Automated reporting in market research is getting smarter
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Automated reporting can save you money and hours of your time. Whether you want reports in Excel, PowerPoint, Word or PDF format, the cost of automating reports can vary from the cost a one night stay in a 4-star hotel to the cost of family car. As specialists in report automation, this article aims to give you some guidance on what affects the cost of automating reports for your business.
If you want to know when report automation works and doesn’t work, please read this article.
This article looks at the automation of reports in Excel, PowerPoint, Word or PDF format. However, most of the comments are equally applicable to the online reports and dashboards that we produce. This article also focuses on larger reporting tasks of several pages for several documents. Sometimes, we provide solutions for as little as GBP100 (£100) which automate calculations or produce outputs within spreadsheets or other sources. Just ask.
So, let’s look at what costs money and what doesn’t. If you are in hurry, just jump straight to the Cost Summary.
The number of reports is not usually a significant factor in the cost of automated reporting. I would qualify that a little as there is a question of scale. The difference between producing, say, 50 reports and 100 reports is probably a few minutes of computer time and little or no staff time. In other words, the cost is a few pounds or dollars. If there are hundreds or even thousands of reports, the running of the reports can become a significant amount of time. Further, there is a greater emphasis on our side in management and testing of the process as the smallest error on our part would be costly to us. A guideline price of £1 / $1.35 for running each report would usually cover the cost of an average report of 5-20 pages. The cost would be slightly higher for more pages and slightly less for a single page, for example. Similarly, the cost per report would reduce as volumes increase. The complexity of the report and the number of fields that need populating may have some effect on the cost, but that it is harder thing to quantify in an article such as this and, generally, is not a consideration. At the extreme end, if we had to add one figure to 100,000 Excel reports, the cost would be nowhere near £1 per report – it would be 1% to 2% of that cost!
Every automated reporting task needs a report template. Whether this is an Excel spreadsheet that needs to be populated or a document that needs to be produced, one or more templates will be needed. I always recommend to clients that they produce their own templates. Instructions such as ‘produce the template for us with these figures so that it is easy to read’ do not generally work unless we have worked with you before. What looks good in a report is quite a subjective matter and is likely to need to fit into a corporate style. We generally do not take on this work and, if we did, we would subcontract the work to a graphic designer to work with you. Therefore, there is no need to associate a cost with this.
Many projects only have one report format, but where there are multiple templates, this will have a bearing on the cost. Sometimes, reports are needed in different languages. Other times, there are different reporting formats for different recipients of the reports – for example, head office may get a summary report, regional offices may get a different report style and each outlet may get yet another format. The more similar each report template structure is, the lower the cost of having multiple report templates. However, once reports become unaligned, the more likely it is that we will have to program each template separately thus increasing the cost. Multiple report templates are likely to add 10% to the overall cost where they are broadly aligned but could double the cost or more where they are significantly different.
For some report templates, it is obvious what is wanted; for others, it is less obvious or there are some calculations. The instructions you provide can have a bearing on the cost. You can think of instructions like a contract with a lot of fine print. I have seen specifications where every calculation is spelt out in detail, repeating lengthy instructions that could be explained far more easily in plain language. My general point is that we need to know about anything that is not obvious, but over-specifying is as bad as under-specifying. If unnecessarily lengthy instructions are provided, we will have to read them and check we are applying each one correctly. Keep it clear and keep it concise! Lengthy or complex instructions are likely to add £500 - £1000 to the cost of a project.
This is the main cost of the project. We take the data you provide and write programs that will calculate the data where necessary and output it in the report template you have provided. A report of 50 pages with different figures, charts and infographics may cost as much as £10,000 or more to program, but can be significantly less where many pages are repetitious in style. A template that had 50 pages with the same style for each page would probably cost nearer £500 to £2,000 to program. A shorter report or a report of 1-2 pages would cost under £1,000 unless it had a lot of different output types within the report.
Many projects have all the data in one file. This may be an Excel file, a database or some other form. Provided that the data is in an easily readable form, there would be no cost for this. However, where there are multiple sources of data, particularly where data from different sources is being merged together to form one or more reports, there is likely to be a data handling cost. This is difficult to estimate, but you should usually allow £250 to £2000 for such a task.
Some reports just need taking data from a source and dropping that data into the report. There is no extra cost for this. Sometimes, a simple arithmetic calculation is needed such as adding two or more figures together or percentaging one figure on another figure for a report. Again, this would attract little or no extra cost. However, sometimes complex algorithms need to be programmed or raw data needs to be analysed to calculate the data. In such cases, it is hard to estimate the cost because the complexity can vary from producing simple tables to highly complex calculations. In such cases, it is hard to give guidance as a range of £100 to £10,000 really doesn’t help much.
The output format can have some effect on the overall costs. Generally, outputs in PDF format or Excel are a little easier for us than PowerPoint, whilst outputs in Word are the most complex. This is simply a result of what Microsoft provide. Programming Excel is generally easier as it is a stable product, well tested and easier to program, whereas PowerPoint is slightly less stable and can have some automation problems such as where texts do not fit and charts, tables or pages become unaligned. Word is the worst output format to program unless the report is highly controlled. As you may be aware when designing any document in Word, Word has a habit of rearranging the output in a way you do not want. Outputs to PowerPoint generally cost about 10-15% more than Excel or PDF, whilst outputs in Word add 40-50% to the cost in many cases.
In a word, yes. You will need to keep your data and template consistent or be able to tell what might change so that a customised system can be put together for you.
The number of reports – Allow £1 per report for projects between 5-20 pages but costs are not generally sensitive except when there is a large reporting requirement. Slightly more or less per report if more/less pages.
Production of the report template – It’s best that you arrange this, but we can help/advise.
The number of report templates – Additional cost if there are more than one templates. Cost dependent on whether they are identical, similar or different in structure. Add 10% to 100% to cost in most cases.
Your instructions – Keep them concise. Make them clear.
Number of data sources – No cost if there is one data source. Additional cost of £250 - £2000 where merging data together from different sources.
Amount of calculations/analysis needed – Little or no cost for arithmetic calculations. Additional cost for implementing algorithms. Cost dependent on complexity and volume when raw data is supplied for analysis.
Output format – Excel/PDF – no extra cost. PowerPoint – 10-15% higher. Word – 40-50% higher.
Providing system to run in-house – Yes, we can do this at a small additional cost.
I hope this article gives you some clear guidance on how to minimise your costs and an idea of how much report automation would cost. Report automation can save you hours of tedious work that is prone to error. In some cases, it is the only viable way to produce what is needed. We can provide add on services such as automated email distribution or download systems. Again, we would need to understand your requirements, but suggest the best ways of working.
If you think you have a project or task where report automation would make your life easier, please contact us. We will be pleased to advise you and explain how you get the most for your money. Contact me now on email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.