Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Financial System Manager's Toolbox (Part II)

A while back I promised to elaborate on Microsoft Analysis Services as part of a Financial Systems Manager's Toolbox, so here it is. If there was an Accounting God this would be the tool that he would bestow upon his most loved people. SSAS is shipped with certain SQL Server versions. To see if yours is please follow this link:

http://www.microsoft.com/sql/prodinfo/features/compare-features.mspx

I cannot even begin to tell you how incredible this software is for accountants. (Well actually for most people but you get the idea). It allows one to take huge amounts of data and store it in such a way that you can retrieve aggregated data on any combination of dimensions FAST. Two words in that sentence are of importance. The first is dimension and the second is fast.

A dimension in SSAS terms is one of a possible number of ways to describe a number. Here is an example. I give you a number, say 100. That means nothing to you. Now I start to give you some dimensions and dimension members and suddenly the 100 makes sense. Here they are:

Dimensions and Member of the Dimension
Entity=Contoso Head Office
Department=Accounting
Account=Bank Charges
Scenario=Actual
Period=Y2009P03
Currency=USD

Now that you have the dimensions and the dimension member the 100 suddenly makes sense. It is the actual bank charges (as apposed to the budget bank charges) for the accounting department at Contoso Head Office for the accounting period 3 of Year 2009 in dollars. Now imagine having millions of rows of data each having these dimensions describing the number in each row. To try and make sense of this would be madness. Along come SSAS.

SSAS takes the data and builds OLAP cubes which pre-aggregate the data based on internal algorithms in order to allow the user to bring back information at every possible intersection of data with incredible speed.

Here at my organisation I have built a few financial cubes off our underlying ERP system. These cubes allow the rapid slice and dicing of information from a number of delivery mechanisms. I prefer delivering the data in pivot tables in Excel linked directly to the cube. One can also use tools such as ProClarity and PPS Monitoring and Analytics. The uses are endless. PerformancePoint Server uses SSAS as the data point for all its components including Management Reporter, a product that we are rolling out in parallel with our new ERP System, Dynamics AX 2009.

Once you start using something like this you will know that the Accounting Gods are smiling upon you.

- Paul Steynberg

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