Every organization relies on reporting to deliver real-time and historical data to monitor the company’s performance. In addition, within any given organization, various departments develop their own internal reports. The finance department, for example, may create reports that include an income statement, balance sheet and statement of cash flows. Marketing may use reporting to gauge campaign performance. IT may rely on reporting to record how quickly staff members resolve help-desk tickets.
However, the reporting process seldom comes without a variety of challenges. To ease the process, companies often use reporting tools — software applications that convert raw data into actionable insights. These tools automate the collection of data and the generation of reports, providing important information to help organizations enhance data-driven decision-making.
- The effort to collect and analyze data for analytical reports can create challenges, particularly when companies fail to integrate their systems.
- Issues include poor data hygiene, manual report creation and lack of actionable insights.
- Reporting tools can help organizations gather and analyze raw data, allowing businesses to gain important insights in their efforts to reach strategic goals.
12 Reporting Challenges
Although reporting is critical to organizations, many companies encounter a variety of related challenges. These issues might stem from poor data quality, inadequate data practices, process roadblocks, internal challenges or flaws within a company’s reporting tools.
These challenges, however, can be overcome. With the proper approaches to data, a deeper understanding of necessary processes and an assessment of organizational needs provided by targeted reporting tools and software, companies can achieve reporting that is quick, up-to-date, insightful and actionable. Here’s a look at 12 of the reporting challenges companies commonly encounter, as well as solutions for resolving them.
No data hygiene
The data used to build reports is typically stored in a variety of disparate systems, in various formats and based on different coding structures. To be usable, this data must be consistent and accurate, devoid of duplicated, outdated, incomplete or incorrect information. If the data isn’t properly cleansed and consolidated prior to running a report, problems can arise; after all, a mistake in one cell of a spreadsheet can invalidate an entire report and lead to misguided decision-making.
The solution: Establish good data hygiene. Organizations can start by performing a system audit to find data points that require fixing, determine how much of the data is useful and identify the particular information they need. They can also remove data that won’t be used; analyze small details to identify inaccuracies, outdated information or incomplete data sets; create processes to ensure uniformity within the database; and create a database standard to streamline data input processes and verify that data is as clean as possible.
Lack of data security
Ensuring data security — by protecting information from unauthorized access, corruption or theft — is necessary for all organizations. Without proper data security, companies risk facing cyberattacks and data breaches, as well as threats from inside and mistakes made by human error. Cyberattacks can be costly for businesses, with some companies losing millions of dollars as a result of widespread data breaches.
The solution: Install proper data security by deploying technologies and tools that provide better visibility into all data sources and access points of an organization’s critical data. Organizations may use a variety of tools to fortify its data security, including access management, application security and patching, physical security of servers and user devices, encryption, employee education programs, and network and endpoint security monitoring.
To make decisions quickly and accurately, team members must be able to access relevant information in a timely manner. Static reporting — or reports that provide insight into data that’s relevant to a specific time period — is useful in certain instances, such as when monitoring brand, product or market performance, but it is less practical for long-term planning. Static reports have a short shelf life and are often archived in order to analyze historical data.
The solution: Opt for dynamic reports, or real-time reports. These provide users with the most up-to-date information, enabling them to make quicker, more informed decisions. Dynamic reporting also offers additional features and capabilities that allow users to interact with and share data, as well as conduct more advanced analyses on their own.
Poor report design
An organization’s staff members may have different preferences for how they want to view data — perhaps in charts, line graphs or bar graphs, for example. Board members might require high-level data on the company’s overall business performance, while sales managers might only want data related to how their particular teams are performing. If these needs are not communicated well, an organization’s reports may lack the information different stakeholders need, resulting in multiple iterations that are either too detailed or not detailed enough.
The solution: Many self-service reporting technologies use visualizations and dashboards to highlight important metrics. And, because these tools are intuitive and easy to use, most people can access the data they desire in the format they need, rather than having to rely on IT teams to generate it.
While reporting tools are often expected to be intuitive to use and easy to understand, not all teams are sufficiently equipped with the necessary training or experience to interpret and digest the data. Such gaps can result, for instance, when staff members with technology experience leave an organization and those left behind are less familiar with data analytics.
The solution: Train a wide variety of staff in using reporting tools. This is key to developing data and analytics skills internally. Organizations may offer a one-time training course or ongoing training to give teams the skills and experience they need to understand the data and create reports. Organizations may also choose to hire experts to fill these skills gaps and share their knowledge with business teams.
Lack of integrated reporting
Organizations strive to meet business goals and, thus, generate reports focused on a variety of benchmarks to help them derive useful information and insights they can use to make informed decisions. However, opportunities for errors and data inaccuracies may arise when the reporting system is not integrated with the planning system. This disconnect may disrupt the way information flows between the two systems and can lead to an organization being deprived of a single source of truth, which ensures everyone is working with the same data.
The solution: Integrating the two systems. By doing so, teams can instantly run multiple scenario analyses to track processes in real-time and can more easily report on benchmarks by providing accurate results. Business users can learn how to use the tools more quickly when the planning and reporting systems are also integrated, which can improve real-time collaboration and workflow.
Long reporting process
Traditional reporting processes — that is, those in which reports are manually compiled — are lengthy: Executives relay the information they want, then wait for IT or finance to build and deliver them, which may take days, weeks or sometimes even months. If additional details are needed once the report is delivered, the process takes even longer. To make critical business decisions, executives need the most up-to-date information possible, and they need it quickly.
The solution: Look into self-service data tools, which allow staff members to access easy-to-use reporting and business intelligence, curtailing the length of traditional reporting processes. Rather than relying on finance and IT departments to issue their reports, users can easily schedule when to receive automated reports, or generate reports on their own, reducing process bottlenecks and delivering the latest data for quick decision-making.
No reporting SOP
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are written instructions that explain the process users must execute to carry out an operation — in this case, reporting. SOPs are designed to achieve efficiency, quality output and uniformity, while averting miscommunication. If organizations don’t develop an SOP for reporting, it becomes more challenging for users to understand how best to use these tools.
The solution: Thoroughly document necessary procedures. A reporting SOP should include a title page, table of contents and statement of purpose. It should thoroughly document required procedures, references, quality assurance and quality control. The SOP should be reviewed and reinforced by management, and these documents must be readily accessible to individuals that use reporting tools. Teams should also be trained on how to use the SOP to ensure that the information is easy to understand.
Manual report creation
Manually creating reports increases the likelihood of introducing mistakes. Because many enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems aren’t built with robust, built-in reporting capability, teams typically develop a workaround, often exporting data from a system, importing it to a spreadsheet, manually manipulating it, then formatting it to suit their needs. Not only does this process siphon significant staff time and resources, it can introduce errors and result in inaccurate information that negatively impacts decision-making.
The solution: Embrace automated reporting tools to reduce the risk of reporting errors that occur as the result of manual processes. These tools use dashboards that reflect real-time data, presenting information in an easy-to-understand way and freeing up individuals to spend more time on data analysis and less time on report compilation.
A baseline is data that measures historical conditions for a period of time prior to the start of a project to be used for comparison purposes later. Without a baseline from which to measure progress, the data and insights organizations derive won’t be all that valuable, since they won’t have a starting point to compare them to.
The solution: Establish a reporting baseline to help business leaders set realistic goals and measure the organization’s progress. A baseline also helps highlight issues that become apparent through changes in the data. Baselines should include both historical data and a forecast that predicts a future course. If no historical data is available, a company can start the baseline where the organization stands currently and build the history over time from there.
Lack of actionable insights
In some instances, decision-makers may find it difficult to derive insights from reporting. This could happen when there isn’t enough detail in the report to guide their decision-making, when they find it difficult to derive insights from huge repositories of data, or when they don’t have the confidence to act on emerging trends or patterns because they lack autonomy or a sense of ownership within the process.
The solution: To counteract these issues, organizations should focus on solutions that make analytics reporting accessible and easy to understand. Individuals should have access to the data that’s essential to their jobs so they can create reports independently, take more ownership and be more confident in making sound, data-based decisions.
Inadequate reporting software
For reporting to be effective, data must be integrated and consolidated. When tools fail to communicate with one another, data disconnects prevail, and organizations have trouble achieving a single source of truth. Reporting software tools may also be inadequate when they don’t fulfill the reporting requirements a company needs, or they are not built to support the organization’s communication goals.
The solution: If business leaders suspect that reporting tools are inadequate for the organization’s needs, they should review them to determine if they’re set up optimally. This may include using APIs to connect systems and implementing better data consolidation systems.
Graduate to Modern, Accurate Reporting With NetSuite
Accurate and timely analytics are critical for making important business decisions. NetSuite SuiteAnalytics includes analytics and reporting capabilities that enable organizations to view operational and financial performance in real-time. The system produces prebuilt and easily customizable reports, streamlining the reporting process and making it easy to obtain important data and monitor business performance. In addition, NetSuite SuiteAnalytics provides built-in features to automate routine tasks and assist with improving communication among departments. A centralized database for all financial and operational data also reduces the time needed to consolidate and reconcile information.
Reporting helps organizations develop a single source of truth among their data streams, enhance their data-driven decision-making and gather insights and predictions into the organization’s performance in the past, present and future.
While reporting tools and software are critical to the success of the organization, companies should be aware of a variety of challenges they may encounter, from lack of data security to poor report design. With the necessary technologies, processes and understanding of the organization’s needs, these challenges are surmountable.
Reporting Challenges FAQs
What are the methods of reporting?
Businesses use many methods of reporting. Three common methods include analytical reports, which use a mix of qualitative and quantitative data insights and real-time and historical data for decision-making; product reports, used to monitor product performance and development; and industry reports, which provide an overview of an industry or sector.
What are the best practices for reporting?
Some best practices for reporting include ensuring that:
- Data is error-free, consistent, accurate and consolidated.
- Data systems are integrated.
- Data is secure.
- Both dynamic and static reports are available and up-to-date.
- Teams have access to the data they need and can independently run reports.
- Insights are actionable.
- Standard operating procedures are in place for reporting tools.
- Staff members are trained on how best to use reporting software and tools.
What are the problems faced in the preparation of a project report?
Some problems teams face in preparing a project report include poor data hygiene; inadequate data security; substandard report design; inexperienced staff; lack of integrated reporting; extended reporting process; reporting processes that are largely manual; and inadequate reporting software.
What are the three types of reporting?
Organizations may use a variety of reports to better understand activity in different departments. Financial reports, for example, provide an overview of the most important metrics a company needs to monitor its financial activities; sales reporting monitors and optimizes the sales performance of an organization; and management reports derive high-level metrics for stakeholders, including the return on assets and equity, a company’s share price and more.