Business Central Excel Reports: Understanding Real-Time vs. Near Real-Time (NRT), and Batch Processing

July 13, 2023
9 min read
General

In today’s fast-paced business environment, having accurate and timely information is crucial for making informed decisions. That’s why reporting is such a hot topic and focused effort in relation to your overall operational management. Thanks to the emergence of cloud-based ERP solutions like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, the ability to access and report on your business data has become more accessible and efficient than ever before. 

However, not all reporting is the same, and each type has its own advantages and disadvantages.  

In particular, most executives ultimately want their Business Central data in Excel because it’s a familiar environment with flexible options for formatting, sorting, calculating, and graphing on the report data. To that end, organizations running Business Central often seek third-party reporting solutions, or they export their Account Schedules and embedded Business Central reports into Excel.  

But as each company evaluates all the options for obtaining Business Central Excel reports, there is a prevalent false assumption that finance and operational executives need to work from ‘real-time’ reports.  

What many data consumers don’t realize is that while real-time reporting can have its advantages for reconciling and cross-checking postings at month-end, it can also have incredible drawbacks in terms of performance, efficiency, and data management for overall financial and operational reporting, especially in Excel.  

In this article, we will explore the difference between real-time reporting, near real-time reporting (NRT), and batch process reporting. We’ll discuss how each relates to getting your Excel reports from Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, and how to identify which approach, and when, is best for you.

Real-Time for Business Central Excel Reports

Real-time reporting, as the name suggests, provides data as it happens and changes. This means that as soon as a transaction occurs in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, the data is immediately available for reporting purposes and updated in your report when you run it. 

Real-time reporting is ideal when businesses require up-to-the-minute information. For example, a CFO that needs to verify a transaction has been posted to the proper account will benefit from real-time reporting. Similarly, a manufacturing company that needs to track inventory levels in real-time may find some real-time reports useful. 

The thing is, in Business Central, real-time reporting for these basic purposes can be mostly achieved using the standard embedded reports, analysis mode, or Account Schedules (now called Financial Reporting). Of course, these are not in Excel. So, either these embedded reports are exported (in which case you have immediately garnered the report static and no longer real-time), or you look to a third-party reporting add-on to accommodate real-time Excel reporting. But should you?  

On the surface, real-time reporting seems like it would be the best approach. But think again. Most of the instances you would need real-time reports, like the examples mentioned above, are readily accessible in native Business Central reporting options. From there, while real-time reports can be helpful, they can also be incredibly hindering.  

To start, data volume plays a major factor. Because any real-time reporting Excel add-in will have to ‘read’ through every single transaction on-demand, it’s going to give many, if not most, of your reports an incredible performance disadvantage, sometimes to the tune of making them unusable. Add the cloud environment factor (ironically built for scalability, accessibility, and speed), and it’s common to hear about real-time Business Central Excel reporting tools that take hours, days, and dedicated machines to run because they were built for legacy versions of Business Central (NAV or Navision). That isn’t the purpose or advantage of modernizing and evolving your business management systems with cloud technology.  

Considerations around real-time reporting don’t end there. To build custom real-time reports in Excel, you have to pull and map from the complex default table/field data structure of Business Central, which lends itself to both an unintuitive environment and inconsistent reporting practice.  If every user is refreshing and pulling reports at different times and in different ways, the effort of ‘unified truths’ and leveraging data to drive the business forward is often lost.  

In short – real-time reporting, especially from directly inside the Business Central application, no doubt has its necessary place in your toolbelt for financial exercises and some daily operational monitoring. But real-time reporting in Excel is not conducive for collaborative, governed, or intuitive reporting and analytics that drive business decisions, deliver comprehensive reporting packages, promote growth, and track progress.   

That doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dream of flexible, tailored, and easy Business Central Excel reports. Keep reading.

How to Overcome Business Central’s Top 7 Reporting Challenges DOWNLOAD FREE WHITEPAPER

Near Real-Time (NRT) for Business Central Excel Reports

Near real-time reporting (NRT) is like real-time reporting, but with a slight delay. In fact, because NRT generally provides data within a few minutes of the transaction occurring in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, NRT is splitting hairs with real-time reporting. The difference between real-time and NRT will often relate to the time it takes data to process, or even for the report to run. 

NRT works in scenarios that require quick access to data but can tolerate a slight delay. For instance, let’s say a company receives a large shipment of products. As the products are received and registered in Business Central, the inventory levels are immediately updated in the system. With NRT reporting, the inventory reports and dashboards delivered inside Business Central will reflect these updates in near real-time. 

When it comes to ‘real-time’ Excel reporting tools, sometimes they naturally, but unintentionally, deliver ‘near real-time’ Excel reports purely due to the time it takes them to read the data and refresh the report. If it’s longer than instant, or takes 10-20 minutes, it is actually an NRT report (but of course, never marketed that way). 

Overall, NRT reports suffer the same downfalls as real-time reports as it relates to Business Central Excel reporting because the set-up, foundation, and platform for the source data is usually identical and the difference more ties back to data processing times, inefficient underlying report structures, or workflows.  

Since some NRT reports are also often accessed within Business Central itself, it’s also important to consider that the native reporting options delivered inside and with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central have some significant limitations in terms of formatting, the technical expertise required to customize them, and multi-company consolidations (to name a few). This is why most companies running Business Central also seek third-party reporting solutions to overcome these challenges and empower executives and business users to build and run their own custom reports in Excel.

Batch Processing for Business Central Excel Reports

Batch process reporting is the most distinguished from real-time and NRT reporting because it provides data at a specific, defined interval, rather than in real-time or near real-time. Batch process reporting involves collecting data over a period of time and then refreshing it in batches, in the background, at predetermined periods, such as hourly or nightly.  

What makes batch process reporting in Excel ideal for businesses as the primary reporting approach and strategy is its scalability, performance and speed, efficiency, accuracy, and intuitive user experience. Also consider the following advantages:

  • Data Volume and Complexity: By aggregating and processing data in batches, it reduces the strain on system resources and minimizes the impact on real-time operations. It also frees your business from having to be concerned about reporting processes and demands as the volume of data grows over time. Unlike real-time reporting, with batch processing, infinite volumes of data can be managed to scale with you indefinitely.
  • Data Accuracy and Stability: Real-time reporting relies on data that is constantly changing, which can introduce challenges in terms of data integrity and stability. In contrast, batch process reporting allows for more rigorous data validation and verification. It provides an opportunity to reconcile and validate data, ensuring accuracy and consistency. This can be crucial for financial statements, operational reports, business performance analysis, or compliance-related purposes where precision and data integrity are paramount.
  • Data Optimization: Batch reporting environments open the door to pre-built and defined data models that simplify and combine Business Central data together so users can build and pull reports without needing to know the underlying data structure. This not only reduces bottlenecks by reducing a business’s dependency on developers and technical resources to get the reports they need, but it also governs the data for consistent, accurate results, and enforces optimal report performance, every time.
  • Performance and Cost Advantages: Real-time reporting can put a significant load on system resources and affect overall performance. In scenarios where real-time insights are not immediately necessary, batch processing allows businesses to schedule data tasks during off-peak hours or low-demand periods. By doing so, it optimizes the core Business Central system performance and avoids potential disruptions. Additionally, batch processing can be more cost-effective as it allows for efficient utilization of computing resources, reducing the need for continuous real-time data processing.

An example of batch process Excel reporting from Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central includes using Pivot Tables off a connection to a data warehouse set-up for incremental data loading. The challenge with this approach is that it often requires heavy technical and IT oversight. The other option is leveraging an intuitive, third-party Excel reporting solution, like Cosmos, which delivers an optimized data model on Microsoft Azure cloud for users to write free-form reports with Excel and Power BI.

Cosmos Reporting for Business Central Excel Reports

Cosmos is the first (and only) reporting and analytics solution that was built specifically for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central cloud. It is designed to help businesses running Business Central generate any report they need easily, quickly, and efficiently, without the need for complex IT infrastructure or resources.  

As a fully-cloud, performance optimized batch-process reporting solution, Cosmos is 48x faster than other Business Central Excel reporting tools because it:

  • Runs on a fast, secure, and scalable cloud platform powered by Microsoft Azure.
  • Delivers and uses an optimized, organized, customizable Business Central data model for self-service business intelligence anyone can use.
  • Leverages efficient, governed batch process reporting that runs at lightning speed.
  • Is embedded in the Excel environment for an intuitive user experience and flexible report formatting that breaks free from Business Central native reporting limitations.
  • Centralizes reporting and analytics into a single, power platform.
  • Allows for simultaneous report refresh without tying up a workstation or Excel application.
  • Integrates seamlessly with Microsoft Power BI.

To see Cosmos Data Tech in action, sign up for a demo today.

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