Self-service reporting tools enable business users direct access to data which leads to a faster access to it, reduced workload for technical personnel, and alignment across different business units, as those units rely on a single source of truth.
What is self-service reporting?
Self-service reporting is a component of self-service analytics that enables business users to generate reports and gain insights from data without relying on technical skills. These tools support the creation of custom reports from any connected data source.
Business users can use these tools to conduct their analysis and generate real-time dashboards via easy-to-use graphical user interfaces (GUIs) so that executives can make data-driven decisions without involving the tech team.
What are the different types of self-service reports?
Reports can be divided into:
- Regular reports: These drive high-level decision making by the company and are frequently used.
- Ad hoc reports: Businesses need to answer specific questions and the results need to be presented to management. Ad hoc reports help answer these questions in an easy-to-understand format.
How does it work?
As seen in Kloudio’s summary below, these tools
- Connect end-user tools such as Excel and Google sheets to any database,
- Collect data from any data source including databases, cloud applications and other online data sources,
- And create reports and queries with a visual interface
Why is it important now?
We explained why analytics and data-driven decision making are important before. The drivers of increasing importance of self-service analytics are the same. Business wants to make data-driven decisions and with the increasing volume of data, they can not rely on their tech teams for that. Self-service reporting democratizes analytics and enables the whole organization to make data-driven decisions without the support of the tech team.
Self-service reporting is superior to the legacy model of relying on IT to pull reports from databases.
After end-user interact with existing reports, they generally have follow-up questions that can only be answered by creating queries for new reports. If a business user can construct a report for any query, it would be much easier to identify opportunities and answer open questions.
Another issue with reliance on IT for reporting is timeliness of reports. The window for decision making may have passed by the time the IT team finishes preparing your report.
Reports delivered by IT have a high probability of being wrong as business users may not specify their requirements clearly. A business user who understands the database structure can be much more effective in answering his/her questions than an IT professional who only reads a few lines of requirement about the necessary report.
Finally, self-service reporting frees up technical resources so that they can shift their focus on more important tasks rather than trying to meet the demand of report requests.
What are the benefits of self-service reporting?
Self-service reporting democratizes analytics and supports data-driven decision making:
- Lets your tech & analyst teams focus on more important tasks,
- Reduces the time-to-insight,
- Increases business users’ understanding of the company’s data and therefore the business,
- And facilitates alignment across different business units as those units rely on a single source of truth.
What are common reports automated by self-service reporting?
Required reports that need to be prepared by publicly-held enterprises for their investors, creditors, and lenders. The purpose of external reports is to state the financial condition of the company so that they can be transparent to investors. External reports include:
- Income statement
- balance sheet
- statement of cash flow
Every business function in any company with >100 FTEs needs to have easy-to-understand reports to align both internally and to align management. These would ideally be dynamic documents where users can deep dive into different areas for root cause analysis or for more granular forecasts about business performance. These include:
Free, off-the-shelf tools like google ads, analytics and search console are likely to serve the needs of most small, technically savvy teams. However, marketing metrics become harder to follow as companies need to optimize across multiple paid channels (e.g. search engines, social media, offline) and owned channels (e.g. company’s blog, website, mobile app). This requires the need to create reports that show conversion cost per channel, conversions over time and user engagement metrics.
Sales reports enable businesses to visualize their sales activity over a period of time. These records help executives to understand the progress of their sales team. If they are not, it helps optimize their sales process and growth strategy. Sales reports contain different metrics including:
- number of deals over a period of time,
- how long it takes to close a deal,
- how many new leads you need to close a single new deal,
- average deal value.
The progress of technology units is notoriously hard to monitor. This is because tech development is an exploratory process and since it relies on business and tech collaboration. However, the tech team should still strive to measure important metrics like units of completed features, critical bugs uncovered in the business acceptance process and quality assurance (QA) process, etc.
Key metrics such as employee engagement and hiring effectiveness (time to fill an open position) can be aggregated for a high-level view of HR performance
What are the important criteria for evaluating self-service reporting companies?
Ease of Use
The main purpose of self-service reporting is to make analytics easier for business users who lack technical knowledge. If you want to make it happen, it is critical to choose easy-to-use tools.
Integration to data sources
There are 4 types of platforms to integrate to:
- Cloud SaaS used by the company
- Company’s internal systems based on open-source or supplier owned proprietary software
- Internally developed systems
- External data sources
In each category, self-service reporting solution providers should integrate to as much of the data sources as possible.
Interactive visual representation options
A good self-service reporting solution should have intuitive, interactive visual representations of the data. The solution should offer end-users viewing reports in the form of bar charts, tables, crosstabs, gauge charts, line charts, funnel charts, scatter plots, etc.
Online and Mobile Accessibility
Users should be able to reach reports and dashboards through browsers and mobile devices. 100% web-based solutions allow any user who has an internet connection to easily access the data and generate reports.
Reports and dashboards are as good as their data, stale data leads to stale reports. Self service reporting software becomes more powerful if it can generate auto updating reports and dashboards.
Features such as single sign-on integration and role-based access facilitate large companies to use self-service reporting solutions. For example, role-based access is important since business users have different levels of proficiency with the company’s data. While it may be ok for an intern to view the company’s metrics, it would not be okay for an intern to make changes to the company’s data on his/her first day. Advanced self-service reporting software enable administrators to limit new users’ upload capabilities to ensure that users don’t accidentally create wrong records.
Self-reporting tools should be collaborative. If users are able to share the reports with their team and create reports with their colleagues’ participation, better reports can be prepared.
What are the top self-service-reporting companies?
We have only included companies that offer the capability to both upload and download data from external data sources. The upload capability is important as this enables business users to correct data quality issues and keep company data up-to-date without relying on the tech team:
- Sigma computing
For more on democratized analytics
Are you also interested in other analytics tools that democratize analytics? Here are some of our articles about enhancing the capabilities of non-technical employees within the firm:
- Citizen data scientists: Guide to democratize data science
- Low/ No code development: What it is, how it works, use cases
- How do businesses democratize analytics with AI?
Finally, if you believe your business would benefit from adopting a reporting tool, head over to our data-driven lists of tools.
Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.
Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.
Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.
He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.
Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.
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