What is Reporting Automation?
Reporting automation is a tool used in business to automatically generate and share specific information, to selected people, on a pre-decided time interval. Automated reports can cover several operations areas but are often related to key performance indicators, financials, and other time-dependent information.
How Reporting Automation is Critical for Business Performance
Reporting automation is widely used in the business environment where periodic reporting is essential for monitoring ongoing business operations. Without this reporting, it becomes difficult for supervisors, managers, c-suite executives, and other stakeholders to assess the organization's current performance accurately.
Feedback to Ensure Prompt Action is Taken When Needed
For example, marketing is a function that requires constant data monitoring. Marketing strategies and activities have a direct relationship to sales. An increase in sales volume is an indication that the marketing efforts in place are working, and therefore they should be continued. On the contrary, stagnation in sales indicates that the marketing strategies in use are not effective and need to be changed.
Reporting automation helps to focus this kind of data so that the appropriate intervention measures can be taken to course correct and achieve the desired goals.
Accuracy and Time-Sensitive Information
Reporting automation makes it possible for data to be accessed by management as and when needed. It is even possible for automated reporting to be done in real-time for the most accurate monitoring. In critical situations, daily reporting can effectively ensure adequate tracking of data.
For example, some employees are required to maintain a certain number of hours working to comply with local laws, for example, truck drivers. According to legislation, management may need to review logged work hours to ensure adequate rest periods.
Minimizing Employee Workload and Stress
Reporting automation benefits, not just the organization but also its employees. In a traditional manual system, employees must fill in the data manually before generating a report. This can be a lengthy process. In some cases, reports might not be ready when needed, causing unnecessary delays that impede critical decisions. Reporting automation saves time used in preparing such reports.
In a manual reporting system, employees have to work under immense pressure, which increases the likelihood of errors. Errors can be detrimental to an organization as they can influence wrong decisions. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to prevent the mistakes in a manual system where employees are expected to deliver within a tight deadline.
Reporting automation was introduced to address some of these challenges. Apart from ensuring that reports are delivered on time, automation also reduces errors and saves time that would have been used to trace the source of the error.
Benefits of Reporting Automation
The benefits of automating standardized reports can be many, depending on the organization and industry.
Manual compilation of reports requires extensive human effort. Most small organizations mistakenly think that it is cheaper to prepare manual reports than use automation. However, the contrary is true, as investing in reporting automation requires only a small investment in technology in comparison to the cost of hiring many people to do the task.
When manual tasks are tackled by technology, resources are freed up to focus on other tasks that need attention. For example, more resources can be allocated in the marketing function to focus on promotional campaigns, increase product visibility, and improve sales. Employees can focus on creative or complex tasks by giving machines boring and repetitive tasks.
For a report to be helpful in the long term, it must be consistent because it is based on repeatedly comparing and measuring the same metrics. It is difficult to guarantee this degree of consistency in a manual system as reports are dependent on the person preparing them. When the person or team makes the report changes, the information may reflect minor changes, appearing less authentic.
Achieving long-term consistency is a significant challenge with manual reporting. This is due to role changes within an organization, and employee attrition, meaning that different people are responsible for generating reports at other times. Such inconsistencies in reporting can be viewed as incompetency, and the veracity of the information can be questioned.
Increases Client Acquisition
Large organizations that prepare reports for small companies will likely gain more clients using reporting automation. Automation gives an organization a competitive edge over others not using this technology. Clients believe that they are likely to get better reports from a company that has automated its services than one using a manual reporting system. It is expected that organizations entrenched in the old manual system will eventually lose clients.
Automation also helps meet deadlines, increasing the clients' satisfaction levels. Satisfied clients are likely to return for future services or even refer new clients. In addition, data consistency that is guaranteed by automation is a significant selling point to gaining clients.
Reports prepared using the automated systems are visually appealing and have a professional touch to them, as they can be designed to fit the data and the organization's branding. They often have visualizations and graphs rather than tables and texts. Manual reports pale compared to their automated counterparts, often producing plain tables in black and white. Therefore, it is not surprising that discerning clients prefer reports generated with automation technology.
Enhances Employee Retention
One factor that demotivates employees is doing routine tasks such as report preparation. When they know the technology that can execute such studies, the situation worsens. This can lead to reduced job satisfaction and increased job attrition.
Talented employees may feel that their expertise is underutilized by being subjected to mundane tasks. As a result, they are likely to seek job opportunities in other organizations that present a better work environment. When such employees leave, the organization needs to spend more to recruit new employees. Costs like these can be avoided by identifying the needs of the employees and doing what it takes to meet them. In this case, reporting automation can help retain talent and preserve the existing workforce.
Facilitates Information Sharing
Reporting automation makes it easier to share the report with relevant stakeholders. A traditional manual system creates hard copies that are manually distributed to everyone within the office. Sharing statements externally to customers or suppliers requires manual emails, often with follow-up.
An automated system makes it easier to share the report with different stakeholders. The pieces are digitally created and automatically sent to those who require them.
Reduces Dependency on the Human Factor
Reports can be generated anytime, even without human input, as long as the system has been programmed to create them. Manual reporting, however, is dependent on human input. When the person who prepares the report is absent, the information is stalled and cannot be generated until the resource is available. There is often massive dependency on an IT department, and automated reporting reduces bottlenecks and reliance on expensive employees.
The system also makes it possible for reports to be customized about the specifications and frequency as required by the client. Providing customers what they want, when they want, reduces customer churn.
Challenges with Reporting Automation
As with every business practice that intersects with technology, there are challenges to overcome when implementing and maintaining reporting automation.
Data Security Challenges
In some instances, reporting automation can compromise the security of the system. Some automation systems allow clients to directly view the reports by logging into the company's plans. Doing so increases the chances of a data breach as many users can access the system. Without a proper data security protocol, hackers can compromise the system, leading to shut down and associated losses.
The compromised system can also lead to data losses which can negatively impact the company's operations. Data privacy can be a significant cause of concern when unauthorized personal information is accessed.
This risk can be huge and affect the organization in two main ways. Customers and stakeholders can lose trust in the organization, leading to churn. There are also significant penalties for organizations that do not comply with GDPR or other local data security legislation.
Considering the threat posed by allowing users to access the system to obtain their reports, several measures can be adopted to help safeguard the data.
First, the company should invest in a robust security system to detect any threat that compromises the data. The system should have the capability to be updated to ensure that critical updates are integrated into the software. This will also enable any emerging threats to be captured into the security system through constant updates.
Second, the company should discourage allowing all users to access the system by creating a separate interface independent of the company's databases. This will ensure that only reports can be accessed in this new interface, and any information that can be compromised will not be accessible.
Third, the company should have a robust backup system that will safeguard the company's data if the system is compromised. Investing in data storage in the cloud is a viable measure to ensure that the data is safe.
Reports can come in standard or customized designs, and the organization must adopt procedures for all their automated reporting. The main challenge is that one report design may not suit all recipients of the information. Likewise, the report may be structured to include much detailed information that may appeal to one client, while another may feel that there is too much overwhelming data. Arriving at a compromise can be challenging as it may be difficult for the report developers to anticipate client preferences.
Zeroing in on a report design that appeals to most people must be a priority for any organization. Measures can be taken to ensure that most preferences are captured in the format.
To achieve a compromise, it is essential to conduct detailed research into the features that most clients look for in a design. Doing so will enable the designers to capture the features that most users look for and increase the chance of the report design appealing to many.
Slow Adoption by Employees
Many employees feel that automation of tasks threatens their job. There is often a reluctance to learn new technology, resulting in a skills deficit. This means that the full benefits of reporting automation are often not realized, and technology adoption is resisted.
This can be overcome with excellent communication from executives. The benefits of report automation should be communicated to those affected, and how removing laborious and tedious manual tasks allows people to pursue more exciting jobs. Full training can be provided to employees who create and manage these automation tasks.
The Future of Automated Reporting
Many differences exist between manual and automated reporting. The significant difference is that manual reporting requires active input from humans for the report to be generated. On the other hand, automated reporting only requires input commands into the system, following which information can be caused by how the system has been programmed.
Manual reporting is an outdated system with many shortcomings, making reporting automation the most viable tool for generating reports in today's competitive business environment.
As artificial intelligence is increasingly adopted across all departments in organizations, the opportunities within automated reporting are tremendous. If one customer requires one set of information and another does not, there could be functions to exclude specific information, tailoring standard reports.
Automated reporting is a must for any organization wanting to reduce employee workloads, provide a better service to stakeholders, and manage the organization more effectively.
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