The terms "reporting" and "business intelligence" are often used interchangeably, but in reality, reporting is just one of the common functions of BI. It's the presentation layer of BI, or the result of data being pulled from repositories and presented to decision-makers. With the number of employees at all levels now considered decision-makers, reporting has become even more important. It's not just a small subset of power-users who need reports anymore; reports have to evolve to become useful to casual BI users.
The beginning of the year is a great time to evaluate the state of your company's BI reporting. Are you simply manipulating data within Excel? Do you need more powerful reporting that pulls from multiple data sources?
Let's talk about some ways to take your reporting to the next level.
1) Consider design. Reports that are visually confusing or overwhelming will not be favored by BI consumers. In the case where your organization is working off of reporting dashboards, some pitfalls to avoid include too many visuals on one screen, inappropriate use of graphs, and the wrong chart types for your data. Charts should include summary-to-detail navigation, so users do not have to leave the screen to analyze what they are seeing. There are many rules to great dashboard design, but the key is to let the reports tell the story and not let the screen be overrun by imagery and "flashing lights."
2) Get faster with in-memory. In-memory processing takes advantage of the speed of RAM to decrease the response time for queries, significantly enhancing the end user's experience. It allows report creators and consumers to engage with large data sets quicker than ever before, which results in faster and more proactive decision-making thanks to more immediate, interactive analysis. Most reporting platforms include in-memory capabilities, but only some address security (making sure only the right sets of users have access to certain data and queries).
3) Implement delivery mechanisms. Allow users to select their most important reports to be scheduled for recurring, secure e-mail delivery so they do not have to log into the BI system every day. Receiving reports regularly in PDF, PowerPoint, or Excel spreadsheets is one step toward easy access to analysis for those who need it. At arcplan, we call this "catering to people's laziness," but it works!
4) Provide context. Add commentary to your reports to give context to the data. Ensure that your analysts are filling in the gap between what they see in the data and what management is taking away, especially for variances in expected results.
5) Enhance your reports with 3rd party data. Reports that integrate data from the cloud can provide analysts with entirely new insights. Consider integrating data from Standard & Poor's with your accounts receivable information to match up delinquent clients with their S&P credit rating, or displaying product revenues from your financial system with customer data from your CRM.
Have you implemented any of these? Have any results to share?
In the next installment of this series, we'll discuss 5 more pieces of advice for better BI reporting.