Filling the Gap Between reporting and Reporting

There is little ‘r’ reporting and there is big ‘R’ Reporting, and the difference is vast:

reportingis the stuff that comes straight out of your reporting solution. It gets created by choosing a few parameters and typically shows up as a table of data with an accompanying chart.

Reporting is something altogether different. It is concise set of graphics and data that tell a focused story. It is crafted to focus on the key information and exclude everything else. It may come in the form of a single dashboard or a 20=page deck, but it is always audience-friendly. It is informed by context and provides explantation. Reporting is not about the numbers, it’s about what the numbers tell you.

By analogy, what if we didn’t make a distinction between a raw fish pulled out the sea and a prepared fish dinner? When the waiter slapped a still-squirming sea bass on my plate, I probably wouldn’t take much consolation in getting a deboning knife and a hot plate.

In the wild, the two species of reporting are often confused. To help you identify one from the other, I’ve put together a couple of examples with tell-tale signs:

reporting, the bad kind
Reporting, the good kind

The difference comes down to a gut-feeling: Was this document created to address the questions of a specific audience with a specific problem?

This may be a distinction that is implicitly well-known. My concern is more about explicit acknowledgement of the gap between them. And in the process:

1. Avoiding passing off reporting as Reporting. In particular, vendors who offer reporting tools think they are delivering the ability to communicate performance, when in fact they are mostly providing the raw materials.

2. Recognizing the level of effort required to transform reporting into Reporting. Analysts spend a huge amount of time filling this gap; it is one of the wasteful backwaters of modern enterprises.

This has been a common theme in my recent client discussions. People are sick of slogging through their reporting tools to build useful information for management. Ultimately, developing great Reporting requires an understanding of problems, the audience, and thoughtful design. But that doesn’t mean it should be so painful to construct. We are working on a solution to help, but in the meantime here are a few general things we do:

  • Gather data in its cleanest form (CSV instead of heavily formatted XLS, or in the worst cases PDF)
  • Automate data cleaning and manipulation steps using Excel macros and VBA
  • Create repeatable and documented report building processes
  • Try to convincing executives that less reporting can be more valuable