Successful digital reporting requires paper

The reports of the death of paper are grossly exaggerated 

Hearing that he was apparently (according to a newspaper) lying on his deathbed, the American novelist Samuel Clemens (better known as ‘Mark Twain’) is quoted to have said “the reports of my death are grossly exaggerated.” If paper (or its corporate cousin: the corporate document) could speak, it would be saying the same thing.

It seems no industry is safe from experts pushing “digitalization”. Nowhere is this trend stronger than in the area of reporting or business intelligence (BI). And while the potential benefits of “digital” are great, the actual results – and adoption – of digital reporting in large corporations have so far been disappointing. Indeed, anyone working in this sector will by now be familiar with the term “shelfware”, denoting software licenses bought but remaining “on the shelf”, unused. The term “digitalization” itself is perhaps the greatest culprit for this dismal performance.

 

“Digital” is the means, not the end

By using a technology-inspired term to describe what is essentially a process improvement, many digital reporting projects implicitly put the cart before the horse. Digitalization is not primarily a technological challenge. It is a change management challenge. The technology is simply the means to an end of improving the way we work”. For example:

Guarantee a single version of the truth

  • Goal:
    • increase meeting efficiency (no more “what is / who has the right data?”);
    • reduce the scope for human error;
    • increase transparency and management accountability.
  • How? By ensuring a shared, reliable narrative of performance through digital reports directly linked to the single, certified source of data and Key Performance Indicator (KPI) definitions.

Make better use of human talent (more value-add, fewer errors)

  • Goal:
    • Minimize the time highly qualified individuals spend on low-value, labor-intensive report production and maximize the time for value-added analysis and broad, optimal distribution of insight;
    • Reduce the scope for human error inherent to manual report production.
  • How? By automating all repetitive, routine report production and updating processes.

Speed up and improve decision-making

  • Goal:
    • Help management find the relevant decision-making needles in the exponentially growing data haystack;
    • Improve the “first time right decision” efficiency of meetings and avoid the need for multiple follow-up meetings at every unanticipated question or issue.
    • Minimize the time it takes for new data to reach management (e.g. in the financial area this means focusing on reducing the “closing cycle”).
  • How? Through automatically (re-)generated digital reports with optimized exception reporting, interactivity, drill-down functionality and guided analytics.

 

Applying Roger’s Adoption Curve to digital reporting projects

When marketing or product managers consider launching an innovative product to their external customers, they will often base their assumptions about uptake on Rogers’ Innovation Adoption Curve (See figure). The tragedy with many digital reporting projects is that the fundamental human truth expressed in this model is often forgotten or neglected in both the design of the digitalized product and the roll-out / adoption project that accompanies it.

Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve

Rogers’ model basically assumes that any population has a normal (or bell shaped) distribution and classifies adopters of new technology based on the idea that some people are simply more open to adaptation (i.e., change) than others. At the beginning of the curve you find the “early adopters” and “innovators”, most open to – and the first to try – new ideas. These groups usually act as key opinion makers, willing guinea pigs and trailblazers that help convince the rest. At the other end of the curve, we have the so called “laggards”, the most skeptic and risk-averse individuals, who are typically the last to adopt any new innovation. The majority of people are somewhere in the middle and are either described as “early majority” or “late majority” depending on whether they are a bit faster or slower to adopt a new trend.

Bottom line: you are not going to get everyone in your organization to adopt digital practices or new technology at the same speed.

This applies in the same way to the individual members of your management team as to the employees of an individual department. While the CFO might be a technophile (technology-loving) iPad enthusiast, the CEO might be a more traditional manager who still prefers the 1-page spreadsheet that has been his “bible” since he put his first foot on the career ladder.

 

Must-have “edge” use cases for paper will not go away 

The second issue that is often neglected with all the digital enthusiasm is that technology is simply not yet 100% reliable and available across all critical use cases.

  • Working offline – Most airlines cannot (yet) be relied upon to have on-board WiFi and/or internet connection. When they do, performance is often not optimal and the window of access is limited. Terrestrial mobile internet network coverage has made great progress, but tunnels etc. still represent obstacles and risks when working in the back of a car or taxi. Busy traveling executives cannot leave things to chance and need to ensure they will be able to work effectively in any scenario.
  • Note taking – Even when reporting is digital or an online presentation is being projected on a screen, not all individuals will be able, or prefer, to take notes on a tablet. Many will wish to have a fully formatted hard-copy hand-out for note-taking.
  • Critical presentations – WiFi and internet connections are not always reliable and/or perform optimally. We’ve all encountered the situation when, at a critical moment in a presentation, the WiFi or internet connection does not work properly (especially when off-site). Even when you are prepared to take the risk, a responsible professional will want to have a back-up available. Just in case.

While digital reporting is superior in many ways and in most scenarios, these critical “edge” scenarios where digital reporting is not optimal still remain. In these cases, it is essential that the reporting software not only produce perfect online dashboards, but is also capable of producing fully formatted documents.

 

For successful digitalization, you need to be just as strong in docs as online dashboards

It is therefore essential that the software you choose for your digitalization project, as well as the associated adoption plan, is able to effectively manage this multi-speed heterogeneity (in terms of both output format and individuals).

In the vast majority of large corporations, a document-based reporting processes and output are – and will for the foreseeable future continue to be – the standard. It is simply not realistic to expect success from a big bang transition from 100% paper documents today to 100% online dashboarding tomorrow. This will simply provoke resistance and undermine your single point of truth by forcing the early/late majority and laggards to revert to parallel processes using the tools they know and love (e.g., Excel and PowerPoint). This means the road to full digital adoption is long and is unlikely to be complete given the edge use cases for paper.

A successful corporate digital reporting solution for market intelligence teams therefore needs to not just excel in the area of online dashboarding, but also fully support perfectly-formatted corporate documents.

mTAB has achieved such a result. In addition to powerful marketing intelligence executive dashboards, we have created online “Stories”: interactive reports that are indistinguishable from the familiar PowerPoint packs that can either be used online or exported as perfectly formatted corporate documents in pdf or editable PowerPoint slides.

In other words, within a fully-automated and digital-reporting process, full freedom is given to different types of users on how they “consume” this data. On one extreme, the early adopters have the freedom to fully exploit the online features and dashboards and “never leave their tablets”. At the other extreme, the laggards can still be fully serviced through pdf, Excel and PowerPoint documents while they take their time to build familiarity at their own speed.