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Are you drowning in Reports?

Here is a life line to getting them under control.

Are you drowning in a sea of reports? It happens way too often. You have a few reports that you rely on day to day, but then your boss asks you for some information, and you think; I should have a report for that. You call your consultant, or IT team member who is happy to oblige, and tah-dah! A shiny new report. Only later to find that your peer already has a report with the data you were looking for. Now you have two reports that do the same thing. Say hello to clutter.

The other scenario is you have a list of reports in your system but they are labeled ‘Sales Report’, or ‘Sales by Region’, or ‘Last Year’s Sales’ and none have exactly the data you are looking for, but it exists if you could combine all three reports. What do you do? Another report? Have them combined?

This is the plight of many businesses. Report creation seems to take on a life of its own, and next thing you know you have 500+ reports. You might use five of them on a regular basis. Who is using the other 495 reports? Is there a way to tame this report monster? Yes. Yes, there is.

Here is a three-pronged approach to getting run-away reporting under control.

  1. Forklift exercise - cleaning up the mess.

This is the most time-consuming phase, but it should only have to be done once. It requires some commitment and tenacity to identify and summarize all reports in your systems. Especially if there are hundreds or thousands of them. If you are using an ERP, BI, or reporting system, you may have a way to export the entire list of into Excel; check with your IT team or consultant.

Once you have the Master Report List (MRL) place it somewhere that is available to all users. It is best to use a content management system like SharePoint or some other Intranet application that all your users can access.

Make sure the MRL has these four columns. (You can add more if needed)

  1. Report Name (Name should be standardized if possible. i.e. Sales for Western Region 2019)

  2. Report Description (i.e. Western regional sales, summarized by sales person and customer)

  3. Business Purpose (This should include the business use by department. i.e. Sales uses to determine sales in Western Region. Support uses to determine staffing for Western Region support calls)

  4. Report Owner (This should be the name of the person who requested it, or the most senior person who uses it.)

Create a naming convention that all reports use. i.e. <name of department>+<short summary of purpose>+<year created> (Some companies also add primary owners’ initials)

Shelving: If you cannot find an owner or business purpose for the report, it should be shelved. It is best if you don’t delete the data as it might have some obscure use (i.e. used only at tax time) and it may need to be restored once someone realizes it is missing.

  1. Approval process for new reports and compare to Master Report List. (MRL)

To ensure that the MRL stays clean and free from duplicate reports. Form an approval group. This should be comprised of the owners of the existing reports. If a new report is required it should be summarized with a complete description and Business purpose and use a standardized naming convention. That should then go to the group to see if:

  1. Anyone already has a report that meets that criteria

  2. There is a similar report that can be modified (This will save time to not have to build from scratch).

The purpose of this group is to ensure that duplication doesn’t occur. The designated head of the group (You or someone you appoint) should also review the “shelved reports”, to ensure one wasn’t already written to meet the need.

  1. Do a yearly review of existing reports and remove or consolidate unneeded reports.

Here is the agenda:

  1. Review Shelved reports

  2. Review report owners – reassign report owners as required.

  3. Have each report owner update business purpose and recommend shelving unneeded reports.

Set up a two-hour meeting with report owners. You should question similar reports to see if they can be consolidated. Duplicates should be shelved. You should review the shelved reports and determine if they should remain shelved (possible use later) or removed completely.

Review the report owner’s field. If any owners have left the company, make sure to reassign their reports to a new owner. No report in use should exist without an owner. Have those owners review each of their reports and update changes to business purpose and propose shelving any unneeded reports for one year. The following year shelved reports can be evaluated in the same manner.

The initial step will require some effort. However, steps 2 and 3 will simplify keeping reports under control with minimal effort. This process has been implemented and proven, but like all good processes it takes effort and willpower to do the initial exercise. It takes tenacity to make use of the approval process and yearly review.

Using this model with the right vision and persistence you can take pull your company out of the murky sea of reporting, and swim towards the calm blue waters of report management. Go do it.

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