June 3, 2021

5 Steps For Better Business Analytics

Data is the new gold! Or so the cliché goes!

If you are in business chances are you have relied on data or reporting to make decisions. Having accurate and timely reporting is a huge advantage to the modern business world, but its not always as easy as we would hope it to be.

Every modern system comes loaded with hundreds of predesigned reports and there are countless business intelligence and analytical tools available at the ‘swipe of a credit card’. So why do so many business find it challenging to improve their analytical capabilities?

As with most tech problems, there is no ‘silver bullet’ but this article will cover the first 5 key steps for planning, growing and improving your data reporting capabilities.

Step #1 – Be clear on what you are measuring

It is very easy to get distracted by the possibility of a beautiful dashboard full of coloured charts and widgets, but if the dashboard does not convey anything meaningful then it will be just a pretty picture.

Before you begin thinking about how your data will be presented you need to clearly identify what you are reporting on. What answers should the data or report give you? Are you measuring financial data, or perhaps sales team activity or even social media engagements?

Whatever your reporting objective you must be absolutely clear on how you plan to measure it, down to the specific fields of data that will be used in the reports.

Its critical to be specific, because analytics needs specific data points to be accurate. If you are not clear on how the data is measured then how can you be clear on the output?

I find its helpful to write out, in plan language, what the reporting metric should be. E.g. “I want to know how many new quotes we generated this month”

From there you can break down the metric. Identify what is a “quote” and what date field do we look at to identify “this month”.

This is not the most exciting part of reporting and analytics, but if you properly define what you are planning to measure, the rest of the reporting process will be smoother.

Step #2 – Identify the primary source

Now that you are clear on the specific data points you are going to measure you need to identify the primary source of this information.

Depending on the size and complexity of your organisation you may have data in more than one system or database. If this is the case you need to be sure on the exact location of the data.

If you have duplicate data across different systems, you’ll also need to identify which is the most accurate/relevant source.

This is one area of reporting and analytics that can grow into a very complicated data module. Be prepared to join data across multiple sources and you may need some heavy technical assistance here if you are not familiar with databases or cloud APIs.

The more complex your systems and data sets you may need to consider a data warehouse or data preparation tool.

Steps #1 & #2 are all about laying a foundation that will help you gain access to accurate data that you can rely on for your reporting journey.

Step #3 – Reconcile! Reconcile! Reconcile!

Yes. Reconcile!

This critically important step is often overlooked or skipped entirely which leads to reporting that is inaccurate or worse completely misleading.

Ultimately you are building reports to provide answers and insight into your business operations, if the data that makes up these reports is incomplete or inaccurate you could be making business decisions based upon a fallacy.

To avoid this its important to carefully check and reconcile your data sources against other trusted reports or source systems. By checking the data against trusted sources you can validate that any joins or data preparation you have done has not affected the validity of the information.

Obviously if you reporting data sources are simple, the reconciliation process will be quick. But if you are wrangling complex data sets you need to be prepared that this process can be time consuming and you should prepare yourself for the workload ahead.

Step #4 – Visualise

If you have completed the above steps you should have a good quality data set that is reconciled and accurate as well as a clear definition of your reporting objectives.

You are now rewarded with the fun part, building your reports!

Report design is a huge topic that is far too broad to cover in detail here, but there are a few simple concepts that should be understood.

Generally visualisations are easier and faster to interpret. E.g. graphs. This is because our brains are wired to interpret shapes and colours faster than words and numbers. So working with a decent data visualisation tool can help bring your reports and dashboards to life.

It is also a good idea to think about your reporting at the highest level. The reason being is that with most modern analytical tools you will be able ‘drill down’ into more detailed layers of data. You shouldn’t be building lots of granular reports, but rather larger aggregated reports that can be filtered and expanded as required.

Always build reports with the reader in mind. If its not obvious what the data is telling you consider labels and descriptions to help the user understand what they are looking at. Don’t always build a visualisation with the ‘prettiest’ chart, use a chart that tells the best data story.

Don’t bring a donut chart to a bar chart party.

Step #5 – Sharing is caring

My last step is less about data or reporting but more about how you can introduce the concept of being ‘data driven’ to your organization.

Data should never be hoarded and locked away for only a few lucky souls to play with. It should be free and available to everyone in your  organisation.

Obviously sensitive data needs consideration, but ultimately you want data in the hands of the people who can use it to make decisions.

Educate your teams on where to access valid data sets and train them how to use reporting and analytical tools.

There is no better person to write reports that the people who truly understand the data they are working with.

That is where the real insights are found!

Happy reporting!

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