Business reports are tangible documents that provide information organized into tabular, graphic or narrative form. Reporting is a feature of business intelligence tools that presents data in a compressed, organized way, making complex information easy to digest and understand.
These can be anything as simple as an organized table of numbers to a complex, interactive visualization like this one from Visual Capitalist.
Some examples of reports are:
- Explanatory reports: The goal of an explanatory report is to explain a situation to an outside group. For example, a bar graph that shows an organization’s leads for a given period of time is explanatory; it provides information that users can extrapolate into insights.
- Progress reports: An example of a progress report is an elementary schooler’s report card. How are things going right now? What numbers is your organization generating? They provide snapshots on a given topic to facilitate transparency.
- Analytical reports: This kind of report goes beyond offering data and provides an analysis. For example, you might take last year’s sales report and compare it to this year in a single document and explain why the numbers have increased, decreased, or remained stable.
Create intuitive visualizations
Visualization of data is crucial to our interpretation and understanding of it. And that’s not just because we aesthetically like pretty graphs and flashy charts — we process visual information up to 60,000 times faster than text.
While it might take a trained data analyst to notice trends in a huge table of numbers, even your newest intern can recognize patterns in a scattergraph of those same numbers. These visualizations make it easier for users to draw actionable insights from their proprietary data.
Gain insights from data
What do users do when they have their data organized into easily-decipherable reports? They can analyze the data to identify patterns and trends. These patterns can lead to actionable insights — basically, patterns that have concrete meaning for the user’s organization.
For example, let’s imagine a hypothetical sales organization. They generate an explanatory report that shows their sales data for the year across the United States in the form of a chart organized by region. The sales manager can compare this visualization to last year’s numbers, either manually or through business intelligence software.
The manager notices that the data shows their sales have fallen by 13% in the Northeast since the previous year. They can use that information to make decisions — for example, if a new competitor is likely the cause for the downturn, they can focus their energies on ways to improve their product, change their marketing tactics, focus on customer retention or other business practices to regain their position. They will make these decisions based on data and with firm numbers (potential ROI, revenue lost in the region, cost of the corrective action versus cost of doing nothing, for example) to guide their choices.
Make data-driven decisions
Data-driven decisions, another favorite buzzword, refer to the actions users can take backed by the trends and patterns identified in visualizations. This is opposed to more traditional decision making, which largely relies on heuristics such as trial and error, anecdotal insights, and other less concrete methods of determining what’s best for business.
For example, if a sales organization discovers it’s making good sales in the Midwest, it can direct more resources towards that demographic of buyers to further improve sales metrics. Enterprise reporting aims to empower business professionals to make more informed decisions based on historical data, present analysis and future predictions.
What Is Enterprise Software?
Enterprise software specifically refers to software designed for an organization with many users rather than an individual user. Typically, software solutions will specialize in small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) or in enterprises, although many can meet the needs of the whole range of organizations. It provides business-oriented applications and tools to make tasks like payment processing, communication, data analysis, etc. more streamlined. Its overall goal is to improve productivity and efficiency via business logic support capabilities.
What Is the Goal of an Enterprise Reporting Tool?
As a step in data processing, reporting aims to organize data into easily-decipherable visualizations. They should be structured, easy to interpret and may offer a range of interactivity, including drill-down, filter, sort, etc. The goal of these visualizations is to help users identify patterns and make data-driven decisions.
What Is the Difference Between Enterprise Reporting and Business Intelligence?
While the capabilities of enterprise reporting do fall into the umbrella of BI, they are slightly different, so let’s briefly touch on the subject.
Business intelligence is the larger category for the types of software solutions that perform reporting, analytics and visualization functions in a business setting. This can include embedded analytics, data analytics, big data analysis, data mining and more.
Enterprise reporting is a more specific category of analytics software within BI. It focuses on creating reports that allow users to draw insights but does little in the way of guiding those insights. BI is a more robust, intensive and extensive set of features which includes those offered by enterprise reporting.
But this doesn’t make BI a suitable choice for everyone. For many organizations, BI is too sprawling and offers capabilities they don’t need. For others, they prefer to use data analysts or financial planners in the place of software solutions. Whatever the reasons, enterprise reporting software is often a more attainable, more focused option for businesses seeking some lower-level BI capabilities.
What are the Types of Enterprise Reports?
Dashboards are a portal through which users can view reports and other visualizations. They can be interactive or static, and their main purpose is to present a collection of information like the dashboard of a plane or car. Many enterprise reporting systems allow users to customize their dashboard view to ensure they only see information that is relevant to them.
Although no one likes to feel like their boss is looming over their shoulder, performance management is a vital part of business best practices. You can use outcome-oriented key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the performance of individual employees, departments, locations and more. Enterprise reporting collects and analyzes data trends to help users pinpoint areas where performance can be improved.
Ad-Hoc reporting is a one-off report generated for a specific query. They are highly customized and narrow in scope, offering detailed data for small areas of your business. These reports are useful for performance management, employee training and generating detailed reports on any kind of unusual KPI.
How Much Does Enterprise Reporting Cost?
The cost of enterprise reporting solutions varies widely. Some come completely free, for better or worse. But most are priced based on a quote, depending on the features needed by the client, which means vendors typically don’t make their prices public. Contacting the vendors you are interested in and submitting an RFQ to get a personalized quote is the only surefire way to know how much a solution will cost.
What Are the Best Enterprise Reporting Tools?
This is where it gets tricky. While some enterprise reporting tools are more powerful than others, there’s really no one-size-fits-all solution. You can make sure you choose the right tool for your organization, however. Follow these simple steps to find the best enterprise reporting system:
The most important step in software selection is to identify your unique requirements. Your organization has specific needs and will use different features than other businesses. This interactive requirements template can help you identify which requirements you want in an enterprise reporting tool. Basing your search on specified requirements helps save you time that would normally be spent narrowing down solutions that aren’t a good fit and will help ensure you don’t end up overpaying for features you won’t use.
Once you’ve identified your key requirements, you can use that knowledge to compare platforms. This comparison report breaks down different enterprise reporting solutions based on how well they deliver different features. This process carries out the benefit mentioned in the previous section — just because a product is popular doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for you, so matching up your unique requirements with products that meet them is key.
Shortlist and Request Demos
We recommend choosing the top five or six enterprise reporting tools that best meet your needs and reaching out to those vendors. This is the phase where you can compare pricing, user-friendliness and vendor support.
Most platforms offer a free trial or demo to let customers get used to the software. This step is crucial to ensure you’re happy with the UI of the system. The main reason software implementation fails is poor user engagement with the platform, something that can be greatly mitigated by user-friendly software. You should also verify the amount and type of user support the vendor offers. This can be anything from basic ticketing support packages to 24/7 live tech support and everything in between — each package with a varying price tag.
Types of Enterprise Reporting Analytics
Descriptive analytics search past data to uncover insights about what has happened in your business historically. This is the most basic form of analysis, merely transforming data points into visualizations for users to analyze and interpret. This type of report is useful for year-end reports, performance management and understanding overall business performance for different time periods.
If descriptive analytics answer the “what,” diagnostic analytics answer the “why.” Through features like drill-down, data mining, correlation and data discovery, it allows users to focus in on specific data points (for example, a large dip in productivity) and compare different factors to try to understand what caused the dip.
Predictive analytics make predictions about the future of your business based on how it has performed in the past. Using a combination of algorithms, machine learning and statistical models, predictive analytics capture correlations in data. Then it can fill in gaps with projections based on previous trends. This forecast is just that — a forecast. It can’t be expected to be 100% accurate. But the more historical data the solution has to incorporate, the more accurate the predictions are likely to be. And a close estimate is much better than flying blind!
Prescriptive analytics is a revolutionary way to take a business plan for a test drive. Using advanced forecasting capabilities, this type of analysis allows users to view the impact of potential decisions on individual metrics and overall business performance. This combines the former three types of analysis to offer users a risk-free way to predict the outcomes of different decisions.
Features of Enterprise Reporting Tools
Enterprise reporting software should offer a core set of features that allow users to produce the types of analysis and reports mentioned above. Here’s a quick summary of those features:
Pixel Perfect Formatting
Enterprise reporting solutions can format reports to be printed or to fill out a designated online layout to be presented by powerpoint, dashboard or website.
Data filtering tests data for inclusion or exclusion through user-specified parameters to include only relevant information.
After data is filtered, the solution lets users sort the data in a report. Sorting controls the order in which data appears — for example, by time period, by region, by sales rep, etc.
Once data has been filtered and sorted, it needs to be grouped to present trends. Grouping organizes the dataset based on user-specified parameters.
Static and Dynamic Images
Reports can be displayed in a variety of formats in both static and dynamic visualizations. Some examples include JPEG, GIF, PNG, WMF and SVG.
Users can create and export barcode sets for reports. These are machine-readable representations of data that allow it to be transmitted, imported and exchanged digitally.
Enterprise reporting offers a range of visualization types like bar graphs, pie charts, column graphs, area graphs, slacked graphs, meter charts, bubble charts, tree charts, heat maps, funnels, geo maps, etc.
Reports are delivered to designated destinations (for example, a website, employee emails, a dashboard, etc.) in a specified language and format.
Drag and Drop Creation
Users can create reports through an intuitive drag-and-drop interface that lets even beginners create visually exciting reports.
Report Creation Tools
Enterprise reporting solutions offer a number of tools that let users create different kinds of reports, export them, create report templates, link databases and create data groups for report creation.
This feature lets users manage report fields and customize them to fit their business’s unique needs.
Most enterprise reporting tools come with pre-built reports, but users can also make custom report templates for frequently needed report types. This makes the process much quicker and easier later on.
Users can export reports in a range of formats, including Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Workbook, PDF, HTML and more.
Users can create reports using OLAP, or online analytical processing. OLAP analyzes data from different points of view — time periods or locations, for example.
Subreports can define their own data sources and can receive parameters from parent reports. This lets users create reports by drawing data from different sources.