How Can I Use This Guide?
This is a brief guide to enterprise reporting. It is intended to help people who have to rapidly come to grips with concepts in enterprise reporting. Target roles include project managers, business analysts and system architects. Whether you're managing business and functional requirements, evaluating tools or running formal vendor selection process, there are three ways to use this guide:
- Glossary - Basic definitions for the key ideas in reporting, with links to further reading.
- Checklist - Report design elements and business and functional requirements you need to consider.
- Tutorial - Anticipating and grappling with the difficult organisational issues in delivering enterprise reporting.
The emphasis here is on the effective delivery of information to managers. This guide will not help you with specific content ie what your organisation should be reporting on (finances, operations etc). Nor does it review reporting and BI vendors and consultancies.
Definition . . .
What is Enterprise Reporting?
I define enterprise reporting (or management reporting) as the regular provision of information to decision-makers within an organisation to support them in their work. These reports can take the form of graphs, text and tables and, typically, are disseminated through an intranet as a set of regularly updated web pages (or "enterprise portal"). Alternatively, they may be emailed directly to users or simply printed out and handed around, in the time-honoured fashion.
Types of Enterprise Reports
- Metric Management - In many organisation, business performance is managed through outcome-oriented metrics. For external groups, these are Service Level Agreements (SLAs). For internal management, they are Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Typically, there are agreed targets to be tracked against over a period of time. They may be used as part of other management strategies such as Six Sigma or Total Quality Management (TQM).
- Dashboards - A popular idea is to present a range of different indicators on the one page, like a dashboard in a car. Typically, vendors will sell you "canned reports" (pre-defined reports with static elements and fixed structure). However, this approach should allow users to customise their dashboard view, and set targets for various metrics. It's common to have traffic-lights defined for performance (red, orange, green) to draw management attention to particular areas.
- Balanced Scorecards - A method developed by Kaplan and Norton that attempts to present an integrated view of success in an organisation. In addition to financial performance, they also include customer, business process and learning and growth perspectives. (You should read about this if you're not sure what kinds of things to report on.)
Out of Scope
- Ad Hoc Analyses - Typically undertaken once to deal with a specific initiative, and then never revisited. They often involve building a model in a spreadsheet to allow exploration of "what-if" scenarios. Alternatively, they may take the form of a written brief or one-off report for management.
- Interactive Querying - Best exemplified by OLAP, this refers to specific technology that allows an analyst (or savvy manager) to manipulate directly the presentation of data. The analyst can select dimensions (eg. time, location, department, employee etc) and "drill-down" (expand) and "roll-up" (collapse) the data.
- Data Mining (and Advanced Statistics) - Here, techniques such as neural networks and machine learning are used to discover novel, interesting and useful patterns in the data. This is best suited for analyses such as classification, segmentation, clustering and prediction.