3 Vital Tips for a Better Reporting System

3 Vital Tips for a Better Reporting System

By Irina Steenbeek, Founder of 'Data Crossroads' ​

After discussing the importance of data in your daily business planning activities and your main questions about the ‘right’ data, you are ready to take steps ahead in managing your data properly.

‘Getting the right data to the right people at the right place and time’ is the essence of the whole concept of data management. You can plan big steps for the long-term while making small steps to improve the situation in the short-term perspective.

Take big steps in improving data management in the whole company

Finance and business planning top professionals are probably the most powerful and influential data stakeholders. The situation with data in your company can be improved by setting up a proper data management framework.

You can find a brief overview in my book The Data Management Cookbook. I did my first implementation of data management framework working in a finance and control department. The main job - building this framework still needs to be done by dedicated professionals, but finance executives can decide to place the data management function under your responsibilities. There are a few things that you can start doing right now.

Small steps towards report optimization

Very often information is still delivered in the form of reports, either on paper or in digital format. I knew specialists from companies that produced between 200 and 11000 reports. Do you know how many reports circulate in your company?

Once, doing an analysis of existing reports in one large company, I discovered that only 40 % of reports were extracted from application databases. These reports were serving as a foundation for the rest of the 60% of Excel reports. 

There are several challenges I would associate with this situation:

  • high operational risk due to a huge amount of manual work and possibilities to make errors;
  • low efficiency of work as too much time spent on data collection and validation, reconciliation, manual operations, error correction.

So where do you start when you want to start optimizing your reporting flow? We believe that the following 3 steps will help you make your life a bit easier:

1. Create a catalogue of your reports. 

Depending on your company’s size it might take several weeks or even months. Be prepared: the number of reports can astonish you, we can be talking hundreds, thousands, maybe even more.

When you create a list of your reports, make an additional analysis of frequency, report owners and recipients, and the format of the reports. Consider that some reports might be simple, while others will include dozens of sheets. Even such a simple overview of the existing reports might already highlight some duplicates in information delivery. For example, I remember one situation, where finance, risk and commercial departments delivered similar information on customers to the same stakeholder. And the worst thing was that their information did not match! 

You can continue with further analysis by choosing several most important reports.

2. Describe the report flow for the most important reports.

Under ‘report flow’ I mean links between reports, the way one report delivers information to the next one, etc. Such a flow can become another Pandora’s box. Once I was documenting a report flow for one report and this flow turned out to be a closed-loop. A report was delivering information to itself through a series of other reports.

Such an analysis is an important step that provides possibilities for further optimization and minimization of reports.

3. Discover the most critical data elements in your reports.

Each report might include a huge number of metrics, KPIs, information elements. There are only a few that really bring value to the readers. Concentrate only on the most significant ones. Continue your adventure on data improvement with this limited scope. 

Hopefully, you now know what steps you can take towards managing your data properly in long- and short-term perspective. The long-term perspective requires efforts of the whole company to set up a data management framework. In a short-term perspective, you are able to enhance information delivery by optimizing a number of reports and KPIs.


[1] The DAMA Dictionary of Data Management, 2nd Edition 2011, p.78.

[2] ‘Defining the Evolution of FP&A: Benchmarks, Challenges and Opportunities‘, by Prophix and FP&A Trends, p.12.

The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog

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