Friday, February 26, 2010

Custom Reports: Communicate the Need, Not the Name

Information overload is a real problem. Email, snail mail, newspapers, blogs, websites, financials and bank statements are just some examples.  We are drowning in data with no way to make sense of it all.

That's what Executive Reporting Systems are supposed to solve. Whether you call them digital dashboards, business intelligence or Firm Wisdom, at the end of the day they are supposed to be information aggregators that help you make sense of all the data.

When it comes to reports, people have a tough time expressing what they really need. I can't tell you how hard it is sometimes to find out what a customer actually needs in a report. What one person calls a Detailed Shipping Report someone else calls a Packing Manifest Analysis. We focus on nomenclature instead of data.

Or even worse, I remember, many years ago, one executive asked me to send him reports. When I asked what reports he wanted, he shouted "Reports damn you! The usual stuff. Are you an idiot or something?" He had no idea what he wanted! Instead of admitting it, he instead insulted me.

The point is that reports are highly customizable. Unless it's a highly standardized and well known format (i.e. Cash Flow Statement) don't ask for reports by name -- instead just tell me the data you want summarized.  Don't tell me you need an Advanced Inventory Control Report, tell me you want to see your current inventory against open orders.

Reports are the best way to deal with information overload. A good reporting system aggregates all the different data within your company into an easy to read format.  Because everyone uses different names for reports, when you request a custom report, try to communicate what you need (not the name) from the report. If you tell me what you need there is a greater likelihood that you'll get what you asked for.

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