Enterprise Reporting System Buyer's Guide
The Best Enterprise Reporting Software is All About Sharing Insights
By Alainia Conrad, Market Research Associate
Enterprise reporting tools marry efficient operation with in-depth analytical insight using state-of-the-art business intelligence. Improving customer relationships (55 percent) and becoming more data-focused (53 percent) are the top two business goals pushing investment in data-driven initiatives today. The most desired features are dashboard-based reporting (76 percent), ad-hoc analysis (57 percent) and dashboard authoring (55 percent), according to a recent Business Application Research Center Study.
Business Intelligence (BI) experts, Business Analysts and Statisticians/Data Scientists are the most frequent users of advanced and predictive analytics. By 2020, 50 percent of chief analytics officers will have successfully created a narrative that links financial goals to business intelligence and analytics initiatives and investments.
The best reporting tools excel when real-time data is needed to complete a decision. These systems generate dashboards that tend to have a limited lifecycle; they are meant as a snapshot of what’s going on at present. In financial terms, data reporting tools are comparable to the latest income statement generated by a financial reporting system. The balance sheet of business tends to aggregate data together and provide an overarching or strategic view of activity.
That’s the role of analytics, and BI applications and platforms. Business reporting software is flourishing today, as integration technologies are making it more efficient to aggregate diverse data across a company. These systems replace the outdated processes of having an analyst create an entire report manually. It’s a well-known fact that the majority of data reporting software today are manually based and rely almost entirely on Microsoft Excel, macros and manually-based queries of databases.
The objective of this guide is to provide you with insights into when a reporting tool or application is best for your needs versus a BI application or entire platform.
- As top reporting software advances, they begin to offer many of the same capabilities as full BI suites, although more specialized.
- Enterprise reporting tools are best suited for real-time, ad-hoc queries.
- Embedded reporting platforms provide a full-scope view of your business operations.
What This Guide Covers
- Benefits of Enterprise Reporting Software
- Implementation Goals
- Basic Enterprise Reporting Platform Features & Functionality
- Advanced Enterprise Reporting Features to Consider
- Enterprise Reporting Software Comparison
- Questions to Ask Yourself
- Questions to Ask Vendors
- Related Content
Benefits of Enterprise Reporting Software
Aggregate, Analyze and Interpret Data Fast
The primary design goal of every enterprise reporting tool is to streamline the process of aggregating, analyzing and interpreting data to drive better decisions. Where BI applications are designed for en masse aggregation of data and the analysis of trends and in-depth insights, reporting software is designed for speed and quick insights to drive better decision-making. As the differences between reporting tools and traditional BI applications continue to blur, the speed, scale and simplicity of the former set of technologies will excel.
The architecture today for the best reporting software is predicated on taking in a diverse range of databases, data sets and data sources to enable business analysts to aggregate, analyze and interpret them into a cohesive series of insights and strategy recommendations. Look for enterprise reporting tools capable of providing the speed of insight and analysis, scale across diverse data sets, and greater simplicity on the user interface dimension of the applications.
Get Real-Time Data on Metrics and KPIs That Matter Most
Business intelligence (BI) applications are coming out of a phase where they were overburdened with many metrics and KPIs that those companies buying them did not need. The fact that enterprise reporting software is configurable quickly with metrics and KPIs that are the most relevant to your business, and are often based on real-time data as well underscore why this category of enterprise software continues to grow.
With enterprise reporting systems, business analysts can quickly configure interactive fixed reports, dashboard and have IT analysts complete ad-hoc queries and data discovery. The flexibility of enterprise reporting tools continues to be shown in how quickly production reporting is now configurable by data scientists who have expertise in Hadoop. This area is nascent yet one of the fastest growing in enterprise reporting software development today.
Extensive Analytics and Content Creation Support
Extensive analytics and content creation support is another area where the depth of application support continues to expand in reporting tools, and exceeds those found in more traditional BI applications and platforms. Just how extensive the support is across the enterprise reporting software landscape relies on the budgets of vendors currently competing in this area of the market. More support for IT-defined reports and dashboards, availability of embedded advanced analytics, support for mobile-based data exploration and authoring workflows, and more advanced ad-hoc query support are now becoming more commonplace in reporting software.
The top reporting tools are now also supporting shared analytics content and embedding analytics content across internal sites and shared resource locations. The focus is shifting towards being able to publish reports regardless of origination point and reporting software used.
Data Management and Infrastructure Support
Enterprise reporting solutions’ functionality began to accelerate when the greater depth of data integration and support became more commonplace in these applications. The areas of data source connectivity, governance and metadata management have combined to make this area one of the most rapidly maturing of all in reporting applications. Advanced reporting tools are now starting to support data governance across multinational locations, enabling report tools to scale and serve multiple departments and divisions globally. Data source connectivity is also going to accelerate continually, creating a broader base of data sources to integrate with over time.
Become a More Data-Driven Organization
|Given the emphasis enterprise reporting software vendors are placing on integration, they will most likely be able to integrate a wide variety of data sets and sources. Embedding reporting tools into your most important systems will collect data from all facets of your business. You can gain greater insights and visibility into overall business operations and how decisions made in one area impact entire company performance.
In your search, look for reporting tools that support creating a single, unified data set that can scale across a wide range of analytics, KPIs and custom metrics.
Organize and Visualize Data
|Reporting software becomes more understandable by providing dashboards that can scale to support the simplest to complex business process. The tools now include configurable dashboards that include the most popular metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) companies rely on to run their businesses.
Reporting tools are being designed more for governance and data management strategies as departments and companies look to create a single system of record for their entire business.
When choosing a vendor, look for advanced reporting software that has integration, data governance and compliance features. The more diverse the support of databases an enterprise reporting tool can integrate with, the greater its value over time. The most valuable aspect of any enterprise reporting software is the ability to aggregate many different data sets quickly and complete a wide variety of reports.
Gain Real-Time Insights Into Business Operations
|Reporting tools’ popularity continues to increase as senior management teams rely on them for real-time data, which is more challenging for more traditional analytics and BI applications to deliver. Reporting software is excellent at capturing ad-hoc or quickly defined data across a wide span of systems. They offer the ability to better manage costs associated with particular projects and programs by having real-time data available immediately. Additionally, these systems help inform management teams as to the progress or delays in attaining shared department and divisional objectives.|
Collaborative Decision Making
|Reporting software is capable of scaling across any web-enabled device, anytime, providing data, insights and intelligence to team members, management and leadership teams on a 24/7 basis. The best enterprise reporting tools also support embedding and publishing analytics content, making it possible for users to gain greater insights on how to run their businesses.|
Basic Enterprise Reporting Platform Features & Functionality
|Production And Operational Reporting Support||All enterprise reporting tools need to support a baseline level of production and operational reporting to meet the minimum requirements organizations have for information. Designed primarily for business analysts and line-of-business managers and their teams, production and operational reporting is often provided with self-service guidance for creating, editing and publishing reports. One of the greatest benefits of these features is their support for real-time data integration that can be configured to provide alerts when there are variances in activity by metric or KPI. Often, production and operational reporting APIs are embedded into applications, further reducing the data latency to obtain valuable data on the company, division and department performance.|
|Ad-Hoc Query||The most commonly found feature across all enterprise reporting software, ad-hoc query is the feature most commonly used by business analysts and IT teams given the task of creating new reports and updating existing ones. At their most foundational level, IT reporting tools need to support ad-hoc queries defined by business and IT analysts. The advances made in user interface design and self-service navigation have continually improved ad-hoc query flexibility and increased adoption.|
|Extensive, Customizable Dashboards||Designed for senior management and the teams that support them, dashboards are commonplace across all enterprise reporting tools today. They vary regarding their support for integrating third-party data into workflows, support for alerts and real-time reporting using customer-defined metrics and KPIs. The best approach in choosing an enterprise reporting software tool is to provide data for the vendor to use in creating a dashboard that shows your specific business requirements.|
|Data Discovery||Data discovery is an area where reporting tools and BI applications are converging, with the latter increasingly focused on integrating data from a series of external data sources quickly, enabling the discovery of different patterns and insights from the data. The most advanced enterprise reporting software supports self-service workflows to support navigation that makes it possible for business analysts to granularly define and analyze data, create metrics and KPIs, and then include them in dashboards. Data discovery driven by self-service is an area where reporting tools vendors will vary widely regarding the depth of their support and strength of analytical support for features.|
|Usability||Enabling greater self-service options in enterprise reporting software is where the majority of vendors are making the biggest investments in their product development today. Look for vendors who support access to multiple database architectures and sources without intensive API and web services programming effort. Vendors excelling on this dimension can transform, analyze and present data all within a session guided by advanced user interface options that take just minutes or hours to learn. The ability to get as many business analysts and IT professionals up and running on an enterprise reporting tool is the goal of the massive investments being made in improving usability today.|
Advanced Enterprise Reporting Features to Consider
|Dashboard and Advanced Visualization Support||From relatively simple dashboard configurations that include only the most essential metrics and KPIs to more advanced ones that are highly customizable, dashboards are a must-have in any enterprise reporting tool or application. Forward-thinking vendors also include customizable and configurable metrics and KPIs that align closely with the specific needs of a given business. Content creation is integrated into the dashboard and advanced visualization as well, providing business analysts with the ability to publish their reports to intended audiences using live data quickly. The focus on real-time data integration into dashboards and the quick delivery of visualization are changing the enterprise reporting tools and application landscape rapidly today.|
|Data Governance, Integration and Platform Support||Enterprise reporting software was originally designed by IT departments internally and tailored to a specific series of databases and systems of record. Soon the scope, scale and variety of data exponentially increased, creating opportunities for enterprise software companies to provide reporting tools. Creating open platform architectures capable of scaling across a multitude of different data sets successfully while providing consistent reporting continues to be a design goal of reporting tools and applications today. In conjunction with these developments is the concentrating on data governance and broader platform support. Governance is becoming essential as large multinational companies rely on reporting software and applications to gain a concise, unified view of their global operations. Platform support across public and private cloud architectures is an urgent new requirement for many vendors as well, as they look to scale out their support for diverse data sets that enrich the main reporting tools and apps.|
|OLAP Support||More enterprise reporting tools are supporting OLAP viewers and platforms than before. Look for the most state-of-the-art enterprise reporting software to support viewers capable of working with aggregated, multidimensional data. The best-in-class applications also support drill-down and in-depth drill by attribute analysis. OLAP platform support is becoming more common in reporting tools as well. Look for the best-in-class enterprise reporting software to support in-memory calculation and data analysis that scales for large datasets.|
|Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning||By 2020, artificial intelligence (AI) based personal digital assistants will be able to manage simplistic data queries in a millisecond, with advanced data query tasks handled through a machine learning algorithm.|
Compare Enterprise Reporting Software
Selecting an enterprise reporting tool or application for your company needs to be flexible enough to scale and support the many information requirements it has, while also being agile enough to integrate across many platforms. As enterprise reporting software continually evolve and become more BI-like in their feature set and footprint, there are many questions to keep in mind when performing any enterprise reporting tools comparison for your business. There are over 100 tools available today. Finding the best one for your company can be a challenge.
Choosing an enterprise reporting software provider is a task that should be given serious consideration. This guide showcases the latest reporting tools and is meant to be used as a starting point to assist IT professionals who are tasked with making this decision.
Every business has a unique set of needs, so the first step in a software selection project is to create a checklist of what your company needs most from any of the most popular enterprise reporting tools.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Is your company considering an on-premise or cloud-based enterprise reporting tools?
- How many reports are behind schedule due to a lack of project visibility?
- What percentage of your reports are completed on time?
- Are you relying on Microsoft Excel to handle reporting, analysis, and presentation?
- Are your existing stand-alone reporting tools and apps integrated with your financial accounting system?
- Is it possible to see in reports how decisions made impact overall company profitability?
- Can your accounting and operations teams track overall project costs and see how they are trending over time?
- Who uses the current enterprise reporting tools?
- What are your enterprise reporting tool users trying to achieve by using the solution, and how well can they carry out their goals?
- Is the system not cost-effective for your current users? Are you paying too much in monthly or annual fees for unused features?
- Is your approach to using enterprise reporting tools and apps too difficult to use today? Is it challenging to learn?
- Was your enterprise reporting tool designed when your company had a different business model than it does today?
- Who will be responsible for keeping the enterprise reporting tools up-to-date and be its administrator?
- What are your reporting software users trying to achieve by using the solution, and how well can they carry out their goals?
- How customizable do you need the reporting software system’s screens, applications and platforms to be to support your business?
- What’s wrong with how you are generating reports today?
- What manual workarounds are you relying on today to get reports done that your enterprise reporting engines could potentially automate?
- Which departments are everyday users, and which are only using your enterprise reporting tools and apps occasionally?
- What’s the information and insight you need to manage inventory better than your existing reporting software approach or system doesn’t provide today?
- What kinds of enterprise reporting tools will you need?
- What workflows and production processes most differentiate your company and make it unique and place an added load on reporting software and apps today?
- Define the five enterprise-wide reporting processes that most need improvement in your business today.
- What reporting, analyzing and reporting workflows aren’t being addressed by your current reporting tools and apps today?
- How much time does your company spend on generating reports?
- What’s the typical lead time for your company to produce its most common and most complex product? How can this be improved with better ongoing enterprise reporting?
- Are reporting and ongoing analysis automated or manually-based right now?
- How customizable do you need the Enterprise Reporting Tools system’s screens, applications, and platforms to be to support your business?
- Can the Enterprise Reporting Tools system generate reports that are easily comprehensible for executives of your organization?
- How will the Enterprise Reporting Tools systems integrate with your current technology? Specifically, how will the Enterprise Reporting Tools integrate with accounting, financial and planning systems?
Questions to Ask Vendors
Can you provide an overview of how business analysts will be able to create ad-hoc reports quickly?
Performing ad-hoc queries is one of the most basic tasks that any reporting tool will need to handle immediately after being installed. The focus needs to be on how practical and pragmatic it is to create reports quickly, in response to evolving requirements from key stakeholders. The focus on how to quickly get up and running with a reporting tool capable of providing ad-hoc reporting capability needs to be dealt with immediately during any product demo. If there is confusion or many steps to completing ad-hoc queries, the focus needs to shift to how a streamlined interface can be provided to guide business analysts better.
How can data be quickly integrated into your reporting tool? Does it take API mapping to get it done?
The most valuable aspect of any enterprise reporting tool is the ability to aggregate together many different data sets quickly and complete a wide variety of reports. Data integration needs to include support for interactive fixed reports, ad hoc queries, the creation and fine tuning of dashboards, and intensive data discovery reporting completed by analysts and information works. Integration needs to support all of these aspects of enterprise reporting without requiring API-level mapping or Web Services. Vendors should be able to show how easily this process is from a graphical user interface standpoint, providing insights into how best to gain access to data quickly and accurately.
Can you show the steps involved in creating a dashboard using our data, then provide a sample visualization?
Asking to see a demo of how company data can be used to create a specific dashboard with standard metrics and KPIs is reasonable and should be accomplishable relatively fast. The data integration workflows and options now available make this easier to accomplish compared to previous-generation enterprise reporting tools. Also, the most commonly used metrics and KPIs are often included as standard in the reporting tools and applications. Ask to see how visualizations can be completed during the demo and ask for a step-by-step definition of how the dashboard and visualization were completed.
Can you provide a demo using production and operational reporting data from our company?
As with other tasks that involve customer data, this should be relatively straightforward and easy to complete. Using production and operational data to get a report done during a product demo should be manageable by any reporting tools and apps vendor. Asking the vendors, you are evaluating to prepare sample reports using production and operational reporting data will provide you with immediate insights into which of their reporting tools are the best possible fit for your company’s needs. Given the emphasis reporting tools, vendors are placing on integration; they will most likely be able to integrate a wide variety of data sets and sources. It’s a good test to see which vendors have integration strategies that can scale to meet your company’s current and future requirements.
- How will the enterprise reporting software perform once deployed?
- Will the enterprise reporting tools be able to manage the wide variety of data reports needed to run your business today? How about in a year from now?
- Can the enterprise reporting system generate reports that are easily understandable for executives of your organization?
- How will the enterprise reporting tool integrate with your current technology? Specifically, how will the reporting software integrate with accounting, financial and planning systems?
- What support or training will the vendor provide during and after installation?
- Is it possible to see in reports how decisions made impact overall company profitability?
- Can my accounting and operations teams use the software to track overall project costs and see how they are trending over time?
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