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  • Writer's pictureKen Sebahar

5 Steps to a Successful Business Intelligence Project

Sample Business Central Power BI Dashboard
Sample Business Central Power BI Dashboard

One of the most frequent and continuous requests I see when assisting users with maximizing the value of their Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central environment is how to extract more value and insights from the data accumulated within Business Central.  For good reason, everyone is continuously looking to improve the ways they use their data so that they can manage their business more effectively, more efficiently, and more profitably. 

Today, the terminology used in this area can be confusing, with various terms like “Reporting”, “Data Analytics”, and “Business Intelligence” used.  There are differences between these terms, but some of the differences seem to overlap, and oftentimes people use the terms interchangeably.  There are many online posts available that provide great detail on how these terms differ, but for the purposes of this post, we will just use the term “Business Intelligence”.

Officially, Business Intelligence, or BI, is a set of tools that takes a set of data and transforms it into meaningful information that can be used to improve decision making, identify issues, and improve efficiencies.  The format of the data may consist of key performance indicators (KPIs), lists, charts, graphs, other advanced data visualizations.  These various types of formats may also be combined within a single dashboard.  “BI” could be as simple as a Top Customers List run within Business Central or as comprehensive as a hosted web portal that aggregates data from multiple data sources and provides tools to present the data within interactive dashboards, like Microsoft Power BI. 

Everyone wants it, everyone needs it, and using the functionality available today in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central combined with Power BI Pro, most people have what they need to build a BI solution for their organization.  Yet getting from idea to implementation can be very arduous, time-consuming, and ultimately frustrating if the proper approach to developing a project plan has not been well crafted and thought out.  Although there are many choices and options available for developing a BI solution, all successful BI projects will result in data being presented (1) accurately, (2) concisely, (3) in a timely fashion, and (4) to the proper individuals.

Below are five major steps that should be carried out in any BI project plan to maximize the likelihood of a successful deployment.   For the purposes of this post, the presentation layout, or output, to be provided to the end-user will be referred to as the “dashboard”.

Step 1: Develop a mockup of the dashboard to be delivered to the end-users.

This is the most important step in developing a BI project plan.  While it may seem like a BI dashboard would be the same for any distributor, or manufacturer, or other type of business, every organization and person has a unique set of factors that will drive the vision of the dashboard.  For example, when analyzing sales, is it important to analyze sales by customer, by item, or by groups?  Should comparisons be provided to the prior month, prior quarter, prior year, annual trends?  Should values be expressed in Dollars, quantities, or percentages?  Should the data be presented as lists, charts, or graphs?  And are line graphs, pie charts, or other data visualization formats preferred? 

The point is that unless a sample is provided showing what the expected dashboard should look like, users should be prepared to be disappointed.  There are virtually an unlimited number of ways to present data, and what makes the data meaningful to each set of users is specific to each organization or even person.

DO NOT proceed to Step 2 below until this step has been completed.

Step 2: Identify the data source(s) that are required to produce the dashboard.

As stated above, you cannot complete this step until there is a clear vision of what the BI dashboard will provide.  If you are lucky, the required data can be gathered from a single data source, like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central! 😊  This will make the dashboard development step much easier.  However, if the data must be aggregated from multiple data sources, this may have an impact on the technology solution that is used to build the dashboard.  It will also impact the time and resources required to develop the dashboard.  Luckily, if you are using Microsoft Power BI as your BI solution, then in addition to BC data, you can include data from an unlimited number of additional data sources in a single dashboard.

Step 3: Confirm the technology solution(s) that will be used to develop the dashboard.

Sometimes, this is the step where people want to start this project.  But if you haven’t completed steps 1 and 2 above first, there is a risk that the technology solution selected will not be able to provide the required BI features and functionality.  Of course, if you are using Business Central, then using Microsoft Power BI should be your default option due to the tight integration between the two solutions. This Microsoft Learn page is a good place to start with learning how Power BI integrates with Business Central and how to get started with BI report and dashboard creation.

If you have done the due diligence to understand that Power BI, either because it is more than required or lacking in some way, there are many other options and tools available for developing the dashboard at many price points. For more basic BI requirements, it may be determined that standard Microsoft Excel tools such as Data Feeds can be used to pull data from Business Central using BC's Web Services to present data in a format that can be used to analyze data and make decisions.  At the other end of the spectrum, a more robust solution that will pre-structure the data in a consolidated format using a data warehouse is required due to the volume of data is required. 

In addition to confirming data requirements, the delivery method of the dashboard should also be considered when selecting a BI technology solution.  Delivery of a dashboard to each person could be completed via e-mail, posting of a report to a web portal, or providing direct access to a tool where each user can manipulate and enhance the data that is provided via the BI technology solution. Power BI Pro offers the flexibility of users viewing the BI solution from Business Central or using the Power BI app on any device.

Regardless of what BI tool is selected, be sure that you will have access to resources that will be available to update, improve, and add on to the existing dashboards after the initial deployment is complete.  When a BI deployment is effectively deployed, requirements tend to grow and develop over time as the business and people’s use of the BI tools evolves, so it is important that the organization be able to support the long-term growth and development of the BI environment. 

Step 4: Develop and test the dashboard.

This is where most people want to start.  And this is why many people end up frustrated when taking on a BI project.  If you haven’t first provided the vision of the dashboard and already confirmed the required data sources, developing the solution will require many revisions and changes as each person provides their vision only after the initial development has been completed.  If the proper planning has been done, developing and testing the dashboards should be even easier than the initial planning steps above.

For the first dashboard to be delivered, start simple and plan for many small deployments so that feedback can be gathered as the BI solution is being developed. This feedback can be incorporated into future BI development and reduce time lost due to misunderstandings or mis-communications on the desired dashboard features.

Once the initial development has been completed, it is important to test the dashboards.  This testing includes updating and refreshing data to ensure that the values are calculating correctly.  The testing should also include validating the data included on the report by attempting to manually reconciling the data to the original data source or other reports that are currently in-use or available.  This validation will provide confidence to the users of the dashboards that the information being provided within the dashboards is accurate and up-to-date.

Step 5: Share and deploy the dashboard.

This step should be the simplest one to complete because all of the decisions and difficult tasks have been completed and tested by this point.  This step consists of implementing the delivery method, or mechanism in which the dashboard will be shared with each person.  Regardless of which delivery method is chosen, a webinar to walk through the process of launching, refreshing, or saving the dashboard should be provided for each user.

At this point, it might seem that the project is completed.  But when used effectively, a BI solution is never “complete”.  This is because as the information included on the dashboard is consumed by the users, the users’ data analysis skills and requirements will evolve over time.  This will translate into new requests, or other changes to the existing formats.  To plan for this inevitable scenario, communicate in advance to the user team how new requests should be submitted. Also, if applicable, provide training on how to make basic changes and improvements to the existing dashboards that have been delivered.


Each organization is unique, and therefore each BI project will be unique.  Some BI projects may take days, while other may take months, and the best ones continually evolve over the long-term.  Some BI projects can be done simply with a small investment, while other projects will require advanced resources and technology solutions.  But if the 5 steps listed above are followed, you have significantly improved the chances of a successful BI project deployment, with your users continually receiving meaningful information, in a suitable format, in the right place, and at the right time!


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