Financial Planning & Analysis

Quick Tips for Useful and Concise Reporting on Big Data

In the age of Big Data, finance departments collect more data than ever before, and they rely on it to drive initiatives and make critical business decisions. But given the sheer quantity, how do you ensure concise, useful reporting on big data?

More importantly, what are some ways you can use that data to influence strategic decisions?

To answer those questions, we asked 8020 Consultant Sal Tariq, who has more than a decade’s worth of knowledge in finance and analytics, for some insight. In this blog, we’ll share his high-level takeaways on how to transform Big Data into relevant, concise reports (referred to here as “salient reports”), which often can be accomplished in a one-page report. We’ll also explore how companies can best implement and improve financial reporting practices to influence such critical decisions.

When reporting on big data, less is more.

With the exponential growth of Big Data, gone are the days when companies can simply plug in canned, one-size-fits-all reporting. Across just about every industry, the trend is toward customized dashboards and tailored reporting – which, of course, is the very basis of salient reporting. While companies may still collect and store data in large relational databases, they are required to think more strategically about how to extract efficiently and make sense of that data. Is it best to customize data by product? By division? By geographic region? Or by audience (in other words, the stakeholder who is viewing a report)? The more effective you are in identifying ways to break down your data from “big to small,” the easier it will be to focus your reports and reporting dashboards on only the pertinent points that drive decisions. It’s also important to note that, while one-page reports help surface the most salient points, those same reports should contain drilldown capabilities that allow decision-makers access to granular data on any given data point as needed.

Customize your performance metrics.

Before taking the plunge on a new reporting system, first step is to determine key metrics that drive business operations. Performance can, and should be, measured differently across each department, division and product line. For certain lines of business, it may be top-line metrics (e.g., sales, revenue) that you identify as your key drivers. It is important to identify key drivers for an area of business in order to determine the best ways to customize your data – so you can boil them down into key data points that appear on a one-page report or simplified dashboard.

Let’s take the example of an insurance company. First, you’d want to consider your different lines of business (auto, commercial multi-peril, home, life, for instance) and products specific to each line. Within each line of business, you would then think about the key indicators that drive business for that particular line — for example, is it premium retention by insurance agent? Or new policies written? Once you establish those specific performance metrics, you want to further hone in by geographic area, by idiosyncrasies of a product such as hurricanes in southeast regions for home insurance and so on. Ultimately, you would end up with a concentrated reporting dashboard that provides managers with valuable insights related to performance. From this, stakeholders can make timely decisions: for which departments can you maximize talent and productivity? Do you need to increase headcount in underperforming areas? Where is additional training required? These are just some of the determinations you can make by optimizing your reporting methods.

Fine-tune operational efficiency.

Along with measuring performance, salient reporting can also provide a useful view into your company’s overall efficiency. Think about a manufacturing company that has different divisions; the unique processes within each division form an operational chain. By focusing your reports on each “link” in that chain, you can break down your data and refine it into metrics that help you identify the following:

  • How fast or efficient are your operations – and where can services be automated?
  • Where are the gaps, bottlenecks and redundancies – and where should you increase training?
  • Which areas of operations are underperforming – and where should you invest more in research and development?

Similar to measuring performance, gaining timely insights into these questions gives your company a clear picture of how to better utilize talent, training, resources and so on.

Create targeted reports for different audiences.

In the same vein of marketing best practices, it’s essential to segment and target your audience in your reporting practices. Who will be reading these reports, and what decisions will he or she be making based upon them? It only makes sense that a COO, for example, will want to know about the operational side of the business – using salient reporting to answer many of the questions listed in our above manufacturing example. But a marketing executive, on the other hand, will rely on an entirely different set of data to make and an entirely different set of decisions.

Reporting frequency comes into play here, too. In keeping with our example, a COO may need to look at higher-frequency operational reports to analyze efficiency in timely manner. In contrast, a CFO may be interested in a monthly sales report that shows, for example, how many loans were closed or how many units sold. Simply put, it’s important to recognize that reporting frequency should be customized to different audiences.

Make sure you’re using the best-fit reporting solution.

Now that we’ve looked at some key factors on how to customize and leverage your data through salient reporting, it’s a good idea to evaluate whether or not your actual reporting system is meeting your needs. Here again, there is no such thing as a straightforward or one-size-fits-all solution: a full range of reporting products exists, including Documentum, Tableau, Crystal Reports, Backshop, just to name a few. Each reporting solution offers different capabilities that can help you create and optimize your reporting methods. Want more expert tips on your data reports? Don’t miss our recent blog about improved financial reporting.

Remember, 8020 Consulting can help you identify and implement the solution that fits your specific financial planning and analysis needs – and assist you in creating the salient reports that will help stakeholders make key decisions. We’ll be happy to assist you.

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About the Interviewee

Sal has over 11 years of experience in finance and data analytics. His experience spans companies including Amgen, Bank of America, Countrywide, Zurich Financial Services and Fannie Mae. He has extensive experience in quantitative analysis, valuation, strategic acquisition, project management, risk, pricing, competitive market analysis, cash flow forecasting, P&L reporting, multi-platform data extraction and financial modeling. He implemented comprehensive reporting structures and complex database query design for companies in varying industries. Sal holds an MBA from The UCLA Anderson School of Management and Bachelors in Business Economics with Minor in Accounting and Specialization in Computer Programming from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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