Microsoft’s Report Manager has already proven its capabilities as a powerful frontend portal, for easy distribution of reports to the business. The folder based interface in a browser makes navigation intuitive and comfortable for most users (even the “technical challenged”!) and allows for great flexibility on security settings down to the individual report, folder or user/user-group. The main challenge for the business, is to decide on how to best group the reports into folders that makes sense. We often see reports grouped in Report Manager based on logical departments like: “Finance”, “Production”, “Customer Service” or more focused on activities like: “General Ledger”, “Quality Assurance”, “Audit”, “Sales” or even a mix of the two. The obvious goal is what makes the most sense to the end user!
Regardless of the naming conventions of reports and how they are categorized, most companies experience increasing difficulty in maintaining the ease of navigation as the portfolio of reports grows alongside new needs and more users pulling reports in the daily operation. We have several clients that has more than 30 reports in their Report Manager environment and add new reports on a monthly basis. It’s not difficult to imagine two different departments essentially building the same reports but with different analytical perspectives, hence introducing a degree of redundancy hidden by differentiation of titles. Sadly we also see companies simply loosing track of what some reports are used for, as changes in business or employee turnover renders them simply unnecessary or worse, unexploited. Additionally, we also often find a special category of important reports that is not intended for the daily operation, but to help mitigate crisis when they occur (e.g. external audits, tracking lost shipments, documentation for licensing purposes etc.) that gets forgotten over time.
So how do we avoid all this?
First, it still needs to be emphasized that nothing beats thoughtful titles on reports and placing them in folders that makes sense to the end-users. Additionally, Report Manager offers the opportunity to attach a small description to the reports, visible in the interface. This is a great way to offer the potential reader an understanding of what the report has to offer besides what the title suggests. Report Manager has two views, illustrated in the two pictures, Tiles View and Detailed View.
[frame src=”http://businessimpactinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/4.png” width=”640″ height=”155″ lightbox=”on” title=”Report Manager Tiles View” align=”left” ]
Notice that Tiles View offers the first few words of the description and rest will appear as a tooltip when hovering the mouse on the title.
[frame src=”http://businessimpactinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/1.png” width=”640″ height=”140″ lightbox=”on” title=”Report Manager Detailed View” align=”left” ]
Another powerful function in Report Manager is the search engine usually placed in the upper right corner and this will bring us the magic. The engine pulls not only all reports that contains the search term in the title, but also matching terms in the description. The growing use of hashtags (i.e. “#”) in Social Media applications like Twitter and Instagram has successfully taught users how to attach topic related tags onto entries. Thus, creating simple filters that seamlessly compiles shared content across users on a given topic. Same approach can be used with the description on a report.
[frame src=”http://businessimpactinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/2.png” width=”283″ height=”118″ lightbox=”on” title=”Report Manager Search Engine” align=”right” ]
Imagine a scenario with a financial controller, faced with an extensive audit, and uses various reports across all departments/categories in Report Manager, to compile the necessary documentation. Having to figure out what report returns the right information for each department can be a daunting task. If the controller adds e.g. the keyword (tag) “#audit” to the report description, for each relevant report, the search engine will easily return ALL the necessary reports for a future audits.
[frame src=”http://businessimpactinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/3.png” width=”640″ height=”219″ lightbox=”on” title=”Report Manager Audit Search Example” align=”left” ]
In conclusion, by adding keywords/tags to descriptions, an organization can easily filter relevant reports across different folders and save significant time on browsing in Report Manager. This method are especially valuable to the report users that has cross departmental responsibilities, like e.g. finance and upper management.
Three reasons why you shouldn’t even hesitate to do this?
- Easy to implement – It does not take much technical skills to add, modify and delete descriptions.
- Cheap – It does not add any overhead to report processing, and the only noticeable cost is the time used to add the tags.
- Hashtags and keywords are concepts used in many popular applications like e.g. Twitter and it may not be difficult to train the user group to also utilize the search engine when browsing for reports.