Why I Love Self-Service BI

Self-service BI (or self-service business intelligence) has been a buzzword for a while. If you Google “self service BI,” you get 383,000,000 results. 

(Interestingly, if you Google without the dash — “self service BI” — you get 409,000,000 results. I can’t tell you the significance of this. Although Word tells me it needs a dash.) 

But you don’t Google search results to tell you that users don’t want to rely on IT to get the “data they need from the software they already have.”  

So, as a consultant, why would I want users to do more of the work?

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The Best SaaS Reporting Tool is No SaaS Reporting Tool

Almost every one of my clients depends on some kind of SaaS solution for some part of their operation. 

Whether it’s payroll, accounting or electronic records, the data is controlled by their vendor of choice.  

This is all well and good for basic processing. But too often, it doesn’t work well when it comes time to actually understand the data or (even more so) combine the data with data from other systems.  

Why? Because if my clients weren’t careful when they chose a solution, they’re probably now reliant on the SaaS reporting tool provided by the application if they need to create any custom queries or reports. Or worse, they have to rely on the reports the vendor provides.

And this leads to problems.  

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Moving Data From Excel to SQL Server with PowerShell (Relatively Painlessly)

Last fall, my attendance at the SQL Summit was entirely justified by a presentation by Aaron Nelson, a SQL Server MVP on Excel, PowerShell and SQL Server.

Unfortunately, I regularly suffer from having Excel as a data source. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t happen.

Logically, no one would buy a SaaS solution without first figuring out how the data in that system would be accessed and combined with all the other data your organization needs.

Unfortunately, things aren’t always logical.

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Why You Need a Data Mart

When an organization has data questions, those questions can sometimes be answered by writing reports directly over the systems where the data was entered—whether that’s an EHR (Electronic Health Records) or accounting system. Often, this approach works just fine for financial statements and basic operational reporting. (Indeed, I’ve written before (back in 2011) about how to use the general ledger as a simple datamart/data warehouse. And I’ve run many projects using this method.)

However, this approach breaks down as data becomes more complex, such as when you need data from multiple systems to answer your questions. Unfortunately for my social service agency clients, this is almost always the case.

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Start With a Good Problem to Be More Data Driven

If you’re reading this post, you want to be more data driven. How do I know this?

As I shift my business to social service agencies, I’ve been talking to many executives in those agencies. And almost every one of them tells me they want to be more data driven.

So, I’m guessing that—if you’re like most of your peers—you want to be more data driven too.

But the question remains—where do you start?

If you want to be more data driven, you need to start by finding a good problem to solve. But what makes a good problem?

Find a good problem to solve to be more data driven

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Restarting the Red Three Blog and Newsletter

Over the course of the last seven years, I created over 300 posts for my blog. These posts were written sporadically. Some years, I wrote over 100. This year, I’ve written maybe two.

But as I focus my business on “helping social service agencies maximize revenue and results with data,” I find myself answering the same set of questions. Some questions are strategic, (“How do we become more data driven?”). Some relate to data architecture, (“Do we need a datamart or a star schema?”). Others are specific to the tools we use, such as SQL Server Reporting Services, (“How do I stop cells from merging when I export to Excel?”).

Restarting the Red Three blog and newsletter

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The Health Home Program and Its (Relatable) Data Problems

An article in Politico caught my attention recently. It was about the Health Homes program and some of its problems.

For those of you not familiar with this program, here’s a brief explanation from the article:

Health homes are not brick-and-mortar buildings. They are a concept based on the idea that if several providers work together to coordinate care for the most expensive Medicaid patients, they can provide better care at a lower cost.

These patients, the so-called super-utilizers, have behavioral and mental health issues, substance abuse problems, multiple chronic conditions, sometimes all of the above. Health homes, which can be a hospital or health and human services agency, assemble a network of providers that together manage care for the patient.

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Using a Datamart to Solve NY Medicaid Billing Issues

Several of my clients are New York-based social service agencies. As such, much of their income depends on Medicaid reimbursement. The problems they face are two fold: First, they need to make sure staff members document client work in a way it can be billed. That’s important, but it’s not something I deal with.

Second, they need to figure out how much they’re billing and collecting—and where the differences lie. This problem meshes well with my background in accounting and databases. The goal is to know how well (or poorly) billing/collecting is going—so they they can work with client-facing staff members to make sure all revenue is being captured.

Medicaid Billing Issues

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How to Use Your GL to Prepare Your CFR Reports and other NYS Reports

Many nonprofit agencies have reporting requirements that go beyond GAAP. For example, in New York State, social service agencies depend on state funding to serve their clients. To get this funding, they must submit various CFRs (Consolidated Fiscal Reports) to various NYS departments, including the OPWDD, OMH, OASAS, and OCFS (i.e. Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health, Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Service, and Office of Children and Family Services).

Faced with these different requirements, finance folks often download their financial statements into Excel and start making adjustments. This is not a good idea for several reasons:

CFR reports and other NYS reports

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