from manufacturing floor workers, accounts payable clerks, and C-suite executives, to name a few, giving insight to the challenge’s businesses face.

  • Enumlytics for Dynamics 365 Finance & Supply Chain: List enum labels for reporting and integrations

    Enumlytics is a tool for Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain to aid reporting, analytics, and integration solutions external to the application. A list of enum data type values and labels are not stored anywhere in the database, nor is there a data entity to use in a data warehousing situation. This is problematic, as only the integer value of an enum field is stored in database transactions. Without Enumlytics, data analytics and integrations must rely on manual translations. While this may work for some time, the moment a new value is added to an enum, the report will have no label to show, requiring additional work to add another translation. Download the case study here to find our more and reach out to Corterra Solutions to get the solution.

  • SimpleCount for Dynamics 365 Finance & Supply Chain: Simple Cycle Count Automation

    Imagine this scenario. The business needs simple cycle counts to be automatically generated daily or weekly. Sure, advanced warehousing has this capability, but do you really want to implement the complexity of advanced warehousing only for cycle count automation? Luckily, Corterra Solutions was able to solve this problem for a medium-sized manufacturer with SimpleCount for Dynamics 365 Finance & Supply Chain and is ready to implement this solution for your business. Read the case study here for more information about the solution for simple cycle count automation in Dynamics 365 Finance & Supply Chain.

  • Quick Tip: Deny Permission in X++ Development

    In Dynamics 365 Finance & Supply Chain, there are two ways to create permissions, through the user interface and in code. Adding a deny permission is simple in the user interface, but what if you want to add the deny permission to a security privilege when developing a new feature? Keep reading. Problem: Deny Permission is not available in X++ Development When developing a new security privilege in Visual Studio, a developer can select an access level from a preset list the application supports. This grants the ability to read, update, revoke all access, etc. Most of the time, this works well. The problem is there is no option in Visual Studio to explicitly deny update, but grant read at the same time. In fact, there is no option to explicitly deny specific permission at all. Solution: XML Editing Luckily, there is a solution to this by editing the XML of the privilege directly. Following our example to grant read but deny update, find the XML file of the privilege and change Allow to Deny. Below, Visual Studio Code was used to edit the XML. Use Case: Deny all users permission to update Why was this needed in the first place? We had a requirement to grant read to all users but deny update. The solution was complex, it was not desired to simply do this in the front end, where it could be wiped out by mistake or in a deployment. Thus, deny permission in X++ development was required in the privilege by the developer.

  • Five Tips for Successful On-Premises Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Deployment

    Most deployment of Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain are SaaS in the Microsoft cloud. With that said, there is an on-premises, self-hosted deployment option. Below outlines tips for successful on-premises deployment to make the deployment and on-going support successful. Tip 1: Requirement Changes. Monitor software and hardware requirement changes. Consistent monitoring of the software and hardware requirements pages will help prevent surprises. For example, SQL Server 2019 became a requirement in Service Update 10.0.21. If this was not known, it all of the sudden becomes an unexpected project. References: Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance + Operations (on-premises) supported software Troubleshoot on-premises deployments - Finance & Operations Tip #2: Service Updates. Keep up to date on service updates. When issues due arise, Microsoft support will more times than not say the issue or bug is already fixed and you should upgrade to the latest service update. Do this often, our suggestion is once a quarter. Tip #3: Monitoring. Implement your own monitoring tools. For SaaS in the cloud, Lifecycle Services offers plenty of monitoring tools. On-premises gets none of those. Configuring or developing a comprehensive monitoring system and set of tools is paramount for successful operation. Consider infrastructure monitoring and SQL performance. As time goes on, needs many change as transaction volume grows. Tip #4: Direct Database Access. Limit direct database use. As the saying goes, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. On-premises has the benefit of direct access to the SQL database. But this doesn’t mean you should use that. Not only does it lock the deployment into on-premises, but it could also corrupt the application. Only modify data directly if directed by Microsoft Support with a support case. Backup before you do! Tip #5: Number of Environments. Determine correct number of environments. On-premises deployments require more planning for long-term requirements than a cloud deployment. In the cloud, adding or removing an entire environment is a series of clicks. Not so much on-premises. Ensure to consider the now and the future needs of the business to select the right number of environments. Consider how many ISVs could be implemented that may need a separate environment for testing. Typically, Production and UAT are the minimum number of environments. In our experience, this is too scant and at least three environments should exist, Production, UAT, and QA Testing. The more you have, the more you have to manage but the more flexibility you have for troubleshooting. Summary The tips above summarize a few considerations when choosing to go on-premises vs SaaS in the cloud. Considering on-premises? Reach out to Corterra. We have the expertise to ensure your success!

  • Microsoft Updates App for Better Remote Team Communications

    With remote work being the norm, staying up to date with what your remote team is working on can be challenging. When you are managing a larger team who is mostly autonomous, how do you check in on progress without feeling like you are micromanaging their work? What if a team member is working on multiple projects for different managers? Sure, you can ask the team to provide updates at the end of the day, or end of the week but that’s another item to remember and it becomes a chore. What if there was a way to be reminded in a simple way using the tools many users are already using? Continue reading below for how the Updates app in Microsoft Teams can foster improved communication for in-person or a remote team. What is Updates in Microsoft Teams? Updates is an app built with the Power Platform and Forms in Microsoft Teams that is free to use. The application provides a simple user interface to scheduled recurring reminders for updates. Whether this be an employee updating a manager daily, a peer updating another peer about progress, or an automated way to gather feedback, Updates can be used to configure regular reminders directly in Microsoft Teams to provide updates. Then, those updates can be reviewed over time. Two important terms to know, Submitter, someone to submits an update and Reviewer, the person who reviews the update from the submitter. How does it work for a Reviewer? A Reviewer will receive a notification in Teams when a Submitter submits an update. Notification in Activity Review form in Microsoft Teams What does a Submitter see? A Submitter will see a similar notification, if reminders are configured, and be able to enter the information directly in a form in Teams! How do you configure an update? There are two ways to configure an Update. One approach is to configure directly in a Teams chat. This is inflexible for adding additional team members as Reviewers, thus we will not cover the setup in this article. We will focus on the second approach, using the Updates app to configure the update. 1. Go to the Updates app. You may have to search for this under Apps. Pinned app Search for App 2. Click Request an update Request an update allows requesting new updates or managing existing. 3. Click on New Request Note: this is the same place you can manage requests to disable, update the timing, or add additional reviewers Managing update requests or creating a new request. 4. Select a template, suggest starting from blank Start from blank or use a template. 5. Configure the settings, design, and workflow automation Final step is to name the form, design the form by adding questions, and schedule workflow automation. In Corterra's experience, keep the questions simple when it is a daily update from the team to make it easy to provide the update. Two questions have worked best in our experience. Name the update and provide a brief description. This will come in handy when managing updates. Don't forget to make the fields on the form required and allow for long answers! Click on advanced settings to schedule alerts to the submitter. Whatever time is selected will remind the submitter two hours before then.

  • 2023 Promotions

    As a technology service provider, the strength of the Corterra team is paramount to the success of our clients and Corterra itself. We are thrilled to announce the following Corterra team members have been promoted! These promotions are a testament to the hard work and value each team member provides. Checkout our recently promoted team members and their stories below... Megan Elliot Educated in Systems Engineering and Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Megan started with Corterra as a Special Projects Consultant in 2021. Megan has executed numerous successful projects during her tenure at Corterra, including an HR Information Systems software assessment and HITRUST compliance deployment. Most recently, Megan led the successful deployment of Dynamics 365 Asset Management maintenance system across three manufacturing facilities in the US. The project included implementation, data migration and training for 75+ maintenance technicians supporting 5,000+ assets and preventive maintenance schedules. Megan has been a remarkable addition to the team, and we are proud to promote her to Senior Business Systems Analyst in recognition of her hard work and dedication. Jamie Kenna Jamie has had a long history with Corterra. Initially joining the team as an intern, Jamie was hired on full-time in 2020 after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in Statistics. With a positive attitude and thirst for learning, Jamie has become a critical team member supporting a global distributor and manufacturing client in the electronics industry. Her projects range from operational reporting to client support, as well as C# plugin development. These projects have automated client business processes resulting in significant increases in productivity. As her knowledge of the systems, business, and technology has increased, she has taken on a more active role in leading and mentoring junior team members. We are happy to promote Jamie to Senior Developer! Jonathan Marrs Jonathan joined Corterra in 2019 after graduating from the University of Illinois Chicago with a degree in Information and Decision Sciences. Hired to support Corterra’s growing demand for Power BI services, he quickly expanded into leading several data migration and interface projects for Corterra’s manufacturing clients. Jonathan has shown his impact as a great team player working across a variety of clients supporting multiple implementations, including going above and beyond expectations to meet an aggressive client go-live date. He has been, and continues to be, a critical contributor of Power BI and data solutions. Congratulations to Jonathan on his promotion to Senior Developer! Marcello Porter-Dunning Marcello joined Corterra in 2020 with a degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His early contributions focused on documenting key internal and client business processes. After impressive results on his initial projects, he quickly became an essential team member for a Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations implementation project supporting supply chain and logistics. Marcello has taken a lead role in developing key Functional Design Documentation and becoming the "go-to" person for Quality Assurance and User Acceptance Testing. He works with clients and developers to extend the application to meet complex business requirements and drive digital transformation. Congratulations to Marcello on his promotion to Senior Business Systems Analyst Justin Savona Justin is a great addition to the Corterra team. Joining the team in July 2021 with a degree in Finance from Butler University, he quickly applied his core knowledge in accounting and finance to support several large implementations of Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations and Dynamics 365 Business Central. Specializing in AP, AR, GL, and Fixed Assets, Justin has been instrumental in maximizing client investments through creative problem solving resulting in business process efficiencies and improvements. His continuous top-tier support and solutions have created deep client trust and strong relationships with users. Corterra is proud to promote Justin to Senior Business Systems Analyst. Sunny Vasty After graduating from Lewis University with a degree in Computer Science, Sunny Vasty joined Corterra as Application Engineer in January 2021. In his two years at Corterra, Sunny has developed numerous business solutions that have provided exceptional value to our clients' Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations systems. From user efficiency enhancements to major overhauls, Sunny has worked in concert with Corterra’s business systems analysts to meet the unique needs of our manufacturing clients. Sunny's most recent project integrates warehouse inventory transactions with handheld scanners driving significant improvements in transactional efficiency and accuracy. Corterra is proud to promote Sunny to Senior Application Engineer.

  • Quick Tip: Speaker Coach in Microsoft Teams for better presentations

    Virtual meetings are the majority of meetings now-a-days. Picture this scenario in a Microsoft Teams meeting. You just delivered what you thought was a perfect presentation. Great content, great delivery. You feel great! do you know for certain your delivery was good...or not good? Introducing Speaker Coach for Microsoft Teams, a feature in Microsoft Teams to provide personalized, private feedback. This app provides real-time feedback on your delivery, so you can learn and improve as you go. And best of all, it's no additional cost! How does it work? Turn on Speaker Coach in a meeting by clicking on the More ellipses (...) and then click on Turn on Speaker Coach. The report Once turned on, speaker coach will listen to your meeting and generate a report chock full of feedback once the meeting is complete. Whether you're giving a formal presentation or just leading a team meeting, Speaker Coach can help you hone your skills and build confidence. The app provides objective feedback on factors like pace, volume, and word choice, so you can identify areas for improvement. Better yet, it will notify you during the meeting if you should slow down or speed up! Drill into each area to find details and suggestions on how you can improve! Summary If you're looking to take your presentation skills to the next level, Speaker Coach in Teams is the perfect tool for you. With its real-time feedback and easy-to-use interface, it's the perfect way to improve your skills and build confidence. Having used Speaker Coach at Corterra, it's a game-changer. Interested? Contact Corterra Solutions right now!

  • 2022 Promotions

    As a technology service provider, the strength of the Corterra team is paramount to the success of our clients and Corterra itself. We are thrilled to announce the following Corterra team members have been promoted! These promotions are a testament to the hard work and value each team member provides. Checkout our recently promoted team members and their stories below. Lucas Bracher, Senior Developer Mike Matook, Infrastructure Manager Daniel Middendorf, Lead Application Engineer Ryan Reed, Senior Developer Lucas Bracher Lucas Bracher head shot Lucas started with Corterra in 2018 after graduating with a degree in Economics and minor in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Throughout his time as a Developer at Corterra, Lucas has been the consummate team player exuding a positive and determined attitude to take on any challenge he is given. Lucas has learned a multitude of technologies to meet the requirements of Corterra's clients. He has developed key system enhancements for our clients’ quality, production and warehouse operations leveraging application plugins in C# and data conversion processes leveraging SSIS. Lucas has acquired the skills to solve business problems with technology, which is why Corterra is pleased to promote him from Developer to Senior Developer, as a recognition of his contributions to Corterra and our clients. Congratulations Lucas! Mike Matook Mike Matook head shot Mike started with Corterra in the spring of 2016 as Systems Administrator after graduating from Governor's State University. Mike first set of responsibilities was to support all Corterra’s SMB clients. He maintained their network, servers and applications, and provided white-glove service and training for their users. This role gave him the opportunity to research the ever-expanding Microsoft cloud, including Azure and Office 365. Through his learnings, Mike has developed a toolset of strategies to migrate all of our SMB clients to the cloud and utilize the Azure tools and services to maintain or reduce costs while increasing Mike was also charged with deploying Corterra's first on-premise Dynamics F&O server infrastructure. As many might know, F&O is primarily a cloud deployment with a very, very small percentage being on-premise. Not much documentation was available in deploying this solution. Mike spent many hours of trial and error with Microsoft support deploying the solution. It was truly a fantastic day he completed the install and we witnessed the first login screen! Mike's stick to it mindset and drive to completing this project lead to many opportunities for Corterra for learning and growing. Mike’s “take the lead approach” and ability to implement and manage new technologies has earned the him the new title of Infrastructure Manager. Congratulations Mike on your hard work and support of Corterra Solutions and our clients! Daniel Middendorf Daniel Middendorf head shot Daniel started with Corterra as an Application Engineer in 2019 after graduating with a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Having experience in IT Support during his time in college, Daniel was hired on for his technical acumen, communication skills, and problem solving. Not only is Daniel an excellent programmer, he is an even better problem solver. While he can code a solution to a problem, more importantly, he knows when not to code and a no-code solution is possible. For the past few years, Daniel's main project has been extending Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations for a government contracting client. During this project, he played a pivotal role in Corterra's learning of the software. With an aggressive timeline, Daniel was, and still is, a key team member in successfully taking multiple sites at a client from requirements gathering to Go-Live in less than two years…a feat that many other firms require much longer to achieve. With all that said, we are proud to promote Daniel from Application Engineer to Lead Application Engineer. Congratulations Daniel! Ryan Reed Ryan Reed head shot Ryan started with Corterra in 2018 after graduating with a degree in Mathematics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Throughout his time as a Developer at Corterra, Ryan has learned a multitude of technologies to meet the requirements of Corterra's clients. He has gone from interfacing product information to an eCommerce website from ERP, to writing application plugins in C#, to developing analytics solutions in Power BI. Ryan has acquired the skills to solve business problems with technology, which is why Corterra is pleased to promote him from Developer to Senior Developer, as a recognition of his contributions to Corterra and our clients. Congrats Ryan!

  • Team Member Spotlight: Will Parker

    We are pleased to spotlight Corterra team member, Will Parker. Will is a Lead Developer for Corterra working with clients, functional consultants, and the development teams to deliver value and solve business problems with technology. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in Information and Decision Sciences, Will started his career with Corterra Solutions in 2016 as a Developer. His initial projects involved optical character recognition for forms processing using the Monarch software, report writing, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM configuration and extension. Will's main project for the last few years has been leading the development and configuration efforts for a client with international operations in over twenty-six different countries. Through diligence, determination, and excellent communication, Will earned his current position, Lead Developer, managing a team of developers and working directly with clients to gather requirements and solve business problems. He is endorsed by his colleagues for his skills in SQL Server, SSIS, and Microsoft Dynamics 365. Outside of technical skills, Will has an ability to think freely and find creative solutions to difficult problems to deliver value for Corterra’s clients. In addition to his existing skills, Will is actively learning new cloud technologies in Microsoft Azure, the Power Platform, and Dynamics 365 Business Central to continue to drive value for Corterra's clients and address their challenges. When not supporting clients and his team, Will enjoys playing bass guitar in a band and playing disc golf. Q&A Q: What is your favorite part about working at Corterra Solutions? Everyday can have a new problem or challenge. This leads to the work always being interesting and never boring. We also have a culture that isn’t hierarchical, so employees ranging from executives to new hires all feel they are part of the same team. Q: What are three words to describe Corterra Solutions? Dedicated, Reliable, Fair Q: How do you like to spend your time when you are not working? I currently play bass guitar in a cover band and spend time writing original music with my friends. When it’s not cold out, I travel to different disc golf courses on the weekend to play. Q: What are some interesting things about you that people might not know about you? I have played clarinet since I was 10 years old.

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