Before I get into this episode, I want to apologize for missing episodes over the past few weeks. I came down with COVID and it knocked me off my feet for a little while. I was basically coughing, so it wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience for anybody to have me doing a podcast. I am going to continue these podcasts. I apologize for the missed episodes. I probably won’t be doing every single week, but I am going to keep going indefinitely. So, thank you for continuing to stay tuned.
This week I want to talk about categories of reports. We’ve talked about this briefly in other episodes, but I want to focus specifically today on the types of report categories that we create. This is how we define these categories at LeapFrogBI, but I think it is useful to categorize your reports into different groups. It just gives you a better understanding of what you’re talking about. It also makes it clearer what type of value reports are adding. It will make more sense as we go through this episode.
What we’re NOT talking about are the characteristics of reports. We’re not trying to categorize in ways like custom reports, ad hoc reports, pagination, detail, summary, or mobile reports. That’s not what we’re talking about. I’m talking about a broader category of report categorization.
The first type of report or category of report is monitoring reports. These are the most common types of reports. I think it’s what most people think about when you talk about business intelligence. In general, it’s monitoring reports. These are the reports that are used by all different departments in organizations. Executives are going to have their executive dashboards. Each department will have their reports. Sales team will have a sales report. Operations might have production reports. And it gets more focused as well, like finance might have a waterfall report.
There are all sorts of monitoring reports, but the objective of these types of reports is monitoring to tell you what’s going on in the business. Primarily, it’s a backward-looking view. What happened over the past day, week, month, quarter, or year? How do those trends look? And because of that, these reports are often monitored on those same intervals. Most people come in and are responsible for a particular business process. They are looking at the reports, at least daily, to figure out what happened the prior day, what’s the results of the efforts of the prior day, or the prior week and so on.
These reports are very tightly tied typically to the company’s goals. The key performance indicators (KPIs) that are on these reports are often direct reflections of the company’s goals. If a company says they want to meet certain revenue goals in this next year, they break that down by month, and maybe they compare it to a budget or a forecast, that’s a key performance indicator. That type of data would be on monitoring reports. There are all kinds of KPIs, of course. You monitor quantity. You monitor quality. All those sorts of things are going to be on monitoring reports.
Monitor reports manifest themselves in all sorts of different ways. They could be dashboards. They could be reports with drill-throughs. They could be mobile reports. I’m not giving the characteristics of the actual report; I’m just saying the broad category of reporting I would call monitoring. If you think about monitoring reports, every business has them. If you don’t have monitoring reports, it would be like driving your car without a dashboard. You don’t even know how fast you’re going. Maybe a better analogy would be flying a plane without the gauges. You don’t have an altimeter. You don’t know how high you are.
You have to at least monitor your business and your business process. To me, that’s step one. Before you move into any of these other categories of reporting, monitoring is essential.
Now, how do monitoring reports get created? Often business applications will have some amount of basic monitoring type reports in them. If you have a finance system like QuickBooks or a fancy ERP system, it’s going to have some type of financial reports. Those are essentially monitoring reports. If you want to know what your profit was for the prior quarter, you can pull up your P&L.
The same is true for other types of systems. If you’re in insurance, you have a policy admin system. That policy admin system likely has some type of policy summary report. If you’re in healthcare and you’re pulling up your health record system, there’s likely something in there that gives you some indication of the volume of patients that you’re seeing daily.
So, monitoring reports could be a report that simply comes out of your business application without any modification. These are the types of reports that are very easy to predict that there’s going to be a need for them. We know if you’re in sales, you’re going to want to track how much sales you’re doing. It’s kind of a no-brainer. So, when you go into your CRM system, it’s going to have some basic canned reporting in there that’s going to give you sales trends. Great. Now you know where you’re at. That’s a monitoring report.
Now, it’s not that business applications fulfill this need all the time. They fulfill the basic need, but monitoring reports go a lot further beyond canned reporting that business applications will generate for you. If you have multiple business applications, then obviously you can’t get a single report out of any one of those business applications that gives you a full view of the business. And even if you just have one business application, it’s often not the case that the simple monitoring reports that come with the business applications are going to be in line with the goals of your company, and specifically presenting the KPIs that you’re interested in tracking.
Monitoring reports are essential. Most companies have some level of monitoring. It’s really the very first thing that I believe an organization should tackle because without monitoring, you don’t really know the results of your efforts.
The second type of reports is what I would call exception reports. As the name implies, these types of reports are going to tell you when something unexpected happened. Or maybe not unexpected, but something that you don’t want to happen, happened. Something out of the ordinary happens. This comes up in a lot of different ways.
For example, you might have simple data entry exceptions. We just talked about monitoring reports. Those reports are essentially based on data entry. If you have an error in your data entry side of things, then the report’s going to be wrong. So, you need reports to tell you when things are out of the threshold that they should be in.
Here’s another example. Sales reports are going to depend on your CRM system. The CRM system is going to have opportunities in it, and someone’s got to put dates in for when they think that those opportunities are going to close. Well, if someone puts a date into a sales opportunity that is 10 years into the future, well, there’s probably a problem, assuming this is not a 10-year sales cycle. Then that’s an exception. Someone just simply mistyped the year on an opportunity, and that’s going to end up causing a problem in the sales report when you’re trying to show the forecasted sales. An exception report would flag that sort of thing and allow someone to go in and correct it. Of course, without having to go through every single piece of data that’s been entered, we can focus on the problem areas and get that corrected.
Now that’s just one type of exception reports. There are many types of exception reports. You could really take any process and figure out, what is out of range. And is that an important piece of information that we want to know? It’s not always data entry, of course. There are many different types of exceptions.
If you’re thinking about claims processing. So, if you’re processing a claim, you want to know certain things like if it’s taking too long to get between the receipt of a claim and the filing of a claim. When you file claims with insurance companies, you have limits on how far beyond the service date that they will honor that claim. So, it’s important that claims get filed within an amount of time from the service being rendered. So, an exception report can tell you if you are getting close to the time limit. It is going beyond the comfortable time frame, so let’s act on this claim now so it doesn’t exceed this agreed upon maximum amount of time that the insurance company will honor.
Another example of an exception report might be in insurance and the quoting process is taking too long. You might have an exception report that shows lapsed application quotes. Applications is just a form where people apply for an insurance policy. An example of these exception reports will show applications that are still in application status or submitted status and have not been quoted, maybe a month has lapsed. So, if one month has lapsed, and these policies have not yet been quoted, that’s an exception. They should have been quoted, let’s say, within the first 14 days, whatever the numbers might be.
There are all sorts of exception reports. The idea is finding the things that we want to make sure are within a certain threshold and create a report that focuses exactly on that thing. The nice thing about exception reports is they’re usually very actionable. Here’s your exception report. Here’s the process that has exceeded our threshold. Here’s what needs to be done to correct those items. Great. Let’s go correct those items. Next day, we get the report again, those things are no longer on the exception report. Usually, the idea is your exception report has nothing on it. In that case, you know everything is within range.
The third type of report is data feeds. I would say most people don’t even think of this as a report, but they certainly are. In business intelligence, we are providing data to all sorts of endpoints. We’re providing data to people, and we’re providing data to systems. These systems may be basically other business intelligence solutions that have other objectives.
Here is an example using the insurance industry again. If you have a claims processing company, that claims processing company needs to know what type of coverage has been purchased by an insured. If that claims processing company is a third party and they don’t have access to your policy admin system, they’re going to need some type of coverage verification. In this case, for one client that I’m thinking of, we built a web service that collects data from the data warehouse. The coverage verification company can then make a request programmatically for information on a particular policy, and this web service will return the details of that policy. I’m simplifying this greatly. But at the end of the day, this is a data feed. It’s a real-time data feed, but it’s still just a data feed.
There are all sorts of data feeds. One of the most common types is just simple flat files that are sent via FTPs. It’s very common. You might have a CSV or any type of delimited file or fixed width file that you send out to some third party because they’re a partner or they’re in some way involved in your operations. These data feeds are essentially just reports that are most often consumed by systems.
So, data feeds are a third category. Again, this is very broad. There are all sorts of data feeds. You could even consider exporting data from front-end reporting systems like Power BI or Tableau to be a data feed if that feed is being sent to some other system, or it’s being manipulated in some additional way from the actual report that was created.
So that’s three categories of reports; monitoring reports, exception reports, and data feed reports. Now I’m going to get into the fourth category, the final category, and this is what I just call business process optimization.
BUSINESS PROCESS OPTIMIZATION
Business process optimization reports, it’s kind of a long category name, couldn’t think of anything shorter there, but this is where you’re really starting to focus on adding value with your business reports. That’s not to say that you’re not adding value with your monitoring reports, your exception reports, and your data feeds. You can extrapolate the value from your monitoring reports in a lot of different ways.
You could say, “Well, if I’m flying this plane without gauges, there’s a good chance I’m going to crash, so I’m going to attribute all of the value of the organization to these reports.” That’s one way to look at it. You could probably compare it to whatever reporting you had prior to this business intelligence solution. Maybe you’re building reports manually, and you’re comparing the manually built reports to the business intelligence solution reports. Just simply looking at the value of eliminating all the manual efforts in favor of an automated solution, there’s a value proposition there.
Each of these categories or reports have value to offer, absolutely. But when you talk about business process optimization, it’s usually a lot clearer about how you measure that value. Here we are saying we have a particular business process, and this business process requires that we do A, B, C. Then we have a decision point, and then we’d go down to a branch there. So, it could be a simple business process, a one-step business process, or it could be a very complex business process.
An example of a business process report would be one that works with the business process. I’m thinking about a healthcare company that we work with. They do a lot of what they call WIP reporting, work in process reporting. It’s kind of a long story. Most of these business process reports are very focused on your particular situation. They’re not canned reports usually in any way, shape or form.
So, I’m going to simplify this and just say that if you have a work in process. In this case, we’re talking about orthotics. If you’re having to build something, manufacture something, interface with a client or a patient, do follow-ups, and then you do claims. There are a lot of things that happen in this business process. And at each phase of that process, there is information that people need in order to carry out that next step or to know which next step to carry out. And that’s where these business process optimization reports are extremely important.
If you don’t have these reports, what usually happens is people in the field that are carrying out these processes, are having to go into your business systems, either click around to try to collect all sorts of different information from various places. It is not easily accessible, then they’re going to have to cobble that information together on their own and then move forward with the results of that. That may be an easy thing to do; it may be a difficult thing to do. When it’s a difficult thing to do, well, that’s where these business process optimization reports are extremely valuable. In a lot of cases, they can eliminate entire roles by just automating these well-prepared reports that are focused on particular business processes.
For me this is the type of reporting that I get the most excited about. Because this is where you can really understand the value in business intelligence really easily, because you have a before and after. Usually, these business processes are in place. It’s not like we’re designing them most of the time from scratch. Usually, they’re in place and then we’re trying to make them more efficient. So, you’ve got a benchmark. You know what it takes to do this thing without these business process optimization reports. If we can now add this report in there and enable the people that are interacting with this business process to be more efficient, now you can see the results that simply delivering a report made to that overall business process.
Again, this is the area I get most excited around because you can take processes that took people a lot of manual work to pull together, and just automate that whole thing. It enables that person to do something more valuable. Instead of pulling this report together for a week and then using it for a day, now we can give them that report on demand anytime.You got the report, now you can go do what needs to be done to add value.
An example of this would be shrink reporting. I was working for a client that must maintain inventory, so shrink management is a part of the business process. While you can’t automate the manual counts required to do a shrink analysis, you can do things to identify problem areas of shrink. If you have a simple store that has five products, that’s easy. You can do that without a lot of work. But when you have many, many stores, and all those stores have inventory, well, now you have a more complicated problem because you have different margins on all of that inventory. You have different quantities of that inventory. And each of those pieces of inventory are shrinking in different ways. You have perishables. You have things that are just walking off the shelf. You have process errors, paperwork errors.
It’s important to know what type of shrink is most impactful to your business and focus on those things so you can do what needs to be done. In this case, it’s chargebacks. Making sure that you’re holding people accountable for the inventory that they’re maintaining.
Okay, so that’s category number four, business process optimization reports. That’s the final category. Within these four, there’s all kinds of derivations by the way. You can have an exception report that may be involved in monitoring. You can have a data feed that’s part of business process optimization. But these are the primary categories, or at least how I think about the categories of reporting. You have monitoring, exceptions, data feeds, and then business process optimization.