Cloud financial analysis: The data you want, when you want it

  • Richard Thelwell
  • November 4, 2014

Ask any Finance Director or CFO. The biggest challenge in financial analysis? Getting raw data you can trust. Building the spreadsheet is easy—it’s getting reliable numbers to put into it which is difficult. To the rescue: cloud financial analysis.

In short, if you think that cloud financial analysis is essentially a question of where you carry out the analysis—in the cloud, or on-premise—then prepare to think again. The really cool thing about cloud financial analysis, it turns out, is how it extracts data from your ERP system. Data that it then serves up—ready for you to slice, dice and crunch.

And how, precisely, does cloud financial analysis do this? By building a Data Warehouse.

Which, if you’re presently struggling to extract meaningful data from your ERP system, is the piece of the jigsaw that you’re almost certainly missing.

Cloud financial analysis: the normalised database challenge.

All ERP systems are built on relational databases. Microsoft’s SQL Server database, for instance, powers the company’s own Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV ERP systems, as well as smaller ERP systems from other vendors.

But in order to minimise redundancy and make the database more efficient at storage, ERP databases—from whatever vendor—employ a technology called ‘normalisation’, which spreads data across multiple tables.

Making a database more efficient at storage, though, isn’t the same as making it more efficient at reporting—or, for that matter, the same as making it easy to undertake data extraction into a reporting tool.

That’s because in order to meaningfully run reporting queries or data extracts against a normalised database, it’s necessary to closely specify the links between all those normalised tables.

Which, as you’re probably aware, is a job best performed by people with programming skills. The result? A bottleneck, every time you need a special report, or want to extract data into a purpose-built spreadsheet.

Cloud financial analysis: what you need is a Data Warehouse.

The solution, of course, is simple: take your database, and build a second copy of it—but build it in a manner optimised for reporting, not storage. That, in short, is what a Data Warehouse is: a database built for reporting.

So it isn’t normalised, but de-normalised. Relationships and data aren’t spread over multiple tables, but instead rigidly encoded in an OLAP data ‘cube’. (Think of it as slices across a 3D chessboard.) And—critically—getting data out of that data cube doesn’t call for complicated IT skills.

Because all the hard work in terms of mapping those relationships has already been hard-coded into the ‘Extract, Transform and Load’ (ETL) tool that takes data out of the live database and pops it into the Data Warehouse.

Cloud financial analysis: a Data Warehouse bundled in.

Now, the neat thing about cloud financial analysis is that all of this comes as standard. Come to Matillion for cloud financial analysis, for instance, and a Data Warehouse and powerful ETL technology is part of the package.

All for a one-off fixed price set up, and an affordable monthly subscription fee, with no hardware, software, or further consultancy required.

But because cloud financial analysis also leverages the Cloud to deliver fast ‘in-memory’ analytics, it’s a cinch to run financial analyses natively through self-service reporting, without downloading to spreadsheet—although you’re perfectly at liberty to download data to your spreadsheet of choice if you wish.

Cloud financial analysis: queries made easy.

So let’s close with an example—one that isn’t straightforward to perform with the sort of normalised ERP database that you’ve probably got, but ridiculously easy with self-service reporting, with no spreadsheet required.

In short, the sort of ad hoc financial analysis that isn’t built into ERP as standard, and which, as a result, tends to be: a) specific to your business; b) consequently, of high business value; and c) required quite frequently.

Such as? Well, let’s say a report on the total margin generated by sales of Product Group A to customers in Poland in Q1 this year, broken down by sales representative, and compared to last year.

In other words, a piece of financial analysis which is messy to perform, and equally messy in terms of extracting the right data out of an ERP system.

Yet the work of a few seconds for cloud financial analysis.

Cloud financial analysis: faster, better, cheaper.

What’s more, you’re likely to be surprised at how quickly a cloud financial analysis solution can be delivered. Come to Matillion, for instance, and a typical implementation can take as little as four to eight weeks elapsed, from signed order to users being trained.

Delivered on a monthly subscription basis for a one-off fixed price setup fee, there’s no further hardware or software required: everything you need is in the Cloud, delivered as part of that affordable monthly cloud financial analysis subscription.

Convinced? Matillion customers are.

If you would like to find out more about cloud financial analysis, download our free E-Book today.