Value . . .
How Can I Use Reporting to Create and Deliver Value?
In this section, we address a few topics that keep coming up as being the hardest - yet most important - ones in implementing reporting projects. They've been organised into two parts: those concerning value and those concerning quality. In each case, there is a general discussion about the "textbook theory" of how this stuff should work, and then practical considerations of actually doing this in the organisation. These are not particular technological or project issues, but rather those dealing with the human and organisational dimensions of a reporting project.
Economies of Scale
Getting an initiative for enterprising report off the ground is a challenge because many people will not see the value in it. Simply put, people will not regard the cost (including time, risk, hassle) as worth it. To be fair, reporting projects can be expensive, disruptive, prone to failure and likely to inconvenience stakeholders (report users and data suppliers) - especially when displacing legacy systems.
The best reason (in fact, the only reason) to deliver a reporting solution is that the alternative is worse. Of course, coming up with a reasonable set of alternatives is no mean feat in itself; the list mentioned earlier under Rationales is a good starting point. In order to understand (and convince others) of the benefits of a central enterprise reporting function within your organisation, you might wish to consider the twin "economies of scale" of report production and consumption. Here, we understand "economies of scale" to mean that the average unit cost is lower (ie cost of producing each report, cost of publishing each day/week, cost of viewing a report or cost per user). Further, the marginal unit cost is lowered too: in other words, the cost of the n+1th report (or user) is lower than for the preceeding one. Also, as we add users and reports to the system, the benefits realised increase due to synergies of the network effect. Hence, consolidation is the name of the game.
Broadly speaking, a case can be made for rationalising the various reports in your organisation under one organisational unit. Given that you're already producing a set of reports anyway, the benefits of producing them through the one reporting environment (as opposed to a piecemeal, scattered or ad hoc approach) are given here:
- Platforms - Using one platform for all your reporting means that you will get better utilisation of existing hardware, software and networking assets. You will also better manage the uncertainty in forecasting demand and dimensioning. And, you'll get better rates on future purchases through "buying in bulk" (volume discounts). Operating costs become more visible, and hence have a better prospect of being reduced. You can make savings through reducing the number of interfaces (if your systems share data at all!), sourcing data once and once only, stopping repetition or redundancy of components and driving up the reliability of your system.
- Processes - You can expect large productivity gains if you have a unified process for building, generating and publishing reports. Rather than having multiple report builders operating in isolation, requesting the same data from different suppliers (or the same supplier), dithering about how to do things or from whom to seek approval and badgering management for decisions and sign-off, a tight, well-defined process allows subsequent reports to be rapidly defined, protyped, deployed and monitored. Additionally, the organisation will be able to see syngergies, overlaps and conflicts if all reporting is handled by a single unit.
- People - Getting the right mix of skills and knowledge to deliver a quality reporting function can be difficult. Once you have those people in place, you want to get the maximum out of them. Whereas a diffused, ad hoc approach means that corporate knowledge about reporting is dissipated, fractured and likely to be lost as staff move on, a designated reporting person/unit means that each new project, data set or report adds to the knowledge base. Being a specialised function, you want to concentrate your reporting skills and knowledge, not spread it thinly throughout the firm.
On the flip side, their gains to be had for report users in have a single, consolidated reporting function - beyond not having to remember mutliple usernames and passwords! Here, we list some arguments for these benefits:
- Sharing - The primary benefit for report users is that information can be shared. Rather than just having one reporting application for sales, another for service, another for marketing and so on, by unifying these into a single reporting environment, users from the different departments can access reports across the whole enterprise. Not only does this reduce the silo-mentality in larger organisations, it also allows for the creation of cross-functional metrics and reports: instead of just focusing on marketing numbers, the marketing department can be aware of how their metrics impact on, eg, sales (perhaps using cost per lead and conversion rates). Breaking down these barriers allows for much better alignment of individual manager's goals with the organisation's goals.
- Standards - Centralised reports means standardised reports. Not only does this make for faster more reliable development, but it also helps report users come to grips more quickly. For example, standardising report navigation, naming, layout, formating and other reporting elements will help users who are familiar with their area's reports when they come across unfamiliar reports. Rather than having to spend time learning how to use a new system, users can straight-away absorb the information and act accordingly. Similarly, standardising on the business logic (eg definitions of tricky concepts like "customer", "average holding time" or "month") means that users won't run the risk of making a mistake by misinterpreting a (seemingly) familiar term.
- Support - Lastly, report users will invariably have questions, suggestions and objections that need to go somewhere. By dealing with a single person or group who handles all of their reporting needs, significant improvements can be made over having each report user chasing down multiple providers. You can expect streamlining, elimination of redundancy and gains to quality and reliability from making one entity responsible for reporting. If nothing else, it gets rid of "wiggle room" and buck-passing if there is no one else to blame!