Information Technology Management with a Purpose

May 14 2012   5:54AM GMT

The insatiable demand for reports

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

The one user demand that has never ebbed has been the need for more reports. In every organization that I have been in, this phenomenon has raised its head and claimed attention. Users always demand reports either as a specific need or on a perception that they have not got enough out of the system. Some ask for those reports that have been in vogue for years even though it may be in a state of disuse, while for some it is a feeling of deprivation as they perceive their getting less number of reports as compared with other users at the same level. They are but our customers and therefore have a right to be heard.

The term ‘MIS Reports’ (Management Information System reports) has been in use for many years now for describing statements that gives out information. As systems grew, more and more data got stored and linked and managers sought greater detail as well as greater abstraction to generate meaning from the raw, stored data. ‘MIS’ came into being as systems that provided managers with information about sales, inventories, and other data that would help in managing the enterprise. This has continued as a legacy and in these days of instant reporting, online queries and intense analytics demand for more and more of these reports look a bit out of place.

Types of users:

It has been interesting dealing with users with respect to information reports. Frankly, this requires patience, persuasion, understanding, humor and several other skills to keep the users happy and satisfied with the reports they get. I would classify users into the following types:

  • Users who have no further demands: These users are a satisfied lot and think they have everything to take care of their requirements. When approached, they give a look of askance wondering why they are being asked for more. Life for them is stable and uncluttered and they certainly dislike anyone disturbing the serene environment.
  • Users who have a laundry list of reports they want: These ever demanding users strongly feel that the number of reports they have should keep increasing as they progress in their work. Sometimes I liken them to tribal head of yore whose power was gauged by the number of skulls displayed in his hut. Some of the reports may not be of current relevance but you wouldn’t dare to take them off their list.

Many years ago, I came across a report on manpower numbers which was being sent to the CEO every month. On enquiry I found out that the CEO wanted this report at the beginning, during the project stage when he monitored the progress personally. Later as the organization grew, this report was not really needed but his personal assistant continued to file this faithfully.

I stopped the report and no one raised the flag for six months and then as the PA discovered the lapse he made noise full throttle questioning as to how a report for the CEO could be discontinued. I had then to seek audience of the CEO to have the report formally withdrawn. Usually, legacy practices run deep into the work practices and users hold these reports as their lifeline. Persuading them to let go of these reports often require us to dig deep into our skill reservoir to find out the best tools to win the user over.

  • Users who have demands but know not what they need: These users are the most difficult to handle. They are evasive when it comes to defining requirements but still demand more out of the system. This is commonly experienced in organizations who implement ERP systems. Some such users make loud noises about ERP not delivering information reports for them. When asked to define their information needs they put up a counter demand asking us to showcase what the ERP can give them. They ask about the best practices we claim ERP brings and want those practices to be implemented rather than being asked what they want. Explaining to them that ERP has a large repository but that reports have to be tailored to address specific business pains faced by the organization, does not cut ice with them. In my opinion, the reason for such reaction, in most cases, is the fear of exposure or ignorance.

So here we are, trying to help users get targeted information so that they are able to bring in more efficiency and effectiveness in their areas of operation, but users keep raising their level of resistance or putting up a wall trying to ward off prying eyes from invading their domain. Tackling this needs our push, diplomacy and perseverance in order to succeed in our mission.

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