Key Questions Your Business Analytics Reports Should Answer

  • Richard Thelwell
  • September 18, 2015

key questions analytics reports With today’s business analytics solutions, generating data-rich business analytics reports has never been easier. Forget highly-paid analysts: using simple, point-and-click tools, and leveraging Cloud-based data warehouses, ordinary employees can produce business analytics reports in a matter of moments.

But here’s the rub: it’s all too easy for those business analytics reports to go unread, unactioned, and unappreciated.

Why? Because, at root, they don’t meet the information needs of the people for whom they are intended. And so they’re skimmed, or left unread, with no actions resulting and no bottom line benefits delivered.

The good news: it doesn’t have to be that way. And simply by focusing on the key questions that every business analytics report should answer, businesses can instead produce reports that people do read, do take action on, and do appreciate.

How? Let’s take a look.

Compelling business analytics reports #1: Where are the problems?

The simple fact is that no one is going to wade through screen after screen—or page and after page—of a business analytics report comprising columns of starkly-presented data.

The data might need to be there, of course, but first of all it must be digested and summarised, with the areas requiring action crisply highlighted.

So give careful thought to how that summary information could be delivered.

business analytics reports highlight problems
Business analytics reports must quickly highlight any problems that have occurred.

One possible solution: the visualisation tools that work in business analytics dashboards do a good job of this—simple charts, ‘gauges’, ‘warning lights’ and so on. Another possible solution: a simple box, summarising the key metrics in tabular form.

To be frank, the precise form of summary doesn’t matter: what does matter is that it provides busy managers with an at-a-glance picture of what’s going on—and where the problems are.

Compelling business analytics reports #2: What are the causes?

The next key question that any business analytics report must address is just as fundamental.

Having answered the question ‘Where are the problems?’, a good business analytics report should then move on to suggest the causes of those problems, or at least provide supplementary detail so that busy managers can home in on those causes themselves.

business analytics reports
Business analytics reports must also help users identify the root causes of any problems

And again, a good business analytics system will make both courses of action as straightforward as possible.

‘Drill down’ capabilities, for instance, make it very easy to pinpoint the root causes of specific issues. In a reporting context, of course, ‘drill down’ isn’t always appropriate in every instance, but where it is possible, it usefully links problems with the events or circumstances that have caused them.

And where ‘drill down’ isn’t appropriate, simply providing a little extra detail or some summary statistics generally serves much the same purpose.

Compelling business analytics reports #3: What are the priorities?

Finally, a good business analytics report should provide those people reading it with an answer to the question: ‘Where should I prioritise my time?’.

This is important, because it’s a question that doesn’t always have an obvious answer, and tackling problems in the right order can make a big difference to the overall effectiveness of a manager’s interventions.

business analytics reports time
Business analytics reports can help managers more effectively manage their time by prioritising key issues.

How best to provide this prioritisation information? Different businesses will naturally tend to have different prioritisation indicators—sales revenues put at risk, cost, inventory impact, and so on.

So if such internal measures make sense, feel free. But don’t overlook one other useful prioritisation tool: trend.

Because whatever other indicators compel managers into action, a suddenly worsening trend tends to have an impetus all of its own.

Compelling business analytics reports: Putting it all together.

So there we have it: the key questions that every business analytics report should aim to answer.

Or at least, should aim to answer if the intention is to produce reports that will be read, actioned, and appreciated.

And otherwise, what’s the point?

Dashboards and Data Visualisations can be a great way to improve your business analytics reports. Our free Ebook tells you everything you need to know to create them.