Most business owners and executives have one thing in common: They hate surprises. Why? Because they’re rarely good. They’re never, “Surprise! Profits just doubled!” Instead, surprises come right out of the blue and smack you in the side of the head.
The best way to avoid business surprises? Monitor your data. Make sure you know what’s going on in all aspects of your business. Make sure nothing sneaks up on you. Make sure you catch those small problems before they balloon into full blown surprises. The funny thing about surprises…you don’t see them until it’s too late.
The best way to monitor your data? Use a reporting tool. Actually, let me clarify: Use a good reporting tool. There are many reporting tools out there, but not many good reporting tools. So, what makes a good reporting tool?
First and foremost, it should generate web-based reports. Why? Non-web based reports are only accessible on the computer where they’re stored. Web-based reports are accessible via any web-enabled device, such as PCs, tablets, or smartphones. Beyond that, I’ve compiled a list of 6 essential capabilities you should look for in a good reporting tool:
An ad-hoc report lets anyone create and distribute reports on the fly. The user selects the data elements he/she wishes to see in the report, and then can either export the report into a format of their choosing or email it directly from the web browser. Ad-hoc reporting is important because it brings simple reporting capabilities to the users.
A ranking report creates variable rankings, across multiple dimensions, while specifying various selection criteria at run-time. What does that mean? Well, suppose you wanted to see your top 10 products over the last year. Or, suppose you wanted to see which regions performed the worst over the last 5 years. The ranking report is a critical component to a good reporting solution because it lets users quickly compile reports showing the best and worst of any aspect of their business.
Web Gantt Chart
While gantt charts are typically thought of as project management tools, they also serve as great project reporting tools. Executives and managers can glance at a gantt chart and quickly see how a project is progressing.
Web Pivot Table Report
Pivot tables are powerful interactive reports that let users view data from multiple perspectives. It lets users quickly rearrange fields and see their data from any angle they desire. Pivot tables are great for analyzing data, making comparisons, and discovering trends.
Interactive reports display as much or as little data as the user desires, and lets users analyze the data however they wish. It starts out with a high level view of business data and lets users filter, sort, and drill down to the most minute details. Interactive reports are incredibly useful tools as they let users view their data in any way they wish.
A business dashboard displays multiple high-level graphs and reports in one easy-to-use interface. It lets executives see information critical to their everyday decision-making and can alert a company to problems before they get out of hand.
Those 6 reporting types are essential elements to any good reporting tool. Remember, not all reporting tools are created equal. Don’t assume that every one comes with the same options. At the very least, make sure any reporting tool you purchase can perform any one of the tasks listed above. Of course, if you think I’ve left anything out of the list, feel free to share in the comments.