Many SYSPRO customers think of me as ‘the report guy’. Odd as it may seem, I’ve always loved writing reports. I also enjoy helping SYSPRO users learn to write better reports. Over the course of many years I’ve realized that there are six main points that should be considered when writing reports that are both informative and easy to digest.
Before we tuck into a meal we ‘eat it with our eyes’. The same is true of reports. A good report writer, like a good chef, is alive to the nuances of presentation. Proper spacing, plenty of white space, a readable font and informative headers provide a professional polish that readers find pleasing.
Many busy executives head straight for the opening summary – information presented in a condensed version. Make sure that your summary is highly visible and unabashedly concise. When possible, stick to percentages, which are more easily understood and compared than the same information written in text.
How your report will be viewed also depends on the landscape it’s seen on. It might look great on your desktop in Excel, but will it translate seamlessly to other platforms? Don’t hit ‘send’ until you’ve checked! All your hard work could be wasted once you distribute it online, within your ERP application, in an email, or to a mobile device. Check your report in full screen view – can all the columns be seen? And what happens if you hit the ‘print’ button? Does it faithfully produce the document? Does that include the full-screen view?
How is Your Report Sorted?
The information in a report needs to be easily absorbed. How the sort option is applied is probably as important as the header titles which describe the information contained in the report. If possible, give as many views to the report as possible, e.g., per day/per week/per month/year-to-date/all information. When it comes to sorting, it’s best to anticipate your audience’s needs.
Would the information in your report be of interest to the competition? You should always consider who needs, and who doesn’t need, to see any given report. For sensitive information, an extra layer of security can be added by locking the report with a password, or by using SYSPRO’s assigned-role security. (If you’re not familiar with the power of assigned roles, and assigned role security, please read Alistair’s blog).
Say it With a Graph or a Chart
I am going to say this out loud – graphs and charts are sexy! Furthermore, graphical imagery is easily compiled and readily understood. A pedestrian listing of numbers in columns is dry, and (for many people) difficult to follow. Creating charts and graphs will make you feel and look good. Your end users will thank you for presenting the information in a manner that allows them to grasp it at a glance.
Is Speed/Refresh Rate Critical?
When a report takes a long time to compile it is best to schedule it overnight. Simple reports can be compiled quickly, but complex reports can take a long time, especially if they are pulling in data from many tables that need to be validated. The validation process eats up a lot of time, compounded by multiple calls to the same tables with different sorting criteria, and variables thrown in to the same table over and over again. When speed is of the essence a simplified report is generally best, with drill down features available.
Know When to Drill Through, and When to Drill Down
A drill through report allows you to go from summary to detail, often by jumping to another report, or even by linking to a relevant URL. For instance: a financial application shows the balance and profit and loss for a specific time frame. Every general ledger displays the total amount of all transactions for this specific period. By clicking (drill through) on one of the general ledgers you will see the underlying transactions for this specific period.
A drill down report allows you to view data at different levels of detail. For instance, a report displays information on the Country level. If we drill down the report displays information on the State level. The next drill down will display information on the City level. Each level of detail is sequentially available through drill down. Likewise, ‘Year’ contains ‘Months’, which contain ‘Weeks’, which contains ‘Days’, which contains Hours, which contains “Minutes”.
The practical aspects of my report-writing philosophy are based on a handful of general observations that I’ve come to hold as essential:
- The way in which information is displayed is as important as the information being displayed, in terms of both formatting, and device landscape.
- People can only absorb so many details. The ‘less is more’ principle is your friend.
- It’s vital to keep the flame of one source of truth alive, so that statistics can be tracked back to the transaction level.
- Digestible percentages are easier to absorb than reams of text.
- Readers appreciate a firm hand at the helm: try to prioritize each step for the user.
I hope this helps – good luck with your next report!