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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Yes, I Yelled at You—and I'm #sorrynotsorry

I wrote a while ago about being less of a jerk. And I think I’ve been making progress (although you’d have to ask my team). But this week, I lost it. I raised my voice. I yelled at the project lead of a consulting team I was working with.

It was only for a moment. It felt good. And it got the results I wanted. But that’s not how I like to operate.

But why then why am I #sorrynotsorry? To help you understand, here’s my (admittedly biased) take on the situation:

  • For several weeks, I’ve been pushing the PM’s team to get certain things to the client. It wasn’t going well. And this week, the team promised something and failed to deliver it. But that wasn’t the reason I yelled.
  • When I spoke to the PM, he used weasel words to try and explain his way out of it, instead of taking responsibility. As in “the consultant didn’t understand what was supposed to happen.” What I was waiting to hear was, “My team wasn’t communicating well. We’re sorry, and we’ll fix it.” But that’s not why I yelled.
  • At the end of the call, the PM said he could tell I was getting emotional. He could hear it in my voice. THAT’s when I yelled. (I wasn’t alone in this. The client was also livid with the PM’s performance.)

I can understand if you mess up in a BI project. And I can understand using weasel words to try and explain it (even though I don’t like it). I know I have a highly (some would say overly) developed sense of responsibility—that’s why I run my own business.

But if you’re not delivering week after week, and then you feel the need to point out that I’m sounding emotional about it, that’s not going to help.

Indeed, I had previously spoken to the PM’s boss about how the PM would describe things as tense when he was asked tough questions. He was told this wasn’t helpful. But obviously the message didn’t get through.

I will say that the anger here wasn’t just caused by the PM’s lack of tact. It comes from a feeling of responsibility. I had recommended the PM’s firm to the client because a long time business friend of mine was the sales rep. She’s a stand up person, and I could count on her to make things right in such situations. But she left. And while the client ultimately made the decision to hire the firm (and I was only a marginally involved in the selection process), I still feel responsible. I hate recommending anything that doesn’t turn out to be top notch.

In the future, I should have been more direct—both about the way the PM spoke in meetings and the fact he wasn’t meeting my expectations. Because then my repressed annoyance wouldn’t have come out in anger. But I’ll never lower my standard and accept anything less than top notch work.

What makes you yell? Or do you just keep calm and carry on?


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