What do reports tell you? At best they give you a comprehensive picture of what has happened, where it happened and how often. However, to develop the business and to take the next step, consider the question:
Reporting is watching the rear view mirror. At its best, it will tell you reliably what has happened. Unfortunately it often includes only a small part of the core business.
Companies know their economic and key figures, most organizations have sales pipelines with “let’s hope, let’s hope” information as well as process performance measures in place.
Only some reports include personnel expertise. Very rarely reports tell what is really happening in the customer interface, the place where the client's wishes and needs, together with the company's expertise lead to business and financial performance.
The more companies understand that staring at last month's figures does not help to control the operational activities, the more they have a need for monitoring-type operational reporting.
Operational reporting tells in real time what is going on right now. It responds to questions like"what types of tasks are in the work queue?", "where is the rush?", "to what extent are resources being used?", "how are they allocated?" or "are we losing any business?”.
If you actually want to change and develop your business by reporting, then reporting needs to include the operational levels and be available to individuals who are able to guide the daily activities.
Where is the problem hiding?
If a company does not have business problems or a desire or need to develop, there is no need for reporting. However, often companies of all sizes identify bottlenecks in processes and expertise.
Basic reporting features typically trigger new questions. Some of these can be answered by adding reporting capabilities and dimensions, and let the users twiddle the data themselves.
This model is either called self-service reporting, ad hoc-reporting, or Business Discovery. The questions, which are answered by these methods are of the type "where exactly", "is there regularity" or "how about this way?”.
Twiddling data may open up new perspectives and raise thoughts about the functionality of processes. This step typically raises new questions as you find answers to the previous ones.
What is behind the next corner?
With the rear view mirror you do not see your destination. Unless if you are reversing. The company's vision describes the destination and the strategy the road map of how to get there. What kind of information and data tracking should you use to know what to do tomorrow or next year in order to remain on the road?
Analytics, and in particular the statistical prediction and classification models, are tools to do so. I stress the word tools.
Do not expect a complete solution, a one-time project or a goose that lays the golden eggs. Get ready for the tough job of thinking and describing the business problems. If you are looking for the answers to the questions "why is this happening?", "what could be prevented?", "what else can be done?" or "what could happen in the best situation?", then it is time to roll up your sleeves and think about what kind of analytical methods to use.
Benefits of Business Analytics may be many times larger than the benefits of operational reporting or the traditional rear view mirror approach.
Writer is the Chief Analytics Officer of Benemen Oy and Business Intelligence enthusiast based in Helsinki, Finland