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Reporting Ideas

Does This Reporting Strategy
Make Any Sense to You?

Help-wanted ads like the one below reveal a clear corporate strategy about business reporting. It's an information strategy that few companies can afford today.

by Charley Kyd, MBA
Microsoft Excel MVP, 2005-2014
The Father of Spreadsheet Dashboard Reports

A while back, I read this help-wanted message on LinkedIn:

We are currently looking for a Mid-Level Business Objects Report Writer for our client in New York City. This will be a 3 month Contract with option to become a Full Time Employee.


From design and development through deployment and support, this position will standardize and draw upon information from a Business Objects platform on SQL 2005 and other data systems to deliver business intelligence to the organization. Must have WEBi experience.

Does this reporting strategy make sense to you?

The reporting system is a critical information resource for every company. Good reports reveal problems and opportunities that bad reports hide. Good reports give managers quick insight; bad reports waste managers' time.

It's only a slight over-statement to say that the only things that managers know about their company they learned by reading their reports.

But the help-wanted message tells us that a company is looking for a "Report Writer" who...

  • Can know nothing about the company's industry.
  • Can know nothing about the profession (finance, economics, marketing, statistics, etc.) that will use the reports.
  • Can know nothing about the company itself, or its problems, products, plans, or limitations.

In fact, the only thing this company needs from their "Report Writer" is skill in using the tools that generate the report.

That's like hiring screenwriters for German movies by interviewing Americans who type fast. It's like hiring a mechanic from Seattle to work as a cab driver in London.

At best, that "Report Writer" will prepare online "reports" that offer graphically intensive ways to query the corporate database. They'll be a pretty version of the many binders of printouts that we used when I was a young accountant working at Hewlett-Packard. Those reports might even summarize the entire database, presenting key numbers in several really cute, 3D, multi-color speedometer gauges.

But they WON'T deliver business INTELLIGENCE to the organization!

Instead, if managers want intelligent information about their company, they need to rely on the brains of the Excel users who already work for them. Those smart, hard-working people already understand the nature of the information their managers need.

When those knowledge workers prepare reports, they need fewer instructions from their manager; they can ask intelligent questions; they can research related topics to answer questions the manager hadn't thought to ask; they can suggest additional sources of data that the manager didn't know was available. In short, they can use their brains to help the manager succeed.

However, most Excel users don't understand how to present their information clearly. Most Excel reports, therefore, offer less insight than tax tables.

That's what Excel dashboard reporting is all about. Here are two short articles that address these ideas from slightly different points of view:

Charley's SwipeFile charts

Free Excel Dashboards