Analytics and Reporting have less overlap than you think

Throughout my career I have talked to a lot of companies looking at BI tools and vendors and asking if they should consolidate on a single solution for reporting and analytics.  They don’t necessary say it this way, usually it is “should we have a single BI tool”, but in the end the big question is analytics vs reporting.  The theory, and what many BI tool vendors will tell you, is that there would be less training, less maintenance, better insight and lower costs with one tool.  Most companies I see that go down this path either were not successful or did not see the results they were hoping for.

The reason is that the high-end analytical tools that the sophisticated data power users want and need are overkill and in most cases confusing to everyone else who just needs reports.  Even the word “report” is ambiguous, I cannot tell you how many times we debated the word “report” inside Microsoft.  For the sake of this discussion I will define a report as flexible layout of information with limited interactivity and a View as a powerful experience that enables the user to slice, dice and reform the data.

Forerunner Software

Forerunner Software

Most users simply need a report with the data presented to them in a familiar format; so that they can make a decision or take an action.  They do not have the training, time, or inclination to use more sophisticated Views.  On the other hand the sophisticated user needs powerful, intuitive tools to discover new insights.  Then validate and test them before incorporating them into practice.  This is also one of the risks with a single tool approach.  Unless you have the discipline, experience and training it can be hard to know if the insights you think you have found are real.  Making decisions based on flawed analysis can be devastating in any part of your business.

Of course one of the biggest factors is cost.  The high-end tool vendors want to sell their tools per user, and since they are so powerful they also want a premium.  They will sell them at volume discounts to make it seem like it is a great deal, just look at the power all of your users will have access to at a fraction of the cost  They will show you how easy their tools are and try to show you that anyone can use them.  I will tell you that is not the case.  I have been to many different companies and most employees have a hard enough time getting everything they need to do done without spending more time on powerful and potentially confusing data tools.  Some people will try to tell you that Excel is the solution, everyone can use Excel right?  If only that was the case, all you have to do is watch and listen to someone who gets a spreadsheet from a Excel power user and glaze over with all of the columns and formulas.

But everyone needs access to data.  I have worked with nurses, teachers, truck drivers, billers, admins, writers, you name it; they all need information from various systems to do their job well.  More and more these users are not at a desk with a computer.  The work place has expanded outside the office and is moving faster with many new and powerful devices.  If you have used Uber, been in a hospital or a classroom you know this is true.  Devices are everywhere and most of the users are used to a consumer experience.

Just as the powerful Views are not great for many users, reports and reporting tools are not great for the data power users.  Most reporting tools focus on data presentation and delivery, while analytic tools focus on data discovery and visualization.  There are fewer power users and they should have the best and most sophisticated tools to help your company compete and win.  They should not be limited by tools that try to do it all, this is where best of breed and higher cost is fully justified.  Once a new insight is verified it is usually very little work to turn this into a report.  In my experience over 90% of the effort in building a report is knowing what you want it to say and how to get the data.

So what is the right answer?  In my experience the companies who are having the most success are using both reporting and analysis tools that are optimized for each workload.  They can be from the same vendor or different vendors, but they provide each user base with the data they need and the power they can use.  The company can spend a premium on the power users because there are less of them and have a broad based reporting solution that allows everyone to get the data they need.

Jason Carlson
Founder & Chief Forerunner

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