Report Consolidation Saves Money and Improves User Experience (If You Do It Right!)

Information Builders
March 20, 2017

Leading organizations have had business intelligence (BI) solutions and practices in place for years. They've developed proficiency in the use of BI tools, as well as report and dashboard development. They also have, on average, between 20,000 to 50,000 reports in use. Think that's quite an accomplishment? Think again. Having that many reports creates significant usability and cost issues.

Some organizations have a separate report for each and every question a user may have. But in spite of all these available BI assets, users feel like they are report rich, but information poor. It is almost impossible to remember which reports contain the answers to which questions.

How did they get themselves into such a sticky situation?

I call this the vicious cycle of reporting. Information consumption is an iterative process. An answered question often leads to additional questions. So, when a business user receives a report from the IT department, it creates demand for even more reports. Over time, the number of reports grows exponentially - and so does the information clutter.

Poor user satisfaction leaves organizations questioning whether they are spending too much money on reports that are hardly used. Some estimates claim that developing and maintaining a single report costs between $2,000 and $20,000. As the number of reports rises, the costs become staggering. In the past, these costs were hidden, as report development was a behind-the-scenes IT activity. But people are now more aware of the problem, and want a fair return on their reporting investments.

Many organizations are slashing related costs through report consolidation efforts. But, what is the most effective way to approach report consolidation? Simple report rationalization - where a business analyzes if two reports can be combined into one - is ineffective, expensive, and can deteriorate the user experience. Overlap in data fields may actually make reports bigger, and these additional fields do not necessarily make the report more useful. Consider, for example, a report that shows sales by country by product. Adding the sales channel may be meaningless to a channel manager, since some of the information (country) is not needed. Furthermore, the anticipated savings of about 10 percent to 15 percent will likely be offset by the cost of the rationalization effort itself.

A more successful way to accomplish the goal is to aim for 80 percent to 90 percent consolidation, coupled with enhanced user experience. With so much variation in reporting, self-service is the ideal approach, as it will strike a balance between high flexibility and little to no learning curve.

We studied various industries to find sites that provide massively scalable self-service with unprecedented ease of use. We looked for democratized access to information, where the need for casual users to rely on someone else to get data was virtually eliminated. This is the ultimate objective of today's BI and analytics environments - complete self-sufficiency for non-technical business users.

The best example we found was online travel site Expedia, which offers true information democratization at scale. Expedia provides access to thousands of data fields across multiple databases and hundreds of reports. And, it requires zero training. This incredibly easy-to-use self-service app is so effective that people no longer need a travel agent.

The same design paradigm is applicable to BI. This type of application eliminates the vicious cycle of reporting, because it provides a way for users to perform iterative searches for answers to business questions. We call these iterative search applications InfoApps™, or informational applications, as they empower business users to find relevant business facts themselves - without IT support.

We've developed a methodology, based on the InfoApps™ approach, that consolidates multiple reports into a single app, a reduction of about 80 to 90 percent. For example, at a large financial institution, we consolidated 3,000 reports into just 10 InfoApps™. At a manufacturing customer, we consolidated 27,000 reports into a single InfoApp. Along the way, we learned that the "less is more" approach encourages higher usage, because one intuitive and interactive InfoApp gives users the answers to all of their questions.  

To learn more, tune in to my webcast on Solving the BI Adoption Challenge With Report Consolidation on March 28, 2017 at 2:00PM EDT.