Agility and flexibility are the keys to succeeding in today’s demanding economy. But to achieve both these goals, organizations must delve deep into their reporting capabilities to ensure they can generate accurate and timely information for key decision-makers.
Perhaps the greatest deficiency in modern reporting is the inability to differentiate raw data from the kind of contextual information needed to understand the true state of any business process. Without this, actions are based more on hunch than reason, and the organization can quickly find itself unprepared when the truth hits – usually in the form of diminished revenues and lost market share.
The underlying causes of this state of affairs are many and varied, but we’ve isolated four key problems that deserve immediate attention.
Data is the product of the interplay between resources, applications, and workflows. Too often, however, reporting measures at most organizations operate on each of these elements independently. So instead of getting a single, overarching view of things, top-line managers are inundated with multiple narrow, often disjointed, depictions of individual processes.
Compounding the problem is the fact that this incoherency did not emerge overnight but is instead the product of the very nature of business. Most companies may start out with a single vision, but before long, new processes are added, new infrastructure is deployed and even new businesses are brought into the fold, each with its own way of doing things. Eventually, it becomes too difficult – and too expensive – to change.
This doesn’t only result in poor decision-making. It increases the cost of doing business by burdening the knowledge workforce with additional data-crunching responsibilities, most of which turn out to be unproductive, if not downright damaging to the business model.
To bring order to this chaos, organizations should focus on five key changes to their reporting operations. These should include standardizing business glossaries, improving cataloging and governance, implementing the right formatting and KPIs, and streamlining tools and systems, along with focusing more on prioritization and goals.
Dashboards are crucial components of any business intelligence, CRM, or other productivity suite. They provide needed visualization of critical performance metrics and are essential when it comes to alerting operators to immediate threats. This does not make them good reporting tools, however.
Reporting, after all, is a means of telling a story, which is why context is so important. With the right context, a report can deliver information in a narrative form that’s more easily ingested and comprehended than raw data. A dashboard, however, doesn’t offer context, so to gain an understanding of conditions, users must dig through data to nail down the root cause of any problem. This can often lead to oversights, sometimes due to data just being missed or because institutional bias leads some people to cherry-pick only the details they think they need.
Any dashboard, therefore, should only serve in a monitoring capacity, not as a reporting tool – although the data it generates can certainly be used to create reports.
Slide decks are an effective reporting tool, but only when used correctly. They are best when conveying information in textual or graphical form as long as this is done in ways that enhance the reporting process, but this rarely happens in the modern enterprise.
One of the fundamental problems with slide-based applications is that they do not draw data directly from its source. This forces the slide creator to manually retrieve and paste this data into the deck. This produces errors and is subject to the same institutional bias that inhibits the dashboard – people select the data they need to prove their point, not tell a complete story.
As well, this lack of direct access to data means the deck cannot update automatically, which forces the creator to redo the presentation from scratch with each new report. This can be doubly labor-intensive without the proper graphic skills needed to produce an effective deck, and these tend to be limited at most enterprises.
The Full Picture
When a report is completed, it is usually presented to an audience using a live narrator to tell the story. At some point, though, it winds up online or shared internally without this additional explanation, making it difficult, at best, for others to draw the correct conclusion. For this reason, all reports should provide all the information needed to convey the full picture of any subject in an easily comprehensible manner.
This can be most easily done with features like interactive drill-down, text-based explanatory elements and clear visualizations, all presented in a narrative form that guides the recipient from a beginning to a middle to an end. In this way, the audience gains a much broader understanding of the theme, and how it impacts other stakeholders with divergent views, leading to a much more resilient and forward-leaning organization.
Data is the lifeblood of the enterprise, but it can only be leveraged properly when put into the right context. Most organizations struggle to draw value from the wealth of data they contain, hampered by both its volume and diversity. Refining the reporting process is key to correcting this problem and will give data the care and attention it needs to make a difference in today’s competitive landscape.