Is Reporting Dead?
My first job out of college (in 1990) was at a life insurance company. Every day, the company's mainframe would spit out a 400 page report, printed on continuous green and white paper, like the kind in the picture above. It was placed in an in-box in our department by 8 am. At around 10 am, an executive would walk over, flip through the report, find one number, and then go about his day. This went on for years. It seemed anachronistic at the time, and much more so today. But are today's reports any more useful or valuable than the dot-matrix printouts of 30 years ago? In today's world of real-time information, instant dashboards, AI-powered analytics, has the traditional report become obsolete?
Back then, data wasn't nearly as readily available as it is today. And there was considerably less of it available, so a report was often the only way to understand what was happening in the business. The numbers could be put in a spreadsheet (yes, Excel did exist back then) and trends could be analyzed. But it was a long, slow process, and didn't always yield great results.
Today, we have dashboards on our phones, powered by real-time data. AI-powered analytics can predicatively tell what trends are occurring, in real time. Good AI can even determine causative effects to predict where your data will trend.
Does anyone will walk up to the green and white printout to find a number? If they do, they shouldn't. But neither should they invest millions in static reports. Today's analogy to the green and white printout is for a user to create a report on his computer, run it every day, and pull out that one number.
Our relationship with data is still forming. Many companies today talk about the vast quantities of data that they have and how valuable it is. Yet many seem unable to actually monetize their data, either by selling it or using it to increase revenue. I have heard many customers talk about the value of their data. Oh, yeah? Have you sold it? How much were you paid for it? Has it increased your bottom line?
The solution to data issues is often to build a data warehouse, or data lake, or data something. Soon we will be talking about data oceans and data planets. That is NOT the answer! We are at an inflection point in the world of reporting. AI and analytics today are powerful enough to provide real-time trends and insights using the data companies have. AI-powered, real-time dashboards can illustrate how all aspects of operations and business are performing and be able to make decisions and course-corrections.We don't want to know what happened yesterday, we want to know what is happening right now and what will happen tomorrow. We want our mobile phone to tell us, "Call center volume is up 10% today. Additional customer representatives have been brought online to keep the hold times under 1 minute, per our SLA." THAT is the true value of data, and that is why reports are fading in value, and analytics are increasing.