Business Intelligence for Dynamics AX - What is the Best Solution?
This question will be asked every day by thousands of Dynamics AX users and many of their AX partners. There is not one answer to this question as it really depends on many factors like size of the company, do you already use a kind of BI tool, your preferred platform like SQL Server or Oracle and many more. Without any doubt, a Business Intelligence Solution without an underlying data warehouse is doomed for problems, at least in the long run. Some of your options are:
1. Build your own data warehouse and Business Intelligence Solution with Microsoft BIDS
2. Use embedded Business Intelligence by Microsoft in Dynamics AX
3. Purchase a pre-packaged Business Intelligence Solution which is tailored for Dynamics AX
4. Purchase a drag and drop data warehouse tool which auto-generates your SQL code and also builds your OLAP cubes and select an Analysis tool of your choice.
A few comments to these four options:
Microsoft BIDS (Business Intelligence Development Studio) is a great development environment for SQL Server experts to create a SQL Server based data warehouse and OLAP cubes. So if you have the experts in-house and want to spend the time and money, this is an option, but be aware of the complexity of BIDS, the time it takes to create a BI solution with it and the dependency on these experts, either in your own company or externally.
Microsoft Dynamics AX offers pre-packaged BI components like OLAP cubes for a variety of AX modules. But be aware that they are not based on a true data warehouse which means any integration of external data sources or changes in dimensions/measures/KPI's is possible, but complicated and needs experts again. It is generally not a good idea to integrate Business Intelligence into ERP. There are many pre-defined Dynamics Business Intelligence Solutions around, like ZAP, iQ4bis, Profitbase, Brio, Qlikview, Targit and many more. All of them have their benefits to implement a BI solution for Dynamics relatively fast. The only reservation I have is, that they either don't offer a true data warehouse as the underlying technology forces you to use their propriety front-end tool or both. The price difference for these tools varies from $15,000 to $100,000+
In my opinion, option 4 of the above list will give you the best results and highest flexibility. There are not a lot of tools around which helps you to create a flexible and ERP independent data warehouse and also creates the OLAP cubes with little effort and is front-end agnostic. Why not start with technology you already use like SQL Server, Excel and SharePoint and then look into Analytics tool later.