8 tips for making BI reports useful for Executives and managers

Here are some lessons learned from our experience working on Business Strategy and Analytics engagements over the years. We hope you will find this helpful!

Start with the business decisions.

Management values information that informs practical and strategic decision making. This sounds obvious but almost never happens. Success depends on being relevant and useful. Take the time to sit down with the people who are decision makers and ask them what challenges and pain points are priorities for them.

Work from the decisions backwards.

Decisions rely on information, which relies on relevant and context-rich analysis and presentation of data. Just because you have data doesn’t mean it is relevant. The same is true of analysis – it has to be directed to informing a decision or it is not useful. Never build reports just because the data is available.

Provide context.

Business executives need the ability to “see” information through different lenses (dimensions) such as over time, by geographic location, by product, by accountability, by customer / segment. Business Intelligence tools enable you to present these different slices of data together, and more importantly they let executives interact with the data to find relationships among the dimensions that are essential to making complex decisions.

One page, one subject.

There is an overwhelming temptation to provide beautiful and colorful data visualizations that really have no relationship in the same report page. This can confuse or even hide meaningful insights from your executives. It also tends to make the learning curve too steep or too long, frustrating users and reducing the ultimate usefulness of the information.

Use ratios to condense data.

If you understand your business well there are certain relationships that benefit from being translated into ratios. Things like products per customer and average product sale embody key drivers of the business model.

Avoid static information.

Too often dashboards and reports end up reporting the same facts every time. If what you are reporting rarely changes, it has no place in business intelligence reporting. Why? Because it is only information the first time someone sees it, after that it is clutter. If a change in a usually static element is truly important use an alert to flag it and let people know.

Avoid excessive color.

Web designers have finally figured out that too much information – and that includes color – makes it harder for people to get the message. Be rigorous about stripping out anything that does not contribute directly to understanding changes in the business. Use a color scheme that is easy on the eyes and accents the important rather than giving people a blazing “bold” screen full of complex graphics they can’t understand without asking someone.

Use visuals that tell stories.

Each type of visualization has strengths and weaknesses for communicating information. Bar charts and line charts, for example are good for showing trends. But they are terrible for showing comparisons across large numbers of things like products, where it might be more helpful to use spark lines or stacked lines. Use graphics that make it easier to understand the information rather than succumbing to the temptation to use every “cool” chart type in the toolbox.



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