Generating business reports can be a giant headache. Many companies work with multiple disconnected sources of data and, therefore, struggle to analyze business performance in a way that's efficient and actionable.
This is where reporting tools come in. Reporting tools are used to create dashboards, data visualizations, charts and more so companies can more easily gauge business performance.
This guide will explain the types of reporting tools available, their benefits and key considerations for buyers making a purchase decision.
Here's what we'll cover:
Reporting tools gather key data from multiple sources and consolidate it. From the collected business performance data, companies can identify trends, patterns and areas for improvement.
Many customer relationship management (CRM) systems offer some reporting functionality, as do many enterprise resource planning (ERP), marketing and sales software solutions. There are also many standalone reporting tools to choose from.
Buyers purchase reporting tools for many reasons:
While different solutions vary, there are a number of reporting solutions that address the above pain points. Below are the most common types:
|Dashboard software||Helps organizations focus on the metrics that are most important to their operations. Think of a dashboard as a display of the current overall status of your business.|
|Data visualization software||Offers graphical representations of data via simple user interfaces. Gives users a more insightful way to look at data that is often more digestible for those who feel overwhelmed by reports heavy on figures and text.|
|Scorecarding tools||A performance management tool to compare strategic goals with results by attaching a numerical weight to performance and mapping progress toward goals.|
|Ad-hoc report writers||Help users design and generate custom, ad-hoc reports. This is especially helpful for organizations that frequently modify their analyses and need to generate new reports quickly.|
There are many benefits to using reporting tools, including:
Visibility of key metrics. Users have immediate access to the information they need to answer critical, real-time questions. This improves and speeds decision making.
Improved accessibility. In the past, only team members with technical skills could build and access analytics reports. Today, reporting tools make it easy for anyone to instantly create reports and share data.
A good reporting tool should align with your company’s strategy and goals. It should also offer the following characteristics:
Ease-of-use. If your reporting tool is complicated to use, or even looks like it might be, employees will balk at the idea of using it, or simply give up. Look for reporting tools that are easy to learn with intuitive features and vendors that offer tutorials. To get a sense for this, check out reviews from real users when evaluating your options.
Easy implementation. To avoid a lengthy implementation or one that requires technical expertise, look for software that is easy to get up and running. This saves your IT department the burden of a time-consuming, cumbersome implementation process and ensures you’ll be able to start using your reporting tool right away.
Reporting tools are used in a wide variety of fields by many types of users. Some of the most common include:
Business and IT analysts. Analysts need to create data visualizations on dashboards that they can embed in different applications. These are buyers looking for tools that allow them to fetch unstructured data from different sources and create customized dashboards for their colleagues, partners and clients. The ideal reporting tool should offer back-end support and integration capabilities that make pulling reports from different systems and databases easy.
Consultants and customer service managers. Reporting tools should enable consultants and customer service managers to create interactive dashboards rather than just data-driven "Excel-based" reports. These buyers are looking for tools that help them seamlessly add customer details or feedback collected from surveys and forums into dashboards. Once that’s done, their clients should be able to interact with the data and drill down to perform further analysis.
Department heads and business managers. A reporting tool that caters to department managers must have integration capabilities with different business applications. Managers need to be able to share data dashboards with colleagues and other stakeholders who use different systems. These could range from human resource management (HRM) and CRM to ERP software and many other tools. Therefore, these users need a reporting solution that comes with advanced integration capabilities. Besides this, such buyers are looking for solutions that offer easy customization options and allow quick access to key business metrics.
Software providers. Software vendors look for reporting tools that integrate with specific functionalities of their software, such as a knowledge base, custom portal etc. At times, they may even decide not to build a native reporting tool and instead embed a third-party reporting dashboard within their solution. These buyers are looking for advanced integration capabilities and white label options.
Nontechnical business users. Professionals in traditionally nontechnical departments, such as sales or customer support, require dashboards where they can view data in a single click. These buyers need reporting tools with interactive dashboards that allow them to drill down further into reports, such as product sales, consumer behavior, budgets and more.
Gartner’s ''Market Guide for Enterprise-Reporting-Based Platforms'' (content available to Gartner clients) states: ''By 2020, 80% of all enterprise reporting will be based on modern BI and analytics platforms; the remaining 20% will still be on IT-centric reporting-based platforms because the risk to change outweighs value.''
Forbes Insights, in association with Qlik, conducted a global survey of 437 senior executives, which revealed that four out of five organizations (81 percent) experienced ''very significant business benefits from their BI programs.''
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