By Kate McFarlane, Head of Data & Analytics, Decision Inc. UK
Accessing data to deliver the insights required for effective decision-making is a fundamental business skill in the digital age. Underpinning this is a corporate reporting strategy that links the information needs of an organisation with the data and the calculations to measure success.
In the age of business intelligence (BI) and advanced analytics, the technology is readily available for organisations to have a real-time dashboard view of the organisational key performance indicators (KPIs). This means the company can now focus on its strategic goals, visualising the successes and areas requiring improvement.
Modern data platforms and BI tools allow for a quick drill down into the granular level of detail required to understand the drivers for business success. Furthermore, employees are no longer limited by performing repetitive tasks, extracting data and preparing reports. Now, they can employ their skills in analysis to question, understand, and ultimately make decisions based on more accurate information.
As the economy becomes increasingly unpredictable and market trends are having a volatile impact on business success, management cannot afford to make unsubstantiated decisions. Hindsight is no longer an acceptable excuse as competitors employ the latest technology to predict and react to changing market conditions. Organisations that keep their focus on data are more agile and can make decisions based on insights through analysis.
Single version of the truth
To meet these needs, the reporting strategy must cover three core purposes – the strategic; the tactical; and the operational objectives.
Strategic objectives are represented by predictive analytics, scenario analysis as well as KPI-based reporting for monitoring the adherence to the company strategy. Tactical reporting predominately covers a functional area and the influencing factors to analyse where performance improvements can be implemented. This analysis identifies the root cause of adverse performance. In turn, these insights can be used to implement the appropriate corrective action.
Finally, operational reporting used for daily business activities and predefined procedures are often static reports that provide the user with the necessary information to perform tasks. The data lineage between the reporting layers should be transparent and reconciled. This allows for one version of the truth that is sourced from the same data sets for the reporting layers to reconcile.
Thirst for insight
But data (and its information) is just one part of the equation. Insight is fundamental to successfully delivering value through the analysis of information. This means data must be structured and presented in a manner that is both contextual and accurate to support the decision-making process.
The insight is invaluable when it leads the right person to the correct decision with conclusive evidence that promptly benefits the business. For this to work, an organisation must clearly understand its competitive advantage. It is critical that data and information allow for the identification of future opportunities (and the potential challenges). In turn, the appropriate strategic business decisions can be made based on the information.
For example, property investors need to understand the performance of their investment portfolio including vacancies, reversion rates, tenants that occupy property across buildings, service delivery, and so on. Retailers need an in-depth, 360 degree understanding of their customer, their buying habits, product affinity, and trends. For manufacturers it is about planning for maintenance and its cost as well as process utilisation. Telecoms operators must identify the client acquisition and retention trends.
Once there is a clear understanding of the information required, and the use cases fulfilled by it, technical teams can identify and source the data required and assess the quality and attributes required for reporting.
Two pivotal considerations are the frequency for data to be available as well as the presentation design layer. Timing is pivotal in the digital age; business decisions need to be agile and timely to impact the organisation. The information must therefore be readily available and up to date. The presentation and user experience of the information is critical to effectively communicate the information to the user and to ensure it is correctly interpreted.
Stephan Few has written a number of books exploring in detail the power or effective visualisation and states that “computers speed the process of information handling, but they don’t tell us what the information means or how to communicate its meaning to decision makers. These skills are not intuitive; they rely largely on analysis and presentation skills that must be learned.”
And this analysis is essential to deriving business value in the digital age.