Best practice #5: Optimize reporting processes

We are half way through my blog series counting to 10 best practices for information management, reporting and analytics. To recap, we have learned the importance of:

  1. Securing executive sponsorship.
  2. Identifying and involving stakeholders early and assessing their unique needs.
  3. Identifying and integrating data sources.
  4. Managing user expectations proactively.

This brings us to Best Practice #5: Determine the Best Way to Process and Deliver Each Report. It’s all too easy to start manually building reports and just dumping them out somewhere for consumption. For some people, the tendency is to create comprehensive, kitchen-sink solutions that are overwhelming to read and use. For others, the tendency is to subdivide everything into hundreds of reports and directories, many of which aren’t designed to serve a specific stakeholder purpose.

As a best practice, create tight, compact data jobs designed to meet specific user needs. Find out what people truly need by performing a detailed audience analysis and scope reports accordingly. As part of this process, explore the following:

  • User types and expectations: The president of a university or the superintendent of a K-12 district might need a high-level dashboard of key performance indicators (KPIs) complete with drill-down functionality to learn more. A dean of a college or a principal of a school might need to see what is relevant to his or her area and be able to slice and dice data to understand students in more depth. And professors and teachers might need to see select information relevant to their classes and individual students via simple, online reports.
  • Formatting and reporting priorities: When designing reports, present data using an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand format. As a general rule, include the top 10 most important items for the target audience first and subsequent data (based on priority) in categorized layers within the report.
  • Access control requirements: Stakeholders should only be able to see what is relevant to them. So be sure to use software that supports granular, highly secure access controls.

Based on user requirements, you can determine what should be provided as a dashboard, stored process, or OLAP cube. The choice depends largely on how much reporting flexibility and visual appeal the target users of a report need. With an OLAP cube, users can actually click the numbers and drill down to the detail – for instance, down to individual faculty members, courses and students. In contrast, a stored process is best for creating print-ready reports. Users can select variables from pull-down menus or tabs, such as college, department and a certain cohort of students, then hit the “run” button and the system creates a printed report, ready to go. A stored process report doesn’t offer the same degree of investigative flexibility as an OLAP cube, but for standard information needs, such as a presentation to the media, it provides an attractive, formatted view of the data.

To minimize work, leverage software to create repeatable, automated reporting jobs. For example, using SAS software, you can define a report in detail, and users with access rights can come back to it tomorrow, next month and next year and instantly generate an up-to-date report without further assistance. As an example, this whitepaper discusses how the University of Central Florida used SAS to integrate data sources, create a single source of trusted data, elevate the sophistication and timeliness of the reporting and analysis delivered, and empower business users with self-service tools to deliver a new level of value to internal customers.

Stay tuned as we tackle the last half of the tips. If you are excited about learning all the tips, read the full white paper now: 10 Tips from SAS Education customers.

tags: analytics, best practice, best practices, data driven decision making, education, higher education, information management, k-12, reporting, SAS

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