How to Solve Your Business’s Reporting Challenges, Part Two
We all know that with the right information at our fingertips, we can make the best decisions across all business areas. Last week I discussed how there are four main areas that you need to understand in order to build a reporting system that is up to the challenge for your rental business:
- What reports you need to provide
- What data you have available for the reports
- How to transform your data to the proper format and summary levels required
- How your users need to consume the reports
After you have a solid understanding of these four areas, the next step is understanding the data you have available for reporting purposes. There are several elements you should consider that come into play when talking about data.
- Location: Where is your data located? More than likely you have a rental system that collects a lot of the operational data that you need, but there may be other systems that you use for HR, payroll or sales that also store critical information. If your company is like most, you probably have a lot of data sitting Excel spreadsheets or possibly even some that is collected manually. Are these systems on-premise or are they in the cloud? Understanding the diverse locations of where your data is stored can help you decide how to combine these sources to get the reports you want.
- Technology: Most systems today store data in a database system of some type. A key to here is to understand what that database technology is and how you can access the data. Are you required to build the reports inside of the particular tool or can you access the system to run queries or create reports directly over the database structure itself? Does it requires additional tools to access the data or have those tools built in?
- Type: Once you have an understanding of the technology, this will help determine what type of data you have available. If you have an operational system it’s most likely transactional in nature, recorded by date and time. However, some systems may store the data in a pre-summarized fashion for internal reports or to improve operational performance. Those types of files may help you immensely when it comes to building reports, but if that is the only way it’s stored it may not break down to the level of detail you need.
- Volume: This is a function of how much data you have stored in the system. Again, it may be tempting to think that if you are a smaller company, you don’t have much volume. But the reality is, you may currently have more data than you think — for example, in a general ledger system. One of the key drivers in report performance is the volume of data — so it is a good thing to know if you have ten thousand rows or one million rows to summarize for a given time period.
Understanding these issues can take some time and possibly some help from outside technical expert or vendors if you don’t have a large IT staff. But even a high level understanding of these key elements will help you determine the best approach to building the metrics and reports you need for your business. Part three of this series will look more in depth at how you may need to “transform” the data you have to actually build those reports and metrics. Stay tuned!