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The “Newness” of Practicing Fundamentals

My clients often ask me, “What’s new Jim? Show me something new.”  They are looking for a guide through the Cloud or a new way to manage a process.  Perhaps a “new” competitive advantage you could give your company is mastering the “old” fundamentals in every process, with every employee.

In other words: Get great at the basics first.  Basics can be fun, basics can be “new” to some (or many) of your processes, basics can be your competitive differentiator!

Here’s a great example…I don’t play basketball, but I respect the value of a good coach.  John Wooden, one of the most winningest coaches in college basketball (winning 10 national championships), is a stalwart example of the power of fundamentals.  Coach Wooden was famous for taking the best players in the country and making them practice 500 layups or 500 free throws over and over – the basic fundamentals.  Why?  So they would, unequivocally, make those shots in the clutch moments of the game.

Is winning 10 national championships a differentiator? You bet!  Is winning 10 national championships dependent on being the best at the fundamentals?  Of course! Ergo, being the best at the fundamentals is a competitive differentiator!

Working Capital Turns (WCT)

So, let’s get back to differentiating your business by practicing fundamentals relative to Working Capital. Working Capital Turns (“WCT”) is a fundamental metric…one many companies do a poor job of managing.  It takes understanding the levers that move WCT and employing a systematic, consistent approach to managing those levers.  Systematic consistency are fundamentals and it takes a focused, disciplined approach to ensure they are embedded in the processes and culture of your organization.

Let’s do some simple math to illustrate the point.  Let’s say you are now an owner of a manufacturing company (congratulations!) with working capital turns of 4.  This means that given the efficiency, or lack thereof, of the current state of your processes, you convert your Receivables, Payables and Inventory into Cash four times per year. So, every 90 days or so, your net working capital is deposited into your bank account to be used for strategic acquisitions, re-investment or whopping bonuses.

This also means that a full quarter of your sales are hung up on your balance sheet…It makes for a stronger looking balance sheet, but that cash is not working for you like it should!

What if you practiced some fundamentals…and focused on increasing those turns?

Extending the illustration, if your manufacturing company generated $200M of sales, a one-turn increase of working capital would free up $10M in cold, hard Cash from your balance sheet.  What could you do with an extra $10M right now?  Use it to buy out a competitor?  Merge with a supplier – become more vertically integrated? How about invest in new technology? How would you use extra capital to deliver more certainty of success to your business?

Practicing the fundamentals is often passed over in favor of something “shiny and new” – but when it comes down to getting results – it is often consistently practicing fundamentals that makes all the difference.

Let me leave you with a timely example of the importance of consistency and practice: Steven Holcomb is considered the best bobsledder in the world.  In the 2014 Winter Olympics, why did his team only take the Bronze, while the Russian team took Gold?  Answer: the Russian team practiced more.  Being from the area, the Russian team was able to practice the run many, many more times than any other team, so they knew the nuances of the track in all kinds of weather.  That’s what gave them the advantage.  Take a hard look at your processes…is your company set up for Gold?

Jim Harper is a director in BlumShapiro’s consulting group, specializing in middle-market/large client offerings including CFO solutions, shared services, process reengineering and business process outsourcing (including control and internal audit) for the firm’s business solutions and technology consulting practices.  He has diverse experience in finance, finance transformation, accounting, reporting, controls and operational management.

Microsoft Announces Free Office for Students

Microsoft, last Tuesday introduced a new offering, Student Advantage. It’s a huge win for students across the globe.

“Beginning Dec. 1, 2013, any institution worldwide that licenses Office 365 ProPlus or Office Professional Plus for staff and faculty can provide access to Office 365 ProPlus for students at no additional cost. Today, more than 35,000 institutions are automatically eligible to deliver the Student Advantage benefit to their students. Office 365 ProPlus includes all the familiar and full Office applications — locally installed on up to five devices and available offline. When a school combines Student Advantage with Microsoft’s other cloud services, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online, all available free through Office 365 Education, students have access to the same set of gold-standard productivity tools and services used by Fortune 500 companies all over the world.”

IDC released a study in partnership with Microsoft highlights Office as being ranked 3 out of 20 in demand skills for high growth careers. This move by Microsoft benefits students, but also puts increased pressure from businesses facing higher server maintenance and licensing costs to have the latest versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync on premise. I believe Microsoft is offering this benefit to students in hopes that when they graduate, they will be accustomed to using the productivity features in Office 365 and expect the same or more in businesses, not less. For more information on Office 365 for Education or Office 365 in general drop us a comment below.

 (Source: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2013/oct13/10-15skillspr.aspx)

Master Data Maestro 3.0 Released

If you are working with SQL Server Master Data Services 2012 to develop real-world Master Data Models for your enterprise, then you have likely struggled with the model design environment provided out of the box by Microsoft.  This environment does not support large data models well.

Here are some common scenarios:

1. When adding new attributes to an existing entity, the design environment displays a very short list box containing all existing attributes.  Its very difficult to see the complete list of attributes, their Master Data types, and re-ordering for ease of browsing is accomplished with up down arrows.

2. When organizing attributes into attribute groups, a different interface is used.  Again, its a web interface and again a short list box is the only means of organizing the attribute group.

I am currently working with a Product model which includes over 75 entities and over 1000 attributes; the largest entity contains nearly 400 attributes.  After the initial design session with the data governance team, my team brainstormed how best to create the model in Master Data Services.  Each of us knew that working directly in the web design interface would be extremely painful.

We finally resolved to use SQL Server itself.  We created a database with tables and columns, each  annotated with Extended Properties.  For example, a property of the database recorded the name of the Model which the database represents, each table included an Entity name property to tell us the name of the entity, and each column had several properties to tell us the name of the attribute, any attribute groups to which it belonged, the type of attribute (FreeForm, Domain Based or File), the sort order for the attribute, the entity to which it referred (if it was a Domain-Based one) etc.  Finally, we created an application which read the schema for the database and, using the MDS API, generated the desired model.

These issues are now fully addressed with Advanced Modeling in Master Data Maestro: Profisee announced the GA release of Master Data Maestro 3.0 last week.  The Advanced Modeling tool is built directly into Maestro and shows all attributes for an entity in a grid.

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This allows you to see and change data types easily, drag and drop attributes in order to adjust the order in which the attributes are presented.

You also get a rich UI for adding attributes to an Attribute Group and ordering the attributes in that group correctly.

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Master Data Maestro is a critical tool for enterprises looking to deliver real-world master data models using Microsoft’s Master Data Services.

Three Major Changes to Master Data Services in SQL 2012

Microsoft introduced Master Data Services as part of their SQL Server product starting with version 2008 R2. In SQL 2012, there were several enhancements that made the product a bit more usable. We’ll be highlighting three of the major changes in this article. I will be presenting a more in-depth look at Master Data Services at a SQL Saturday even in Providence, Rhode Island on September 21st, 2013 (#sqlsat; #sqlpass).

Master Data Services web application is now Silverlight enabled

The first version of MDS in SQL 2008 R2 had a basic web front-end that allowed the user to create models, entities, attributes, and hierarchies. But it was slow. It did the job OK, but could be very frustrating when working with more than a handful of records. With any decent amount of data, the Explorer page tended to be unmanageable. MDS web site in SQL 2012 is now Silverlight enabled and responds much faster. Fast enough, in fact, to NOT require any third-party tools to simply browse the data.

 

The Master Data Services Add-in for Microsoft Excel

I heard mentioned, tongue-in-cheek, at a Microsoft conference once that eventually all any developer would ever need would be Internet Explorer and Visual Studio. I submit that the third essential component in that set would be the right Add-in for Excel. Let’s face it, EVERYBODY uses Excel these days. Realizing this, Microsoft has done us a great service by including the install link right on the MDS web site. Once installed, connecting to the data is very straight-forward. Simply supply the URL of the site to connect, then choose the Model and Version to work with. Adding and editing data is intuitive as well. The Add-in keeps track of changed data and highlights it as you work. In the end, the Publish button on the tool bar pushes the data changes back into the database.

 

New Staging table structure for Entity imports

In 2008 R2, to load a single member row into an entity with, say, 5 attributes required a total of 6 rows of data to be sent to two staging tables. The staging table in MDS 2008 R2 handled bulk imports of ALL entities, ALL attributes, and ALL relationships with only 4 tables, regardless of the number of Models or Entities. The two main tables were for Members and Attributes, with the latter being in an ‘Attribute Name/Attribute Value pair’ format. So your one row of data with 5 attributes would turn into one row of data in the Members staging table, plus 5 rows of un-pivoted data in the Attributes table. Entities with few attributes did not cause major issues, but complex attributes could tend to bloat the staging tables. In addition, if two different processes were trying to load two different entities at the same time, there was the possibility that both sets of data could be co-mingled to the one set of staging tables. This would not be an issue if all data would be staged within one batch, but trying to then process a sub-set of staging data could be difficult.

In SQL 2012 MDS, each entity now gets its own staging table for imports, with meta-data to match, plus a dedicated stored procedure to process data in that table. Not only does this eliminate the need to un-pivot the attributes to attribute/value pairs, it eliminates any possibility that entities could be mixed in the staging import tables.