With the economies of collecting data coming down as storage and processing costs go down, it’s tempting but also feasible to collect all the data you want.
You might not be sure if you need that customer interaction, so you just decide to collect it. You never know when you might need it. Datalakes make this even more feasible, and the hunger of data scientists for more data makes it more rationale.
However, when it comes to reporting on all that data, well, that’s not very feasible. Sure, it’s possible to create lots and lots of reports to present and visualise all that data you have collected, but how useful will that be for the business.
When it comes to reporting on your data, you need to be very clear on what the business wants to know and also what is important to know. A plethora of reports presenting data from all aspects of the business, in every format conceivable, isn’t helpful to anyone.
An example that pops to mind is that many years ago, I was asked by a client to help their Analytics and Insights team work more efficiently. They felt that the team was busy delivering lots of numbers in the form of reports, but they didn’t feel any of it was useful or being used by the business.
A good starting point was to audit what reports were being sent out. After my audit. I found a few which were around 100 pages, so I approached the relevant teams and asked them how they used these reports. Interestingly, history has taught me that by asking the business if a report is important, I invariably get a response which suggests that even though they may not know if they need a report, they believe it has some hidden importance. So, my approach now is to get them to talk through how they use the reports.
Also, generating a 100-odd page report is no small feat, and even if you automate it, the analytics team must check it for accuracy and is often asked to provide some overall commentary for each report. Anyway, what I discovered was that, from those 100-odd page reports, the business would sift through and pick a handful of numbers they needed to populate a presentation which they had to do on a regular basis. The commentary they got was hardly used as it was too generic (or top-level) to be of use to anyone, so the business typically ignored it.
It was true that different people needed different numbers, but between them, they didn’t need all the numbers in those reports. So, what we agreed was that what if the analytics team just produced reports with the numbers each of the different teams needed. That meant that in one example, a 100-odd page report was reduced to 9 pages. This also meant that the analytics and insight analysts could focus on a smaller set of numbers to generate commentary and insights that were more relevant for that part of the business.
Another discovery made during the audit was that some of these reports were created during a particular time period where knowing a particular set of numbers was important to the business. Take like a big campaign period or a product launch. The business wanted to know everything during a very short period, and after that period, interest in those reports typically waned. But no one tells the Analytics and Insight team, especially if that report is part of a bigger report, which then just increases in size.
So, those reports keep getting generated and over time more are requested, created, and added to the catalogue of reports created by the Analytics and Insights Team. No one takes the time to ask if they are needed, and often no one is brave enough to say stop as they are not sure who uses them, or they find in the distribution list some senior people.
I remember, when I ran an Analytics and Insights team in one of my roles, I would periodically cull reports, and stop sending them. I told the team if anyone complained about not getting their report, we could continue with that one, but if no one complained, we could stop those ones (do use some common sense, you don’t want to stop a report which goes to the CEO, which he needs every Monday morning for a meeting he has at midday – I speak from experience).
Sometimes, you find numbers from a report are needed once a year or maybe once a quarter, so sending it every week is a bit pointless, but you need to ascertain that, otherwise the person using the report once every quarter or year, may find the report they used to get is no longer available as they don’t check every week and then need it urgently for that quarterly or annual report. So, work with them to send them what they need when they need it.
It’s difficult not to report on everything, it’s a kind of safety blanket for both the Analytics and Insights team and the business, but if you want your Analytics and Insights team to be more efficient and effective, then you need to focus on what is important. That way the business gets what it needs, and the Analytics and Insights team creates reports which are of value.
The volume of reports is not a measure of success for an Analytics and Insights team, but rather the impact they have on the business, even if it’s from generating a single highly insightful report.
To rationalise your reports, follow these steps
- Work out what is important to your business.
- Understand how the business wants to see this data.
- Present the data in a format that makes it meaningful and insightful.
- Understand the ideal frequency for these reports, can the business do something in the time frame between the reports.
- Periodically audit your reports and ask the business why they need it or how they use it.
At Be Data Solutions, we help businesses implement reporting solutions, and as part of that, we assist businesses in creating impactful and insightful reports by understanding what is important to the business. Contact us at [email protected] and speak to one of our consultants about how you can build highly impactful reports.