What you need to know about BI reporting | 5 Tips for BI reporting
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19 tools compared
197 review criteria
Divided across 15 categories
Used in over 100 countries
Available in three editions

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BI reporting is essential

Every company needs effective BI reporting, so that employees and managers can see what is going on at a glance, and they are able to thoroughly analyze the underlying data. Reporting can be done directly on operational systems like ERP, CRM and so forth, or on a data warehouse containing OLAP cubes. Ideally, reporting should be part of your Business Intelligence platform, so you should consider using Business Intelligence tools to do reporting. Those tools have a lot of reporting functionality on board and are able to get much more out of your data than plain reporting tools.

Present information that is reliable, correct, and trustworthy

Key in reporting is that you present valuable information to the business user that is reliable, correct, and trustworthy.

  1. In the first place you need Data Quality procedures to clean up the data.
  2. In the second place you need clear definitions of the measures and dimensions. Validate them against both your business people and data sources.
  3. And, last but not least, using data visualization, present the data in a way that allows your users to interpret the data very easily so they exactly understand what is in the report.

BI reporting for small to medium-sized companies

Big companies as well as small to medium-sized companies and nonprofit organizations need BI reporting tools. They can provide business users with information almost instantly, as well as providing insights and real intelligence. But, you need a BI reporting tool that matches the requirements of the business, the size of the company, and your IT infrastructure.

How to select a BI reporting tool

  1. In the first place you should know which tools are available in the marketplace. The list of reporting tools helps you to get to know each BI reporting solution better. Then, you should consider making a long list of the tools. Approximately 6 tools will be sufficient. After making a long list you should make a list of selection criteria: which features do you really ‘need to have’ and which are ‘nice to have’.
  2. In the second place you should gather all the information from the vendors. That may take a while; based on our experience it takes at least several weeks. It could be that you don’t want to wait that long. Then consider buying the BI Reporting Tools Study 2019 from the Passionned Group, a 100% vendor-independent comparison of BI reporting tools available on the market. We did a thorough comparison based on 169 questions in categories like usability, connectivity, core functionality, predictive analytics, mobile BI, and so forth.

Different Types of BI reporting

BI reporting isn’t just a tool, it’s a platform to run your business better using key information about your clients, vendors and business processes. An effective BI reporting platform consists of several types of BI reporting applications like:

If you need to select a BI reporting platform that fits your organization, we have gathered all the information for you comparing all the major solutions on a broad list of evaluation criteria which is available in our BI Reporting Tools Study 2019.

Business Intelligence Reporting

Business Intelligence provides an excellent platform for reporting and dashboarding in every company. Business Intelligence reporting helps you to structure the process of distributing “the right information to the right person at the right moment in the right format” very efficiently. Read more in the section ‘What is business intelligence?’ or download our BI Reporting Tools Survey 2019.

Below you’ll find a nice example of a dashboard generated by one of the best business intelligence reporting solutions.

Business Intelligence reporting tools (example)

5 tips for better Business Intelligence reporting

  1. Choose a Business Intelligence tool that matches best with your organization, users and IT infrastructure. Passionned Group’s Business Intelligence Reporting Tools Survey 2019 helps you to perform a selection very quickly.
  2. Before writing reports, first find out what your Business Intelligence users want to see in their reports and which key performance indicators (KPIs) drive your business.
  3. Build a sustainable data integration layer, for example a data warehouse either with or without a data vault. Fill and maintain the data warehouse using ETL software.
  4. Visualize the information as well as you can using standard lay-outs for your reports, present the information in meaningful colors and create some interactivity in your Business Intelligence reports like drill-down and slice-and-dice.
  5. Apply role-based Business Intelligence reporting to ensure business users see instantly the information that applies (only) to them.

If you need to know what features BI reporting tools can offer, take a look at the selection criteria section of this website. The BI Reporting Tools Study 2019, written by the Passionned Group, contains a comprehensive guide for selecting reporting solutions, based on 169 selection criteria.

Role-based reporting & dashboarding

Role-based reporting and dashboardingFrom research carried out at hundreds of organizations, it is clear that role-based reporting and dashboarding can be a highly effective means of achieving Business Intelligence success. By personalizing reports, analysis and dashboards, based on the role(s) the person has in your organization, you can ensure that, initially, they only see information that is highly relevant.

Causing information-overload

Omitting information that is out-of-scope might seem to be risky, because you are not always certain what your users want to know. However, a Business Intelligence system and dashboard that isn’t role-based presents a lot of information that is not relevant to a particular user, causing information overload. And that is exactly we don’t want to achieve with BI. Users still have to search for information, instead of having it simply presented to them.

The way they present information differs considerably

Role-based reporting and dashboarding are functions that are provided by nearly every Business Intelligence tool, but the way they have implemented it differs considerably. Some still present a full report, requiring the user to drill-down, filter, sort or click excessively in order to find the required information. Some tools, the better ones, make it possible to define roles within the BI system, and then link directly to information and data elements extracting only the information that is relevant to the role. Read more in the BI Reporting Tools Study 2019 which is now available for purchase.

BI reporting software

BI reporting software is used for creating and distributing valuable information and insights to your employees and managers. So you will be able to manage and control your business processes and the outcomes in a more effective way. This type of software is often an important component of a mature Business Intelligence platforms. The main objective is to improve the performance by creating & using intelligence and insights.

Reporting softwareWith the right information at hand, employees and managers are able see how things are going and are able to take better decisions. We have compared all the major reporting software that is available in the market on 169 key evaluation criteria.

Most important features

The most important features of reporting software are:

  • establish connections to one or more databases
  • define SQL-queries to be able to retrieve the data from the database
  • create plain and complex tables with data
  • format the data by changing the font size or color
  • apply exception reporting to highlight the most striking trends
  • filter, group and sort the data on one or more attributes
  • print or export the report to Excel or PDF, with or without formatting

Interactive analysis or BI reporting?

Interactive analysis or reporting?Interactive analysis or reporting? A well-executed – business-driven – information analysis ensures that many potential decision problems are already on the ‘agenda’ and that information and goals demonstrate coherence.

Identify additional indicators and key success factors

The indicators that are crucial for the realization of our strategy, for accomplishing our goals and for achieving our mission, are placed on the dashboard or in the reports. Interactive analysis powered by OLAP – playfully analyzing enterprise data – allows us to identify additional indicators and key success factors.

However, if the information needs are not sufficiently mapped, we can ‘play’ and analyze until we drop and not come across a key success factor or a problem that requires a solution, and if we do, it is more by hit than by wit.

This is because we lack a general frame of reference for the management of the organization, namely the correlations between the business processes, the strategy and the mission. Without a direction, we cannot know where to look.

Different stages in the decision making process

Practice shows that users initially require static reporting, but as soon as a problem arises – a dropping market share, growing number of sick leaves etc. – their need for interactive analysis increases. Research supports this finding (Borgman, 1984). Therefore, we require both Business Intelligence tools but at different stages in the decision-making process.

If we merely rely on interactive analysis, we might overlook problems. If we merely rely on reporting, we will be able to signal problems, but we will not be able to investigate these problems further (or just very limited).

OLAP actually boosts creativity and effectiveness

Moreover, when we allow employees to also use interactive analysis for so-called casual browsing – not specifically looking for something – this actually boosts creativity and effectiveness. When we casually browse, we go off the beaten track as it were and we open up for new ideas and different solutions. Overall, it is best to fully integrate both type of Business Intelligence tools, with all their facets, in a single Business Intelligence system and to ensure that they are compatible with one another.

Known key success factors

We use BI reporting – just as dashboards – in order to display the known key success factors and the associated indicators. Both already prepared in the data warehouse. In this way, we can signal potential problems in business operations at an early stage. Reports typically provide detailed information. This is why they use both data from data marts (or cubes) and detailed data from the ‘Central Data warehouse’. Reports generally display information in charts or tables, although alternative visualizations are also possible. An example of a report is shown below.

Key characteristics of BI reporting: a sample of an report

A report usually exists of a table with columns and rows – sometimes enriched with a (graphical) chart that illustrates the figures. The table can be grouped by department, business unit, product group and so on. Subsequently, the chosen arrangement or layout is often used to generate an index that allows managers and other interested parties to quickly ‘jump’ to a specific part in the report.

They offer a very limited degree of interactivity

Reports are mostly static. They offer a very limited degree of interactivity, even less than dashboards in most cases. If needed – due to lacking a dashboard or interactive analysis for example – the interactivity can incidentally be increased by placing one report after another (successively), each time from a slightly different angle, such as business unit, product group, customer group and so on. If we add indexes to these reports, users can still use and apply certain interactive functions, such as switching between angles and so-called ‘drill’ functionality.

Reports usually do not have a fixed structure or format. It is up to the employee who compiles the reports to come up with something. Nonetheless, it is highly convenient if all the reports an organization uses have the same (or nearly the same) structure, format and layout, simply because users – when they switch between reports – will be able to both interpret and understand the reports much quicker. It is therefore well worth the effort to draw up a standard for reports in which the desirable layout, colors, fonts, positions are documented.

Reports must be ‘aggregate aware’

During the creation and renewal of reports, we automatically – under the hood – generate SQL* , a standard language for data manipulation and data selection from databases. This makes that employees can create rather nice – even complex – reports relatively easily even without any technical knowledge on databases or SQL. As a result, employees are less dependent of the IT department – except in case of more complex reports that require technical knowledge. So-called reporting tools, which ‘fire’ SQL on the database based on report designs must be ‘aggregate aware’** . In order to achieve rapid response times, it is important that the report ‘knows’ whether it can draw from the summaries that are available in the data marts, or whether it has to rely on the detail data in the Central Data Warehouse.

Key characteristics of reports

  • Static and well-arranged;
  • Information needs are determined in advance;
  • Customizable design/interface;
  • Data is only refreshed (updated) when specific instruction is given by for example planning software or the user himself;
  • Make use of (relational) data marts (among other things).

* Some reporting tools do also generate MDX or DAX, a standard programming language for querying cubes.

** This applies to a default relational database management system. We do not address specific solutions that work with advanced indexing techniques -‘indexed views’ or ‘materialized views’ – whereby aggregations are made redundant in which case the database itself must be ‘aggregate aware’.

100% independent comparison of BI reporting software

Today, there are many reporting solutions available on the market. Some solutions just do plain reporting and those solutions have fewer capabilities on board for creating ‘real’ intelligence. For that reason we did not compare them. We strongly believe that every report should contain (at least some) intelligence and relevant insights for continuous performance improvement.

The best reporting software solutions which are able to create ‘real’ intelligence, are often part of a complete Business Intelligence platform. All the strengths and weaknesses of the major solutions are included in our BI Reporting Tools Study 2019. It contains several graphs, expert opinions and a comparison matrix with all the details.

French retailer maximizes the impact of advertisements

Measure the effects of advertisements

A large French retail organization in the food industry that operates as a franchisor was not able to measure the effects of its advertisements correctly. Due to the economic decline, the organization was forced to minimize the marketing costs and to try to maximize the impact of its marketing efforts at the same time. A major challenge was that different advertisements in the media (TV, online, papers) were mixed up and largely overlapped.

Registration needed to improve

To start with, the organization concluded that the registration of advertisements was not correct- much of it was registered using a spreadsheet – and thus needed improving. The improvement process also involved taking into account (nearly) all events within the marketing processes, thus also events such as a commercial that had been improved, shortened, lengthened or broadcasted following a different pattern. Additionally the planning of advertisements was recorded in order to be able to adjust stocks accordingly.

Importing the data in the data warehouse

Once the registration system was fixed, the organization began importing the data into a data warehouse on a daily basis. Various BI reports and analysis were developed in order to gain insight into the effectiveness of advertisements (revenue versus advertising period) per media channel, per market segment, per region and even per product and supplier (if applicable).

Case: French retailer maximises the impact of advertisements

Figure: The (permanent) effect of TV commercials of a French retailer (of some of the products).

By also including the costs per advertisement in BI reporting, the retailer was able to detect quickly which commercials were ineffective and to then adjust or withdraw them.

Not in repetition alone

Additionally, the retailer discovered an important correlation with BI reporting: the power of advertising lies not in repetition alone, but also in applying (small) variations and in withdrawing and re-entering the commercials according to a specific pattern. Within a year, the retailer earned back its investments and the registration system was greatly improved.

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Daan van Beek, Managing Director


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