Reporting Tools & Software: The 5 Most Crucial Aspects (& 9 Popular Tools)

With the right reporting tools in your belt, you can change the way you manage.
Reporting Tools & Software: The 5 Most Crucial Aspects (& 9 Popular Tools)
With the right reporting tools in your belt, you can change the way you manage.

Most organizations begin their management reporting process in Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint—and typically don’t consider alternatives until their reporting becomes too robust or complex. They then begin looking for new tools in the marketplace and often find that creating the insightful reports they need will require a best-in-class reporting tool.

Companies looking for reporting software need a solution that can handle five major components:

  • Structure
  • Reports
  • Data integration
  • Customization
  • Customer Support

Below, we’ve described what each of these components entail and why you should consider all five of them thoughtfully as you select the best reporting tool for your organization.

5 Crucial Aspects Of Data Reporting Software

1. Structure

Your organizational structure is unique, and impacts the way you organize, manage, and measure goals. For example, do you measure at the strategic level with aspects such as revenue growth or client acquisition? Or do you measure at the project level with items like actual cost and planned vs. earned value? (Maybe you do both.) In any case, your reporting tool must allow you to track and report accordingly.

In addition, consider these other structural elements to determine the level of sophistication you need from your reporting tool:

  • Departments vs. themes—Is your company organized in a more traditional manner, such as by department? Or does it heavily embrace collaboration and organize around cross-functional themes?
  • Goals vs. objectives—Do you use these two terms interchangeably, or is one subordinate to the other? In other words, you may have a goal with multiple objectives or maybe just a set of key goals. Either way, it’s important to be clear on how your organization uses these terms and what they refer to before choosing reporting software.
  • Projects alignment—How much do you rely on projects within your organization? How closely linked are those projects to your overall strategy? How closely do you track elements of those projects?

You need to make sure that the reporting tool you choose can handle the structure of your strategy. So before you get enamored with beautiful screenshots, make sure the solution can do what you need, not what looks cool.

2. Reports

Accurate report generation requires you to know your audience. You likely have a large amount of insightful data, but not everyone needs (or wants) to see all of it. For example, your management team, executive team, and board of directors will all be looking for different levels of data.

Also, what formats and security measures will you need for the reports? PDF is an essential format used by nearly every organization, but you may also have need of HTML or even printed reports. Additionally, you may need to ensure your reports are ADA compliant.

Aside from meeting specific requirements, you want your reports to have a professional look and feel. And you need to be able to generate the same report consistently with each reporting period.

When you think about reporting tools, be sure you can create a high-level report with useful overview information and status indicators, as well as a detailed report with 12 months of data, detailed analysis, and project Gantt charts. After creating this initial set of reports, you should be able to create the remaining monthly reports—based on the same underlying data—with just a few clicks.

Looking for a top-of-the-line reporting tool? Take a virtual tour of the ClearPoint management reporting platform.

3. Data Integration

Did you know that preparing a single report can take upwards of 40 hours? The combined time it takes to gather, analyze, and format data from across the organization adds up to more than most managers consider.

For example, think about the 10 different people that you have to email 2-3 times (sometimes even stopping by their desk). Then imagine them needing to find and send their information, and your team having to massage the information so that it fits into the charts. Not to mention you have to double-check the data and prepare for last-minute report entries and revisions. All this time adds up.

A reporting tool that’s capable of integrating data from different systems and people can rapidly speed up the reporting process. In fact, the right tool can:

  • Integrate data seamlessly and automatically, every reporting period.
  • Produce more visually compelling reports than a traditional option like Excel.
  • Merge qualitative and quantitative information with ease.
  • Calculate, aggregate, and evaluate data consistently.
  • Operate on a schedule, but still allow for ad-hoc needs.

A reporting tool that’s capable of integrating data from different systems and people can rapidly speed up the reporting process.

4. Customization

Reporting tools should enable you to report the way you want. Those that force you to conform to a one-size-fits-all reporting approach have a limited design, and thus will be of limited use.

For example, you want your reporting software to feel like it’s part of your organization. It should let you tailor the colors, layout, tables, and other design elements to suit your branding. In addition, you should be able to create custom fields—order number, staff IDs, internal notes, etc.—and manage layout exceptions for unique or one-off reporting situations.

Consider another example: If you decide tomorrow to prioritize your initiatives, you should be able to add a field called “Priority,” insert that field into detailed pages and summary reports, filter on the priority, and schedule reports to go out each month on top priority projects that are off track. This should be a built-in feature that only takes a few minutes to use—if not, don’t hold out hope that the feature gets added in the future. You shouldn’t have to wait on your reporting tool to address common needs. Good tools will be intuitive enough from the start.

5. Customer Support

Software is an investment and a partnership—the vendor you choose is just as important as the product you’ll be using. Thus, three things should accompany any good data reporting software:

  • Excellent customer service—Not only is the vendor easily accessible when you have a question, but their customer service team is also highly knowledgeable about the product so they are (mostly!) successful at resolving issues.
  • An extensive knowledge base—Recognizing that many people prefer a “self-service” option for troubleshooting, the vendor maintains a collection of support resources online, featuring answers to frequently asked questions and how-to articles on ways to solve common problems.
  • A clear dedication to quality—The vendor regularly solicits customer feedback and makes deliberate efforts to improve the product.

You should expect that your software provider will not only guide you through the implementation process, but also be there for the long haul, whenever you have a question. To dig deeper into vendors, talk to some existing customers. If both the software and the vendor get high marks, you’re likely to make a sound investment that will serve your company well.

9 Of The Best Reporting Tools On The Market Today

Below are nine data reporting tools that are popular on the market today. Use this list as a jumping-off point to do further research on the tool that might be right for you, as they range in areas of emphasis and require varying amounts of technical expertise.

1. ClearPoint

ClearPoint is performance management software that helps manage and track your strategic plan. ClearPoint is unique in that it allows you to create reports that show linkages between your projects and your goals, giving your organization a dynamic way to see how your strategy and all its components fit together. You can easily customize reports to include fields of your choosing, and change reports to match your organization’s branding and colors. And thanks to built-in automation tools, the software also dramatically reduces the time you spend on reporting. ClearPoint is capable of automatically:

  • Uploading data from various spreadsheets and databases
  • Sending update reminders to relevant employees
  • Performing calculations and evaluations on progress
  • Building reports for different audiences
  • Distributing reports on a predetermined schedule

ClearPoint’s customer service also gets high marks from users: In 2020, the average response time to customer requests was 2 minutes and 49 seconds; it was also recognized for a Stevie Award for Customer Service Department of the Year.

2. SAP Crystal Reports

Crystal Reports is a popular report-writing tool that wins high marks in the data integration and customizations categories—it’s capable of accessing data from virtually any data source and presenting it in a variety of formats. Crystal offers a nearly unlimited number of options for sorting, compressing, and arranging data; it also features what it refers to as “interactive reporting,” where users can drill down, sort, highlight, filter, and search data presented on any report.

Built for small to medium-sized businesses, Crystal is commonly used for sales reports, financial statements, and income and revenue reports. Reports can be distributed via multiple channels, including email, PDF, the web, or an integration with an existing enterprise system. One caveat: Some users note the steep learning curve required to get up and running.

3. Jaspersoft Reporting

Jaspersoft bills itself as “the most flexible, customizable, and developer-friendly business intelligence platform in the world.” An open source Java reporting tool, Jaspersoft embedded analytics and reporting software is uniquely designed to address the needs of software builders—those who are developing software applications and looking for ways to build an intuitive reporting experience into their product. Reports can be rendered with animated charts and graphs, viewed either in print or online, and exported in a variety of formats including PDF, HTML, Microsoft Excel, RTF, ODT, CSV, or XML files. Jaspersoft is highly rated by Java developers for functionality and customer support.

4. Zoho Analytics

If you’re looking for a visualization tool that can retrieve, analyze, and report on a variety of data relevant to your company’s health and operations, Zoho Analytics is a good choice. It uses a “spreadsheet-like” interface for data collection and analysis, and allows users to create a multitude of dashboard configurations in drag-and-drop fashion. It has plenty of customized reporting options so you can track and visualize the metrics that are important to you. Reports and dashboards can be emailed, exported, printed, or embedded on websites and within blogs and apps.

Automation is a key feature of Zoho Analytics. After collecting and automatically checking your data for errors, gaps, and other issues, it gives you the option of automatically generating reports—without needing to construct a single query. The website includes a fairly extensive collection of tutorials and customer support documents to help resolve questions and get ideas from other users.

5. Microsoft Office Suite

Microsoft’s Excel and PowerPoint are staple software tools that are typically used together to produce reports. Excel is used by millions of people and organizations to collect, sort, calculate, and share data, including financial information, performance metrics, project plan progress, and more. PowerPoint can enhance the appearance of your reports with data mined from Excel.

While these tools are great entry points for reporting and analytics, they were intended only for simple data entry and analysis. As the amount of data you’re collecting grows, you’re better off switching to a more modern reporting tool for greater simplicity and professionalism, and easier sharing as well.

Note that the full Office suite consists of a word processor, spreadsheet editor, presentation program, note taking program, personal information manager, file hosting service, communication platform, desktop publisher, and a database management system.

6. Oracle Hyperion Interactive Reporting

Part of the Oracle Business Intelligence software suite, Hyperion Interactive Reporting is an all-in-one query, data analysis, and reporting tool for executives, business users, and analysts. Users can quickly get answers to business questions by creating queries and running them on demand to create formal reports. But you don’t need to know SQL (or any query language) to create queries—you can build them by choosing the data to retrieve from a visual representation of the database. Results can be displayed in table-style format or charts, and organized into reports with drill-down features. Hyperion is extremely flexible and provides analysts with the ability to quickly analyze data and produce deliverables, but more advanced-level tasks will require basic programming knowledge.

7. IBM Cognos Analytics

Artificial intelligence (AI) features prominently in IBM Cognos Analytics, a business intelligence platform that allows you to tap a wide variety of data sources for insights about your company. Users can simply direct questions about their data in natural language to an AI Assistant, which automatically produces appropriate visualizations in response. The official site notes that artificial intelligence can help you find hidden relationships among your data, as well as forecast trends over time. Best for mid-market and large organizations, IBM Cognos Analytics works well for those who have a good grasp of their organization’s underlying data and data sources.

8. Microsoft Power BI Report Server

Power BI Report Server is an on-premises reporting solution with a web portal in which users can display and manage reports created in Power BI. Your users can access those reports in different ways: by viewing them in a web browser, mobile device, or email. The Report Server web portal is essentially a hub for report management, where you can organize reports, create “subscriptions” that roll out reports to specific recipients, link reports, repurpose them, and more. Microsoft’s Power BI product earns high marks for usability and visualization.

9. Telerik Reporting

This reporting solution takes a “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) design approach—which means you can create and edit report features relatively simply utilizing gridlines, item snapping, rotation, and on-canvas item dimension changes for positioning and aligning. Reports can be directly embedded into any .NET desktop and web application, and exported in more than 15 formats, including Word, Excel, PDF, PPT, CSV, and more. While some users note that the tool requires a bit of time and practice to master, they also say that Telerik provides excellent customer support and thorough online documentation.

For simple, efficient, strategy management reporting, try ClearPoint.

We created ClearPoint with these five crucial aspects in mind, and the result is a robust, completely customizable reporting solution that can work in hundreds of industries. We strongly believe reporting software should support the way you manage—not the other way around.

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Reporting Tools & Software: The 5 Most Crucial Aspects (& 9 Popular Tools)

Ted Jackson

Co-Founder & Alabama Native

Ted is a Founder and Managing Partner of ClearPoint Strategy and leads the sales and marketing teams.