Report Writers vs. BI vs. CPM: What’s the difference?

June 2, 2020 Greg Williams

Are you a growing business needing more insight or forecasting than spreadsheets or basic reporting tools can deliver? Is it time-consuming and cumbersome to consolidate data into meaningful insight? Do you need a new report writer? A business intelligence (BI) application? Or is it time for a comprehensive CPM solution?


You are likely familiar with report writers that, for example, help you create reports like financial statements or balance sheets that are more complicated than your accounting software can handle. You have also heard of business intelligence (BI) tools like Power BI that can help you connect multiple data sources and create visual dashboards to bring your data to life.


Corporate Performance Management (CPM) may be a new term for you. Or, maybe it is something you think is so sophisticated only large companies with tons of data and loads of money can have it. That’s not the case with Solver, a cloud-based CPM solution that we are happy to report is both affordable and accessible for many of our small to medium-sized customers.


The difference between the tools and which one(s) you need often comes down to:


  • What types of data do you have?
  • Where does your data come from?
  • What level of insight do you need from your data?
  • How much do you have to manipulate your data?
  • Do you need budgeting and forecasting?
  • Do you need controls and security?
  • How easy do you want it to be to get insight?
  • How do you need to present that insight?
  • What is your budget?


The Four Stages of Insight

Most businesses will progress through four stages or tools when it comes to getting insight from their data. You may start with one or two and, as you grow, end up using all of them together. The good news? Western Computer has experts in all these tools and can help you determine the best path for your goals.


Excel Spreadsheets

Excel needs no introduction. Almost every business uses Excel in some form or fashion and most have a love/hate relationship with it. Excel is familiar to all and has its place. Some of the disadvantages of using spreadsheets is that it can be very inefficient, formulas can break easily, they are difficult to keep updated and secure, and very few people get excited to read a massive spreadsheet. Using Excel as your sole tool for insight isn’t ideal, but it can complement the other solutions below beautifully.


Report Writers

Most ERP and finance applications have a basic report writer with some canned reports. They can be hard to customize and, the more complex your data becomes, ineffective. External report writers are an excellent solution when you need to combine data from multiple sources and format your reports tailored to your needs and audience. However, report writers typically won’t allow you to manipulate your data or perform budgeting and forecasting—just report on it.


Business Intelligence (Power BI)

Here is where we really start talking about insight. Power BI integrates with Dynamics 365 applications and can connect data from any Microsoft or third-party source. Instead of a traditional report where you are reading data, Power BI lets you see your data in a visual, contextual way. Elegant dashboards and reports translate data into insight in a way people want to consume it. It’s easy to slice and dice your data, share and collaborate across teams, and embed dashboards or charts into Dynamics 365.


Corporate Performance Management (Solver)

A multi-tenant, cloud-based CPM solution like Solver takes your insight to the next level. You get advanced reporting, powerful budgeting and forecasting, business intelligence and a secure data warehouse—all accessible in the cloud from any location or device. The big advantage of Solver for Dynamics users is the pre-built connectors for Power BI and Excel. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel with a basic spreadsheet and BI solution, Solver makes it easy for you to continue using your already familiar, best-in-class applications and seamlessly connecting them to your CPM solution. When making faster, better decisions is important—Solver delivers complete insight on a single cloud platform.


Ready to maximize the impact of your data?

Western Computer has helped hundreds of organizations gain new insights that lead to profitable improvements. How can we help you do the same? Start the conversation with one of our experts today!

About the Author

Greg Williams

As Western Computer's VP of Strategy, Greg Williams is responsible for aligning the company's product and service offerings with customers.

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