The nature of how we produce and consume data is constantly evolving, and with it our reporting tools evolve too. Advancements in reporting platforms allow companies to become more sophisticated in the way they interact with the information they use to make decisions about their business. Many firms have deliberated moving to a more advanced reporting platform better suited to their needs, but have felt daunted by the process of selecting new software, migrating data, testing customizations, training users, and riding out the transition. Oftentimes, firms will feel overwhelmed by this process and decide that dealing with the shortcomings of their current platform is more feasible.
However, with carefully thought out requirements, a well-designed approach, and the right team in place, the transition process does not have to be painful.
Recently, we supported a large global insurance brokerage firm that decided to switch out their financial reporting platform due to shortcomings in usability, accessibility, look and feel, and analytics. As part of this process, the Advanced Analytics team sat down with the firm’s key stakeholders to determine where the shortcomings were with their current reporting platform and what additional features they would need to become successful.
In this detailed assessment and requirements-gathering process, we established that the firm preferred for the new platform to leverage Microsoft data visualization technologies as much as possible, used SharePoint 2013 as the application technology, and minimized the use of custom components.
Specifically, the business users needed to have a reporting platform that provided configurability in three main areas: usability, look and feel, and analysis. In terms of usability, the firm needed a reporting platform that would allow for page-level filtering, interactive charting and tabular components, the ability to export and print the dashboards in multiple output formats, and the ability to drill-down in charts and drill-through reports to sub-reports, as well as allow for mobile access to report pages.
As for “look and feel”, the firm wanted an aesthetically configurable platform that would allow for a consistent look across multiple pages types like landing pages, dashboards and tabular reports.
The last main categorical requirement was analytics. The business wanted the ability to display metrics and trends in their data and then show that information to a variety of users in different formats depending on level and use requirements. For instance, management only needed to see high-level, interactive charts; while analysts needed the ability to show tables and metrics, and dig deeper for ad-hoc analysis.
As a team we reviewed and suggested a variety of options for the client, ultimately guiding them to SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), as it had the most robust configuration and customization options amongst the platforms available.
This type of engagement required a full team of report developers, a BI architect, two SharePoint developers, a technical business analyst consultant, and a dedicated project manager. The client’s roles utilized during this engagement consisted of providing ETL specification design and documentation, business analysts for the reports and dashboards, UAT testers and approvers, SSAS cube developers, SharePoint portal technical owners, infrastructure technical owners, DBA support teams, as well as project managers on existing work streams relating to the work streams above. With an undertaking of this scale, it was essential that there was full collaboration between West Monroe Partners and the individuals involved on the client’s side of the engagement.
Once the teams were assembled, the migration process of the existing financial reports from the current platform to SSRS could begin. This involved full documentation and analysis of the existing environments including security, user roles, and report requirements. This documentation needed expertise on the functional capabilities of SSRS as well as a thorough understanding of the needs of the business users; requiring a joint effort of the report developers at West Monroe Partners and the architects and business users at the client. Due to the Advanced Analytics team’s deep technical knowledge in SSRS and query optimization, many enhancements were seen in the migration in terms of report consolidation and performance.
After report requirements are fully documented, the reports goes through development, internal and external code reviews and QA, a process to deploy them to a testing platform, user acceptance testing (UAT), and re-development of any bug fixes found during UAT. Once this process is fully complete, the SharePoint developers create a page for the reports in the production portal and launch the reports out for all to use. The thoroughness of this process ensures that the business users’ reports are perfectly accurate and contain all of the components desired in each report.
The duration of a project of this scale largely depends on the number and complexity of the reports being migrated from one platform to another, the level of expertise of the development team, and the degree of communication between the consultant and the client.
Migrating to a more advanced reporting platform can feel like a massive undertaking, though the benefits enterprises can reap from implementing software that better meets their business requirements and makes their employees’ jobs easier are often worth it. By determining these needs up front with an experienced partner to guide and implement, you can reduce many of the common pains and get up and running fast and smoothly. We take great pride in doing exactly the above: delivering what the client needs by ensuring constant collaboration with the stakeholders at every step of the way, especially on an engagement of this nature.