On the Road to Reportopia

Welcome to Love your Reports. My name is Paul Felix, I’m your host.  And this is episode number one.  I am really excited to get started with this podcast.  There’s so many topics that I want to cover and I really hope that in doing this, that we’re able to reach at least a couple of you out there that find this valuable.  Again, I’m excited to get started and let’s just jump into episode number one.

In this episode, what I want to cover is just… Well, I just want to set the groundwork.  I just want to explain what this podcast is about and what we’re trying to achieve.  What’s our goal here?  That’s it.  All future episodes, we’ll be talking about all the things it takes to get between wherever we are today and this goal.

So it’s really important that we understand the goal, we understand the context of what we’re talking about, and that’s what we’re going to cover today.

Now, before I jump into that though, I want to talk a little bit about the podcast itself.  So who’s this podcast for?  This podcast is really intended for business users and not just executives at the very top leadership levels of a business, but all levels of the business, any business user, that’s really who we’re talking about.  It could be process owners, it could be individual contributors, it could be CFO, it could be sales executives; all those business focused people, all of you out there.  That’s who this is focused on.

Now, I do also want to say that this is not going to be a technical podcast.  I just recently kind of got into listening to podcast and I really love them, personally, it’s just so much out there.  But what I was a little remissed about is I didn’t find a single podcast on this topic of reporting solutions.

I found other podcast about kind of the technical side of what we’re going to focus on, but I didn’t find a single business focused podcast; that’s active today, that was talking about the benefits of well designed reporting solutions and the obstacles to building those solutions.  So that’s what kind of motivated me to put this thing together and give this a shot.

And I’d say, again, I was kind of surprised at this.  There’s over two million podcasts now, with 48 million episodes, is what I found in my little research, which is a few.  So I hope we are going to be filling a void here.  It could also be that no one’s interested in this topic, but, in any case, I’m interested in it.  So there may be one or two of you out there that actually want to use data to operate more efficiently.  So we’re going to focus on those things here in this podcast.

Now on the logistical side of things, I’m going to do my best to get these podcasts out once a week, and I’m going to try to publish them on Tuesdays.  And these will probably be kind of on the shorter end of podcast lengths. I expect all of them to be 30 minutes or under.  Most of these podcasts will just be me, is what I’m guessing, at least for a while.  Until I kind of get my feet underneath me.

But I’m also planning on bringing in some experts.  I’ve already talked to a few of the clients that I work with that are more than happy to come on and talk shop with me, so we’ll be doing some interviews with people in the field.  And I also plan on bringing in some of my coworkers to talk about some of the practical side of building these solutions.

So a lot of different possibilities for content here, and I’m going to do my best to keep it interesting, keep it valuable, for every single podcast that goes out.

Okay. So let me introduce myself a little bit now.  My name, again, is Paul Felix.  And first of all, let me just put my contact information out there because it would be really nice to actually hear back from some of you out there.  Again, this is my very first podcast, so I expect that I’m not going to get it perfect on the first try.  And I appreciate all the patients that you can give me.  And I also appreciate any feedback.  So if you want to contact me, my contact information is paul@loveyourreports.com or you can find me on Twitter at Paul B. Felix is my handle.

So my background is really all about building reporting solutions.  I started out, as well, really just administrative assistant.  And I was given the not so desirable role of pulling data together to build a report.  And that was with Nextel Communications, actually, I was working for those guys as just a temp through a temp company.  So yeah, that was where it all started just using Excel or Access or whatever the heck I could find, to pull data together to get something presentable for the executives to use.  And it just grew from there.

I’ve worked for a few different companies directly.  I worked primarily on the consulting side of the business, building data warehouses, building reporting solutions.  And the other thing I’d say is I’ve also been lucky enough to be able to work in a lot of different industries, if not every industry, at this point, from finance to insurance to healthcare.  It really doesn’t matter what the industry is, as far as this topic is concerned, pretty much every organization wants to operate efficiently.  And that’s really what we’re trying to accomplish here is to help organizations operate efficiently.

So my current role is pretty much the same.  I’ve worked for a company called LeapFrog BI, and we do the same exact thing.  We build reporting solutions for our clients.  We focus primarily on the small and mid market, and we do mostly fully hosted solutions for our clients.  Not all the time, but we provide our services as a service.  So it’s kind of an ongoing relationship we have with our clients.

Okay.  So I think I already mentioned this, but I want to reiterate, I am new to podcasting.  So I am learning as I go here, I’m going to do my best to get all the bugs worked out as quickly as possible, but undoubtedly, there’s going to be quite a few flaws here to begin with.

So for those of you that are patient enough to actually hang with me through these first couple podcasts, I really appreciate it.  So thank you for that.

All right, let’s get into the guts of this particular podcast.  And that is, let’s talk about our goal.  So as the title of the podcast kind of describes, we’re trying to make you love your reports.  We want you to love your reports.  And what we mean by that is we want you to gain value out of your reporting solution.  We want these reports to make your job easier.  We want them to make you more successful.

And I break that down primarily into two areas.  The first area is just better decision making.  We want you to have the reports that you need to make better decisions.  Now, before I go down that road too far, I want to take a bit of a side road.  I want to talk about decision making in general, and this does get kind of philosophical.

I know that there’s a lot of kind of decision making models out there, probably with scholars that are a lot more versed than it than me, frankly.  But my take on this is really from the standpoint of using data to make better decisions.  So I have a little model, an acronym, of course, we all love acronyms. It’s called IKIDAF.  And that stands for information, knowledge, insight, decision, action, feedback.  So let me step through those.

So the decision making process that I’m talking about, IKIDAF, starts with I information.  Information in this context is raw information.  If you think about your business systems, whatever it is, again, it doesn’t matter.  ie:  Your ERP system, your EHR, your electronic health system, your policy management system.  It doesn’t matter.  All of those systems are storing raw data, transactional data, in a database, pretty much universally.

That’s the information we’re talking about here.  Now, this isn’t limited to just your internal information, but it could be external information as well.  It could be the physical environment.  You know, the weather, could be the geography, could be all sorts of things, all sorts of indicators.  Whatever data we’re talking about here, it’s raw data at this point.  It’s pretty much useless to us outside of transactional type operations.

I’ll stick with healthcare.  It’s very important to have the health record of a person when you’re going into a patient room and trying to assess some type of ailment, you’re trying to diagnose someone that’s very important.  But that same information is not so important at its most granular level, or atomic level, when you’re trying to make decisions about a practice as a whole.  So I is information.

Let’s move on to K. K is knowledge.  We take that information and turn it into knowledge.  And the knowledge we’re talking about is just the kind of, I guess you can call it raw knowledge.  It would be like you take a source system, which has, I guess we’ll stick with healthcare, which has all of your patient details in it.

And let’s just say, you’re trying to understand what types of procedures you do most often.  CPT is how it’s coded in healthcare.  So you’re trying to understand which types of procedures you’re doing most often.  It would be pretty difficult to assess that if you’re just looking at the raw information, one diagnosis at a time.  But if you change that very raw information into knowledge, you then can say, “Okay, I’m doing, at this point in time, this particular month, I did X number of this procedure.  I did Y number of that procedure.”

You’ve rolled that data up to something that is more of a fact that can be used in some way outside of the very transactional operations of the business.  So, K is knowledge. We’ve gone from I, where you have raw data, to knowledge, where you have some type of rolled up facts, that can give you some knowledge about what’s going on in the business.

And then the next I is insight, and this is really where the human being comes into play.  A human being can take knowledge and gain insight from that knowledge.  So we can look at the pattern of how many procedures we’re doing through time and the types of procedures we’re doing through time.  And we can combine that with other things that are going on in the world that maybe aren’t represented in this data source that we have.

And with that information, we kind of, through the miracle of a human brain, if you will, create some type of an assessment or we create some type of insight.  The insight that’s important to us to understand this environment that we’re working in.  So that’s insight.  We’ve gone from raw data information to knowledge, to insight now.  And, again, the insight is really a human being’s interpretation of knowledge and utilization of knowledge.

With that insight, we can make a decision and D is the decision.  That’s where the decision comes in is we’re going to use that insight to make some kind of decision.  And then after we make a decision, we take action.  That’s the A in IKIDAF.  And after we make that action, it’s important that we understand the results of that action, which is the F the feedback in IKIDAF.

And that rolls us back over to the beginning again, where that feedback becomes information.  It’s just raw information at that point, one data point.  So this is kind of a little bit long winded, I know, but it is important here because if you take a step back from your business, or the individual process that you’re managing, really the only way you can improve is if a couple of things happen.  And that is, ultimately, you take the right actions, but in order to take the right actions, you have to make the right decisions.

And in order to make the right decisions, you’ve got to have the right information to do that.  You’ve got to have those insights.  In order to have that information, you’ve got to utilize everything at your disposal.  And I’m not going to try to say that the only thing we have at our disposal is the raw data in these business systems, but it’s a very, very important piece of the puzzle.

Okay?  So that’s a little about the decision making process.  And this podcast is about helping you make better decisions.  That’s really what it comes down to.  Utilizing reporting to provide decision makers the information they need, so that they can gain insights to make better decisions that have better outcomes.

Now, I want to stress a couple of things here, or I guess one more thing here when it comes to decision making.  And that is that we’re not talking about only the most strategic decisions in a business, not at all.  Decisions are made at all levels of a business, all the way from the most strategic down to the most tactical.  And if you believe that it’s the combination of all of our decision making ability and the resulting actions from those decisions that determines the success of an organization.  Frankly, rather or not, you’re going to win in this competitive environment that we operate in, if you believe that.

Again, I’m going to stress this because it’s so important.  If you believe that the cumulative decision making ability in your organization is what’s going to drive success, then you can easily jump to the conclusion that it’s pretty darn important that we give those decision makers every possible advantage that we can.  We want every decision maker to understand their particular environment, as well as possible, so that we can get the best outcomes that from these decisions that we can hope for.

One other thing I want to say about decision making as just a concept in it in itself.  It’s my view that, and it’s not very controversial here, but it’s my view that a decision is not determined to be a good or bad decision.  If we’re going to make it like this, the decision is not good or bad based on its outcome.

In other words, if I make a decision, I can’t judge that decisions as being good or bad based on the outcome of that decision.  A decision, in my view, is good or bad, again, that’s very simple terms, but it’s good or bad based on the information that was known at the time the decision was made.  The decision, again, is good or bad; or can be determined to be good or bad if it was in line with the information known at the time the decision was made.

And the reason this is important, again, is if you’ve got a lot of folks in your organization that are making decisions blindly, and the outcomes are whatever they are, you can’t really accurately assess how effective decisions are being made because they are just being made blindly.  There’s no regular approach to the decision making process, it’s all just empirical type of knowledge that’s being used to make those decisions.

So this again makes it extremely important that we actually provide decision makers with the information they need to make better decisions.  When you do that, then you have something objective to measure those decisions on.  Which, again, you’re probably going to get sick of the position here, eventually, but it’s just, just so important that we do measure.  We’ve got to measure.  I mean, that this is really kind of the core of how we improve is we measure how well we’re doing.  And then we look at it and we say, “Well, how can we do better?”  If we never measure, then when we look at how we’re doing, we don’t know the answer to that.  So it’s important that we measure what’s going on in the business as well.

Okay.  So that’s what I look at as, I guess, one side of the equation here on what we’re trying to accomplish.  We want decision makers to have the information they need to make good decision.

The other side of things is what I call the operate efficiently side.  The making sure that our processes are operating efficiently.  And I separate this out because when we talk about making better decisions, we’re really talking about people looking at something, thinking about something, and using this combined experience and facts to actually come up with some conclusion and take an action.  But it’s really a different situation when we talk about making processes, or sometimes it’s different, when we talk about making processes operate efficiently.

This does get a little bit into kind of the BPM, business process management, side of things.  But the situation here is, if you have a business process and we all do; we do A, B and C. You can think about this easily in the manufacturing side of things where you’re going to do A, then you’re going to do B, then you’re going to do C. It’s going to take a certain amount of time to do A and B and C.

We expect to have so many faults within each of these processes.  And it’s important that at each juncture, we actually have the right evidence so that we take the right path, following that juncture.  So you think about a flow chart, for example.  If you have a business process and it could be a very simple one where it’s just a one step process.  It could be a very complicated one, where you have all sorts of different paths that a business process might take, and you may not have these business processes well defined.

In fact, I find that most businesses don’t really even have these processes documented in any way.  Sometimes they’re just part of what the business does and that’s it.  But when you sit down and think about it, you probably have these business processes in place, and there probably are different points in the process where some type of a “Let’s go right, let’s go left,” decision is made.  That is going to be a decision that’s based on data.

That type of business process efficiency can be greatly aided with reporting.  And, I use the word reporting in a generic sense.  A report on the surface, you’re thinking about, probably, you got your PDF, you got a business intelligence tool of some kind, and you’re looking at data visualization. That’s one form of report.

Another form is just data transmission, or electronic data exchange type processes, where we’re going to inject particular pieces of information in business processes at the precise time that’s needed.  That process gets to the outcome that we’re hoping for at a higher rate.  So that’s the other side of things is the process efficiency.

Now, sometimes these processes are also not even core processes.  Sometimes they’re just kind of call centers. Businesses have to exchange data with other businesses, such as partners.  Sometimes you’re collecting data from partners or sending data to partners, and these transmissions and receipts are done on standards often.  Those types of data feeds are also a form of report, and that’s something that we’ll be covering here as well.

All right. So we’ve talked about two of the main goals here.  One being we’re going to try to focus on, or we are going to focus on helping decision makers, at all levels of the organization, have the information they need to make better decisions.  And then we are also going to focus on the making business processes run efficiently.  Two poles of the tent there.

Now, the third thing I want to mention is continuous improvement.  In my opinion, if you’re really going to reach reportopia, which again is just a word that I’ve made up that I think captures what I’m trying to relay, which is the utopia of reporting solutions.

Do we reach that pinnacle? And in order to do that, one of the things we have to have is continuous improvement.  Business intelligence or reporting solutions and data warehousing, all of these things are great.  They’re great solutions.  They can get you from where you are today to the next level.

But if you really want to change your organization for the better, then you have to think about the solution, not as a project, not as something we’re going to start and we’re going to end because it never really ends.  It is a business function.  It’s something that we constantly have to be cultivating.

If we’re going to talk about decision making.  Your decisions today, when you’re looking at this knowledge that you’ve pulled out of your reporting solution, well, great, you have this knowledge today.  You’ve made a good decision.

Based on that knowledge, it helped you make a good decision, but tomorrow things are not going to be like they are today.  The operating environment is going to change.  The competitive environment is going to change.  The tax environment is going to change.  Your data sources are going to change. The people using those reports are going to change.  They’re going to have different experiences.

So what I’m trying to say is there’s nothing static about this, and it’s not like you reach reportopia, you’re there and you’re there forever.  That’s not how it works either.  It really is a business function that we’re talking about here….just like HR, just like finance, just like marketing.  If you think about this reporting solution as a business function, that’s going to be aiding your business from now until eternity, you’re going to have a lot better success with it.

Okay.  So we’ve covered a few different things here today.  And I don’t want to make this super long in this first episode.  So I’m probably going to just stop it here and recap real quickly.

So, first of all, again, I really appreciate your feedback.  If you’re willing to send me a note, let me know what you’d like, or don’t like, Paul@loveyourreports.com or at Paul B Felix, on Twitter.  You can contact me at either place.

Again, this podcast is focused on the business users.  We really hope to help all of your business users out there gain value from this podcast.  And the topic is very simple.  We want to use reporting to help you make better decisions and operate more efficiently.  It’s very doable.  I’ve seen it done many times, many organizations have done it.  And, frankly, it’s been something that the largest organizations out there have benefited from for quite a few years.

But now, with how technology has changed and for various different reasons, this is something that is attainable for pretty much every organization in the world.  It doesn’t matter how small you are.  It doesn’t matter how big you are.  This is something that is attainable. And frankly, you’d be doing yourself a disservice, if an organization didn’t pay attention to this type of advantage, which is available to you.

Okay.  So I’ll leave it there for this episode.  We’ll see you again next Tuesday.  And in the meantime, happy reporting.

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