Given the ever-rising importance of data, it’s no question that reports play a crucial role in communicating insights gleaned from analyzing that information. Reports can provide clear key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics so a business can assess performance and progress toward goals. But conveying information alone doesn’t always prompt change. Actionable reporting uses data to generate insights that inspire organizational improvements — facilitating a company’s ability to stay at the top of its game.
What Is Actionable Reporting?
Actionable reporting provides insights that suggest steps to take based on a company’s data. In other words, actionable reports don’t simply convey a raw data summary. Rather, they provide pragmatic and practical information that inspire decision-makers to take initiative, solve business problems and jump on new opportunities. For example, it’s not enough for a business with an online marketing strategy to simply see how many visitors a campaign drives to its website. Actionable reporting helps the company see what it needs to do to improve its marketing ROI by getting more visitors and how to improve its conversion rate. Perhaps the reports show a particular segment of the advertising campaign converting extraordinarily well. The marketing team can then move ad spend from the low-performing areas to the high performing portions to boost sales.
Actionable reporting vs. analytical reporting
The terms actionable reporting and analytical reporting are often used interchangeably because they are both reporting tools used to present business insights that inspire positive organizational change. However, there are notable differences between the two — namely, the approach to obtaining information. Actionable reporting follows a push approach, in which reports are conducted and delivered to business leaders and their teams, usually via alerts, dashboards or routine canned reports. Analytical reporting follows a pull approach, in which data is pulled to answer specific business questions, such as why certain trends are occurring. This is often done through ad hoc analysis and drilling down into specific data sets and scenarios. Actionable reports often rely on analytical reports to help set plans in motion.
- Information alone doesn’t always help a business. Turning data into working insights through actionable reporting increases the likelihood that business information is put to good use.
- Effective actionable reporting hinges on clear goals, easy-to-read reports and collaboration among those who generate and use them.
- Automation can help improve the reporting process, especially when businesses are able to pour all discrete data into one pipeline for silo-free analysis.
Actionable Reporting Explained
Reports that simply describe data can be useful to show where a business is at in a given moment or historic performance. Those reports often lack guidance on what to do with that information. On the other hand, automated actionable reports require little to no oversight, so any business user — regardless of data expertise — can extract value from their company’s ever-growing data trove. The goal of actionable reporting is to quickly reveal important information so users can act on it immediately, without having to drill down deeper or conduct further analysis.
Actionable reporting might be something straightforward like an automated mid-quarter roundup of sales teams that are behind on goals. This generates action to dig in for explanations and correct the teams’ efforts. Or for a manufacturing company, it may shed light on the top reasons for why parts are failing some testing procedure, rather than a complete list of all failures.
As an analogy, non-actionable reporting is like reviewing a checking account balance every day and seeing it dwindle, without knowing why or doing anything about it. Actionable reporting looks at the balance, provides alerts for unauthorized spending and offers solutions to change spending habits and rebuild the balance.
Benefits of Actionable Reporting
Too much unstructured data can be overwhelming, often to the point of uselessness beyond a quick view into the state of things at any given moment. Actionable reporting benefits businesses by quickly showing what can be done with that raw data. For example, automated actionable reports reduce the manual workload for data analysts and end users. When reports are automated, data and information can reach users effortlessly, regardless of their data experience. This also means decision-makers can focus on more valuable tasks than running reports or spending time trying to connect the dots with unstructured data.
In addition, actionable reporting enables immediacy. Automated reports, alerts and dashboards can inform decision-makers of dire situations or opportunities for improvement in real time, all while providing a clear course of action. This fosters proactivity and saves time during the problem-solving process.
Finally, actionable reporting facilitates integration. The right actionable reporting solutions can automatically integrate data across an organization’s suite of business applications using an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform — from customer relationship management (CRM) systems and accounting software to inventory management programs and human resources management solutions, all your data will be stored in one digital environment. This eliminates data silos and can promote sound data governance practices.
5 Steps to Creating Actionable Reporting
Creating actionable reports requires more than simply compiling data. Companies must set clear goals, automate the process, deliver reports to the right people, segment data when possible and ensure all departments — and all business data — works in sync. To turn data into actionable insights, consider these five steps:
Set the right goals. You have data stored in your data warehouse. Now what? Before analyzing and organizing it into an actionable report, the first step is to understand what purpose those insights will serve. In other words, what are you looking to improve, why and what’s the time frame? Every business is unique, but this can either be a cross-department effort that brings together sales, marketing and management teams, for example, or it can be concentrated to individual departments. Regardless, aspire to set goals that will inspire the actions needed for the company in that specific moment.
Automate where you can. Gathering and analyzing data are time-consuming tasks. What’s more, data is most effectively used when it’s viewed and used by multiple employees, not just data analysts. Automating analysis and actionable reports can cut down on analysts’ precious time so they can dive deeper into other tasks that can’t be automated while decision-makers receive reports and act sooner. Automation also enables organizations to analyze more data at a faster rate than a person ever could by hand.
What kind of information can be automated? Consider a sales team that’s identified specific KPIs to track so they can reach quarterly sales goals. They’ve created a sales dashboard leveraging data from their ERP system to keep an eye on the lead-to-conversion ratio, average deal size, win/loss ratio and other KPIs. Rather than manually track this information and run the calculations by hand, the data is pulled from the ERP, the dashboards are created and show real-time updates and the reports are sent to the entire sales team and management on a regular basis. After setting up the reports, every step in this process is automated and requires no human intervention to complete.
Target reporting data to your audience. All reported data and insights should go to the right person or team, be it sales, marketing, finance, HR, the C-suite or any other business area. An order fulfillment team, for example, may not have much use for a report that suggests increasing the marketing budget for a specific segment. Before creating an actionable report, know who will receive it and what they can do with the findings. Furthermore, reports should be clear and concise so readers can easily locate facts and figures and understand the course of action at a glance.
Use segmentation where it makes sense. In data analysis, segmentation is the process of dividing up and grouping similar data based on specific parameters. This is particularly useful in marketing — for example, by segmenting data by demographics to more easily tailor messages to a specific market. But beyond marketing, segmentation can make it easier to analyze stored data and help identify potential problems and opportunities within specific datasets.
Break down silos. Business optimization requires all departments work in sync. Siloed data counters the ability to create actionable reports because business data, by nature, is kept separate. This can lead to data errors, duplicate data and other data governance issues that ultimately make data untrustworthy.
Smart business owners, managers and employees know how to make data work for them. This requires the ability to transform static information into actionable reports that clearly and concisely lead to positive organization change. Companies that are able to achieve a free flow of information and effective, real-time communication of data across the organization will be better able to set goals and make more informed decisions. ERP software can be instrumental in integrating data from across your business into one digital ecosystem. Automated actionable reporting capabilities can save time, increase productivity and ultimately help companies grow — all by making sure business data is always put to good use.
Actionable Reporting FAQ
What is meant by actionable data?
Actionable data delivers key insights to businesspeople so they can actively take the next step to improve their business operations. Actionable reporting follows a push approach, in which reports are conducted and delivered to business leaders and their teams, usually via alerts, dashboards or routine canned reports.
What are actionable analytics?
Actionable analytics is a business intelligence process that helps data analysts — and sometimes business end users — find answers to pressing business questions based on relevant data. In general, users are able to explore the data in the correct context in order to quickly take action that leads to a meaningful outcome. Actionable analytics can help decision-makers make faster, more informed decisions.
How do I make actionable insights?
Actionable insights are made by analyzing raw data and prescribing actionable points for the report recipient to follow. Actionable insights are more specific than the initial data, as they’ve been processed either by a person or an analytics tool.
To turn data into actionable insights, you must dive deeper than the facts to not only provide context to data — such as the why and how — but to devise a course of action or inform a decision. Actionable insights cannot be made without:
- Clean, complete and accurate data.
- Context that allows recipients to better understand the data, such as why it’s important and why it’s occurring.
- A specific, logical follow-up action that a business can use to improve its operations in some way.