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How Professional Service Firms Leverage Data Analytics To Support Growth

Learn how CPA firm Perkins & Co integrates Power BI with IRIS Practice Engine to improve reporting and support data-driven decision-making.

Perkins & Co Improves Reporting Capabilities With IRIS Practice Engine

Perkins & Co is a locally owned CPA firm providing tax, audit, and advisory services in the greater Portland/Vancouver metro area and beyond. It has about 180 employees and has been in business for 35 years. Recently, they transitioned to IRIS Practice Engine, an accounting firm-specific ERP system with a data warehouse component.

Shortly after the transition, Perkins consulted with CSG (now Skypoint) to evaluate whether they should go the DIY route or buy the Practice Engine Data Warehouse out of the box.

The purchasing option was a clear winner—given the fraction of the cost to get a consumable data model in place, separate load from hitting their transactional database to the data warehouse, and managed hosting in Azure rolled in. It is typically not the case that data warehouse products are a sound decision, but IRIS Practice Engine made this a no-brainer.

The Skypoint team reached out to IRIS Practice Engine about our feedback on the data warehouse and how we could work together to support the Perkins team. Thanks to the time we spent advising Perkins, IRIS Practice Engine immediately asked us to become their North America partner.

Along with the upgrade to IRIS Practice Engine, Perkins also wanted to move from Alteryx and Tableau to Microsoft Power BI as the primary reporting tool. Moving off Alteryx and Tableau meant huge cost savings and the ability to work with their data using a single platform.

Colleen Murray, Director of Operations and a Shareholder, realized that the company needed support in building its internal business intelligence acumen.

Meredith Miller, Data Analyst and In-House IRIS Practice Engine Administrator for Perkins, needed support to develop her role in leading data analytics within the organization.

Since the firm was new to both IRIS Practice Engine and Power BI, leveraging external expertise and support would be the best way to develop the right capacity and maximize ROI quickly.

"Skypoint is not only building expertise around this new system but also took the initiative to deepen its connection and relationship with IRIS Practice Engine, which really serves us as a client to improve what the platform can do for us."

Turning Data Analytics and Reporting Challenges Into Opportunities

Before working with Skypoint, Perkins didn’t have the in-house expertise in data warehousing nor the experience to integrate Power BI with IRIS Practice Engine to generate insightful reports.

Our initial engagement focused on replicating and migrating key management and operations reports from Excel or Tableau to Practice Engine Data Warehouse and Power BI. While IRIS Practice Engine offers static built-in reports, the platform didn’t fully meet Perkins’ reporting needs, such as allowing reporting to make nimble changes as the business evolved.

Additionally, Meredith needed support to navigate the more technical aspects of Power BI implementation and Microsoft technologies, including how to integrate the available APIs from other systems that had been lacking analytics.

After Perkins replaced its largest software package, Meredith transitioned into her new role while setting up the data infrastructure to meet the firm’s complex reporting requirements. Meredith also needed to look to the future of integrating other systems under the Perkins umbrella.

With the help of Jen Memhard from Skypoint, Meredith gained a core understanding of Power BI and the Practice Engine Data Warehouse to compile reports for various stakeholders in the company. Meredith can now publish receivables reports for everyone in the firm—a capability that Perkins didn’t have before.

"Jen has been extremely helpful. She'll go as simple or as complicated as needed to help me understand not only how she's building something but also how I can build on it in the future. Now I can do a lot more on my own and then bring in Skypoint as needed."

Producing More Results in Less Time

After establishing a reporting framework—called a Power BI dataset—and gaining the skills to manage data analytics, Meredith started getting more done in a lot less time. In supporting a recent benchmarking survey submission, she could access the information, pull it together quickly, and manipulate the data easily to generate insights.

Easy access to a consumable and extensible Power BI model means Meredith is able to produce more results in less time and quickly pivot for evolving business needs. High-quality reports help stakeholders and decision-makers like Colleen save time and effort because they leverage analytics and insights more efficiently.

Recently, the seasonal tax pool manager requested a summary of all the billable hours during the busy season. The manager looked at the reports available and could reach out to Meredith if they needed more detail on any entry. Meredith then can simply go into the Power BI Desktop, which is connected to a single source of truth dataset, and quickly generate reports in a format most usable for that manager.

Without Power BI, Meredith would have to spend more time digging for the information in the IRIS Practice Engine database, exporting data, shaping the data with Alteryx, and formatting the reports in Excel or Tableau.

Excel doesn’t have error control and the spreadsheets aren’t scalable to handle large amounts of data. Excel doesn’t support efficient collaboration either and the lack of automation can hold up many processes.

Alteryx doesn’t offer best-of-breed data visualization features or integration with other software systems. Tableau doesn’t have robust scheduling or reporting functionalities. Since it’s strictly a data visualization tool, Tableau has very limited data processing capabilities and it is dependent on expensive data engineers to make the data consumable.

Building A Solid Self-Service Foundation

As a stakeholder with a bird’s-eye view of Perkins operations, Colleen found that Skypoint delivers exceptional value because we help her team not only execute tasks but also establish a foundational understanding of the Practice Engine Data Warehouse. Colleen and her team know what data is correct and what they can expect.

Meredith believes that the Practice Engine Data Warehouse would have been difficult to use without Power BI’s capability to reshape the data and create a layer on top of the generalized data warehouse that is specific to the way Perkins works and their own terminology.

Skypoint’s Jen, taking the time to go through everything about the data warehouse and data structure with Meredith, has laid the solid foundation Perkins needs to adopt Power BI organization-wide and build a data-driven approach to decision-making.

Colleen found that the high-touch and partnership-centric nature of the relationship was just right for Perkins from a management perspective. Skypoint takes the time to incorporate the client’s needs into the data strategy while still driving the process with the team’s expertise and recommendations.

Jen was able to see the big picture and identify the key reporting components Perkins needs. Meredith improved her knowledge of how IRIS Practice Engine stores its data. This allows her to find the information she needs—in case she ever has to refer back to the Practice Engine Data Warehouse—and produce the most relevant reports to support various decision-making processes.

"Thanks to the way that Skypoint set up Power BI and Practice Engine Data Warehouse, I can say to stakeholders that I may not have what you want right away, but I know how to get it to you quickly. That saves a lot of people across the organization a lot of time."

Strategic Support for Long-Term Success

Skypoint’s full-service approach went far beyond data analytics and reporting to set Perkins up for long-term success in today’s data-driven business environment. In fact, Colleen considers Skypoint the firm’s strategic partner because we approach technology and information system engagements with a long-term perspective.

We are helping Colleen and her team ramp up their Power BI usage, develop business-critical reports, automate workflows with Microsoft Power Platform, implement API integrations, and support them in choosing the right platforms and technologies to apply a data-centric approach to operations and decision-making.

Meredith now focuses on leveraging data analytics to support the firm’s success as she gets technical support from Skypoint. She is able to generate reports to meet immediate needs while learning how to use Power BI and managing the database. Each day she is continually expanding her professional capabilities as a data analyst.

Since Perkins can rely on Skypoint to be their long-term strategic partner, they are able to keep their BI team lean. Our managed BI services offer Perkins access to the full spectrum of CSG capabilities including: App Dev, Power Platform, data warehousing, and Power BI to help the company fully leverage the power of data and automation.

Today the team at Perkins feels in control, and they have the support they need to succeed whenever they need it.

"Instead of simply saying, 'tell us what you want and we'll do it for you, we're going to help you establish a foundation so you can self-service.' They have helped us develop a solid data foundation, and we really value that. This is the right way to work with a new client like us."

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