Three Things You Need To Move From Reporting To Analysis
Reporting is necessary but not sufficient. Don’t get me wrong – there will always be some need to see on-going status of key metrics with an organisation, and for business people to see numbers that trigger them to ask analysis questions. But if your analysts spend 40 hours a week providing you with report after report after report, you are failing to get value from analytics. Why? Because you’re not doing it.
So, what factors are critical to an increased focus on analysis?
1. Understand the difference
Reporting should be standardised, regular and raise alerts.
Standardised: You should be looking at the same key metrics each time.
Regular: Occurring on an agreed-upon schedule. For example, daily, weekly, monthly.
Alerts: If something does not change much over time, or dramatic shifts in “key” metrics are no big deal, you shouldn’t be monitoring them. It’s the “promoted” or “fired” test – if a KPI shifts dramatically and no one could be fired or promoted as a result, was it really that important? Okay, most of the time it’s not as dire as promoted/fired, but dramatic shifts should trigger action. A report may not answer every question, however it should alert you to changes that warrant further investigation. Reporting can inspire deeper analysis.
Analysis is ad-hoc and investigative, an exploration of the data. It may come from something observed in a report, an analyst’s curiosity or a business question, but it should aim to figure out something new.
Unfortunately, it’s far too common for what should be a one-time analysis to turn into an on-going report. After all, if it was useful once, it “must” be useful again, right?
2. The right (minded) people
Having the right analysts is critical to doing more than just reporting. Do you have an analyst who is bored to tears running reports? Good! That is a sign that you hired well. Ideally, reporting should be a “rite of passage” that new analysts go through, to teach them the basic concepts, how to use the tools, how to present data, what key metrics are important to the business and how to spot shifts that require extra investigation.
The right analysts are intellectually curious, interested in understanding the root cause of things. They are puzzle solvers who enjoy the process of discovery. The right analysts therefore thrive on, not surprisingly, analysis, not reporting.
That’s not to say that more seasoned analysts should have no role in reporting. They should be monitoring key reports and fully informed about trends and changes in the data. They just should be able to step back from the heavy lifting.
Analytics requires trust. The business needs to trust that the analytics team are monitoring trends in key metrics, that they know the business well enough and that they are focusing analyses on what really matters. This requires open dialogue and collaboration. Analytics has a far better success rate when tightly integrated with the business.
It’s easy to feel you’re getting “value for money” when you get tons of reports delivered to you, because you’re seeing output. But it’s also a sign that you don’t trust your analysts to find you the insights. And sadly, it’s the business that misses out on opportunities.
The first steps to action
If you are ready to start seeing the value of analytics, here are a few ways you can start:
- Limit reporting to what is necessary for the business. This may mean discontinuing reports of little or no value. This can be difficult! Perhaps propose “temporarily” discontinuing a number of reports. Once the “temporary” pause is over, and people realise they didn’t really miss those reports, it should be clear that they are no longer necessary.
- Review your resources. Make sure you have the right people focused on analysis and that they are suited to, and ready for, that kind of work.
- Allocate a certain percentage of analysts’ time to exploration of data and diving into ad hoc business questions. Don’t allow this to be “when they have time” work. (Hint: They’ll never “have time.”) It needs to be an integral part of their job that gets prioritised. The key to ensuring prioritisation is for analysis to be aligned with critical business questions, so stakeholders are anxiously awaiting the results.
- Introduce regular sharing and brainstorming sessions, to present and develop analyses. You don’t have to limit this to your analytics team! Invite your business stakeholders, to help collaboration between teams.
The hardest part will be getting started. Once you start seeing the findings of analysis, and getting much deeper insight that some standard report would provide you, it will be easy to see the benefits and continue to build this practice.