Wednesday, 18 March 2015

What do they really want to know? – Automatic reporting

A performance analyst has to carry out the following sequence of actions:

       ·         Write the outline of the report

·         Obtain the relevant data from whatever sources are available

·         Create graphs and tables of the data for the required period of time

·         Insert these graphs and tables into the report document

·         Dispatch the finished report to its intended recipient.

These activities can be time-consuming and tedious, especially when the only significant difference between one report and the next is the name of the server that it relates to, or the period of time that it covers.

However, notice that all those different kinds of reports have a number of common features that make them ideal candidates for automation. They are:

A regular production date. For example, a daily report will be produced at 9 am each day to display the previous day's data. A weekly report will be produced every Monday. A monthly report will be produced on the first of every month, and so on.

A consistent analysis period. The analysis period is the period of time that the graphs in a given report cover - a day, a week, a month, the year to date and so on. A common requirement for an analysis period is to go back some number of days, weeks or months from the date of report production.

A known, stable recipient list. Each report will be sent to a named individual or team, or is intended for saving in a "well-known location", for example a particular folder on a Web server.

Reports can be distributed to your audience in a number of ways but try to observe some common rules to engage your audience:

A common format or house style. Most people react well to having the same kind of information presented in the same way each time. This applies to:

- The sequencing of the report contents

- The appearance of the graphs and tables

- The means of transmission (via e-mail, on portal, etc).

If suitable automation is available, it means that in order to produce a regular report, the performance analyst only needs to carry out the following actions once:

Write an outline of the report. Ideally the outline should contain mostly "boilerplate" text that is not going to change from one issue of the report to the next, though of course the analyst may want to edit the text to match the graphs that are actually generated on any particular occasion.

Create "sample" graphs and tables, from existing data, to illustrate the report. The graphs should tell the story in the most understandable way and the next point expands upon this.

Specify a schedule of when the report is to be updated, for what period of time, and who is to receive it by what means of transmission.

Over the years, a great deal of work has been carried out to determine the kinds of graphical presentation that make data most easily understood and I’ll be looking at some practical examples of this on Friday.

Rich Fronheiser
Chief Marketing Officer

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