BI & Reporting: What is a Report?

Data-Based Management Reports

In my experience as a teacher in BI and Reporting courses, I meet people with various profiles: from technicians to administrative, from operatives to senior managers. The perception of what a report is is different for each profile.

For organizations and companies that want data-driven management, the reports represent the foundation for decision-making.

To have a clear conception of what is (and what is not) a good report, I propose here a set of definitions that I find useful to remember before facing the creation of a new report.

Report Definition

1 – A report is a management tool.

Its value lies in providing a data-driven basis when making decisions.
We can say that the value of a report corresponds to the value of the right or wrong decisions that can be made as a result of what the report shows.

2- A report is a communication tool

Uses a language shared between the report designer and the person who uses it (audience).
The language of the report is part of the local and company culture:  the meaning of words, colours, and images are specific to each environment which should be taken into account.

3 – A report is a summary of information

The report user will see a transformation of the individual data to tables and graphs of summarized information, in a format suitable for analysis:
Average, cumulative, total values, proportions(%), trends, anomalies, etc.

4 – A report requires absolute trust over the veracity of the information presented

The information must be COMPLETE, and CORRECT.
In general, you will not be able to verify the veracity of the results read until you see the consequences of the decisions made based on the report (i.e. too late)

5 – A report is a periodical tool

Reports present information based on data extracted to a certain date.
Data refresh may be monthly, weekly, daily, hourly, (or even less).

The user will expect to periodically receive the results of the report, which will give you signals on the fly of your activity or business, and give you insights on what is likely to happen in the future.

The values considered always have a relative value, in a comparison with the data of the past. We will need to know the series, the evolution of the data through the reports, or in tables or visualizations that allow comparing the present with other periods.

6 – A report lives within a family of reports

The information in a report must be consistent in values and formats with other reports received by the user from the audience, to make it easier to read and to avoid errors of interpretation

A report is a story: it must tell an organization’s life.

Its actors are the events that occur over a period of time.

The facts are characterized so that we can understand (analyse) a complex and changing system.

The forms of the story can be many: we must use the right one for the needs of the listener.

The ideal is to do it briefly, attractively, to give a glimpse hidden aspects (insights) of the business, the data (history), the current reality, and what is likely to happen in the future.

A summary of dataBackgrounds, effects and imagesIt’s not Photoshop, PowerPoint, or an Excel table
Shows your message clearly to the userA boast of the designer’s technical and ingenuityIn the language, culture and scope of the user
It will be used for many years, opening up processesOnly valid for limited conditionsIt’s not a BBDD consultation
Scalable and easy to maintainDifficult to maintainDocumented and elegant
Qualities of a good report