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Q&A | Drilling Down with Joel Leichty, sa.global BI Director, Author & MVP

It’s rare to meet someone who has been with their Microsoft Dynamics Partner employer for 14 years, but that is the case with Joel Leichty - sa.global Products & BI Director and 8-time Microsoft MVP. Below, Joel talks to us about Power BI, sa.global’s projects360, and the future with PowerApps along with some implementation nuggets.
Joel Leichty, sa.global BI Director, Author & MVP
SDM: Joel, how long have you been at sa.global?

JL: I have been with sa.global for 14 years and my role is Director of Products for Finance & Operations. Basically, I bring our industry solution to fruition by engaging with a variety of stakeholders, including sa.global management, sales, delivery team, and via customer feedback. My goal is to ensure we have solid industry solutions and can handle many professional services requirements “out of the box.”

My second role is Director of the Business Intelligence department in the US, which includes growing sa.global’s BI department. Our BI practice combines our industry expertise and solutions with Microsoft’s Power BI and Azure offerings. All these technologies combined provide sa.global a nice platform to develop BI Solutions.

SDM: I understand you are a Microsoft MVP – eight times.

JL: MVP’s contribute back to the Microsoft community in a variety of ways, with one of the most important components being knowledge sharing. I originally became an MVP by sharing knowledge via simple manuals for AX 2012. AX 2012 when first released was quite complicated and there weren’t a lot of resources for end users. Books I wrote include, “AX 2012 Financials” “AX2012 Trade” “AX2012 Projects”.

Nowadays I like to blog (joelleichty.com) and do public speaking at events such as AXUG Summit and AXUG online webinars. I’ve presented a consistent AXUG “What’s New” (www.AXUG.com) series to talk about the latest and greatest in F&O. I also like to give feedback directly to Microsoft on various F&O topics – I think they appreciate the feedback…sometimes.

SDM: What is your superpower?

JL: I would say my breadth of experience in Dynamics. I have done a variety of roles from implementing Dynamics as an end user, consulting, project management, BI roles, and product management. I’ve also implemented many of the modules in F&O across a variety of industries. This combination of experiences provides me some unique depth and perspective when solving F&O problems.

SDM: Was it hard to make the leap from being a user to be a consultant?

JL:I would say it’s a fairly easy move from being part of a user implementation to getting into consulting. If you know the product you can make a lot of progress by configuring, testing, and explaining what the product is capable of. Travel was hard to get used to, as well as constantly getting to know new clients and new teams (and remembering everyone’s name!). For me, learning all the soft skills required in consulting was the challenging part.

One helpful part of coming from an end user implementation is having a lot of empathy. Implementations are very challenging, and you understand those challenges deeply. It’s also challenging to learn to smooth over the rough patches behind the scenes. You don’t have to explain all the struggles - you just fix them; you make it happen.

SDM: Do you ever wish you were still an accountant?

JL: I don’t miss cooking the books every month. Corporate finance includes a lot of repetitive tasks; I’m better suited to be in a role that’s constantly changing. I like the concept of hopping from project to project.

The funny thing is, I know much more about accounting theory working in ERP and product development than I did working as an accountant. I think when I’m older I’ll throw on a tweed jacket with elbow patches and teach the young ones about the debits and credits.

SDM: Today, what are you doing with Power BI?

JL: One interesting thing about Power BI is having a variety of capabilities for showing summary information, then drilling into potential issues. There are a variety of methods to drill into Power BI, including in “Pivot” style reports, hierarchies, and drilling into other Power BI pages.

To me, the key to effective BI is surfacing issues at a high level and allowing users to dig deeper into the details via some predefined paths.

SDM: How difficult to set up BI in a new ERP implementation?

JL: At sa.global, we try to make sure we have some industry specific BI capabilities out of the box via our projects360 BI solution. This includes components in Dynamics 365, Azure, and Power BI.

Power BI in and of itself is pretty simple to use - you can point at a variety of data sources and start reporting on top of it. Still, the central point of truth is the data warehouse and the data models on top of it. We continue to solve those challenges using traditional BI methodologies, instead of having a hodge-podge of Power BI data models.

SDM: Tell us a bit more about the sa.global projects360 product for F&O.

JL: projects360 (projects360.saglobal.com) is a subscription based add on to Dynamics 365 that provides a variety of professional services features to Dynamics. Microsoft provides a solid foundation for our industries, but we need to add features to solve some consistent problems we run across with our customers.

There is a BI component of projects360 (projects360bi.saglobal.com) where we take data out of Finance & Operations and create an out of the box professional services data model.

SDM: How do you approach the product design of projects360?

JL: I have a lot of experience designing client-specific customization's, but it’s been enlightening to learn over time the differences of designing for a client and designing for a product. For product design, I try to keep feature designs very flexible, but targeted to enhancing specific business processes.

One specific feature that covers my design philosophy is our projects360 Invoice grouping feature. Our customers have a wide variety of ways they want to sort and subtotal Project invoices. We came up with a flexible design that lets us do thousands of invoice formats through a configuration table. We’re solving the core business process of providing the appropriate invoice details, and the flexible setups allow us to solve many requirements simultaneously.

SDM: Are Power BI and Azure affecting sales over the ERP competition?

JL: I think Power BI is having a huge impact because of the price point, which is $10/user/month and free for Power BI Desktop (developer experience). Also, the Azure services can start small and scale up over time.

This kind of SAAS pricing is great for getting new users and customers into BI. You can very easily start deploying reports to a smaller team, and incrementally add value to the rest of your business. In the past there could be some large product and services investments to get BI rolling in an organization.

SDM: What’s on the horizon in Product Development?

JL: Some things coming in the Power platform are exciting. Most people know about Power BI, but PowerApps are also interesting. PowerApps provide a fairly simple experience for a Super User to create an app.

Back in the day, I often saw Super Users gravitating towards Microsoft Access to light up these kinds of experiences. Some smart employee in a company would develop an app and they would deploy it (generally without IT’s knowledge). The problem with this world is 1) proper governance and 2) tying these experiences to the rest of your business data. With PowerApps, you have some of the same benefits for Super Users, but with the proper data sharing and IT governance.

SDM: Is this the beginning of the end of large subscription-based systems?

JL: No. That wasn’t true of the Access database world either. It’s critical to have a good foundation to build on top of, and that means having a proper CRM, ERP, and HR system at the core. Building a solid, update able, cloud-based foundation will be a mainstay for years to come.

About the Author

Sarah D. Morgan

Sarah D. Morgan

25 years in professional services sales and recruitment in the information technology sector working with the best and brightest individuals who seek to provide excellent service to the customers they support.

I've held many positions throughout the organization chart to owning my own consulting firm and now leading talent in the US for sa.global. I've led sales, recruiting, and consulting teams on this journey, I've learned what works, what doesn't work, and how to collaborate for success. The fascinating world of ERP has allowed me to close multi million dollar deals only to realize that without a well organized team of consultants who truly know their business, the success of the sale will be short lived.

At this point, I've redirected my career to focus on the delivery side of the equation to bridge sales success to delivery success. For me this is a bridge of people. My focus on attracting, motivating, inspiring the best of the best while helping them develop and learn and ultimately to retain. Consulting is a continual education game, my role is to attract and retain those best of breed consultants who fit into a culture of collaboration, kindness, and client success.

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