~ 10 MIN READ

4 Options For Improving Your Management Reporting

Weigh the features of these four management reporting options so you can choose what’s right for your company.

Ted, Founder and Managing Partner at ClearPoint, has over 25 years of experience working with organizations to improve their performance management and strategy execution processes.

So you’re on a quest to become a reporting superhero, and your next feat is to take control of all your data and find the best way to present it. There are several applications available to you. But you don’t want just any old software. You want one that is tailor-fit to your company—one that will function like a sidekick to your increasingly powerful superhero self and meet the unique needs of your business.

Let us help. Below, you will find explanations of four ways you can create your management reports. In addition to identifying these four methods, there is an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages, and a description of what kind of company the particular method would be best suited for.

After just a few minutes of reading, you’ll be able to choose a reporting method with confidence and be off to your next act of heroism.

So, let’s get to business. Here are four ways to take control of your reporting:

#1: Office Applications

Since you are reading this, there’s a good chance you and others in your organization already have and are familiar with the Microsoft desktop applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. (Or maybe you use Google Docs or the Apple iWorks suite.) We’re sure you have considered how to configure these applications in order to meet your reporting needs.

Here are our thoughts…

Advantages Of Office Applications

  • Cost Efficient: Using office applications is one of the most inexpensive options available for presenting data and reports. Programs can be purchased separately or in bundles.
  • Familiar: If you’ve ever owned a desktop computer, you’ve probably used these programs. They’ve been around forever, so they’re user-friendly and intuitive (or at least they’ve trained us well). And whenever software updates come out, it’s traditionally pretty easy to navigate through the new interfaces.
  • Simple: With a program like Excel, you can easily enter data and present it in tables and graphs. Then you can effortlessly export those graphs, tables, and charts into PowerPoint for a more polished presentation.

Disadvantages Of Office Applications

  • Multiple Users: When even just two people are using the application and entering data into the system, it becomes increasingly more difficult to present accurate data. The more people you have entering data, the higher the chance for error. Then, the data you’re presenting is likely to be incorrect (one way to not look like a superhero).
  • Won’t Grow With You: There aren’t different “versions” of these applications fit for small businesses or enterprises. They are more like “one size fits all.” As your business grows, you may have to manipulate the programs to meet your needs for reporting.

Is an office application the right choice for you?

If you are going to be the only person gathering and entering data, or, if you only need to report data from one department, office applications are a great fit. Their low cost and simplicity make them smart choices for small businesses and startups. Once you start feeling the pains of these systems, you’ll know you’ve outgrown them and need a better solution.

#2: Report Generation Software

Why look at numbers and simple tables in a spreadsheet when you can be looking at a report from a database? With report generation software, you can access the hidden gems stored in your organization’s database servers.

Advantages Of Report Generation Software

  • Create Once, Run Many: Once you create a report using report generation software, it’s just a matter of clicking a button to get it. No need to copy and paste from the screen into Excel or any of that nonsense—just set it up and it runs. And, you can even schedule some reports.
  • Group & Sum: With report generation software, it’s easy to group numbers and sum them by category, subcategory, etc. You can create running averages, counts, and things like these without worrying that the number of rows will change each month. Report generation software takes care of all that for you.
  • Interactive: Kick stagnant data to the curb. Having a program with interactive reporting means you can sort, filter, search, zoom, and even hide and move columns around. You can take a report, copy it, make changes, and instantly have a whole new report.
  • Low Cost: Given their capabilities, getting a desktop license for report generation software is relatively inexpensive (depending on your needs, a desktop license could cost anywhere from $300-$600).

Disadvantages Of Report Generation Software

  • Complex Setup: Using report generation software is not as simple as using programs like Microsoft Office. Instead, you may need to watch several tutorials to tap into the full potential of the software. What report generation software is doing for you is putting a pretty face on SQL queries that run under the hood. So to get the full benefit from report generators, you may need to know a little SQL.
  • Inflexible: Report generation software is not as flexible as a program like Excel. So you won’t be able to come up with a custom-made formula to show certain results. Instead, you’re limited to the functions the software comes with.
  • Limited Visualization: The charting capabilities in most report generation software is pretty limited. If you don’t mind a simple line, bar, or pie chart, you’re probably okay. But, if you want “pretty” charts, there are other options out there that will work better for you.

Is report generation software the right choice for you?

If your company is able to budget a small amount for reporting, these programs are a great reporting solution. To easily create sophisticated, interactive reports that will give you insight into your data sets, make report generation software your right-hand man.

#3: Dashboarding & Data Visualization

A dashboard is a data visualization tool that shows the current status of business metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). With a dashboard, you can view and arrange your data and metrics in a single screen. Being able to view all these things at once can help you see any connections, trends, strengths, and weaknesses in your business. (And, we all know that pretty charts are the way to the CEO’s heart.)

Advantages Of Dashboarding & Data Visualization

  • Slice & Dice Data: You can easily take large segments of data and break them down into smaller parts until you get your desired level of detail. Drill, baby, drill—there’s knowledge in that database.
  • Great Visualizations: Dashboarding solutions pride themselves on their eye candy. They produce great looking charts and graphs, with cool sliders and other visual ways to present the data. Executives love the idea of dashboards.
  • Integration: Have data in multiple places? No problem. These programs can pull and integrate data from multiple sources. They typically work in conjunction with a data warehouse, which has consolidated data from throughout the organization.

Disadvantages Of Dashboarding & Data Visualization

  • Cost: These programs can be very expensive depending on how the vendor charges for software licensing. Vendors may charge by user (number or type of user), data source (how many sources you’ll be pulling data from), or by server (based on things like speed and memory required). Prices range from $16-$400 per user per month, and may go as high as $35,000 annually.
  • Needs IT Support: Some programs require extensive IT involvement or customized projects in order to link data together and then slice and dice it. And, to manipulate data in certain ways, you have to define and ask the right streams of questions. Setup may take six to nine months to make all the connections you want, and if you need to make any changes or add additional data, you’ll need to reach out to IT again.
  • Garbage In, Garbage Out: The information presented in the dashboard is only as good as the data source feeding it. If clean data isn’t going into the system, the charts and graphs won’t be accurate (which means you’ll get to endure a special kind of torture: a data cleaning project).

Is dashboarding and data visualization software the right choice for you?

If you want insightful data analytics and want to see tiered data views (data that cascades from division to department, or from product category to product line by geography), look into a dashboard license.

#4: Scorecarding & Management Reporting

Management reporting applications and scorecards help you measure your company’s performance and make intelligent, performance-enhancing decisions based on the big picture.

Advantages Of Scorecarding & Management Reporting

  • Integration: A scorecard combines the projects you’re working on every day with your overall goals and metrics so you can plan, manage tasks, and report results all in one application. There’s no need to search all over for information—it’s a true Executive Information System.
  • Show The “What” & The “Why”: Combining quantitative data (the “what”) and qualitative data (the “why”) allows managers to make informed decisions, and document why those decisions were made so they’re not continually revisited.
  • Management Information: Have data in multiple places? No problem. These programs can pull and integrate data from multiple sources. They typically work in conjunction with a data warehouse, which has consolidated data from throughout the organization.
  • Strategic Planning: As stated above, you want to actually accomplish the goals your company has in place. Management reporting software will take your data and give you a structure that not only measures performance, but also helps you see what should be done next.

Disadvantages Of Scorecarding & Management Reporting

  • High Management Involvement: This kind of approach requires management to be intricately involved. They need to develop a clear, actionable vision and strategy, and then communicate those with the entire organization so that every department (from managers to interns) can proactively work toward accomplishing company goals.
  • Specific Data Collection: The results your scorecard gives you can only be as accurate as the data you provide the system with. In order to get accurate results, you’ll need to measure the right data consistently and in the right ways.
  • Up-Front Setup: You may have already done this, but to get the most out of a scorecard, you need to have articulated your goals, your metrics, and your projects. If you’re just looking for a quick report on the operational aspects of your company, this might not be for you.

Is scorecard or management reporting software the right choice for you?

Your company is not a mere machine pumping out products and services—there are goals you want to accomplish and there is a vision you want to see unfolding. Management reporting applications and scorecards let you see how your activities as a business are helping you accomplish your goals and make your vision a reality.

What’s the best overall option?

In our opinion, scorecard and management reporting applications are the best options for businesses to use for reporting data. This approach demands that management and executives establish clear goals and strategies for success, and communicate that vision throughout the entire organization.

Additionally, scorecard and management reporting applications give leadership a more holistic view of the business, helping them actually measure which business actions and strategies are most prosperous, identify weak links, and make proactive, data-based decisions to improve the organization.

Pretty powerful, right? It’s exactly the kind of solution a reporting superhero (like you) wants in their arsenal.

Of the four methods identified, scorecard and management reporting has the highest level of capability. And, given those capabilities, it’s an affordable option even for smaller businesses. While it may seem like an unlikely fit for small businesses, it’s not.

This solution is not just for enterprises. According to 2GC’s 2014 BSC Survey, 56% of respondents using the Balanced Scorecard have less than 500 employees.

You might be thinking, “What do these businesses use their scorecard for anyway?”

Well, 66% of respondents use their scorecard for company planning and budgeting. And a total of 73% of respondents said that the scorecard was “extremely” (27%) or “very” (46%) useful to them.

Understandably, not all companies need a reporting solution like this (for example, startups or very small organizations). But as business grows, the way you manage needs to grow, too. So when your management process matures and you need a new reporting solution, swoop in and save the day by making a management reporting application your trusted sidekick. Hands down, it’s the most complete approach.

Fix Your Reporting Process First, Then Pick Your Software

Many organizations think the right software will fix everything. Wouldn’t it be nice if some system existed that was the silver bullet you’ve been looking for? Unfortunately, that’s not how technology works. Software is a tool to help you fix different areas of your organization, but no platform—not even ClearPoint—can solve all your problems by simply turning it “on.”

This is true for all of the options we mentioned above, including scorecarding and management reporting software. There’s nothing out there that will help you reach your strategic goals if you haven’t established clear reporting processes first. Here’s how to clean up your approach so you can get the most benefit from a new software system.

Fix (or define) your reporting elements.

You’re now at the point where you know something’s wrong with, or missing from, your management reporting process. Perhaps you have a strategic plan and good reporting processes in place, but are using tools—whether Excel, PowerPoint, or another software—you’ve outgrown. Or maybe you’ve just finished your strategic plan, but have no way to manage it and are asking, “What is a reporting system?”

However an organization manages its reporting, we like to say, “process first.” Your quickest path to success is to iron out these important reporting elements before you sign up for new software:

Roles And Responsibilities

Define the roles and responsibilities of the people involved with the reporting process, not just the project. Don’t use titles alone—name specific individuals when identifying roles and outline the reporting responsibilities of each person. Include the executive team that’s being reported to, the core team building the reports and managing the reporting software, the individuals in charge of reporting on their department’s initiatives, etc.

Measures And Goals

One of the most critical parts of the management reporting process is to ensure your strategic measures and goals are properly reflected. Determine who is responsible for setting targets and the process for target setting, as well as how you’ll report on metrics at various levels of your organization (executive, department, division, etc.).

Calendar

Your process should include a consistent reporting calendar and cadence. If you’re reporting monthly, what day does everyone have to submit information? When does the project manager, or administrator, review the information? What’s the deadline to make changes to information after it’s been submitted? When are the meetings held, and who should attend them? Answer all these questions and, most importantly, highlight on your calendar the days you create reports. Then, enforce them.

Meetings

Similar to your reporting calendar, meetings should be consistent and predictable. Determine when your meetings should occur and how many you should have for each level of the organization. Identify who should attend each meeting, the content (including agendas), and expected outcomes. Standardizing the process around meetings in this way will help ensure they are productive and useful.

Software Governance

Don’t forget to create processes around the management reporting software itself. You’ll need to decide which metrics to track from the strategic plan and how to keep information within the system separate—for example, to cleanly divide strategic and operational reports. It’s also wise to determine where you’ll archive metrics you’re no longer reporting on.

There’s much more that goes into the nuts and bolts of management reporting. Learn more best practices in this all-inclusive guide.

What if your reporting process gets too complicated?

It’s valid to worry about creating processes that become too convoluted or complex. It happens and can derail your best efforts. The key is to document all your reporting activities.

Documentation provides context for how the processes were created and why. If an employee leaves, there is no knowledge lost and a new hire can be properly trained on the reporting processes without having to wing it, which would lead to new, aberrant versions.

Process documentation also explains the logic behind measures to be discussed by senior leadership, and how new measures can be added to a report. This is an effective way to contain the “scope” of your reports. For example, if an executive asks for a new report or measure, there is clear language outlining why that report or measure is not included (or has been archived).

As your reporting process changes—which it inevitably will—be sure to update your documentation so everyone can access the latest, most refined version.

Better reporting processes will pay off.

Defining or fixing your processes may seem like a lot of work, but improving from mediocre to excellent reporting will make a big difference to your organization. For one, it won’t feel like a struggle every time you pull a report. Plus, the information in the reports will be reviewed and discussed continually, instead of just at annual executive meetings.

When your management reporting process is smooth, you remove barriers to finding information and people can make decisions based on up-to-date, accurate data instead of assumptions. It’s worth your time and effort to make these fixes, and then you can get the full benefit of a system like ClearPoint. A defined process and great software combine to be your silver bullet.

4 Options For Improving Your Management Reporting