Business report card

The increasingly widespread application of business intelligence technology in organisations of all sizes has largely delivered on its promise, providing the critical insight into critical business information that empowers decision making.

That was the overriding message that emerged from Information Age’s latest reader survey on Business Reporting. But while the general perception is one of business value, there are some areas of reporting where today’s tools are left wanting.

At a broad level, though, the survey shows trust in the accuracy of the information provided by BI tools. Two-thirds of the 354 respondents to the survey said they were either ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ in that information, with only 5% questioning the data underlying their decision making.

Most were similarly confident that their organisations had come close to achieving one of the long-cherished goals of business – a single version of the truth. Over 90% were at least moderately confident that the information that forms the basis of their decisions is consistent with that used in other departments. A fifth were even ‘very confident’ of the fact, suggesting that at least some had implemented the kinds of controls on data imposed by master data management technologies and processes.

The survey also showed that BI has become part of the corporate furniture, with analyses and reporting not just the domain of strategic decision-making or the finance department. Over 80% of respondents said that more than half of the reports they produce informed their day-to-day decision making..

Desire for flexibility

All this positive feedback was tempered, however, by a palpable frustration at the inflexibility of reporting tools. The rate of change within industries and the speed with which businesses must react are accelerating, and BI reporting tools, according to the survey’s respondents, are struggling to match that pace.

For 70% of organisations represented in the survey, enacting changes to reports takes at least three days. For a quarter, though, responses to change requests can be measured in weeks. This is not merely an inconvenience. Just over half of the survey revealed that the inability to quickly change the structure of reports had a negative impact on business decision-making and agility.

And the need for those changes – which often require the involvement of IT – is a fact of business life. At half of the organisation questioned, the majority of reports had changed within the last 12 months.

That underscores the conclusion that businesses yearn for more control over the kind of information that is presented in their BI reports. Asked what additional functionality they like to see, over half of respondents said it would be an increased ability to interact with the report’s structure and contents, while 45% would like to have their reports more closely tailored for their specific needs.

The survey also demonstrated demand for another future direction in BI – predictive analysis.

Around half the respondents said they were mostly presented with historical information and 17% said their reports were based on ‘current’ information, while only 3% of respondents highlighting that they most commonly had access to forward-looking reports. However, when asked what additional functionality they would like to see in their reporting tools, 45% said that more detail on future trends would be highly desirable.

Fixed content

One surprise finding was in how reports are delivered. Although half said their reports were delivered either in the body of an email or as attached Excel spreadsheet, and a further quarter accessed reports through BI tools or dashboards, 21% still received reports in a fixed-content format, as paper, fax or PDF.

But overall, the survey indicates that the problems of accuracy and reliability that blighted BI implementations for many years have, by and large, been resolved. The next leap forward is to ensure that reports are flexible, interactive and customisable.

Further reading

  • The power to decide
    Reporting needs to have less to do with IT, and more to do with the business.
  • Embedded insight
    BI and reporting are increasingly being sewn in to business processes.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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