For most companies, reporting is associated with a gamut of spreadsheets and charts, endless number crunching, and repetitive work. But while often daunting and uninspiring, reporting is essential for making optimal business decisions. For example, for marketing agencies, routine reporting to clients is paramount to building trust and fostering customer loyalty, while for financial services providers, external financial reporting is a matter of regulatory compliance and adherence to accounting frameworks.
But the business world is moving beyond conventional business practices and entering the new era of advanced analytics and automation. With the increasing accessibility of BPM consulting, the approach that helps streamline routine operations without tapping into advanced technologies, there is no excuse to keep spending valuable time and resources on manual reporting. And automated reporting, in essence, is a part of business process management.
In this article, we will discuss what automated reporting is, outline its benefits, figure out the difference between automated reporting and business intelligence, and provide advice for the technology’s implementation.
How does automated reporting stand out?
Automated reporting tools can deliver business-relevant information at a set time without human intervention, utilizing APIs to source data from different platforms and consolidate it in a single system. Given that the majority of reporting processes are rule-based, RPA, a technology from the broad BPM toolkit (we discussed their relation in our article on BPM vs RPA) aimed at handling discrete and repetitive tasks, is widely used in automated reporting to turn data into actionable insights.
Here’s how automated reporting differentiates from other reporting technologies:
Report automation allows companies to generate reports frequently and make evidence-based decisions quickly.
High accuracy of reports
With automation, companies can minimize the probability of human-related errors and maximize report output accuracy.
Streamlined information flow
By implementing automated reporting, companies can democratize access to data-based insights and foster both external and internal collaboration.
With automated reporting, instead of spending time on manual data processing, employees can focus on other more value-adding activities.
With automated reporting, generating reports from business data is a much faster, simpler process that requires minimal effort on the part of the users who need this information. Users receive all the relevant information they may need in a timely fashion, without them having to source for this information by themselves.
When to choose automated reporting?
With digital transformation being a major trend nowadays, thousands of companies are digitizing data analytics and reporting. However, some organizations may not carry out a full-fledged digital transformation for various reasons. In this case, automated reporting may be a small but very important step towards the digitally-enabled enterprise. Rather than waiting for the right time to embark on a comprehensive digital transformation journey, companies can capitalize on such a low-risk and high-return initiative as automated reporting.
What is more, in the long run, not having these basic technologies in your corporate ecosystem is likely to lead to a significant technology gap. So, if you are not a solopreneur dealing with very small amounts of data, you should consider automated reporting a necessary addition.
Automated reporting or BI?
In many cases, companies looking for a way to streamline reporting are faced with the choice between BI and automated reporting. Let’s discuss how these tools differ from each other and figure out when to choose automated reporting over BI.
In a nutshell, automated reporting allows organizations to access and use relevant data without spending time and resources on collecting and compiling it. BI, on the other hand, helps businesses to analyze the available data (in the form of a report or not) and draw hidden insights from it.
Automated reporting helps improve efficiency across departments, allowing accountants, sales staff, and inventory managers to make day-to-day operational decisions faster. BI, in contrast, is the tool for business analysts, shareholders, and C-suite aimed at streamlining strategic decision-making.
In a way, business intelligence and automated reporting are the same but different. In simpler terms, they serve overlapping purposes. However, many elements set them apart. For instance, both have been designed for different users — while reporting is more beneficial for operational and operational staff, business intelligence is more appropriate for management and business owners.
In a perfect scenario, companies shouldn’t choose between BI and automated reporting as both are paramount to business success. Report automation can streamline BI, freeing business analysts up from the burden of manual data collection and allowing them to focus on the actual data analysis. In other words, automated reporting can be considered as part of the BI architecture but can be implemented on its own.
More advanced BI applications also have embedded automated reporting tools, allowing organizations to use them as a centralized data repository and a single source of truth. This significantly increases the accuracy of generated insights, improves accessibility, and democratizes data analytics across the organization.
Report automation use cases
Businesses across industries have to process data to make informed decisions or at the very least handle accounting. However, companies in particular domains can benefit from automating reporting more than others. Now let’s see how automated reporting finds its use in these industries.
For financial companies, reporting is essential for understanding their performance. However, in many companies, CFOs can review reports only at the end of a set period as it takes a considerable amount of time to manually compile them. Also, with manual reporting, companies can never be sure if a particular report accurately reflects their current situation due to potential human errors.
Moreover, CFOs are under regulatory pressure to meet the ever-increasing external reporting requirements, so it’s in their best interest to have reports generated more frequently.
Automated reporting allows financial companies to track company performance in near real-time and adjust their strategy on the go if needed. By automating financial reports, organizations can also achieve never-before-seen efficiency, streamline financial analysis, and simplify regulatory compliance. In many cases, automated reporting also becomes an important step towards digital transformation in banking.
For example, the product control team of one global financial services company had to submit daily profit and loss (P&L) reports. This implied migrating data from dozens of individual reports into the company’s legacy system to create a holistic P&L report. Now the UiPath RPA bot automatically collects and compiles data to generate final reports without human intervention. This way, the company saves a substantial amount of work hours while maintaining 100% reporting accuracy.
Another common problem that project managers in financial firms have to face daily is reporting to the executives. As a result, they spend a considerable amount of time and resources on maintaining high reporting quality and frequency, in addition to conducting countless meetings to present and explain status reports to the management.
One Fortune 500 bank decided to put an end to such an inefficient reporting framework and implemented a centralized project management system for automatic report generation. Now, project progress reports are generated automatically, allowing executives to check the status of a particular project or a program in a few clicks.
For manufacturing companies to combat fierce market competition and meet ever-changing customer demands, they have to repeatedly adjust the product range and improve the product quality. However, it is impossible to figure out optimal business strategies without relevant and accurate production insights that conventional reporting strategies can’t adequately deliver.
For example, a leading tobacco industry company struggled to achieve adequate frequency and accuracy of reports because of their outdated reporting practices. The organization was gathering data from a range of disparate sources and utilizing a manual Excel-based approach to reporting.
To optimize its reporting frameworks, the organization decided to build a data warehouse within a unified BI system with an embedded automated reporting solution. Now all the relevant data is sent to a centralized data warehouse, making it easier to employ solid data governance frameworks and ensure sufficient data quality. The BI system now also pre-calculates certain metrics, further streamlining the assembly of ad hoc reports.
The implementation of this comprehensive BI system and embedded automated reporting solution allowed the company to facilitate decision-making that was truly evidence-based. Now reports can be automatically created daily, allowing employees to engage in more important tasks and focus on drawing insights rather than manually sourcing data from several sources.
For decades, the public sector was commonly associated with the burden of slow and inadequately compatible legacy systems. Employees have little choice but to manually handle and process data, which results in human-related errors, poor productivity, and increased costs, not to mention the perpetuation of highly cumbersome and inefficient workflows.
But the new generation of employees is more than ready to apply automation and digital technologies for day-to-day operations. In the public sector, automating repetitive reporting tasks allows allocating more human capital towards other necessary activities like communicating with citizens face-to-face.
In general, digital transformation in the public sector is long overdue, but given the large size of many public sector companies, full-fledged digital transformation may not be feasible for a number of reasons. Automated reporting, on the other hand, is a comparatively low-cost and low-risk solution that can make a noticeable difference within a short period.
ONCE is a Spanish organization that helps people with visual impairment and serves over 70,000 affiliates. To raise funds, ONCE organizes daily and weekly lotteries, for which they employ thousands of salespeople, manage 26 different lottery products, and have 728 reports manually created each month.
Tired of having their employees spend countless hours copying and pasting data, the company collaborated with UiPath to automate report generation. Now, this process takes considerably less time and human involvement, so ONCE can generate reports four times more frequently and allow employees to focus on more important tasks.
For marketing agencies, reporting is critical for trustful relationships with their clients. By delivering accurate, transparent, and timely reports, marketing companies can strengthen relationships with their clients and make partnerships more effective. Marketing departments from companies across industries also struggle to make sense of the never-ending information stream about their performance due to the ever-increasing volumes of data and the abundance of sources.
Automated reporting tools can bring benefits for both marketing agencies and corporate marketing departments. The majority of automated reporting solutions enable cross-channel reporting, making it easy to have a comprehensive view of campaign performance. For example, marketers can view data from Facebook Ads, Google Analytics, and other channels in one report.
Automated reporting also significantly increases the frequency of generated reports, enabling marketing firms to adjust campaigns on the fly and make proactive decisions. And given that automated report generation solutions often imply the implementation of data cleansing and normalization frameworks, companies can ensure that the insights they generate are truthful and accurate.
4 tips for successful automated reporting adoption
Complete automation of all reporting processes is usually possible as part of an enterprise-wide digital transformation. However, companies can reap significant benefits even when deciding to separately automate a few selected reporting flows. While automated reporting implementation roadmaps differ from company to company, here are some uniform tips that every organization should consider:
Choose the right use cases
While you may be tempted to automate the most cumbersome reporting processes, it’s generally a better idea to start with simple, rule-based reporting processes that can be divided into separate stages or components and automated with RPA. However, you should still make sure to perform a conventional ROI assessment to understand if automating a certain reporting process is economically feasible.
When implementing automated reporting, firms need to consider how it will help them achieve their short- and long-term goals. For instance, will automated reporting result in enough cost- and time-savings to enable you to pursue other, more important business needs? Will it result in enhanced employee productivity and more meaningful data extraction?”
Aim for quick wins
Aim for reporting processes that can be automated quickly within a three-month time frame, approximately. Starting with quick wins will help you to build momentum and present employees with the immediate benefits of automation, making it easier for staff to embrace such a major corporate change.
Optimize data governance
To ensure smooth implementation of automated reporting, it’s crucial to establish definitive frameworks for data accumulation and transfer and develop data standardization templates. Before embarking on any automation journey, make sure to achieve high data quality, making sure that automated data cleansing and validation processes go hand-in-hand with automated reporting. To enable that, you may find a variety of solutions on the market today, starting from open-source data profiling tools to whole sets of pre-integrated tools supporting a data fabric architecture.
Make sure everyone is on the same page
More often than not, companies that have seemingly successfully transitioned from manual to automated reporting have to deal with duplicated reports, which undermine the value of automated reporting. This problem often emerges from employees’ lack of trust in automation and vaguely defined reporting policies. Sometimes, C-suite or decision-makers, unaware of workflow changes, can also mistakenly ask an employee for a report which has already been automatically created.
This is why it’s paramount to ensure that all teams across departments are aware of the reporting workflow changes, and in this case, an email won’t suffice. To have automated reporting bring the expected benefits, companies need to eliminate the possibility of duplicated reports and ensure that every department is on board with automated reporting.
Unsurprisingly, the success of automation initiatives largely depends on whether an organization makes it a strategic priority or not. According to The imperatives for automation success report by McKinsey, aligning general business goals with automation efforts is one of the main factors of achieving returns with automation.
Reporting has always been essential for realizing the full potential of a business. At the same time, reporting is a laborious work which an average employee rarely enjoys. But with industry giants already adopting enterprise-wide automation programs to make their organizations truly proactive and data-driven, the future of reporting certainly lies with automation.
At this point, regardless of an organization’s size and industry, automated reporting should be perceived as an essential element of operating a business. In many cases, automated reporting automation becomes a crucial step towards a digitally-led enterprise of the new era.