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Report Automation: Everything You Need To Know
Still struggling to produce monthly reports? Here’s a peek inside the world of report automation, and what it can do for you!
There are few things in life where being slow and inefficient is preferrable. Driving on Route 66 or painting a picture are two things that come to mind. In these cases, it’s usually about the journey, not the destination.
Reporting, however, is not one of those things.
If you’re still doing reporting manually, you already know that the thousands of hours you and your coworkers spend annually creating reports do not make for an enjoyable journey, nor does this method produce better results. In fact, reporting is most certainly about the destination: Your organization relies on reports to make important decisions. So if you can get to the same place faster—and end up with a higher-quality, more timely report to boot—why wouldn’t you do it?
Every day, more organizations are choosing to take the faster route to better results by using an automated reporting tool like ClearPoint. Below, we’ll explain how report automation can benefit you in each stage of the strategy reporting process, and how much time you could save each month using ClearPoint.
Need guidance on how to streamline your internal reporting process? Download our All-inclusive Strategy Reporting Guide for best practices and valuable tips!
Report Automation Throughout The Strategy Reporting Process
You’re probably already acutely aware that the hours you (and others in your organization) spend on reporting tasks are a drag on productivity and a source of stress. Organizations are often weighed down by the complexities of reporting, which either causes them to abandon the effort altogether or forces them into a permanent state of inefficiency.
ClearPoint’s report automation features help organizations of all kinds create high-value reports in a fraction of the time they used to spend, often saving up to 80-90 hours per report.
And still another huge problem exists in this scenario: Very often, reports are made up of voluminous data gathered from across an organization. The data may be in different formats, and can be interpreted in different ways. That makes it very difficult to control the reporting process, which consequently might produce different results when repeated. None of this bodes well for accuracy, and in the end it’s hard to make good decisions based on data that paints such an ambiguous picture.
When you automate the reporting process with software, you remove those inconsistencies. You can gather data about your projects and measures using the same method and formatting every time. You can then consistently analyze the data and create reports that use the same structure. The result is greater control over the reporting process, and a more level playing field upon which to base important business decisions.
So what exactly can be automated? Following is an overview of automation in each stage of reporting.
The reporting cycle starts with devising the general structure of your report. Most business reports have some key elements, such as objectives, measures and charts, and projects and milestones. ClearPoint allows you to create relationships between these elements—for example, you can link measures and projects with objectives, or departmental objectives with organizational objectives. Using software helps in this step because throughout the year and especially during annual strategy refresh processes, the linkages or relationships between these elements can change, and ClearPoint allows you to quickly make these changes.
How automation comes into play: One of the biggest challenges of reporting is developing a structure that not only contains the details of performance, but also shows the “big picture.” If each department is using a different Excel file or other reporting tool, you can’t see the links between elements and how they impact one another.
ClearPoint automatically maintains the links between elements from one reporting cycle to the next. This allows you to visualize how everything fits together, so that when you make a change of any kind in your business, you can clearly see how it is impacting other elements. Other ways this is useful:
- If you’re in the project management office, you can see how all ongoing projects are contributing to different parts of the strategy.
- If you’re a department head, you can see how your activities impact the organizational strategy.
- If you’re in operations and are looking for ways to increase your efficiency, you can compare best practices and efficiencies among various departments.
Creating these alignments is one of the most popular features of ClearPoint, and it’s exceptionally hard to do in any other software tool.
Approximate time savings: 6 hours per report
2. Data Collection
It’s critical for reports to be accurate, yet the typical data collection process presents plenty of opportunities for data to get lost or unintentionally altered.
Typically, data is scattered far and wide across an organization, and is housed in many different tools. Tracking it down, gathering it, and inputting it all into a report takes time and invites mistakes. Then there’s the human side of it: Sure, you can ask someone for sales information and they may deliver it. But if that information changes, will they remember to get back to you with an update? And will you have time to update the report?
How automation comes into play: Automation helps you gain control over this part of the process. Not only will you be able to create reports faster, but you’ll also be able to trust your data.
ClearPoint automatically pulls data from the many systems you have—finance, HR, operations, etc.—into one common repository. No matter where the data lives, we have a way to grab it, whether that means pulling it natively from applications, running SQL queries, or extracting information from Excel or CSV files. You can also use the ClearPoint API to create direct linkages to systems. And you can do it all on a schedule, so data moves seamlessly into ClearPoint at the appointed time each month.
Approximate time savings: 15 hours per report
3. Data Synthesis
After collecting the data, you need to prepare it for analysis. That requires manipulating the data—for example, aggregating it (like adding up expenses across business units) or running calculations to compare two data sets (like calculating expenses per customer). You may also need to:
- Compare data to your targets to determine if you are on track or off track (green, yellow, or red)
- Build and update charts for every measure
- Count how many projects are on track versus off track, and calculate completion percentages
How automation comes into play: ClearPoint can do many of these manipulations automatically, including data evaluations, chart updates, and calculations. Set up your charts, target numbers, and aggregations once, and the software handles it for you month after month. As a result, you save time performing these steps and you eliminate potential miscalculations, too.
Approximate time savings: 26 hours per report
4. Analysis And Insight
To effectively tell the “story” of your data, you need both quantitative and qualitative data. Decision-makers will want to see hard numbers as well as some analysis from people who are knowledgeable about the data, and their recommendations for action.
The biggest challenge in this stage is tracking down the necessary insights. You may need to follow up with multiple people and departments to get input, which you’ll have to track. Very often this exercise prompts a convoluted chain of emails, multiple in-person visits, or never-ending phone calls. You’d be surprised how much time gets lost during the information-tracking process.
How automation comes into play: ClearPoint manages gathering, analysis, and insight activities across your organization with systemic automation. For instance, it automates follow-up workflows, sending emails (or messages in Teams) to coworkers asking them to update the elements for which they are accountable, and provides direct links for submission. It also automatically tracks information-gathering progress for reporting managers, so they can quickly and easily see unresolved items. With these shortcuts, you’ll save countless hours—and the massive headaches that go along with chasing down information.
Approximate time savings: 22 hours per report
5. Report Creation And Delivery
The final big challenge in reporting is to pull together all the information into a report and distribute it to the appropriate audiences. Different teams need information with different frequency; additionally, report requirements may be different for a Board of Directors versus a finance department versus a project management office. These groups also have different viewing preferences—some like to see it on a website while others prefer PDFs or Excel reports.
How automation comes into play: ClearPoint’s automation features address some of these challenges, and make it easy to create attractive, standardized reports that meet the needs of decision-makers. You can create different reports for different audiences, formatting each type only once (creating a template); after that, you’ll never have to recreate the formats. From that point on, the software updates each report automatically when new data or new insights are added. Additionally:
- You can create visually distinctive reports that are fully branded for your organization, with cover pages, headers, and footers.
- You can set an automatic distribution schedule to deliver reports at certain times, using the preferred format for each audience, including HTML versions for public-facing audiences.
Approximate time savings: 20 hours per report
Take The Shortcut To A Better Report With Automation
Automated data reporting is our wheelhouse, and we do it better than anyone else. Why? Because lots of tools do just one thing: They can help you produce a single report, or create attractive reports, or specialize in a report type … and so on. ClearPoint is unique in that it helps you manage all stages of reporting for nearly all types of reports, whether it’s a finance report, a strategy report, a board report, or even a project management report. And, we do it in a way that is customizable—so it fits the way you report and not the other way around.
If you’d like to learn more about how to automate reports with ClearPoint, we’d love to show you! Reach out today, and one of our experts will give you a tour.