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Putting An End To Reporting Madness: Best Practices For Using Analytics Catalogs

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com as part of the Forbes Business Council.

Have you ever stopped to think about how much time your organization spends on reporting? Financials, sales, marketing—you name it, we report it. This isn’t to suggest that these reports aren’t critical in running a successful business; they most certainly are.

But it’s become unwieldy for many companies with massive amounts of data, dozens of tools and reporting applications, even spreadsheets—and with so many parts of the organization accessing reports. This is the challenge my team and I face with our clients every day and why we’ve introduced an analytics catalog to bring analytics to the masses.

When it comes down to it, many individuals or teams need regular access to a specific set of reports and insights, not every report the company produces. So, by simply removing the unnecessary reports, you can significantly reduce the amount of time spent searching for and verifying analytics assets.

That’s a simple example, but the challenges are much more profound—rooted in decades of the status quo with little innovation or cultural change in reporting. As businesses embrace a self-service model for employees, the key is to make it quick and straightforward to access the data and insights needed to perform their job. Many businesses have turned to using analytics catalogs to organize their data.

Here are some of the benefits of using an analytics catalog:

1. Speed: Businesses need to move faster, and having employees spend time searching for reports is a waste. Employees will often resort to (re)creating reports they need because it’s too difficult to find what they need. In 2020, teams spent 13% of their time on work that’s already been completed, up from 10% the previous year. As a result, employees are losing 236 hours to duplication of efforts a year. Having an analytics catalog can eliminate this wasted time.

2. Trust: Even when employees have access to the reports they need, there’s a lingering concern about the accuracy of the data, whether it’s the most recent report and if the numbers have been validated. Without a way of managing and verifying reports, you can’t be sure of the accuracy, which significantly impacts trust. With proper reporting and an analytics catalog, employees can be confident in their daily decisions.

3. Growth: Businesses depend on analytics, insights and accurate data to make critical business decisions. Without the ability to consistently make data-driven decisions, businesses will be challenged to grow at the pace of the industry. Business leaders are starting to realize that the ability to analyze data and extract insights significantly influences the company’s ability to grow.

Best Practices

Once you’ve found the right analytics catalog that meets your business needs, as the CEO of an intelligent analytics catalog company, I suggest to get to work controlling report sprawl by keeping these best practices in mind.

Encourage companywide usage.

Decentralized data can cause an array of issues, including exposure to breaches, compliance challenges and lagging performance. Rather than limiting users, increasing usage with a single, unified view ensures that your teams are accessing the most reliable data easily and that any compliance issues, like personally identifiable information (PII), can be quickly identified. Provide regular demos and training to accelerate adoption and teamwide buy-in.

Champion better organization.

To foster agility, organize your analytics assets with tags and companywide naming conventions to increase consumability. Consider looking for a catalog that features built-in recommendations, as this can make it easy for your employees to find the most recent reports relevant to their department that have been verified for quality. Identify redundancies by relying on algorithms to flag similar or duplicate reports based on metadata.

Take discoverability to the next level.

Leverage the power of intelligence and automation to drive consumption. Take advantage of keyword search capabilities and metadata to streamline access to reports and ensure that your teams are using the tools your organization is paying for—and accessing reports that will expedite decision making.

Make use of all that data.

Use the data at your fingertips to understand who is viewing each report, discover the types of reports being generated and whether they are certified, and identify any potential gaps in your analytics program to drive performance improvements. Understand how data is being used by your teams—from IT and finance to marketing, sales and beyond—to make use of what’s relevant and stop wasting time on what isn’t.

Prepare for the road ahead.

Rather than becoming yet another tool in your company’s toolbox, it’s critical to anticipate any adoption challenges and validate the inherent value of an analytics catalog across your organization. Having the right people and roles in place to maintain your analytics assets is a critical component of effective usage.

Consider developing a role (a great opportunity to upskill existing staff) to streamline both the adoption and continued use of the analytics catalog—both from a technical and business point of view. Along with regular management of the platform, this analytics-focused role can be responsible for bridging the gap between business outcomes and increasing consumption across all business units.

An analytics catalog is a business-friendly way to increase access to reports and drive performance. By getting report sprawl under control, businesses across all industries can be poised to move faster, build greater trust and grow exponentially. Along with increased visibility, reduced noise and complexity, and streamlined access, analytics catalogs bring context and cohesion to disparate tools and resources.

With a catalog, analytics consumers can gain access to cross-platform assets with inherited security permissions and the assurance that the assets are governed and organized to flow through prescribed paths for usability. And, that’s reporting done right.

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