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How to Control Report Sprawl

Over the past decade, the world of analytics has changed dramatically. What started out as an IT-driven effort to embrace the bundled reporting tools ERP solutions provided quickly morphed into a revolution – first with business intelligence tools and then with self-service analytics. New tools emerged like Business Objects and Cognos followed by Qlik, Tableau, and Power BI, each with the intention of putting the power of data into the hands of the business user. Decision makers were empowered to adopt the specialized tool that best met their needs. And adoption spread like wildfire. 

But as business users embraced this new world of self-service reports, dashboards, and visualizations, challenges emerged. Organizations found they were using multiple BI tools across their enterprise. Reports became siloed, which added to the legacy and redundancy challenges. Analytics assets such as reports, dashboards, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and PDFs proliferated, with multiple versions living in multiple places, using data from many, often inconsistent, sources. Costs increased as more and more users came on board. And users found themselves debating decisions because they didn’t know which version of the report they based the decision on was actually correct.

The challenges spread to IT departments as well. The teams that brought in these various tools needed IT’s help managing their output. But without intimate knowledge of the tools or their outputs, being the custodian of these tools was difficult at best. In an attempt to manage the myriad of analytics assets that sprung up from every tool that came their way, many IT departments began to custom-develop “portals” to help catalog which assets lived in which systems. But these rudimentary efforts were difficult to use and time-consuming to manage and maintain, with all of the other priorities in the business.  

As challenges mounted, organizations knew there must be a better way to manage the BI and analytics chaos across their organization. And with organizations feeling pressured to increase the value of the thousands of reports and supporting assets they created, time was of the essence. 

But how could organizations make sense of this convoluted analytics landscape of specialized tools, embedded analytics, and Excel reports?  Unlike their data and IT colleagues, these new analytics consumers live in processes – not data. They consume data in the form of reports. Or dashboards. Or visualizations. They need these analytics assets to make informed decisions, in the context of the process. And it’s critical that they feel confident that the report they are using is accurate and appropriate. 

To overcome these challenges, many organizations implemented data governance and data catalogs. But these are tools for the consumers of data, including analysts and data scientists. Not those that are steeped in analytics. And while effective at cataloging data at the lowest level, governed data doesn’t matter if the report itself is incomplete, outdated, or simply inconsumable. Said differently, governed data and data catalogs alone do not address the real issue at hand: how can decision-makers consume reports in an experience designed with the analytics consumer in mind?

Decision-makers need a simple, business-friendly way to easily know which report is the one they need for the task at hand. A way to clear out the noise caused by multiple, similar versions of reports that all pull data from different, disparate sources and systems. They need visibility into where their report is coming from, so they can confidently narrow down their options to find the one they need to make critical business decisions. They need an analytics catalog. An analytics catalog helps business users access the analytics assets available across their enterprise. It provides color and context around the report so that they know they can use it to make business decisions. Without an analytics catalog and a simple unified view to take advantage of all of the analytics assets they’ve created, organizations will continuously find themselves with the inefficient report sprawl they face today. What started out as a small nucleus of core, well-defined reports inevitably morphs into a proliferation of analytics assets that are similar, yet not quite the same. They may use different data sources. Or have the same name, but use different underlying data. Or may simply be multiple versions of the same report created at different points in time. 

Using an analytics catalog, analytics consumers can discover the analytics assets that best meet their needs, within an experience designed for them. They can clear the noise caused by the previous month’s reports that should have been purged (but weren’t) and old reports that are no longer accurate (or relevant). And they can access important insights from systems that were historically difficult to access or even unknown. The result is greater transparency into a shortlist of reports that business users can confidently use to make critical business decisions. 

ZenOptics recognizes the challenges that the proliferation of analytics assets has caused for decision-makers and, ultimately, organizations as a whole. That’s why we developed an analytics catalog that provides a single, authoritative source for enterprise analytics assets. We use advanced integration technologies along with machine learning and AI to create an analytics catalog that brings cross-platform analytics assets together in a single interface to bridge the last mile from insights to decisions. The results? IT no longer needs to create custom “portals” to solve this challenge. And analytics consumers gain access to cross-platform analytics assets with inherited security permissions;  assurance that these assets are governed and organized to flow through prescribed paths for usability; and an accelerated, consistent, efficient, and confident decision-making process. 

To learn more, watch our recent webcast entitled ”The Value of an Analytics Catalogue in a Data-Driven Enterprise.”

Written by ZenOptics CEO + Co-Founder Saurbh Khera 

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