Report Visualisation: From Concept to Deployment

Report visualisation is the process of presenting report formats that represent data in a pictorial or graphical format, helping to convey significance of content more easily than if presented in a traditional format. This paper shares some of the developments around report visualisation and the key steps that should be adopted to harness such capability.

Report visualisation, along with the advancement of multimedia technology over recent years, has become a very powerful means of sharing and providing insight around business performance, which can be easily digested by the recipient. Report visualisation is the process of presenting report formats that represent data and information in a pictorial or graphical format that helps the recipient to understand the significance of the content more easily than if presented in a traditional report format.
 
The human brain consumes information much more easily when presented with graphical representations, and so report visualisation concepts have become a key aspect of report design. The beauty of visual reporting is that patterns, trends and correlations are much easier to spot when presented graphically than in a table of data.
 
In today’s modern business environment, the volume of data is far larger than ever before. Therefore the art of report visualisation has become increasingly important as we become overwhelmed by both data and information.
 
In recent years technology providers have embraced the market and developed new tools to assist in the production of high-impact visual reports. In parallel, the quantum leaps forward in desktop and mobile technology have enabled visualisation to be truly interactive and dynamic. 
This paper shares some of the developments around report visualisation and the key steps that should be adopted to harness such capability. Included are ‘Research Insights’ gathered from Chartered Global Management Accountants across a wide range of industries.
 
The following five key principles should always be considered in report visualisation:
Ensure data is optimised for report visualisation
Apply the relevant visualisation tool
Choose an appropriate report layout
Optimise the reader experience
Optimise visualisation to the appropriate delivery channel
 
Until recently, visualisation tools were part of large enterprise-wide Business Intelligence (BI) solutions requiring significant investment and specialist IT skills. In recent years, cloud-based technology has opened up a new suite of products that can be owned and developed by finance.
 
In designing performance reports, most organisations become unstuck by not:
Focusing at an enterprise level around what should be measured and why 
Placing enough emphasis on getting data integrity resolved
Looking at the holistic picture on how reports fit within one performance management framework.
 
In essence there is little point in developing a report that looks good but drives the wrong focus on behaviours; to get visualisation right, the following building blocks need to be considered. Start with pilots, Proof of Concepts (PoCs) and scale throughout the company.
 
Critically, the best place to start tends to be at board level (or equivalent) within the organisation. As mentioned, initial focus is centred on getting the content right – i.e. the measures that will ensure resources are enabled and aligned around delivering the organisation's strategic intent.
Once these key metrics have been defined, they should become the basis for designing of all subsequent metrics cascaded down through the organisation.
 
Only then should time be spent on developing a visually impactful board report incorporating a combination of graphs, icons, tables and summary commentary which articulates the performance of the organisation at a glance. To attain this will require iterative mock–ups, taking into consideration the preferences of different personality types in developing a house style. In parallel, great care and consideration has to be given to ensuring that an agreed report style can be delivered efficiently and can be automated to reduce production burden.
 
Be aware that the report is likely to need to evolve from an initial proof of concept into a sustainable report. Ensure that the design is managed, developed and governed accordingly. Lastly, the report needs to sit within a performance management framework which is used as a formal mechanism to assess performance consistently across the organisation. By adopting this approach, you have developed a style for the organisation which can be quickly evaluated and embraced on a sustainable basis.

 

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