What is business intelligence reporting?
In the business intelligence space, Reporting is the step in a data journey where data is finally presented to the end user. The data that a BI tool has collected and processed is then presented to the people who need it. Users then gather insights from these reports and make decisions based on their analysis.
Reporting is a broad concept, and it comes in many different styles. Some businesses prefer to use their IT and technical resources to run detailed managed reports of their data. Other organizations may take a more ad-hoc approach to reporting, allowing employees without technical expertise to put together their own dashboards and visualizations.
An example dashboaed in Cumul.io. Dashboards are one of the most popular reporting methods.
One new innovation in business intelligence reporting is the rise of embedded analytics. With embedded analytics, businesses can run reports and view data visualizations right in their own apps, without needing to interact with a BI tool.
Reporting is the main way that most workers will interact with their BI tool. Anytime someone gets data out of a BI tool, it is considered a use of reporting. Since it’s so integral to the function of a BI tool, companies should make sure that the BI tool they select has robust reporting options.
What does reporting look like?
Most BI tools allow for a very wide range of reporting options. Reporting tools need to be as adaptable as the BI software that powers them, so that companies can use the tools for anything they need. Some common ways that BI tools report data are:
Dashboards. Dashboards may be the most popular way for BI tools to report data. With dashboards, users can present all the data they need all in one space, without needing to navigate around the tool to wrangle it all. In modern BI tools, users can create dashboards themselves quickly and easily, without needing much in the way of tech support.
Static reporting. Static graphs and charts are a simple way to make presentations and documents more interesting. In the same way something like Microsoft Excel can render and export custom visualizations, BI tools can generate static reports for use in anything. However, BI tools have far more options and give much better results than even the fanciest spreadsheet.
Embedded analytics. Using embedded analytics, businesses can include reporting tools in their own apps and sites. Rather than forcing employees to change their workflows to include a BI tools, companies can use embedded analytics to meet their employees where they are.
What to look for in a reporting tool
Since reporting produces the final result of any BI tool, most BI software puts a special emphasis on making their reporting tools as powerful as possible. Still, there are differences between different tools, and businesses should look for the tool that best fits their use case. Here are some features that are essential:
Robust integration. BI tools should connect easily with the other software that a company uses. Interruptions in the data flow between software can lead to problems with data as it's analysed by the BI tool, and lead to flawed reporting as a result.
Often, important data can get trapped in software without good integrations. When employees can’t access data to generate reports, those reports become much less powerful, and it’s a difficult task to pull any valuable insight from them.
Ad-hoc reporting. With older, less powerful BI tools, it can take a lot of work to create just one data visualization. These tools often require technical expertise that the average employee can’t be expected to have. In these tools, only a select few can build dashboards or generate static reports.
Modern BI tools allow for ad-hoc reporting. With ad-hoc reporting, the workflows for creating new reports are massively simplified, which helps everyone in an organization access the power of a BI tool. Employees can build new reports on their own initiative that fit their own work process.
Ad-hoc reporting is part of a larger trend called ‘Self-service BI.’ This trend focuses on the democratization of data, allowing every member of a team to contribute their own expertise to their business intelligence solutions. As businesses become more data-driven, helping everyone in an organization to use BI tools as efficiently as possible is crucial for success.
Customizability. Users of a BI tool should be able to shape that tool to best fit their goals. Less robust tools often lock reports to just a few different visualization options, which can make the collected data less valuable. The best BI tools allow for dozens, if not hundreds, of visualizations, and they also allow users to change a dashboard’s layout and design to best fit their situation.
It’s not essential, but many tools also allow users to change a board’s color scheme, along with other aspects of a visualizatio’s appearance. Sometimes, this feature is only used for personal preference, but businesses can use it to align visualizations better with their brand colors.
Tableau, along with many other BI tools, makes it easy to change aspects of a report.
Operation at scale. It’s important to choose BI software that can handle all the data a company generates. Some businesses will need solutions that can operate efficiently at enterprise scale, while others are still growing and are better suited for less robust tools. Startups may start small, but expect to grow quickly and will need a tool that can keep up with that growth.
Reports should also be accessible to anyone in an organization who needs it. Cloud-based solutions are best for this; they allow employees to access their reports and dashboards anytime, from anywhere. They can also help promote communication and collaboration between the different branches of an enterprise organization.
It’s also important to prevent users from accessing data that they don’t need. Not every user should be able to access every data set in an organization. A powerful and adaptable permissions suite is just as useful in a BI tool as powerful ad-hoc reporting tools.
Reporting is a staple of any BI tool. It’s the main way that the average employee will interact with the software, and it’s the most essential and critical component of the software’s public-facing tools. Businesses rely on reporting to maximize their efficiency, make decisions, and drive insight. If you’d like to know more about how reporting tools can help your organization, or want advice on which tool is right for you, talk to our experts today.