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Dashboard: ERP Gains a Visual Advantage

SAP, Oracle and smaller enterprise resource planning (ERP) software rivals are starting to partner with data visualization software providers, including Cognos and Business Objects.

Data visualization isn't new, but it's seeping into use at a widening array of companies through integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, replacing long and often perplexing reports. SAP, Oracle and smaller ERP rivals are partnering with data visualization software providers, including Cognos and Business Objects. In one example, Deltek Systems, which offers project cost accounting software for the engineering and construction industries, recently partnered with data visualization vendor Panopticon Software to provide interpretive visual reporting.

Engineers don't join Sacramento-based environmental engineering firm Jones & Stokes because they enjoy analyzing financial data. Thus the firm is putting thought into its deployment of the Panopticon data visualization tools layered on Deltek Vision 4, designing views that will give project managers a daily snapshot of project profitability. The updates will let them spot trouble while they still have time to fix it. They'll see a view of accounts receivable with those 60 to 90 days past due highlighted. They'll see unbilled revenue, often a hiding place for write-offs waiting to happen. "If somebody screws up part of a job, they may decide to make up their time for free," CFO Bruce Quattrone says. "The danger [arises when] we have a similar job two years from now, and we go back to this job to see how it was costed and whether or not it was profitable; if the information is inaccurate, we could make the same mistakes again. Part of Vision's job is to tell us the truth about projects."

The visualization tool will show jobs that are over budget without authorization, adding insight into whether, for instance, a client is paying its bills but refuses to go through the amendment process, which isn't necessarily a cause for alarm.

The daily updates run at night, a welcome change for project managers who used to run A/R, work-in-production and backlog reports. When the rollout is complete, about 130 managers will have access to the visualization tools.--Penny Crosman