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I recently presented to a Dynamics GP user group on SSRS. It was a very interactive session with lots of questions. (Which was great. I hate when people just sit and nod.) One particular discussion was about the merits of delivering data in Excel vs. PDF. Some folks thought PDFs were more secure because people couldn’t manipulate the data as they can with Excel. Others said their users wanted data in Excel and, therefore, they got it in Excel. From my perspective, there’s no difference. Why? Because any well-formatted PDF can be turned into Excel in about two minutes using Adobe’s own tool. For example, let’s take the PDF below. It was created by SSRS over the Microsoft AdventureWorks database. Can I turn this PDF into an Excel document? Well, if I cut and paste; I get strange results. But with Adobe’s Export PDF service, which they push right in Adobe Reader, I...

The growth of our Business Intelligence and Data Integration practice means I don’t get out in the field to work directly with customers as much as I used to. Still, I like taking on the occasional limited scope consulting engagement just to keep my skills sharp. In that vein, I was recently asked by an IT department to review some of their systems—in particular their systems controlled by users. IT doesn’t think this is a good situation and wants an outside expert's opinion. I’m wary of taking on engagements where the client already has an answer in mind. Lots of consultants make good money providing management with justifications for what they’ve already decided to do. But that’s not me. So, I’ve been wondering what I’ll do if they decide to proceed with the project. To start, we would need to rephrase the question. Instead of asking, “Who should control the system?” we...

We’re a consulting firm. It says so on our website. And so, two to four times a month, I get unsolicited emails (and sometimes even calls) from folks in India or elsewhere who want to “partner with us.” The idea is to lower our costs by using overseas developers. While the pitches differ, they all include a low price per hour and list of languages (Java, C#) and other tools they know. But what’s missing is any reference to the kinds of business problems they solve. The implication is that their developers can do anything—from shopping carts to payroll, from CRM to ERP. I don’t believe that’s true in our business. Why not? Think about the various things a software developer might do: 1)    User Interface Development—Whether for a website or business application. 2)    Business Logic for Applications—After data is entered through the user interface, something has to happen to it. It needs to be...

Organizations sometimes ask me to help them clean up a mess. Messes such as, “The numbers aren’t trustworthy,” “The close takes too long,” and “The software is ancient.” Whatever the type of mess, when cleaning it up we often encounter the same challenges: The folks you need to work with don’t trust you. People don’t like change. People don’t trust consultants in general. And most employees view the accounting department as a bunch of trolls. There’s a ton of stuff to do. Problems that took years to create can’t be solved immediately. Priorities are unclear. When there’s a ton of stuff to do, people think you’ve forgotten about what THEY think is most important—no matter where you start or how you proceed. To address these challenges, I often create a one-page charter, or project overview, for new projects. The charter helps people grasp the key issues quickly, without having to flip through...

I pride myself on finding good people to work for me. And it’s because of these people that Red Three can handle a broad range of customers and technologies. In the last month alone, we’ve worked with Oracle, Lawson, Business Objects, WebFOCUS, Crystal, SSRS and even some old legacy AS400 code. While it’s all related to finance or supply chain and procurement, it’s a wide range of technologies. Although my team members are all very different people, they do share one thing (besides their intelligence): they would all probably fail the technical examinations many companies use when hiring. Because they work with such a wide variety of technologies, my team members won’t know off the top of their heads if a particular function requires a semi colon or something else. What they do know are fundamental data challenges. They understand your needs without getting lost in the particulars of any one tool....

“Happy families are alike; but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." -- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina “Every successful company is successful for a different reason; but all successful companies have some part of their business where they’re only mediocre.” -- Adam Jacobson, Red Three Consulting Over the years, we’ve worked for some very successful companies. And these companies are successful for different reasons. But all these companies share an “unhappy” secret – they all have some part of their business that doesn’t run as well as the rest. Maybe they don’t have absolute control over every cost. Or maybe HR or IT isn’t as efficient as possible. But because these companies have great products or high sales, they can overlook these shortcomings. Now, you might say that a company shouldn’t accept mediocre in any area. But, as I’ve discovered as I grow my own business, an owner or manager can only push...

People hire me to help makes things more efficient, whether it relates to reporting, accounting systems or business processes. And sometimes, I help people “get out of the weeds” and focus on the big picture. But, as with everything, there has to be a balance. As my company grew, I was sometimes too focused on the big picture. I delegated much of the busywork to others so that I could contemplate “the big stuff.” As a result, I found myself with too much overhead and not enough corresponding benefit. Now that my company’s growth is taking off again, I don’t want to make the same mistake. As I thought about it, I realized that getting rid of too much too quickly can be as bad as getting mired in the details. In that spirit, here are four reasons NOT to delegate details: 1) It makes you think about the real value of your time Unlike...

I’ve written recently about how I’ve been feeling tired. Thankfully things are looking up. Part of the reason things have improved is that we’re in August now, and a lot of people are away. Many of our new projects won’t start until September, so I’m actually somewhat caught up for the first time in months. At the same time, I’m still struggling with my overwhelming desire to multi-task. It’s more than just working on the train en route to clients. It’s working on something like a white paper and then feeling a strong temptation to switch to something else – like cleaning my inbox. Not that cleaning my inbox is a bad thing, but trying to do both makes me tired and neither task gets done. So, I’ve been trying to do more by doing less. When I get stuck writing, I’m letting myself stay stuck and stare out the window for...

Seems obvious. But, as I like to say, it’s not obvious what’s not obvious. And as I’ve been thinking about this blog, the obvious needs to play a greater role in what I do. There are two main audiences for this blog: my friends and acquaintances and my customers, who are mostly finance and other back office people. I get more compliments on my blog from friends and acquaintances. They particularly like the funny stuff and the “high concept” data stuff. For some time, I wrote posts to get more of that positive feedback – and so I wrote more stuff on data and visualizing data. But the reality is, these people aren’t getting me business. The other group – Finance, IT and other folks – don’t read the blog as much. They look at the newsletter and may read posts that show them how to solve a particular problem. They’ll encounter the content...