It’s time to take another good look at Enterprise Reporting.
Wait. When is it not a time to take a clear-eyed, critical view of what a company does for Enterprise Reporting? After all, how many firms are fully satisfied—feel fully competent—with their reporting processes across the enterprise?
And speaking of not being fully satisfied—and almost certainly not at all competent—there’s the topic of the “[in-built] reporting capabilities” of each of the key applications we use daily to run our companies: ERP, Financials, Point of Sale, Planning, etc.
Why are these systems so lacking? Why can’t we get beyond the basics with them? How much effort is entailed in creating the reports and analytics that we want? The fact that there are shortcomings in simply reaching application data via in-built reporting tools is emblematic of deficiencies and struggles with our reporting enterprise-wide.
We could profit by taking a step back and listing what we would hope for and might even expect from an Enterprise Reporting System:
- Reach – Here we speak about accessing data from any/all applications and databases. This attribute is a “given,” since our concern is for the enterprise, and therefore potential report data that comes from two or more systems. (For all practical purposes, we will consider Excel—both individual spreadsheets and de facto applications built in Excel—to be itself a system.) We need to aim for the ideal of “data independence,” by which we mean data that is independent of the software that it is too often typically locked within.
- Dynamism – This concerns the immediacy of the report, whether saved/standard or “ad hoc”. This can best be illustrated by a couple of examples: first, assume a transaction occurs in a relational database—a sale is made and registered in an ERP table. In an optimal system, that number and all values that are affected by that single transaction would show results as close to instantaneously as possible. At worst, a user might need to press F9 or refresh a web page. Another second example would be a user entry—e.g., a forecasted sales number—which, also, would instantaneously impact/refresh all dependent numbers, and reports, with no lag time.
- Use of Preferred Front End – Every user has a preferred reporting tool: some will want to see a dashboard like Power BI; some will want to see reports in tabular form, like Excel; and some will want to use Excel itself. An ideal enterprise reporting solution, must exclude any “export to Excel.” Rather, our expectation should be for “live” data in Excel. This relates the Dynamism capability, directly above.
- Maximum User Control – It almost go without saying: the staff who are allowed to create reports should have maximum capabilities to create whatever reports they wish with the data made available to them. We are interested in fostering empowered report creation, so that report consumers can get what they need to run the company most quickly and intelligently.
- Modeling rather than Querying – Empowering report creators—and benefitting the enterprise thereby—entails solution capabilities that involve data modeling. Put another way, report creators should have the ability to conceive new ways of looking at the business. Along with integrating new data sources and formulating new KPIs/analytics, this would include “planning” (“what if,” etc.) and scenario building.
The above “ideal report solution” capability, modeling data, is a good jump-off point for now. It points inevitably to a data warehouse, but a particular kind that can readily, and pretty much remarkably connect report creators (and their preferences) with the data they need, from the applications critical to company success; a solution that enables the modeling and remodeling of data, as both the business and reporting needs change.
Like any valuable report, we should be able to draw a conclusion: any truly well-performing Enterprise Reporting System must score high marks vis-à-vis each of the 5 ideal attributes above. No shortcomings allowed among them, as any weakness undermines the full success of—if we can forgive the expression—the “enterprise of Enterprise Reporting.”