Why Reporting Tools Struggle with Client Data

Posted: March 13, 2008 in Business Advice, Technology
Tags: , ,

“Gimmie a report on the senior management of our top 50 clients that haven’t been to lunch in awhile”

You struggle with the data – its so precise and specific. Should ‘Senior Management’ include IT managers as well as CIO’s? What about Financial Controllers or Non-Executive Directors? And does Top Fifty mean this month, this year or of all time? What about lunch – how can you get the appointment diary information over to the customer database?

Reporting tools often get the blame for not being flexible enough, yet we ask them to do the impossible:- give us generalised answers on excruciatingly pedantic data.

Why is this?

To answer we have to go back to the original users of computer technology in business – the accounts department. Database structures were invented to hold data in very precise ways. After all a Ledger that more-or-less balances is of little use to anyone. It was an enormous success.

Not surprisingly when companies needed to hold information about clients the tried-and-true designs were applied. Data was defined at the smallest unit necessary to contain the context. Job Title is just that – the field contains whatever the person called themselves – irrespective of their actual function or importance – either to their own organisation or yours. It is precise – but not a whole lot of use, (except when addressing the person concerned!). To You “VP of Marketing” might equate to “Vice President – Marketing”, but to a computer they are as different as can be.

In Short: Customer Data is NOT Financial Data and needs its own structures.

The structures it needs are broad, fluffy and inclusive – not exclusive. For example – in our opening scenario we would be better off including in our report a few people that are marginal rather than risk leaving off someone important. This is counter-intuitive to the way a financial ledger must operate.

During the ’90’s Customer Relationship Management applications realised this and introduced segmentation and grouping mechanisms to allow people to be grouped in ways that make sense, however, judging by some of the categorisations Website ‘forms’ demand – I would suggest this lesson needs to be heeded by many a company striving to service their customers with ‘new media’.


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