3 Questions to Answer Before Doing Any Reporting

3 Questions to Answer Before Doing Any Reporting

by Nicholas Jackson, TrinSoft Senior Dynamics Consultant

Reporting on data provides insights quickly and easily, without question. Whether you are visualizing your data in Excel, Power BI, or another reporting tool, you can turn your raw data into valuable, actionable information. TrinSoft has helped dozens of clients turn their data into information and has discovered the value it can add to a company.

But, before you get started on any reporting endeavors, there are 3 questions that need to be answered:

  1. What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  2. Do you have the required data?
  3. Where is the data stored?

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

The first question does not deal with the data, but the bigger picture; what is the problem you are trying to solve? Is there a specific question you are trying to answer? Why do you need reporting?

Reporting is a means to an end, not the end itself. Regardless of your role, any reporting is simply a means to provide insights into a specific area of business. Many executives may want a dashboard for the sake of having a dashboard, but this provides little to no direction for someone trying to build a report.

Here are some examples of good problem statements:

  • What products sold best in our eCommerce store during the holidays over the past 5 years?
  • Which of our clients has the largest AP balance?
  • How long, on average, does it take for our support desk to close a ticket? Has it increased or decreased over the past 6 months?
  • Are my salespeople being efficiently allocated to regions across the country?
  • Which market segment saw the most growth in the last 12 months?

All of these are good examples of questions or problem statements that are great starting points for reporting.

While specific questions are often best, a generic problem statement such as “I don’t have visibility into my open AR” is a valid and useful problem statement as well. Taking this, a user could generate a few reports as a starting point and refine them in further reports.

Once you have direction on where the report is headed, you next need to identify the data. 

Do you have the required data?

This may seem like a simple and obvious question, but do you have the required data to answer the question you asked in step 1? Many people may say yes, and that may be partially true, but TrinSoft has found that nearly all clients are missing some aspect of data they wish to have in various reports. No data means no reports.

The question may be answered with an honest “yes” at the beginning of a reporting project, but after a few iterations with the stakeholders, additional data may be required that does not exist. For example, you may have the sales lines needed for a great sales dashboard that displays customer, quantity sold, when it was sold, etc. But then, the stakeholder may want to see average shipping times across the country by state, a value you do not track.

Eventually, there will be a point where the data does not exist for the desired report. What do you do then? The most common option is to start tracking the data. It may mean an extra field in a data sync, an additional database insert, or pulling the data from a publicly available source. Another option is to create the data. This works best for scenarios where the data is static and rarely changes, such as a mapping or conversion table.

Once you identify the data and confirm it exists, lastly, it must be located.

Where is the data stored?

Another seemingly simple question that often trips up clients: where is the data stored? The data to use is identified, but then must be located to successfully be used in reports. Data sources may be abstracted by preexisting reports, but the root data source must be identified.

Regardless of what the data source is (Excel, SaaS, SQL database, etc.), modern tools such as Power BI can pull data from it. Unique cases may require additional massaging of data with an ETL tool or process, but that is up to the report designer.

Answering these three basic questions provides a solid foundation on which to build any reporting endeavor. These questions may be basic, but they may not have simple answers. A large percentage of time may be spent in the early stages of a report project, but it will allow for rapid progress later in the project.

Need help identifying next steps once these questions are answered? Unsure how to leverage your data to solve your stated problem? Contact TrinSoft today for a free reporting assessment, helping you take the first steps on your reporting journey!