Let’s Define Reportopia

I want to take a step back and talk about Reportopia. This time I want to be clear about the definition of Reportopia.

Last week, I had to work with the marketing team and write down the definition of Reportopia. It’s something we’ve roughly done in the past, but we wanted it to be as perfect as we could make it. We really wanted a definition that’s going to capture the message that we’re trying to convey by this noun, Reportopia. So today, I want to review that definition with you.

I think it’s important that we do this for the simple reason that reportopia, in my opinion, captures what we are trying to accomplish. It describes why it’s so important, and it really sets our mind in the right strategic direction. It helps us overcome a lot of the hurdles that might be in the way of reaching reportopia.
The first definition of reportopia might be obvious. Reportopia is the utopia of reporting. Pretty simple. What do we mean by utopia? I went and looked up the official definition, and utopia is an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. That’s exactly what we’re saying here with the word reportopia.

We’re striving to reach this utopia of reporting, but it’s not something you ever reach, it is a utopia. We can get close, or we can get closer with each additional effort that we put into it, but it is a utopia. If we could reach reportopia, then we could pretty much dominate the world. Because you’ll see in the future definitions that it just basically means we’re all-knowing at that point.

Reportopia is a never-ending value-capturing process enabled by purpose-built reporting.That’s a little bit wordy. Reportopia is a never-ending value-capturing process enabled by purpose-built reporting. Let’s break that down. We’ve talked a lot about capturing value in this podcast and we’ll continue to do so, because at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about, we’re trying to capture value. You the business owners, process managers out there, you are the ones that define that value, you’re the one that identifies that opportunity to capture value.

We’ve broken value down in several different ways. Value can be the obvious capturing revenue type of value. It could be the reduction of expenses. It could be the reduction of risk. It could be an increase in quality. There are several ways of defining value and you must determine what is that value-capturing opportunity.

Let me clarify. If you’re managing a process and you’re looking at how things are going in that process. You’ve got a certain number of resources working on this process and you know in minute detail what’s going on from day-to-day. You can probably look at that process and identify a part that you could do better if you had other information. You could accomplish that improvement. So, it’s up to you to know where is that value opportunity.

A lot of times, especially when you first get started on this journey to reportopia, finding these value opportunities is not a problem. A lot of companies have value opportunities galore, it’s not a challenge. Once you start opening your eyes up a little bit and look for these inefficiencies in your business, you’ll find them and you’ll find ways to solve them as well through reporting.

So, definition number two, is a never-ending value-capturing process enabled by purpose-built reporting. Why do we add the enabled by purpose-built reporting? Well, because we’re talking about reportopia. We’re talking about a utopia in which we have all the information we need to capture this value that we’ve identified.

Reporting is not the only thing that determines success. It’s a very important part of the formula. Being informed, making good decisions, operating efficiently, that’s a very important part of the formula, but there’s a lot of other things that go into success. It’s important that we qualify the definition and say that this is a never-ending value-capturing process enabled by purpose-built reporting.

The purpose-built part of that definition is probably clear as well. We’re saying, we’re identifying a value-capturing opportunity and we are going to build a report that captures that specific opportunity. That doesn’t mean that we can’t use canned reports that are available in your business applications or anything else. It is saying that the report we are going to use is specifically focused on capturing that value opportunity.

The third definition of reportopia is a place where you always have the information needed to make informed decisions and operate efficiently. I would say this is definitely utopia, because this is an imagined state of being. This is not reality. No matter what we do, we will never have all the information we need to make informed decisions.

We’re always working to have more and more information so that we can make decisions that are based on facts and have good outcomes. It is next to impossible to know everything, for the simple reason that your business applications will not have all the information you need in all cases. In some cases, they’ll be perfect, but in other cases they will not.

If an organization is trying to expand into a new market. There’s a lot of things that go into determining which market is the best market. Which market is going to yield the best results? You could go look at a lot of the demographic information. You might be able to determine if a specific market aligns with the markets where we’ve done well in the past. You might give that market a try. But you don’t have all the information you need. You don’t know for sure that the people in that market are going to purchase your product or service. You’re just assuming, because they match in some type of demographic way.

The same is true for new product launches. When you build a new product, you’re building that product, because maybe you’ve received feedback that indicates the market demands this product. You don’t know for sure that product is going to be purchased and received well. What I’m saying, is reportopia is a utopia. It is an imagined place. It’s an imagined state of things. It’s something that we’re striving for. We want to have all the information we can possibly have to make informed decisions.

If I knew everything about all the influencers on success, making a decision is easy. I don’t really have to decide at that point. I can calculate the answer. That’s not really how the world works. We still have human beings. So humans are taking information, turning that information into some type of insight, and then applying it to a decision-making process.

That’s all high-level, I get it, but it is reality. That’s what’s actually happening. We are always working in some type of information deficiency. Striving to get to a state of reportopia is where we’re bridging that gap. We’re getting more and more information to become more and more informed.

The fourth and final definition is reportopia’s a trusted and highly utilized automated reporting solution. It’s a trusted and highly utilized automated reporting solution. I will break this down as well. First, Trusted. We’ve talked about how important it is for the consumers of a report to have trust in that report. People must trust what they’re seeing in these reporting solutions, otherwise they’re not going to utilize them.

You’re going to find that when you go look at utilization metrics, no one is looking at the report. It’s so easy to lose trust. A key component to reportopia is you have consumers that are trusting and utilizing these reports. Highly trusted, and highly utilized. The latter part of this definition is automated reporting solution. One word that is important is automated.

Reportopia is not a place where you have 50 people dragging Excel sheets around and trying to make sense of the world. That’s not what I would consider a reportopia. It’s a place where all this information is automatically, systematically correlated.  It is also where data structures are created to support the types of analytics we need to operate efficiently and make informed decisions. So, automation is a key component.

Ideally these processes would be 100% automated. Ideally, they would be so smart, possibly even able to learn, such as an AI. We’re talking about reporting solutions, so it’s an automated reporting solution. Again, definition number four is this is a highly trusted, highly utilized automated reporting solution.

Those are the four definitions. That’s how I would define reportopia. Now, there’s a couple of things I want to add to this definition. I didn’t put them in the definition, but I think they’re important, nevertheless. First, this is not about technology. There is nothing in this definition that talks about technology.

In the past I have said, that finding your reportopia could be done on index cards. You could do that. It would be difficult and maybe you would be violating rule number four when you have an automated reporting solution, but the point is this isn’t about technology. If you have someone coming to you and saying you need a data lake, you should use data bricks, or you need to use Snowflake; I would say run. Run the other way, because what we’re talking about is not about technology.

Yes, technology is very important. It’s a tool we use to help us achieve this state of being where we actually have the information we need to make informed decisions and operate efficiently, but reportopiais not about technology.

The other thing I want to mention is that automated piece. I’m kind of harping on this, because it’s a bit of a pet peeve for me. A lot of times the way we start on this journey is a very rational way of doing it. We just start doing it. We see we have information out there and we start manually pulling information together, often in Excel, maybe in Access, we do whatever we have to do.

If you’re in Excel, you’re using all kinds of ways to get data pulled together. You run into limitations, and you break things down to smaller pieces. You pull them back together, and you add your business rules in there somehow. It can be done. This is not about technology, but this can’t be manual. The manual piece of this I feel like is critical and can cause failure.

When you do something manually, it’s slow, it’s expensive,nd its error prone. You have humans involved. It’s very difficult for humans to do exactly the same thing every time without failure, but computers are great at that. So, if technology has a role to play, here it is. Technology is very important in implementing these solutions. Not to be confused with technology being the solution.

So, if a process is slow, costly, and error-prone, it increases the cost of the solution, which decreases the value of the solution. Ultimately, the cost of the solution will become so high that your value opportunities cannot be captured. It doesn’t make sense to spend $50,000 building a solution to capture a $10,000 value opportunity.

At that point, we’re just at this sad state of being. We know we have the information, but it’s too expensive to get it in the form that we can use it. Basically, we’re just going to continue to operate inefficiently, because we can’t solve this problem. Well, it is a solvable problem. One of the keys here is that we’re not doing things manually.

That’s reportopia. Utopia’s not a thing that we ever actually accomplish. We’re striving to reach reportopia, but we never actually make it.

What would the world look like if we don’t strive for reportopia? I think it’s interesting. We’re either on this journey to try to give people the information they need to operate efficiently, or we’re not. If we’re taking the other path, what does that look like?

What does the world look like if we are not striving for reportopia? I’m going to go to the extreme here. Everything is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. The first thing I would say is that everyone is going to spend time searching for the information they need to do their job. That’s for sure.

When you’re in the trenches, doing the job, and if you’re like most people, you are trying to do a good job. Most people don’t like to think that their time is just wasted doing trivial things. They like to improve. That’s just human nature. When someone’s doing a job and they know that it can be done differently, they know that it can be done better, they’re going to try to find that solution.

If you have a business application that you’re working on, and you’re having to spend half your time trying to figure out what to do, you’re going to try to shorten your time. If you learn that there’s some way to shorten that period of time to half of the time, then you’re going to go try to make that happen. How? Well, you’re going to go pull raw data out of the system. You’re going to put it into Excel and filter it down. You’re going to make you own decision on how to prepare information so you can operate more efficiently.

Now on one side of things, that’s great. You’ve got these individual contributors out there in this example and they’re trying to make this business operate more efficiently. That’s great, but the problem becomes when you have this type of thing going on all over your organization, all these people are making different decisions about how this information is pulled together. It just leads to a myriad of problems; you have all kinds of issues frankly.

People are looking at time differently. One person is working off one customer list and another person is working off a different customer list. We can’t get a consensus on what we’re going to name a product. There are all sorts of problems. People are asking for bigger desktops so they can perform these very processor-intensive calculations within their own workstations. Just from the infrastructure point, we’ve got data moving through the network galore, we’re bogging the network down, we need a lot more to drive space.

These are some of the symptoms of the problem that I’m talking about, but overall, the biggest problem in my opinion is that there’s no single version of the truth. I don’t have any better way of saying that. There’s no single version of the truth, which makes everybody their own little island. No one can really communicate clearly with one another, because we don’t have any common language to communicate. So, that’s one thing that we’ll see if we decide to not head down the road to reportopia.

The next one is also obvious. Decisions are made without the benefit of understanding the influencers on success. If you’re out there and you’re trying to make a process operate more efficiently, it takes half of your time to figure out what to do, the other half of your time to actually do it. Let’s just say you’re the person that’s not going to try to solve that problem. Now I’m going to spend half of my time figuring out what I’m supposed to do, and the other half of the time doing it. Well, half of my time where I’m figuring out what to do is quite expensive.

This is one part of the value-capturing process or identification process that can be hard to get your head around, what is the value, because sometimes it is subjective. Sometimes there is more than one thing that impacts these value-capturing opportunities.

For example, if a person is spending half of their time trying to figure out what to do, in other words, they are doing manual data wrangling, we could solve that by providing that person with the information they need to do their job. If we could hand that to them in the morning, they can now spend the entire day happily doing what they want to be doing and are hired to do. You just turned that one person into two people essentially.

One way to look at it is, what value are you getting out of that person? The value that you have in that person has just doubled. Another way of looking at it is you just cut half of the cost of that person out. What do you want to do? Do you want to get more out of the people you have? Do you want to hire more people to fill this gap of the lack of information, or possibly do both? Fill the gap and hire more people and have them working much more efficiently.

When we’re not on the road to reportopia, you are going to find that these inefficiencies are going to persist. Some people are simply not going to have the tools to solve this problem themselves even if they have the will.

The third thing I would say that you are going to run into when you’re not focused on striving for reportopia is that it’s going to be very difficult to move beyond what a human being can do. I’m not even really talking about any type of artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, modeling, or anything complicated like that, I’m just saying a human being has certain characteristics and a human being cannot systematically apply rules to a process. Not to the extent that a computer can.

We can tell a computer to take these 50 rules, apply it to this process, go through this very complex decision tree and spit out a number. A computer can do that right every single time. A human being can’t do that to the level of a computer. It certainly can’t do it as fast. Of course, a human being has much more valuable characteristics than the computer. If we’re not on that road to reportopia, it is going to be very difficult for that human being to overcome these types of complicated business rules or business scenarios that a computer could quite easily overcome.

Overall, I would say organizations are on this path, which there’s very few that aren’t on the path. Most organizations recognize that a process is running efficiently or inefficiently and will at least do the bare minimum needed to get things on a somewhat efficient path. Now some are much further down the road than others, and some are just getting started, but nearly all organizations will be on this path to some extent. Of course, they’re not calling it reportopia, that’s just a word that I use, and I think captures this journey that we’re on. Most organizations will be on this path.

The utopia of reporting, what I call reportopia is a super important concept in my opinion. It’s a word that I think captures what we’re trying to accomplish. You could come up with your own word or use this word but try to get your organization to create a culture that thinks about not only working hard and getting the job done but keeping your eyes open for ways to do things more efficiently. One of those ways to do things more efficiently is to get people the information they need to operate efficiently. It’s really that simple.


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