IT intelligence: Reporting software

Robin Fisk on the skills needed to get the best out of reporting software.

The recalled David Beckham was instrumental in helping the England football team win in its recent match against Estonia. If you believed the reports in the media, you might have assumed that he won the match single-handedly. In reality, it's teamwork that makes any organisation succeed.

Reporting software promises the goal of producing management information at the touch of a button, but achieving that is never so simple. Thought has to go into the production of management information before the button can be pushed. It requires business skills, data-system knowledge and the ability to use reporting tools. The linking of these skills will ensure you get the information you want.

You need business skills to enable you to define the questions that need to be answered. Visualise the indicators you would like to see. The information needs to be relevant to your business plan or to the performance standards of your organisation. Also ask yourself "will anyone look at this statistic?"

You need someone who understands your data systems to tell you whether the raw materials - the data - are being captured accurately and completely. For example, your fundraising system needs to be fed with details of every donation if the most basic fundraising questions are to be answered. Change may be required to deliver what you want. If so, consider whether it is worthwhile.

You need someone with skills in report-writing software to create accessible and digestible reports. If they don't help the person seeking the information, repeat the process.

If all these skills are found in one person it will significantly boost your chances of getting the right information. But if you haven't got your own George Best, you'll need to get the most out of your team.

- Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.

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