Do the following examples of problems with reconciling data sound familiar?
- “Since we added a new division/shop/site to our company I can’t run an automatic group sales report because the new division is on a completely different system. So I have to add figures together manually on a spreadsheet or submit separate reports.”
- “My spreadsheet reports have some worrying discrepancies when I compare them in meetings with those of my colleagues. Is it an error I’ve introduced today, yesterday, last week? How long has it been wrong? Or is it an error in their report?”
- “Even if it’s from the same source, are we even using data from the same time-related snapshot?”
- “Have our business rules been applied correctly to each independent set of data before I received it? Did my colleagues apply different business rules?”
Do any of these daily, weekly or monthly scenarios waste your time and take you away from the more important task of dealing with the issues that are being presented in your data?
More than one system
My colleague at Dimensional Insight, Frank Smietana, wrote an excellent blog series on the pitfalls of relying on spreadsheets in an organisation – www.diminsblog.com – go and have a look if you haven’t already, it’s very insightful.
But in addition to those compelling arguments relating to spreadsheets, in our experience we also find that most of our customers, either through growth or acquisition, have more than one major system doing either the same job in different locations, or they need data from several systems to make business sense of the whole situation – whatever their industry.
For example, they may need to combine EPOS data with stock data and budget data; or sales and credit control. Or they could need to convert data from one ERP system into the same format as another, so it will look and behave the same way in common reports. You might be surprised at how many reporting problems can be caused by holding different descriptions or codes for the same physical “thing” or service procedure.
In the terms of my analogy they need to make their apples look like oranges. And once they have all their data looking like oranges, then how much easier it is for them to share insights throughout their whole organisation and make timely decisions without the delays inherent in trying to reconcile the differences. And each individual can be self-sufficient in carrying out ad-hoc analysis, without the concern that their results will be undermined by someone else’s in a crucial meeting further down the line.
Adopting a culture of standards
The way we help our customers and many other organisations get their apples to look like oranges is by creating a culture of standards. This means making an effort to streamline information, transforming dissimilarities into an agreed, adopted, standard format across all systems. Wherever possible we encourage them to dispense with individually-calculated spreadsheet reports. Instead, using integration techniques, we can access and extract data from their disparate systems and pull it all together into the desired common format.
In our case we use the “Visual Integrator” from the “Diver Solution” to carry out the integration and transformation of data, applying our customers’ agreed business rules during this process. We create data models that can be securely accessed by all the relevant data users in their organisations. The models always present the same information, as at the same “moment in time”, to all users.
Self-service analysis & business intelligence
From this solid base, the users can then carry out their own self-service analysis, create visualisations and dashboards, publishing the results to a secure web interface or share reports via email and pdf. Whichever way they segment their information they are sure in the knowledge that it reflects the true and overall status of their business at any given time. They don’t need to worry about losing their commercial edge through hours or days spent carrying out lengthy reconciliations.
Having this ability to make their apples look like oranges delivers measurable productivity and business benefits – real business intelligence.