What is a report, anyway?
Is the monthly account statement in your inbox a report? Is the boarding pass issued by an airline a report? Are the end of day bulk reports being churned out by line printers in the back-office of a financial institution the real reports? Or are pie charts and bar charts the real reports and all others just a dump of numbers? The long and short of it is, they are all reports from an IT perspective.
In the olden days, reports were prepared manually by staff of corporations and routinely and ostensibly used by the management for analysis and future planning. With the advent of IT, all that changed and churning out reports became an integral part of computer software systems. The printing technology on its part kept pace with the times and catered to all kinds of printing needs- be it printing bulk reports, labels or customers’ account statements.
The Next Wave
Once all these became commonplace, advancements in internet and networking technologies brought upon a new wave of changes and consciousness in the form of online reports and email attachments, thus eliminating the need for printing and physically storing reports. The only exceptions to this rule were government, regulatory and legal reports that are still required to be printed. To the world of software development, it meant building and using reporting frameworks, printer drivers and firmware and device management tools.
Speaking of reporting frameworks, they are the ones that took away the lion’s share of the reporting software business pie. Various products had a field day at different times. Crystal Reports, Jasper Reports, and reporting tools embedded in larger enterprise softwares– ERPs like SAP, Peoplesoft, BI products, CRMs like Siebel.
Having said that, there has always been a conflicting requirement that has kept reporting tools and frameworks on their toes and left end users wanting. A never ending tussle between providing an array of cookie-cutter reports on one hand and ad-hoc MIS reports on the other hand. More than often software developers have been asked to churn out ad hoc report whenever a need arose on top of reports they already provide through the systems that they built.
But lately, BI tools have formalized this requirement by giving the control directly to the hands of MIS users. BI tools and a lot of ISVs like Qlik view, Actuate and Pandera systems cater to this requirement. Another aspect related to ad hoc MIS reports is the visual representation of data. As the saying goes ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. This saying literally applies to graphically representing data in a bar chart or pie chart. Graphical representation and the ability to graphically slice and dice data is where the real power of ad hoc reports is realized. Graphical presentation makes it very easy to spot conditions like what may be trending with customers. Diversions or a drift in performance or cyclical nature of a business or a spell of uptrend and downtrend become totally apparent through visual tools.
It will be interesting to see what future holds for reporting frameworks and what kind of requirements will emerge and influence these frameworks in the days to come.
What are your reporting requirements, how well they are met by your current toolset? Share your experiences with us.
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