Report Automation – How to Supercharge Your Business Intelligence
Reporting as a concept is about presenting information in a form that provides decision-makers with key insights. This type of report allows you to digest data broken down by specific metrics. The preparation of business reports can include data integration, aggregation, transformation, and even visualization of information if needed. Once a report is created, it will require you to keep its information up-to-date. I’m sure you would agree that doing all this manually is time-consuming and tedious, wouldn’t you?
As an alternative to manual reporting, you can automate the process of report creation or data refresh. By automating the reporting process, you can improve accuracy, save time, and get real-time insights. So, what is report automation? We’ll cover this and more in this detailed guide.
What is report automation?
Report automation is a process of generating reports or automatically updating the created reports without human intervention. Automation is generally carried out with the help of a software solution that automates repetitive tasks, such as data integration, transformation, and visualization.
Automated reports are common as a built-in feature in different apps dealing with data analysis. For example, such tools as Mailchimp, HubSpot, Facebook Ads, QuickBooks, and many more provide built-in functionality to automate report generation.
On the other hand, report automation also covers making custom reports self-updating. This means that you can build a report and automate its data refresh, so the information in the report is up-to-date.
Types of report automation you can benefit from
As we mentioned before, report automation is often implemented as a built-in functionality of different apps. However, this is not the only way you can encounter it. Here are other types of automation you can use for reporting:
- Custom reports – the reports designed for specific business requirements using customized solutions for data extraction and report generation. Here is an example of a custom product funnel report.
- Dashboards – the automation of data reporting in a dashboard format when the data is visualized using charts and graphs. Here is an example of a sales dashboard.
- Interactive reports – the reports that contain a built-in data manipulation functionality, such as filtering or sorting. Here is an example of an interactive marketing report on ad performance.
- Self-service reports – the report automation that enables end-users to design reports on their own using the built-in functionality. Here is an example of a self-service report that you can generate in Facebook Ads Manager.
- Scheduled reports – the report automation to set up a report to run at specified intervals, such as every day or every hour. Scheduled reports can be generated automatically, or you can set up a schedule for an automated refresh for manually created custom reports. You can schedule almost any report using a specialized solution like Coupler.io. Here is an example of what the scheduling functionality may look like.
Top 3 benefits of report automation supported by examples
The core benefit of report automation is the increased speed and quality of decision-making. Since the data is processed and fed into reports automatically, you can get insights into it without any delay. Minimized manual processing of records for reports or the lack of this leads to a decrease in human errors. As a result, your analytics becomes faster and more efficient, which allows business leaders to make smart decisions faster than ever before. If we break down this core benefit provided by report automation, we’ll get three essential components: accuracy, efficiency, and time. Let’s review each of these benefits supported by a real-life use case.
Report automation streamlines the report creation process, making it faster and more efficient. This can lead to cost savings for businesses, as it reduces the need for manual labor and frees up employees to focus on other tasks. Additionally, automated reports can be delivered in real-time, making it easier for businesses to stay on top of critical metrics and adjust as needed.
Increased efficiency was the main benefit for Terminal1, a recruitment platform. They desperately needed to automate the process of daily reports export from QuickBooks to further blend this data with the records stored in Airtable. Each of these activities and steps created a lot of manual, tedious work for the team. The solution they settled for was Coupler.io which allowed them to automate their reporting to get a clear overview of the financials of the company right from the get-go.
When reports are created manually, there is a higher risk of errors due to data entry mistakes, miscalculations, limitations, or other issues. Report automation ensures that data is collected and analyzed consistently, which can lead to increased accuracy in the reports. By automating reports, businesses can reduce the risk of errors or avoid limitations, leading to better decision-making based on more accurate business data.
The challenge of sampling and reporting limitations in Google Analytics is what Answear, a multi-brand online store, has faced. Besides, they needed to bring together the data about website user behavior, advertising costs, returns, and margins since it was stored in different systems. Answear found the solution to their challenge by using OWOX BI tools to automate their reporting. As a result, they built an efficient, almost completely automated reporting & analytics system which contributed to their business performance.
With report automation, the time spent on creating and updating reports is significantly reduced. This frees employees to focus on other tasks that require their attention. Automated reports can be generated instantly or scheduled to run at specific times, making it easier to ensure that they are always up-to-date.
Plantronics, the leading designer, manufacturer, and marketer of lightweight headsets, was looking for a solution to ensure compliance and reduce reporting time and effort. They settled for TIBCO LogLogic, which proved itself highly effective in speeding up report generation and delivery. Now, the reporting processes that once took two hours or more to complete are accomplished in just 15 minutes.
How to automate reports for your business
In most cases, report automation is a complex process consisting of multiple stages, such as data identification, designing a report template, automating report generation, etc. But the complexity of automating reports depends on what you want to get as a result.
For example, if you just need to share a standard Profit and Loss report from QuickBooks Online, this can be done with literally no effort. You can use a QuickBooks integration to schedule exports of this report to a spreadsheet, such as Google Sheets, which can be easily shared with stakeholders.
At the same time, if your goal is to aggregate ad campaign data from Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn, adorn the report with some visualizations and filtering options, this would require specific skills and take time.
Anyway, here are the core steps required to set up report automation.
Step 1: Choose a reporting tool
Select the basis for your report, i.e., the place where all the magic happens. This could be a regular spreadsheet app, like Excel or Google Sheets, a BI tool, like Looker Studio or Tableau, or even a dedicated reporting-centered solution like Dashthis or Whatagraph.
Step 2: Design a report layout
Do you recall your car’s dashboard where you see different scales and indications? Your report should be informative in a similar way. Some key performance indicators should be easy to see, use charts to demonstrate comparison, and other data visualization best practices.
Step 3: Feed data to the report
Since we’re talking about how to automate reports, you can’t just copy and paste data for your report. You need to connect the chosen reporting tool to a data source. Some tools provide built-in connectors to common data sources. Alternatively, you can also connect to the data source via the web API. For this, you can use an API connector or write a custom solution, for example, in Python.
If your report will rest on the data taken from multiple sources, it makes sense to accumulate this data set in one repository, for example, a data warehouse. Then you can connect this repository to the reporting tool.
Step 4: Automate your report
Report automation here defines a schedule or an event that will trigger the report to run, i.e. refresh the data in it. You can automate your report on schedule, such as every minute, every hour, etc. Or you can trigger the report refresh on a certain event, such as adding new records to the data source.
Step 5: Refine your report
This step is about validating whether your report delivers the necessary insights. This means that you may reconsider the metrics used, update visualizations, expand the report with additional KPIs, etc.
By following these steps, you can efficiently streamline processes, establish data analytics infrastructure, and develop customized dashboards that can help you extract the maximum value from your data. This will also aid in making your company more data-driven.
Top 5 tools to build an automated reporting system
Let’s take a look at some examples of tools that not only automate reports but create an automated reporting system. Although there are many options to choose from, we’ve selected the top 5 solutions for you to consider.
Coupler.io is a data automation and analytics platform that can be used for simple and advanced report automation. It provides an ETL tool that allows you to schedule data exports from 60+ data sources. Your report can be refreshed at a frequency from every month to every 15 minutes! If you want to trigger the data refresh on a certain event, this can also be implemented with the help of webhooks.
For more complex report automation tasks, Coupler.io provides a data experts service that can set up an automated reporting system from scratch.
Google rebranded its famous Data Studio, and now it’s named Looker…Looker Studio. This is a free reporting tool for creating custom reports and dashboards. Looker Studio supports a number of connectors to get data from various sources, including Google Ads, Google Analytics, and non Google related sources as well. The major feature of this reporting platform is a wide range of visualization options to create pretty amazing dashboards.
In short, Tableau is a beefed-out Looker Studio 🙂 Jokes apart, this is a business intelligence platform for building interactive reports and dashboards. Tableau provides multiple products, such as Tableau Public, Tableau Online, etc. All these are meant to optimize your reporting automation experience and share your findings with stakeholders.
Domo is a low-code business intelligence and analytics platform. It claims to take the power of BI to the next level by connecting to multiple sources, creating custom reports, and collaborating with stakeholders in real time. In addition to a wide range of visualization options, Domo provides data apps to solve business problems and offers enhanced security for analytics sharing.
We’ve mentioned Owox above and included it in our top 5 reports automation tools. It’s a company that offers different products designed to help businesses optimize their data management processes, including via reporting automation. Owox BI is the very product you need to deal with advanced analytics and reports. However, other products, such as Smart Data and Attribution, can greatly contribute to your data management processes.
Other options to automate your reports
Spreadsheet software: Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets offer basic automation features like macros and pivot tables that can automate data analysis and report generation.
Business intelligence (BI) tools: Power BI and QlikView provide more advanced data analysis and reporting automation features. These tools allow users to create interactive dashboards, automated reports, and alerts based on specific data conditions.
Data integration and ETL tools: Data integration and ETL tools like Coupler.io, Zapier, or Talend can automate data collection and aggregation from various sources. These tools can help create a seamless data flow into reporting systems and automate preparing data for analysis and reporting.
Custom programming: Custom programming using languages like Python or R can be used to automate data analysis and report generation.
The choice of which option to use to automate your reports will depend on your specific needs and requirements. Spreadsheet software and BI tools may be sufficient for smaller businesses with simple reporting needs. In contrast, larger organizations with more complex reporting requirements may require more advanced tools like custom programming or report automation software.
Report automation challenges you may face
While report automation can bring many benefits to businesses, you should be aware of the following potential challenges:
Initial setup and cost: The initial setup and cost of implementing report automation can be high. It may require software tools, hardware, and training investment, which can be a significant expense for small businesses.
Over-reliance on technology: Report automation can lead to over-reliance on technology, which can be problematic if the technology fails or needs to be fixed. This can lead to delays in reporting and impact decision-making processes.
Human supervision and interpretation: When you use BI and dashboard tools, a human usually makes a layout and a report in a readable business-oriented format. Unfortunately, Tableau & Looker Studio don’t generate reports themselves. So, this would require certain human supervision and knowledge to do the job.
In addition, automated reports may need more ability for human understanding and analysis, which can limit insights and the ability to identify trends or outliers that may be important.
Inaccurate data: While report automation can reduce human error, it can also lead to inaccuracies in data if the automated reporting tools are not set up or programmed correctly.
Limited flexibility: Automated reports may be limited compared to reports generated manually. This can restrict customization options and make it difficult to create reports that meet specific needs or requirements.
Overall, report automation can bring many benefits to businesses, but it’s essential to consider these potential disadvantages and weigh them against the benefits before implementing report automation.
Best practices to automate reports efficiently
Let’s look at some best practices that can help you automate your reporting process and create valuable visualizations.
Identify key metrics: Before setting up report automation, identify the metrics you want to track and report on. This will help you focus your efforts and ensure that the reports provide valuable insights.
Use the right tools: Choose report automation tools that are easy to use and integrate with your existing systems. Look for tools that offer data visualization and other features that make it easier to analyze and interpret the data.
Set up alerts: To stay on top of important metrics, set up alerts to notify you when specific events occur, or thresholds are reached. This will help you to take action quickly and make adjustments as needed.
Keep reports simple: Focus on the most important metrics and keep the reports simple and easy to understand. Refrain from cluttering the reports with too much data or information, as this can make them challenging to interpret.
Test and refine: Test your reports over time to ensure that they provide valuable insights. Seek feedback from key stakeholders to ensure that the reports meet their needs and deliver the insights they need to make informed decisions.
Maintain data quality: To ensure that the reports are accurate and reliable, it’s essential to maintain the quality of the underlying data. This means regularly cleaning and updating data and ensuring that the data is entered correctly and consistently.
By following these best practices, you can improve the accuracy and efficiency of your reporting, saving you time and providing valuable insights to drive business decisions.
What’s the best way to set up report automation
So, what options do we have to automate reports?
Built-in reporting features are offered on many apps and platforms. They allow you to create and automate reports using data from the platform itself. It works pretty well but in most cases, you’re limited to the functionality of that particular platform. Another issue is sharing since not all tools allow you to easily share your report. As a result, you have to manually export it and then share it with stakeholders.
Third-party automated reporting tools where you can create custom reports and automate those seem to be a pretty actionable option. They offer a range of data visualization features, scheduling and triggering options, and other perks for analytics and reporting. As a rule, they also support a number of sources from which you can load data directly to your report. The main drawback of this option is that it’s quite pricey.
The third option you can consider and the one that we did not cover in this article is custom-developed solutions. This means that businesses with more complex reporting needs can opt for custom scripts or code to automate reporting processes. This is the perfect option if you have an in-house data analyst or data engineer who can set up an entire reporting automation infrastructure. However, if you don’t, you can always hire a data experts service to do the job like Coupler.io.
Ultimately, the best option out of these three pillars is the one that best meets all your requirements in terms of budget, level of customization, and available resources. Choose wisely, and good luck!Back to Blog