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Choosing Reporting Tools: 4 Must-Have Elements
With the right reporting tools in your belt, you can change the way you manage. Here are four critical aspects to keep in mind when selecting a solution.
Most organizations begin their 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 four major components:
- Data integration
Below, we’ve described what each of these components entail and why you should consider all four of them thoughtfully as you select the best reporting tool for your organization.
4 Crucial Aspects Of Data Reporting Software
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.
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.
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.
10 Data Reporting Tools On The Market
- ClearPoint—Strategy execution software that helps you simplify the reporting process, save time, and achieve your organizational goals.
- Crystal Reports—Decision support reporting software for sales reports, financial statements, and invoice letters.
- Jaspersoft Reporting—Embedded analytics and reporting software that’s customizable and developer-friendly.
- Zoho Analytics—A project-focused reporting tool that lets you embed reports and dashboards on websites, blogs, and apps.
- Microsoft Office Suite—Excel and PowerPoint are typically used together to produce reports.
- Oracle Hyperion Interactive Reporting—A reporting tool that provides executives, business users, and analysts with user-directed relational query capabilities and interactive dashboards.
- IBM Cognos Analytics—An AI-focused business intelligence platform that supports the analytics cycle, and lets you visualize and share actionable insights about your data.
- Microsoft Power BI Report Server—An on-premises solution for exploring visual data and generating interactive reports.
- Telerik Reporting—A .NET reporting solution for web and desktop applications that includes a “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) design approach.
- NextReports—Reporting software catering to business users, IT managers, and developers that connects to several popular databases.
We created ClearPoint with these four crucial aspects in mind, and the result is a robust, completely customizable reporting solution that works across hundreds of industries. We strongly believe reporting software should support the way you manage—not the other way around.
But don’t just take our word for it! You can give ClearPoint a no-strings-attached test drive for 15 days. Simply click the link and fill out the form to get started!