Operational reports provide key metrics in precise formats and layouts. By embedding these reports in the applications end users already utilize, companies can deliver insights in context and aid users in their day-to-day decision-making.
But like any new application feature, if you take shortcuts, you’ll inevitably pay for it later. Avoiding the most common mistakes will ensure your operational reports deliver the right information, in the right format, and in the right context at all times.
Mistake #1: Ignoring Your Users
It’s essential to collect end user requirements before you start designing reports. If possible, conduct interviews with all your key stakeholders and user groups to understand their goals and needs. You’ll want to answer questions such as: What is the purpose of the operational report? What type of data do you want to present? How do you want to deliver the report?
Mistake #2: Designing Before You Think
After gathering user requirements, the next step is to decide what you want the report to look like. Remember that report formats are not mutually exclusive. If your end users need to interact a lot with the report, an interactive operational report is a good option. Or, if you need a precise layout for print or PDF distribution, you may choose to build a pixel-perfect static report (which requires formatting control down to the individual pixel). You may even opt for a combination of the two: build an interactive report that can be exported to print/PDF, but doesn’t need to be as precise as it would be with pixel-perfect reporting.
Mistake #3: Forgetting About Data Complexity
Now that you know what types of reports you’re building, you need to consider the data that will be presented in them. What are your data sources? What’s the size of the dataset? How often will data be delivered? Also consider what data you want to actually show. Displaying data in the same raw format as it’s stored in the database can be visually confusing. Finally, think about where you want to make the calculations on the raw data. High-performance applications often do calculations in the database before the data is pulled into the reporting tool.
Mistake #4: Under- and Overusing Interactive Elements
You don’t need to put everything in one single report. Don’t overload users with dozens of options to drill down, filter, search, pivot, and slice and dice their data on every screen. The best operational reports give users just enough interactivity controls to meet their needs—and no more. Refer back to your requirements to see what your users want to achieve, then think about the interactivity controls you can provide to let them do everything they need to do.
Mistake #5: Failing to Reuse Elements
The secret of smart operational report design is focusing on reusability. This is especially helpful if you make a lot of reports for the same customer or build a general report for different customers. The best operational reports are set up to support reusable components, allowing you to quickly scale to meet new requirements. In operational reporting, you can reuse multiple elements such as headers and footers, frequently used data connections, data visualizations, and more. All of these elements can be placed into reusable sections called “bands,” which may be repeated or nested as needed.
Mistake #6: Using the Wrong Data Visualizations
Different data visualizations convey different types of information. End users should get the information in a format that helps them make sense of it quickly. For example, tabular formats are good at showing exact values, while line charts are best to show continuous data and trends over time. Bar charts show comparisons between categories, while pie charts are best used to compare a percentage of the whole.
Get a full list of common data visualizations and how to choose the best ones for your data in our ebook: 16 Data Visualizations to Thrill Your Customers >