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Report automation can save you time and money as well as reduce the risk of errors. This article explores when report automation works and whether MRDC can help you with your automated reporting requirements. This article focuses on reports to Excel, PowerPoint, Word or PDF format, but many of the comments are equally applicable to online reports and dashboards that we produce.
If you are more interested in the cost of automated reporting, please jump to this article.
Typically, the process of report automation means simply that you tell us what you want, we write computer programs to automate those reports such that once one report is produced correctly, producing more reports is quick and easy. Reports produced periodically will generally have the same structure but will be applying additional, different or updated data.
Yes, you can. There are various products on the market that allow you to automate your own reports. Products such as E-Tabs, Dapresy and Tableau allow you to produce automated reports in various formats. If you have a small number of large projects or several smaller projects, these may be good solutions. However, all these products require a fair amount of commitment to learning how to use their powerful features and all come at a relative high price tag, hence, the need for a reasonable volume of work and the right staff to use the software. The rest of this article explores working with a company like MRDC Software where we prepare the automated reporting for you or prepare a system so that you can run it yourself.
Report automation is generally most beneficial when there are multiple reports required or identical/similar reports are required on a periodic basis. The number of reports associated with ‘multiple reports’ may be a very small number to many thousands. Producing as few as ten large or complex reports manually can be highly time-consuming and prone to error. More obviously, producing hundreds or thousands of reports are produced far more efficiently if they are automated. Similarly, where the same reports in terms of structure are produced periodically, computer programs can automate the reports with the latest figures, charts or texts.
Having handled thousands of automated reports over the years, we have seen projects go well and not so well. The biggest problems tend to be associated with changing the reporting output. Reports are programmed to populate and update a template. Whilst complex requirements may sometimes present a challenge, frequently changing requirements is a far bigger problem. Therefore, it is important to know what the recipient of the reports really needs. Making changes at the last minute may be relatively expensive or cause delays. Similarly, where reports are required, say, every month, it is important that there are either no changes in the structure of the report from month to month or that the differences are known in advance – e.g. annually and quarterly you may want additional pages. So, in a nutshell, automation is about knowing what you want.
Similarly, the data that is being used to populate the reports should come in a consistent form. Automation does not work well if one or more of the sources of data for the reports are provided in slightly (or completely!) different ways each time. This is important down to a highly detailed level. For example, if a field contains the text ‘UK’ to identify the UK data, providing it at a subsequent occasion as ‘United Kingdom’ will cause the process to fail. Again, consistency is important.
Whilst our background is in marketing and market research, report automation can work well in any field. We have worked in vast array of fields, which include travel, banking, insurance, leisure, sport, accountancy and many more fields. In fact, any field where multiple reports are needed.
If you want advice on report automation or to find out whether MRDC can help you, please contact me now at firstname.lastname@example.org.