Presenting to the right audience If you re like

Presenting to the right audience If you re like me, you need to create reports and share them with other people in the company so that they understand something about the data and then hopefully have them interpret or explain the business context to everyone else. Depending on the functional role of the person with whom you ll be sharing the results, the style of the report is sure to be different. Some people react better to a pure numbers presentation. Others respond better to a graphical view of the information, perhaps showing a trend over time or a comparative chart of performance compared with other like aspects. Reporting Services allows you to customize your information to suit the preferences of a wide variety of consumers of information. Reporting Services allows you to create traditional reports as well as free-form reports. It also allows you to create interactive reports that can drill into more detail by linking directly to another report. If you re making a presentation to the board of directors or perhaps creating a list of To Do s for yourself, knowing your audience helps you define the best style and format for your report. Offering the right content and design When somebody walks up to me at the copy machine and asks me, What is this report that Accounting sent me last week supposed to be telling me? , I usually wonder about two things. First, is this guy testing me with something that I m supposed to be able to pick up quickly? Then, after rapidly scanning the information and concluding that it is not a test, I m usually shocked by how poorly organized the information in the report actually is. Finally, I have to shrug my shoulders and confess that I am just as confused as he is. The moral of this story is that many bad reports are out there! Reporting can be improved by taking advantage of features that present the right information clearly so that you have no question about the right interpretation. A report with the right content and design is easy to understand by ordinary people like you and me. Designing a report so that the content is easy to figure out can be a challenge. For example, it s difficult right off the bat to interview a business professional and puzzle out from the interview all of his or her reporting needs. Even if the interview session goes well, determining what reports are best for his or her purposes and perspectives is difficult. To do a great job at this, you need to have an understanding of all the information coming from the key data sources within the organization. Therefore, good information content in a report requires that you have a holistic understanding of a great many aspects about the business and its operational data assets. Chapter 1: Getting Familiar with Reporting Services 13

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Having access to historical information via the Web

Another benefit of reporting the right information is that the report should be actionable. That is, the best reports show the type of information that you (or anybody else equally intelligent) would use to make an immediate decision. This could take the form of an exception report that shows business events that require immediate attention. Or it could be a chart illustrating that the inventory levels of a certain raw material compared with component sales indicate that a reorder needs to take place immediately. Whether a decision can be made based on the information presented in a report is an important criteria in the value of that report. It also is a guiding principle when determining what information belongs on a report. Microsoft Reporting Services allows you to report information from nearly every type of data source you can find from a legacy system to a spreadsheet to relational databases and even OLAP (online analytical processing) databases. Within a report, Reporting Services allows you to report from multiple data sources in order to provide the right information in the report. It provides access to the data sources essential to presenting the right information. Using the right medium The medium is the message, advertisers tell me. The messages or information that you deliver in a report should be versatile enough to allow viewing from virtually any media. The choice of media appropriate to the report depends mostly on the type of action that the report should evoke. For example, if the report needs to be easily accessible and represents a key variable of the business, the report needs to be shared in many contexts. This type of report should be available on the Web and available to all relevant business users for collaboration. If the report is part of a regular briefing, is reviewed with many other such reports, and might need to be referenced intermittently, it might be best to print the report to include in a book of reports for review. If the report needs to be sent to a person in the field for immediate action, it should be available on a PDA in electronic form. If the report will be subject to further analysis by a financial person, creating the report in an Excel spreadsheet might be best. Guess what? Reporting Services provides you with the capability to produce reports on the Web and to export them into a number of formats such as PDF and Excel. Reporting Services also allows you to print the report as well as to distribute reports via e-mail or even integrate your reports within your company intranet. You can also embed Web-based reports within business applications or information portals, such as a corporate intranet. You should know the context for a given report and make it accessible in the best manner to enhance the productivity of the business consumer of that report. 12 Part I: Just the Basics

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Having access to historical information via the Web

Having access to historical information via the Web provides perspective to the information so that trends can be identified. Even beyond this, you can mine the historical information for predictive modeling purposes to help see into the future, based upon assumptions related to the key factors or drivers of the business. The next challenge for reporting tools is automation. Reporting capabilities have traditionally been defined by the IT department. IT is constantly challenged with having to retrieve information from multiple data sources and delivering reports with a variety of tools. Being able to automate the integration of data sources and the production of reports so that information is pushed to business people in the form of reports and alerts enables knowledge workers to be more proactive. Alerting reports can also be produced when key operational metrics look to be out of whack, indicating that a situation needs attention again, a proactive, enabling capability. You ll get a chance to see how Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services rises to these challenges and provides some excellent reporting capabilities. The great feature about Reporting Services is that it is an extension of the SQL Server database management system. As such, if you have an SQL Server license, you have Reporting Services. Mastering Reporting Principles Have you ever wondered why some reports are immediately understood while others lead to blank looks and questions about your competency? Reports that resonate with others generally satisfy the key principles of reporting. In this section, you get the chance to explore the key principles to follow to create good reports. Presenting the right information The first good reporting principle is presenting the right information. The right information can be current or historical, subtotal amounts by category, running totals by reporting group, trend lines sales over time, or just vertical bars showing how your product sales ended last quarter. The right information depends on the nature of the business question that you re trying to answer. In order to be right, the information should be timely for the question being asked, as accurate as the business process allows, as relevant to the business question as possible, and also consistent with information from multiple functional areas (such as finance, sales, and operations) in the company. The report should also provide some additional insight into the situation. Chapter 1: Getting Familiar with Reporting Services 11

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Chapter 1 Getting Familiar with Reporting Services In

In this chapter, I provide an overview of reporting in the business world so that you have some perspective. I then show how Microsoft Reporting Services meets the challenges and provides a great way of doing reports. You ll be surprised what capabilities Microsoft has packed into this extension of SQL Server 2005. Dealing with Reporting Challenges A good reporting tool must address many challenges, based on the need for versatility, accessibility, and automation. Versatility is important because of the great diversity of applications in business today that require reports in many forms. Accessibility is important because information is more frequently utilized in a business process if you can get to it easily. Finally, automation is important because access to key reports on demand at a moment s notice can greatly speed business processes that are dependent on the information. The first challenge is versatility. For a reporting tool to do just the basics for you, it needs to wear a lot of different hats. The reporting tool must be able to handle both standard reports (regular weekly reports that are core to your business) as well as ad hoc (where you construct a report on the fly to answer a new question) reporting and analysis. The reporting tool also needs to span a multitude of data sources and data formats in a variety of database management systems (DBMSes for short). Today, companies focus on driving the business as it is today, as opposed to investigating historical information, so being able to put key performance indicators on a dashboard that allows for drilling down into more detail enables this forward-looking ability. Finally, the ability to be able to develop a generalized report with dynamic filtering can serve multiple purposes and thereby reduce the total number of reports required to support the enterprise reporting needs. The next challenge for reporting tools is accessibility. Today, information technology (IT) departments respond to requests from various business groups. IT typically experiences large backlogs and might have some dissatisfied users as a result. Also, some reporting tools are used to distribute information predominantly on paper. Providing self-service and Web-based reporting capabilities, in which business users can go to a Web site to get the information they need, does two things: Information is delivered when it is needed (if the data is available). IT is freed to do more value-added activities. Report information can also be provided on an extranet site to service partners and suppliers. 10 Part I: Just the Basics

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Chapter 1 Getting Familiar with Reporting Services In

Chapter 1 Getting Familiar with Reporting Services In This Chapter Finding out what reporting is all about Facing reporting challenges Mastering reporting principles Checking out the major features of Reporting Services Accessing and viewing a report Corporate data is growing at an extremely fast clip, meaning that more data is collected about business events and business transactions than ever before. It has been noted that data storage capacity of every company of every type doubles every 12 months. This data is stored in a great variety of formats databases, spreadsheets, files, and documents. And as a direct consequence of this infinite variety, there s never very much uniformity to the data, so it often just sits in locations, never to be examined with any real efficiency. The challenge in business today is to tap into this data that s just sitting around idle in an organization and then transform it into information and eventually into the kind of knowledge that can result in a competitive advantage. This transformation needs to evolve in baby steps. The first step is to identify what kind of data exists and where it resides. The next step is to create reports from this information. A report is basically a simple document that can present numbers, text, and/or graphical information. Reports are necessary to combine information from various data sources and present that information in a coherent manner to business people. This information enables us to understand what is happening in some aspect of the business and can even (hopefully) enable us to make decisions based on this information.

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Part I Just the Basics

In this part . . . To make life easier, Microsoft has built in some powerful features to create reports useful for transforming data into information. I provide an overview of the reporting principles and challenges and then introduce you to the key features of Microsoft Reporting Services 2005. I also show you some basic features of the SQL Server 2005 database that will help you access databases for the reports you want to build. I demonstrate how to get a basic report up and running with data just waiting to be tapped for a database. Microsoft Reporting Services 2005 may seem confusing at first with functionality that is unlike other reporting tools. But after you build your first report, you ll have a clearer understanding of the features and functions available to produce very robust reports.

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