They say that you can’t please all of the people, all of the time.
I would argue that you can’t please all of the people any of the time. Especially when it comes to business reporting.
In my previous post, we spoke about how to choose the right tool for the kind of report that you are building. But how do you decide what kind of report you’re building? To answer that, you really need to understand the users who will be consuming the report! You need to know your audience.
“The Board, The Bank, and the Taxman”
This is the group of report consumers who care very much about financial results, but are not as concerned with the details.
The reports these users want tend to be core financial reports, with some backup of the presented numbers. While some accountants are getting fancy with their actual financial statement layouts, the reports are generally structured based on local accounting standards. As mentioned in my previous post, these reports rely heavily on the general ledger data, and draw on subledger data only for the supporting documentation. The reports are usually in aggregate and do not include transaction details.
These report consumers expect to receive a “package” of reports, generally at the end of an accounting period (month, quarter, or year). The package will often include not only the financial statements and backup reports themselves, but also a written summary from management and any notes to the statements – both of which are written manually.
While executives need to understand the financial results of the company, they also need to understand the operational results.
From a financial standpoint, the executive needs the same report package as the the board. After all, they are going to be responsible for explaining the results.
But from an operational standpoint, things get more fun for report builders like me. More and more, executives are looking for “dashboards” – a collection of visual representations of key performance indicators – to help them monitor the health of the company. Like the financials, these dashboards are based on aggregate data and do not normally include transaction details. I recently heard an executive refer to their “wall of zeroes”. This was a dashboard where if everything is running tickety-boo, there will only be zeroes on the report. Any number means that there is something to be investigated.
Every executive has their own set of KPI’s that they care about, so dashboards tend to be unique per user. However, it is important to ensure that there is “one version of the truth” that all the dashboards are based on. This is a key concept of “business intelligence”, and will apply to all of the rest of the sections in this post.
For the purpose of this post, I am defining managers as the managers of a business process.
Based on this definition, financial reports tend to be less important. Financial results are important, but reporting on them for managers tends to focus more on the operational impact on financial results. In other words, managers tend to focus on operational reporting instead of financial.
Like executives, the current trend for management reporting is visual dashboards. Unlike executives, these dashboards tend to be a little more focused, a lot more detailed, and are often supplemented by detailed transactional reports. Basically, an executive dashboard is usually at the 30,000 foot level, while manager reports are at the 10,000 foot level.
The last audience for the purpose of this post is the day-to-day participants in the business process(es).
These users don’t generally care about (and often don’t have access to) financial statements. They also tend to care less about pretty, aggregated dashboards. These users need up-to-date, detailed data that is relevant to the task they are currently doing. For example, a collections clerk needs a list of all customers with a past due balance, and that report should link to a report that shows all of the invoices outstanding for those customers.
These users tend to prefer tabular, interactive, real-time reports.
Who is Popdock for?
Our sweet spot is the doers, and to some degree the managers.
Popdock allows users to pull data from any solution they are working with, generate a report (or group of reports), and then embed the report in whatever system in which they prefer to work. Users can link reports together, so that they can drill into a list of outstanding invoices from a list of past-due customers. While viewing the reports, users can add or remove columns, filter data, or pivot the columns as they require. They can save those different views as favorites for those reports they need to run frequently. In many cases, the reports can even kick off activities in other systems (like change the status of a support ticket in Zendesk).
While Popdock does have some visualization capabilities, users are able to use Popdock favorites as a source in PowerBI. This allows managers to build dashboards directly from the data that the doers are working from – all in real time and with no code.