Aug 1, 2005

The Report Lifespan

It occurred to me today that reports have a lifespan. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to realize this, but I was in a meeting today where the thought came to me.

I have been an administrator of a reporting system for years. Something that I wish I had realized sooner is that reports have a lifespan. What I mean by “lifespan” is this: When a report is requested, it is usually based on some business objective that is underway. But what happens to the usefulness of the report once that business objective has either gone away or morphed into something else? The answer is that it sits in storage consuming IT resources and slowing down your Business Intelligence system. The lifespan of the report is essentially over.

In the ideal world of Business Intelligence, organizations come up with some objective that they want to accomplish in the organization. They then go to an IT department with an idea of how to track information that will drive their objective. IT then builds something – a system, a report, or whatever, to track the information that is wanted. Once the information is available, the business decision maker uses that information to make an informed decision.

Ad-hoc Reporting systems, such as Business Objects Web Intelligence or Micro Strategy, can be used more efficiently to create reports specific to business objectives. These reports are intentionally created to have a short lifespan. They are usually very specific and may contain non-standard reporting metrics. Because these reports are generally only viewable to a select audience and are stored as personal documents, the report consumer naturally cleans them up once the lifespan of the report has expired.

There is, and probably always will be, a need for standardized reports that are used across the organization or departments. These reports should be created with the “lifespan” concept in mind. By standardizing metrics across the viewable audience and including abilities to filter and drill, these reports can be consumed by many viewers for long periods of time. Problems arise when one-off reports begin to spawn for specific audiences that want to see the data tweaked for their need. As soon as this happens, the lifespan of the report dramatically shortens.

In my opinion, organizations that can embody ad-hoc reporting abilities instead of creating one-off reports can dramatically decrease the amount of stale reports in there systems. To do this, report consumers must be trained to go to the ad-hoc systems for their one-off needs, rather than requesting tweaks that are specialized just for them from existing reports. Implementing tools that monitor report usage can also help administrators cut down on stale reports piling up.

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