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High-quality reporting boosts productivity

Countless databases, Excels and various text files provide data and often excessive amounts of it. But how do you get this data to those who need it to steer and boost business processes? If you are familiar with this problem, then it is worth placing a project to develop reporting on the agenda.

Based on my own experience the reasons for the failure of reporting can be traced back on one hand to the data sources – in other words the right matters are not measured and the content of the data is not known ­­– and on the other to the poor usability of the reporting. Good reporting is based on an understanding of the business process: Which key figures are significant for the steering of the process? What does each key figure describe and what is it made up of? For example, is the difference between values 5 and 6 of key figure X a significant difference that needs to be dealt with, or is it a normal variation? In order for the data to benefit the daily operations of a business it needs a data owner, as IT knowledge alone is not enough in reporting.

Modern reporting tools make it easy to connect with various data sources and also combine data. If you can look at the data from different perspectives at the same time this will improve the value of the data from the perspective of steering business. However, user-friendliness and the relevance of the data to the data user must be the starting point for everything. I was involved in a project to develop reporting in which half of the indicators used were placed in the “nice-to-know” category and then scrapped. This significantly improved the reports’ user-experience and the activeness of users.

Depending on the situation, either static or interactive reports – or both – are needed in the steering of business. There is no need for users of advanced self-service solutions to be IT experts. Advanced and interactive dashboards help even laymen to carry out “data discovery” to support their own work and penetrate the background of reported figures. This means that the new potential offered by reporting tools is blurring the line between actual reporting and “light-weight” reporting.

So, what is the right solution for each need? Before you select a reporting solution it is worth testing the available alternatives using clear actual examples and comparing the results received against the demands of your business. The list below will help you choose your own reporting tool:

  • Which data sources do you use and which tool is used to construct the required data models.
  • How many of the data sources are Excel files or other tables?
  • What do you want to measure and what part of the company’s process is this connected with?
  • Is the reporting continuous or does it take place on a one-off basis?
  • What kinds of functions and visual elements should the reports contain?
  • How well do the users understand the data and what type of analytical skills do they have?
  • Which reporting needs are compulsory and which belong to the “nice-to-know” category?

In my next blog I will delve more deeply into the characteristics, weaknesses and strengths of various reporting tools.

Toni Jormalainen, Senior Rocket Scientist, Houston Analytics