When I get the opportunity to get a deeper understanding of a business manager’s reporting requirements, a common theme emerges; there is always the need for a particular report that’s critical to how the business is run.

This has countless manifestations as no two businesses are the same. Of course there are many stakeholders, each with their specific interests and requirements, within any of these businesses. Often there’s a light-bulb moment when speaking about data discovery and QlikView with a business manager when we both realise that getting access to that particular report would make a tangible difference to the way they run their business.

Recently I met with the CEO of a contract manufacturing business which produces consumer goods for various supermarket chains. We had spoken with him some time ago about QlikView and made early steps towards delivering a reporting solution however other priorities had somehow gotten in the way of the project. The discussion notes from the time suggested that reporting was being done manually in Excel from a number of data sources and that sales, inventory, purchasing, production and financial reporting could all be automated to provide an enterprise wide reporting solution – all quite standard stuff really.

I asked what it would mean for him to have visibility of their sales and gross profit by invoice and he wasn’t altogether interested. Due to the nature of their business they had a good handle on sales and gross margin as they had established long-term contracts with their customers and didn’t often renew these or win new business. We covered finance and inventory management as potential areas of improvement and again he wasn’t altogether convinced, suggesting that whilst some of those reports could be “prettied up” that wasn’t going to make any real difference to their business.

Perhaps it was through trial and error that we finally realised that what is most important to him is how efficiently his business is being run. He noted that anytime they “plan to produce 10,000 units and only produce 8,000 they had to catch up on the other 2,000 the next day”, this costs him money, personally! Taking this further, he went on to say that understanding what their “production capacity” is for the foreseeable future is something he does manually in Excel by pulling together various reports. This is something he has to regularly reproduce as they accept last minute orders from their clients. Being able to access an application that would tell him, and his operations managers, what his forward orders are; showing what staff, machinery and capacity they have to produce on any given day, week and month. To marry this with his costs of production (at overtime rates sometimes) in order to see what impact this was going to have on his gross margin would make a massive difference to the way he is able to manage his business. This was our light-bulb moment!

On another occasion, I found myself speaking with the CFO of a managed print, IT & telco services business. He mentioned that their main transactional system was being used to manage their print production, billing and financials. They were using three different CRM systems for managing sales and marketing and the services side of their business – one was a legacy system containing some specific account information, another they’d just implemented for their sales team, and the last was a heavily customised system critical to running their managed IT services business (including support, systems maintenance, hosting, consulting, etc).

I immediately thought, given the number of systems they used, data consolidation could be a big issue but as we explored their reporting environment further he suggested that their financial reporting, whilst “not great” was “reasonable”. Their sales reporting out of the new Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 was “pretty good” and he added that their Managed IT Services CRM gave him comprehensive operational reporting, including billable hours, utilisation and realisation rates, as well as other key metrics. Although, it seemed each of these systems provided them with sufficient reporting capability individually, when we spoke about what he put into his Board report every month and the sorts of questions he is constantly being asked by his colleagues it became clear that understanding their profitability by project, customer, region, division, and such is something he’s having to do manually in Excel on a constant basis. He added that his profitability report is fundamental to the way they look at their business and there it was again, the light-bulb moment!

This CFO said he’d like to add sales forecasts out of the CRM 2013 into his report and we spoke about how an executive management dashboard built in QlikView could be used to provide everyone on the board and executive management team with full visibility of their financial performance and profitability, resource availability and utilisation, as well as their sales performance and forecasts. This would eliminate the need for him to constantly update and iterate his profitability report spreadsheet. Also, everyone on the executive management team could answer their own questions and interrogate their data in a highly visual and intuitive way. Perhaps that was his light-bulb moment?

These are a couple of recent conversations I’ve had about improving reporting and analytics with business managers but there are many such examples. Although each business, and indeed each individual is different, there’s a certain satisfaction in asking the right questions to identify what that report is for a particular person. Beyond that, there’s an added satisfaction in delivering a reporting solution which enables people to look at their business in a way they haven’t yet discovered – but that’ll have to be the subject of another blog.

What’s that report for you?

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