Many organisations focus too much on data entry, and designing forms and fields, and don’t invest enough time and energy into reporting. So, data may go in, but useful information may not always come out. An Apricot database full of important data is only useful if the data is extracted, interpreted, and applied to your organisation so you can measure progress toward your goals. Therefore, because reports identify progress toward your goals, reports define the data that needs to be tracked and measured in Apricot forms and fields. If you start by building data entry features without thinking of reporting, you run the risk of collecting more data than is needed, or in a format that is difficult to report. This is why building an intentional and strategic focus on reporting in Apricot software is so important.
Building a report in Apricot software is like building a puzzle. Apricot reports are a combination of data, filters, formatting, and a little bit of finesse. Like a puzzle, each piece of a report must come together and transform raw data points into something contextual, meaningful, and valuable. This can be overwhelming, so to make report building simpler and more straightforward, it is useful to apply a standard process to each new Apricot reporting project. This blog will outline a 5 step reporting process, as outlined in the diagram below, that can help Apricot software administrators focus on reporting.
Step 1: Set goals and define metrics
Goals are the foundation of reporting. Reports have no purpose if they cannot be applied to organisational goals. So, setting goals is the first step to building high quality reports in Apricot. Goals are a benchmark for your performance. Goals inform the measures, metrics, and data needed to compare real performance with expected results.
Therefore, once you define your goals, you need to define the metrics that show performance toward your goals. Metrics are the aggregated components of data that populate your reports. Metrics may include counts, averages, summaries, percentages, or special formulas. Each report section in Apricot will produce a specific metric or several metrics.
Step 2: Blueprint reports
The second step in the reporting process is to blueprint your reports, which is important for a number of reasons:
- A blueprint is a roadmap for the development of your reports. You can use a blueprint to think through the report build and outline each component prior to conducting any technical development. This leads to more accurate report building.
- A blueprint can also help you build reports in a timely and efficient manner by focusing on the forms, filters, logic, and fields required for the report. A blueprint completes all of the thinking and groundwork for the reports, so when it comes to building it, you can quickly dive straight into it.
- A blueprint also offers your organisation a historical reference of how a report is built. This can be helpful if the report is modified by another user or overwritten. Instead of starting from scratch, you can build off of previously defined report blueprints.
- Finally, given that every report in your Apricot database will be customised based on your organisation’s unique data requirements, there will be no standard help documents on your specific reports in Apricot. Therefore, a blueprint fills this gap and acts as a user guide, in that it can be used to train and educate new users as well as provide help documentation for existing users.
In thinking about your report blueprint, you might like to answer the following questions:
- How many components or metrics are in my report (i.e. sections)?
- What fields should be displayed on export?
- How should fields be displayed on export (i.e. groupings, formulas, and formatting)?
- Does my report require filters? Do I need a specific segment of data?
- If I have multiple filters, what logic should I use to compound these filters?
- Will a visual enhance my data? If yes, how should my data be visualised?
To ensure the blueprinting stage is useful, it is important to be as descriptive as possible. The more descriptive you can be upfront, the more straightforward your report building projects will be. This doesn’t mean that your descriptions have to be technical. A narrative description of a report is just as helpful as a technical blueprint as it is still honing in on the precise details required for your report.
Step 3: Build reports
The third step is to actually build the report. It is easiest to start with a base report and modify and tighten the report with small corrections and tweaks along the way. This is a great way to build experience with reporting and confirm that a report is displaying the data you are looking for.
After an initial build of a report is complete, review your report with others. Communicating a report to someone else, even if they aren’t fluent in Apricot software, can help to highlight parts of it that you may need to change.
Remember – reporting will always require some trial and error, so be prepared for some troubleshooting and testing in order to get the report right.
Step 4: Manage performance
Using the above process, you should have a set of goals, a defined set of metrics that show progress toward those goals and a report or a set of reports that aggregate and display those metrics in a way that is applicable to your goals and is practical and relevant to your organisation. So the next step in the reporting process is to manage performance using the report as a resource. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Define a set schedule for running your reports so that your reports are actually used to review performance and not left to “sit on a shelf gathering dust”.
- Define procedures to analyse your reports and apply them to your goals. Reports contain information, but that information needs to be consistently transformed into knowledge and action.
- Develop a scorecard that can help you track real-time performance as well as progress toward your goals.
- Make sure that you come away with at least one action item every time you run a report. Reports aren’t just for “checking in.” They need to be used to take action and make changes to improve performance.
- Format actionable reports into visual Apricot bulletins. Report based bulletins are Apricot dashboards that should present complex data in a visual and accessible format for your users.
Step 5: Reassess reporting needs
Reports inform progress toward your goals and if your goals change, there is a high likelihood that your metrics will change as well. As a result, the Apricot reporting process becomes a cyclical process whereby you reassess your reporting needs and start the process over again (see the red arrow in the diagram above). So the moment you change your goals or your strategies you will also need to reassess your reports.
And even if your goals and strategies don’t change, it is still important to assess your reports on a regular and consistent basis to keep reports fresh, practical, and relevant to your data management needs. It is recommended that you review your Apricot reports at a minimum, once every six months.
Here are some questions you might consider asking to determine if your reports are meeting your needs:
- Are we using this report or group of reports?
- Is this report showing us the data we need to take action?
- What should this report show?
- Who has access to this report and why?
- How can we use this report better in the future?
- What changes should be made to this report to make it more relevant?
So, although data entry is important because you need good, clean data to measure performance, reporting is just as critical to good data management. Hopefully, this five-step process can help you maximise the value of your Apricot reports.
Apricot™ is a registered trademark of Social Solutions, Inc.
This blog is based on an original developed by Sidekick Solutions, Inc. on 25/03/14