For many years I’ve been involved in developing reports for businesses, initially working purely from user specifications. However as I look back on some of this work I wonder about the actual value these reports were able to produce for the business. Yes they gave the business what they asked for, however were they actually what the business wanted? This is a common mistake many businesses make…
Because in many cases the reports were purely a means for the business to extract the transactional or summary data into a spreadsheet to then create more aesthetic, intuitive or interactive spreadsheet based dashboards. Or alternatively many transactional level reports would be produced and users expected to read through and understand them. Both of these options taking considerable time, introducing inconsistency, data inaccuracies and inefficiencies.
I understand that some of this behaviour in the past would have been due to several reasons;
– The reporting tools were not capable
– There was a lack of flexibility
– The business didn’t have then skill required
– There was a disconnect between the user and the IT function
– A lack of understanding of the data context and how to represent it
However the software related issues now aren’t the case where the technologies have moved on considerably and in many cases already had the functions, they were just under-utilised.
The processes described above of building reports to then extract data and build further interactive reports / dashboards is a costly one. Many of the costs associated with this are hidden within the functions of the business owning and running the reports. Generally the disconnect between the business user and the report developer was created by a lack of understanding from both sides. Requirements were defined purely upon what the business thought IT could deliver and not what the business actually wanted.
The solution to this lies in understanding the true outputs and needs of the business. This is where a simple dashboard with filter and drill through functions can be used to help deliver these fundamental requirements byy building a reporting system and suite of dashboards which help to automate the capture and processing of data. In parallel dashboards are used as an engaging and efficient way to help represent and interpret the data.
The first step in this process can be achieved simply by rationalising the current offering of reports and introducing the concept of dashboards to summarise and integrate the data. This activity is generally a journey changing ‘hearts and minds’ to show the business the need for change. as with all change it will be resisted, but the benefits will ultimately demonstrate the gains. Much like a dashboard in a car easily displays the speed, fuel, service status and more the dashboard for a business can be used in a in a similar way. A business using dashboards to measure its performance can monitor current performance whilst also define goals and metrics aligned to its strategy and areas of development. The clarity and speed to decision making processes at all levels in the organisation this brings to a business is significant. The regular insights into business performance that dashboards bring allow more targeted and deeper data mining down to root cause to drive tangible improvements.
Dashboards should be so intuitive they provoke a reaction!! By using visual indicators, colours, symbols, flags and alerters the user can be easily directed to the problems. In my experience a business looking to implement a robust reporting system driven by dashboards can expect to see many if not all of the following benefits:
1. Improved utilisation of resource (data processing)
2. Reduction in reporting delays
3. Reduction in total cost to produce the reports
4. Improved business insights to performance
5. Improved data quality
6. Shift in culture to managing and measuring business performance
So, what are you waiting for?!