I have often wondered why users clamor for more reports. It is as if they have been denied a fundamental right and would starve without them. When I look at some of these demands dispassionately I don’t see clear answers to the usefulness of many of these reports.
Let me share a story here which will explain the point. During a consulting engagement several years ago, I got lists of reports needed by various departments in the organization. These reports totaled to over 200 and I had a problem accommodating them. I then had to approach the CEO to find a way out. He agreed with me and clearly said that his managers do not know what they ask of and gave me permission to question them on the reports desired. I thought of a simple way, I added an additional column and asked the departmental heads to indicate the decisions or action that they take on each of these reports. Surprisingly, the number of reports dropped to half and on questioning further a good number from the remaining ones got withdrawn too. This experience taught me two lessons:
How much is enough
A report is meaningful only if it gives information that prompts one to take decision or action to correct a position, to build up further if the situation is favorable or not to do anything if the going is good. The decision could be either to do or not to do something but is a conscious action.
There is a difference between what users want and what they need. It is therefore important for us to understand the purpose for which users want the information. It is possible that we end up giving him more than what he really asked for.
A few suggestions
It is amazing to know how little information is actually used for decision making. A lot of information in the form of reports floats around and I come across only a few who ask for targeted information for dealing with a specific problem. I have generally adopted the following approach when addressing users’ demand for reports:
Use of query screens: I encourage users to make use of query screens and draw out information for any period or based on various other parameters and take a print-out only where necessary, instead of insisting on static reports.
Not printing large reports: I discourage them from printing of periodic large statements like the General Ledger, Party Ledger, Stock Ledger, etc. for the purposes of records. I ask them to take selective print-outs of individual accounts as and when necessary for review, meeting with customers, etc.
Exception reports: Rather than going in for routine reports I ask of them to seek information that will allow them to cut costs, review efficiencies, reduce shortages, etc. For example they can get reports on material due but not received, POs pending for authorization, customer outstanding beyond ‘x’ number of days, material shortage, etc. Such information can help them act to plug inefficiencies, reduce shortages and enhance profitability.
Analytics: There are immense possibilities with information in our hands. A lot of meaning stays hidden in the data which can be uncovered through analytics. Various trends not visible otherwise can be unearthed through BI tools and can help in drawing out information to help in decision making and for charting out path for further planning.
Extracting valuable information on business activities is crucial for improving business efficiency and to stay competitive in the markets. A lot of effort that goes waste in generating irrelevant information through routine reports can easily be channelized for providing intelligent and targeted information which can assist in improving performance in specific areas of business. Information is a useful resource and need to be harnessed well.