This article is day one in a week of reporting articles.
If you are going to become a business intelligence ninja, start at the beginning. You need to develop standard procedures for report creation. They include:
- Who can request reports?
- Who approves their creation?
- Who assigns priority of your work?
- How are reports requested?
These questions are entirely determined by your corporate culture, however I would suggest writing up clearly defined procedures and sticking to them. As to how my users request reports, I use a standardized form for doing so. Mine is accessed from our intranet site. I can’t provide the page itself as it is owned by my employer, but it includes the following questions:
Priority – 1 to 5 with 5 being most urgent
Please state purpose of report and give a brief description.
Can you provide an example? If so, please specify.
What file format does your data need to be? Printed Report, Excel, PDF, Web Page?
Report Layout: Portrait or Layout
Should the report have a chart or graph? Pie Chart, Bar Chart, Line Graph, etc?
Should the report be scheduled to run automatically? If so, please specify.
List the data fields, in the column order, for your report. Eg. Customer Name, Customer Number…
Does this report need to be sorted or grouped? If so what is the criteria?
What calculated fields do you wish to include in your report. Please be specific and include the formula for performing the calculation. Totals, subtotals?
Do you have any other comments or special instructions for your report?
Feel free to steal these and modify them in any way that suits you. The list of questions may seem exhaustive, but if you really think about it, this is the bare minimum of information one needs to know to create a basic report. Even with all of this information, all but the most trivial of reports will require further questions.
If at all possible, go directly to the source with those questions. If the VP of Finance wants the report, but asks the Accounting Manager to task you, try to ask your questions of the VP. I’ll expound on this Wednesday.
Be absolutely specific with your questions and assume very little. For example, when asking for the difference between two dates always ask whether they want calendar days or working days.
Users will often find this process laborious. Be polite and remind them that a thorough interview process will result in a better report in less time.
Do your report request procedures differ from mine? Any suggestions?
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss report layouts.