Reports drive a business. Managers look at them to measure performance, make key decisions and set the path for the company going forward. When the tool that is used to guide this process is a report, it makes sense to spend a little time to ensure it provides the right information and is easy to use. The reasons vary: budget for IT, no one responsible for the system that produces the report or just too many different users to easily find a consensus. The challenge is to find a way to get enough time to put the necessary people into a meeting and then find a way to make changes. The cost can be high in terms of management time, but the rewards can be greater by saving them time every day as they use the improved report. Once the right team is assembled it is important to make sure a great report is the result.
One technique to consider when designing a new report or updating an old one is to ask “Is our current reporting just showing us statistics, or telling us exactly what we need to know?”
Think back to first grade when the kids had ‘Show and Tell’. The student proudly shows her painting. The teacher knows there a tree in that work of art, but unsure of the rest of it. So, she asks the child what it is. The child then tells all she needs to know to tell what the picture is to tell the child it is wonderful. It wasn’t until that second bit of information came from the child, that she really saw the whole picture.
Too many reports used in companies are working with the same the same lack of substance, but they are not nearly as cute and fun to deal with. Back Office Systems are very good at providing numbers with totals. But typically, most companies using back-office systems to get information, find that it takes a correlation of several reports to be able to get the information they really need. They have been working in that realm for so long, it doesn’t even bother them for it has just become routine. One has to wonder if they ever added the amount of time it is taking them to get to the answers they really want?
Sometimes the way to best fix a report, is to merge it. Not just remove it, but rather make it part of the other reports that you must link. Sometimes, of course, you need both. The point is to take enough time to get the critical information (not just the data) into a simple format. It is much more cost effective to take the time to program all the linkages to have the insights standing out in easy view.
The tools available are great at linking and share the data. The work, however, is the key. The intelligence that derives is from the insights and experience of the team. The tools are able to capture that and make it easy to save time and show what the team needs to know.
When looking for a Business Intelligence tool you want to find one that works for you and not the reverse. It is prudent to ask the question:
Do I know exactly what to do when I see the results on this report?
The closer one gets to answering yes, the better off they will be. It is best to look for tools that will provide answers as opposed to just showing the statistics. It will shorten analysis time, reduce the amount of needed, improve and present the actual vision of what is going on and decisions can be made more quickly.