We live in a world defined by hyperconnectivity. A world where we’re bringing more endpoints, sensors, and systems online than ever before. A world of distributed work, cloud software, and endless data streams.
You’ve doubtless heard of that data’s value. Big data pundits are always keen to trumpet the power of analytics and the insights that can be generated from data-driven reporting. They aren’t wrong, mind you – they’re just leaving out one crucial detail.
All the data in the world is useless without direction. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t know where to look. And if you don’t know where to look, the chance of you finding the right data sets falls somewhere between slim and none.
In order for your reporting project to be successful, you need to know why you’re implementing that project in the first place. Each report must be based upon a clearly-defined goal, and generated via a standardised approach. More importantly, you need to make sure you have the systems in place to effectively store, protect, and collate that data.
Let’s talk about what you need to do in order to achieve the above; about the components of a successful reporting project.
First thing’s first, what outcome do you envision from your reporting project? Where do you want to be in the long term once everything is said and done? Reports intended to measure a product’s long-term sales growth will have a very different endpoint from a project gear towards optimising internal workflows, for instance.
Once you’ve determined where you want to go, you’ll also want to figure out how you’re going to measure your progress. But it’s equally critical that before you start clarifying your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), you stop to think about how you’ll make it to your projected outcome. That involves breaking it down into more manageable parts.
Your final outcome is not something that you can accomplish overnight. To keep yourself on track and ensure your KPIs can be applied effectively, your roadmap needs to incorporate a combination of short-term wins and long-term ambitions. Keep these goals both realistic and clearly-defined.
In other words, know your capabilities and the capabilities of your team. You’ll still be tracking/pursuing your long-term success, of course. You’ll just be doing so in smaller increments.
With your roadmap fully established, you should already have a general idea of your KPIs. These are the bread and butter of your reporting project, the metrics that help you control and use the data. Your next step is to figure out which KPIs are best-suited to helping you measure your goals.
It isn’t enough to simply establish your KPIs, however. You also need to know which calculations you’ll apply to them while measuring progress. Although every company is different — although every business has its own unique data story — many organisations typically look at a ratio of turnover vs. costs.
You also need to know the context in which your KPIs are being measured. Take a look at current industry trends within your analytics dashboard. If you’re off target for your gross profits, for instance, this could be due to declining sales or rising costs.
Most companies maintain multiple data sources. A customer, for instance, might interact with your brand across several different channels, and their data might be stored in multiple places. Your job is to figure out which data sources are accurate, and which simply muddy the waters.
Having multiple datasources tends to lead to conflicting reports. To address this, your data collection must be uniform across the board. Generally speaking, this means collecting data gathered at the first point of entry, which may be Salesforce for your general audience but an accounts package for paying customers.
With your data source determined, you’ll also need to define the processes and frameworks by which you’ll monitor and manage that data. You’ll need systems designed to not only analyze and organise the data, but also to monitor your project’s overall health. You might, for instance, consider setting up automated alerts that inform you when something isn’t working as it should.
The level of analytics and data management required for even a small reporting project is overwhelming. For that reason, although Excel might be comfortable and familiar, we’d strongly advise against using it. Your goal is to keep your data as accurate as possible whilst also reducing redundancies and overlap.
So, how can you accomplish this? Expect to include a team lead, project manager, and however many subject matter experts are necessary to address the issue of data bias.
Typically, you’ll want to identify change champions within your organisation. These are leaders who are passionate and motivated to make your project work, and who’ve the means and will to get other people onboard. Passivity is bad — it doesn’t lead to tangible or sustainable change.
Having multiple stakeholders hoarding information in excel runs directly counter to this. It quickly becomes impossible to tell what goes where and why. As you might expect, this rather defeats the purpose of your project in the first place.
The most pressing question at this point is who owns the data? As you already know, any successful project must be supported by a decent team. At the minimum, you’ll wange.
Alongside your reporting team, you’ll also want to establish data access permissions.
You’ve figured out your desired outcome. You’ve planned your goals and KPIs. You know your data sources, your team, and your access policies.
There’s only one step left — finalising and executing your roadmap.
You’ll first want to determine your reporting frequency. This should be dictated not by data, but by the urgency of each insight. You’ll need to make your systems work for you based on your needs. This means that if the analytics tools your business is leveraging only allow monthly reporting but you need daily reports, do not settle.
Last but certainly not least, remember that sometimes in the analytics space, less is more. Of the overwhelming volume of data your business generates, it’s likely that only a small percentage of it contains valuable insights. Your task is to find those insights, and apply them towards your end goal.
A successful reporting project doesn’t have to be hard. The essential components we shared will help you keep on track.
Are you looking to start a new reporting project? Amos 3D has everything you need to centralise and turn your data into actionable insights that keep your outcomes in focus.
Book a discovery call with one of our reporting specialists to see how you can build outcomes-focused data dashboards and reports that drive your organisation forward.