The Troubled World of Reporting
Imagine that your organization has only a single person who knows how to send email. Every time anyone needs to send a message, a request is added to the company Email Request System, where it is prioritized and put into a queue consisting of many other emails waiting to be composed and sent. While the email guru knows a lot about sending an email, it is not known when the message might actually be sent, especially if higher priority message requests come alongand reduce the queue position of your message request. Because the organization accepts that this is the best possible way to handle this process,everyone accepts the inevitably long waits and uncertainties as the “cost of doing business.”
Sounds like a real nightmare, doesn’t it? But this scenario is a metaphor for the state of information reporting today. Even the latest crop of reporting and business intelligence (BI) tools require the heavy involvement of expensive and overworked software integrators, developers and database specialists. If you want a report changed, even for something as simple as replacing a column, you’ve got to call the programming department or the SQL expert. It’s like having to use a web developer to make a spelling change on a web site. And that’s for well-defined, relatively static reporting functions.
The Information Supply Chain
Consider that reporting of any kind is just a part of a larger “information supply chain”, where information is collected, stored, transformed and distributed (“reported”). The end result is information that provides subject matter expert “information consumers” and decision makers with actionable business knowledge. However, these same decision makers have little or no access to tools that allow them to easily and simply tune and tinker with reports, so that quick adjustments can be made as business needs change; instead, they have to “queue up” their needs and wait, interrupting thought processes and creativity.
Microsoft SQL Reporting Services and Crystal Business Objects are fine products in their own right; Reporting Services is even “free” with a SQL Server license. But whether or not you’re paying for it, these tools still lack a very powerful and important piece: a truly Agile Izenda Reports reporting capability.
Agile reporting puts the power to make reporting changes back into the hands of analysts, business people and decision makers, freeing up scarce IT resources to focus on real systems problems.
Enabling “Information Democracy” (People- rather than Developer-centric)
Izenda, the company that invented agile ad hoc reporting, brings us a reporting system that defines what decision makers and business people should expect from a reporting tool. The over-riding emphasis is on people: Izenda allows users to intuitively and directly explore their data from an AJAX-enabled web browser, with no client software to install. It integrates easily and quickly into your existing software infrastructure; you can have it up and running in about an hour. Izenda comes with built-in charting capabilities and can export results to a variety of formats, including email, PDF and Excel. The learning curve is short and — best of all — you don’t have to wait for IT to catch up with your ideas.
“But we already have Microsoft Reporting Services and Business Objects!” you might say. Both of these have an important place in the information supply chain – with software developers. But any ad hoc reporting capabilities they offer can only be wielded by well-trained power users or by software developers. These tools are built from the ground up for developers. They are not useful to nontechnical decision makers and business users. They require deep knowledge of both the physical organization of the target data and the query languages that interface with it.
Izenda is complete in its simplicity. It gives users all the features they need but avoids the kind of irritating over complexities that may sound great in a design meeting but drive real users crazy. Izenda is about access; it’s about “information democracy.” Quite simply, more people can now be involved in the reporting process with Izenda because far less technical skill is required to get results, and with very short ramp-up times. Departmental and mid-level decision makers stand to benefit the most because Izenda will deliver actionable information far quicker than ever before.
Before introducing a traditional enterprise reporting solution, you must carefully document your requirements, understand how your reporting solution handles security, and monitor performance after the rollout. With Izenda, you simply download and run the installer on a server, set up an IIS virtual directory then configure a connection string. After that, you just hit a link and there it is: a robust reporting service.
With Microsoft’s SQL Reporting Services and Business Objects, deployment actually becomes a project in and of itself. Changes that are a simple point, click and Save in Izenda requires what amounts to a redeployment cycle using other tools. On top of that, distributing your Izenda-enabled application to other servers is an XCOPY operation, far simpler than an install/deploy cycle.
Zero Formal Training
A sizable cottage industry exists to support the substantial formal training requirements of tools like SQL Reporting Services and Business Objects. This is largely because those tools are meant for the developer community, not the users themselves. Wrangling results from complex developer tools creates steep learning curves and large training requirements.
By definition, Izenda is a user-centric tool that requires little training. There’s no boot camp, no extended WebEx session and no formal training. The software is largely intuitive. Training is by example, either by another user or via Izenda’s comprehensive video library, that covers three levels of understanding (Basic, Intermediate and Advanced). The entire library amounts to less than two hours of viewing. Two or three short videos are usually enough for a person to begin designing and running reports.
Delivering Agility with Izenda
Traditionally, much of the cost of creating reports actually occurs after the report has been created, via small iterative modifications. It is difficult and expensive to make even simple changes, such as adding a column or changing a heading, as dynamic business needs demand.
Because tools like SQL Reporting Services and Business Objects are geared toward developers, not end users, the cost of doing any work in those tools is expensive. Adding a new column to a report requires that you first accurately communicate the need to the developer, who will get to it as time and priorities permit. By the time the developer has finished her work, she will have coded the change, recompiled the report, verified the results against a database that may or may not reflect production data, and stage the work. Then she’ll submit it to you for review and approval. Hopefully, it all works.
With Izenda, it’s literally two clicks and you’re done. That’s Agile.
The ability for non-IT users to easily customize reports is where Izenda really shines, to the point where it really becomes more of a modeling tool, a tool that a subject matter expert would use to figure out exactly what kind of reporting is needed while retaining the ability to easily change it anytime, anywhere. These same decision makers simply cannot accomplish this efficiently with the more traditional reporting tool approach.
It’s Security-centric, too
Even the approach to security is refreshing. Rather than forcing a policy of “allowance”, where the implementer has to specify each allowable access by user, Izenda emphasizes “hiding”, where it is assumed that everything is available to all users, except what you specify. This eases setup and integration efforts (and cost), while still retaining all the lock tight security features of the policy of allowance.
Configuring Izenda for an FDA- or HIPAA-regulated organization is easy and powerful. Limiting the ability to save reports to PDF or restricting data visibility by user can be implemented in minutes without the need for developer involvement, unlike the pain of attempting something similar with Reporting Services or Business Objects, which would involve heavy developer involvement and long time frames.
Izenda can automatically inherit Windows/Active Directory, database and even table level permissions, so if you have an existing policy, then security is quickly and painlessly done. Controlling who sees what reports and who sees what data is also easily configured. Optionally, you can also re-skin the look and feel via cascading style sheets to match existing corporate applications. All of this can be done in under a day.
What About Productivity?
It’s clear that giving business users the ability to create their own reports on a self-service basis is more efficient than handing off each request for a new report to programming experts. What real metrics have been published that validates this common sense view? The APQC, an internationally recognized resource for process and performance improvement, reported in November, 2007 on the impact of self-service reporting in a Human Resources environment. They found that “organizations leveraging self-service to manage employee information are approximately one-third more productive than are organizations without self-service models. On average, top performers that rely on self-service [reporting] options are able to support 1,803 employees… whereas top performers lacking self-service systems are able to support only 1,351 employees.” That’s a 33 percent improvement in productivity…simply by allowing people to self-serve to get what they need.
The Izenda motto should be “Reporting made fast and painless.” Implementation, customization and training costs are minimal, especially compared to traditional reporting tools (and let’s not even mention BI tools). It’s non-invasive, and serves to augment the reporting portfolio rather than replace any particular component. Because of its high “ease-of-use” factor, work can be pushed down to the lowest possible cost level, allowing IT to focus on higher value projects. Izenda encourages users to “throw away the spec” and dive into a world of Agile reporting where ideas can be manifested about as quickly as they can be imagined.