While self-service BI tools have transformed data analysis by speeding up report generation, they also introduce complex issues: How can organizations manage the increasing volume of reports from various tools and maintain a unified source of truth? How do decision-makers integrate reports from different departments? These questions highlight underlying concerns related to BI governance, data security, and data ownership.

As Bernard Marr points out in his Forbes article, the lack of centralized oversight can lead to fragmented understandings and interpretations. This fragmentation from self-service analytics can cause organizations to overlook essential insights, misinterpret data, or make erroneous analyses.

Embracing Standardization, Integration, and Personalization

To encourage meaningful discussions at leadership meetings, it is essential to standardize core management reports. According to a study published in the Journal of Big Data, organizations that operationalize data governance gain a competitive advantage. For instance, the collaborative project with the World Health Organization for managing and analyzing data about Neglected Tropical Diseases demonstrates the practical application of data governance.

Organizations need to adopt an integrated approach to report governance to fully capitalize on self-service analytics. A unified platform that allows both business users and decision-makers to access and organize content from various reporting and document management systems is essential. Such a platform should also provide customizable catalogs tailored to specific functional, business process, or organizational needs, enabling effortless access to actionable insights.

Addressing the Reporting Chaos

If your organization is overwhelmed by a flood of reports and struggles with governance and maintaining a cohesive reporting landscape, it is time to act. Many enterprises are successfully regaining control over their reporting landscapes without sacrificing the advantages of Self-Service BI.

Explore solutions that enable effective navigation of this report chaos, such as the ZenOptics platform, which allows business users and decision-makers to access and organize content from disparate reporting and document management systems into intuitive, personalized, and decision-focused views. It enables productivity, manageability, collaboration, and governance through a single interface and provides users with direct access to all analytics assets. These include reports, dashboards, spreadsheets, applications, and data.

You can learn more about this platform by contacting ZenOptics today.

Are scattered reports, outdated dashboards, or version confusion in BI holding you back? These common challenges plague even the most data and analytics-driven insurance organizations. Join Mike Lamble of PremiumIQ and Saurbh Khera, CEO of ZenOptics as they discuss these challenges and present transformative solutions to address them.

In this webinar, “Delivering Data Analytics” author Nick Kelly and ZenOptics CEO Saurbh Khera discuss the importance of establishing a user-centric analytics mindset and how to create an analytics environment for sustained use and engagement

This article was originally published as part of the Forbes Business Council.

I recently found my way out of an escape room for the first time and underestimated how powerful an experience it would be. If you’re not familiar, an escape room is an interactive event where you pay to be locked in a room. To escape, you must solve a series of puzzles and challenges within an allotted time. These rooms have gained popularity in recent years, with over 2,000 in the U.S. alone, and it’s easy to see why. The experience forces you to think in new ways, be creative and work as a team to quickly get a result: a key to unlock the room.

As my team solved the final clue, it dawned on me that many companies spend their entire day in an “enterprise escape room,” searching for information (making sense of reports), wasting precious time going down the wrong path (accessing inaccurate, incomplete or outdated data), and suffering from a lack of coordination. Not only is this frustrating, but also it’s morale-busting for teams across the enterprise. Instead of using the power of analytics to boost business impact, employees often stop using business intelligence platforms and analytics tools altogether. In fact, 97% of data leaders report that ignoring data has had significant consequences for their business—from missed revenue opportunities and bad investments to subpar performance forecasting.

However, spending on data and analytics solutions is expected to reach $274 billion this year as enterprises seek ways to make better, faster decisions. This investment, coupled with a chaotic reporting environment, is like being trapped without an escape in sight—you have the best minds in the room and all the tools at your disposal, but your teams just can’t break through the complexity to drive results.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. By applying the same strategies used in an escape room to the consumption of analytics, enterprises can find a logical way to reduce report clutter and turn complexity into collaboration.

Lessons Learned From A Great Escape

Think Simple

If you can’t find a simple answer in an escape room, it’s likely because all of the information you need hasn’t been revealed. With the average employee spending 3.6 hours per day searching for information, employees can struggle to find what they need to move forward. You can help your employees quickly discover various reports, dashboards, spreadsheets and PDFs to expedite productivity by consolidating information and simplifying access to insights.

One way to do this is with an analytics catalog. (Full disclosure: My company has created an analytics catalog, but there are a number of other options on the market.) An analytics catalog helps enterprises simplify how tools and assets are accessed and used. This approach simplifies the user interface, giving more employees the analytics access they need.

When implementing an analytics catalog, I recommend starting small by focusing on a specific team or function. Understand the tools and reports they use most frequently and optimize that experience. Just by going through this exercise, you’ll learn who needs access and how they use the tools and assets.

An alternative to having an analytics catalog is taking a systematic, centralized approach to how all analytics assets are stored, tagged with relevant metadata, shared and accessed. This is often referred to as a data inventory or data map. Taking this approach allows a company to establish oversight authority, define the categorization, catalog the assets, run quality checks and manage access. One of the main objectives is removing duplicate or outdated assets and making it quick and simple for employees to find what they’re looking for. This requires clear ownership of the various assets, governance and a consistent approach to how assets are organized. To fully use the BI tools, you need tight integration and a seamless user experience. While this manual approach takes the right resources and focus, it can be done.

Divide And Conquer

When you enter an escape room, it seems like everything is a clue. The trick is to divide and conquer by assigning each team member a section so they can analyze what’s in front of them and share details as they arise. This approach applies to enterprises as well, and when you streamline your analytics consumption, you can empower employees to share assets across teams easily. By zeroing in on a valuable source of truth, users from marketing and sales to product development and beyond can easily find relevant reports to simplify analytics work and decision making.

Organize Your Assets To Make Quick Decisions

To escape, you need to think ahead to plan your next move wisely. The same is true at the enterprise level, so make sure you arm your employees with the right insights to empower them to quickly and confidently make decisions that can significantly impact operations. When you house all of your BI and analytics assets in one place, employees gain visibility across the entire ecosystem. The result? The ability to personalize an experience that is not constrained by the tool generating reports but rather in the context of work that needs to be done.

Communicate And Collaborate

Communication is crucial for moving forward, and collaboration between players makes an escape obtainable. Encourage your team members to share information, focus on what’s preventing you from moving forward, and call out flags or newly discovered insights. This is invaluable for both succeeding in escape rooms and propelling business outcomes.

At the end of the day, agile businesses enable their employees to focus on problem solving, using their skillsets and accomplishing tasks. To gain a competitive advantage and foster a positive employee experience, it’s time for businesses to break free from cumbersome reporting processes in favor of efficiency, consistency and transparency. And while the odds of solving an escape room are only around 41%, overcoming analytics complexity is a sure-fire solution.

Read the article on Forbes.com

Key Takeaways

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com as part of the Forbes Business Council.

Have you ever stopped to think about how much time your organization spends on reporting? Financials, sales, marketing—you name it, we report it. This isn’t to suggest that these reports aren’t critical in running a successful business; they most certainly are.

But it’s become unwieldy for many companies with massive amounts of data, dozens of tools and reporting applications, even spreadsheets—and with so many parts of the organization accessing reports. This is the challenge my team and I face with our clients every day and why we’ve introduced an analytics catalog to bring analytics to the masses.

When it comes down to it, many individuals or teams need regular access to a specific set of reports and insights, not every report the company produces. So, by simply removing the unnecessary reports, you can significantly reduce the amount of time spent searching for and verifying analytics assets.

That’s a simple example, but the challenges are much more profound—rooted in decades of the status quo with little innovation or cultural change in reporting. As businesses embrace a self-service model for employees, the key is to make it quick and straightforward to access the data and insights needed to perform their job. Many businesses have turned to using analytics catalogs to organize their data.

Here are some of the benefits of using an analytics catalog:

1. Speed: Businesses need to move faster, and having employees spend time searching for reports is a waste. Employees will often resort to (re)creating reports they need because it’s too difficult to find what they need. In 2020, teams spent 13% of their time on work that’s already been completed, up from 10% the previous year. As a result, employees are losing 236 hours to duplication of efforts a year. Having an analytics catalog can eliminate this wasted time.

2. Trust: Even when employees have access to the reports they need, there’s a lingering concern about the accuracy of the data, whether it’s the most recent report and if the numbers have been validated. Without a way of managing and verifying reports, you can’t be sure of the accuracy, which significantly impacts trust. With proper reporting and an analytics catalog, employees can be confident in their daily decisions.

3. Growth: Businesses depend on analytics, insights and accurate data to make critical business decisions. Without the ability to consistently make data-driven decisions, businesses will be challenged to grow at the pace of the industry. Business leaders are starting to realize that the ability to analyze data and extract insights significantly influences the company’s ability to grow.

Best Practices

Once you’ve found the right analytics catalog that meets your business needs, as the CEO of an intelligent analytics catalog company, I suggest to get to work controlling report sprawl by keeping these best practices in mind.

Encourage company-wide usage.

Decentralized data can cause an array of issues, including exposure to breaches, compliance challenges and lagging performance. Rather than limiting users, increasing usage with a single, unified view ensures that your teams are accessing the most reliable data easily and that any compliance issues, like personally identifiable information (PII), can be quickly identified. Provide regular demos and training to accelerate adoption and teamwide buy-in.

Champion better organization.

To foster agility, organize your analytics assets with tags and companywide naming conventions to increase consumability. Consider looking for a catalog that features built-in recommendations, as this can make it easy for your employees to find the most recent reports relevant to their department that have been verified for quality. Identify redundancies by relying on algorithms to flag similar or duplicate reports based on metadata.

Take discoverability to the next level.

Leverage the power of intelligence and automation to drive consumption. Take advantage of keyword search capabilities and metadata to streamline access to reports and ensure that your teams are using the tools your organization is paying for—and accessing reports that will expedite decision making.

Make use of all that data.

Use the data at your fingertips to understand who is viewing each report, discover the types of reports being generated and whether they are certified, and identify any potential gaps in your analytics program to drive performance improvements. Understand how data is being used by your teams—from IT and finance to marketing, sales and beyond—to make use of what’s relevant and stop wasting time on what isn’t.

Prepare for the road ahead.

Rather than becoming yet another tool in your company’s toolbox, it’s critical to anticipate any adoption challenges and validate the inherent value of an analytics catalog across your organization. Having the right people and roles in place to maintain your analytics assets is a critical component of effective usage.

Consider developing a role (a great opportunity to upskill existing staff) to streamline both the adoption and continued use of the analytics catalog—both from a technical and business point of view. Along with regular management of the platform, this analytics-focused role can be responsible for bridging the gap between business outcomes and increasing consumption across all business units.

An analytics catalog is a business-friendly way to increase access to reports and drive performance. By getting report sprawl under control, businesses across all industries can be poised to move faster, build greater trust and grow exponentially. Along with increased visibility, reduced noise and complexity, and streamlined access, analytics catalogs bring context and cohesion to disparate tools and resources.

With a catalog, analytics consumers can gain access to cross-platform assets with inherited security permissions and the assurance that the assets are governed and organized to flow through prescribed paths for usability. And, that’s reporting done right.

See the full article.

Key Takeaways

Over the past decade, the world of analytics has changed dramatically. What started out as an IT-driven effort to embrace the bundled reporting tools ERP solutions provided quickly morphed into a revolution – first with business intelligence tools and then with self-service analytics. New tools emerged like Business Objects and Cognos followed by Qlik, Tableau, and Power BI, each with the intention of putting the power of data into the hands of the business user. Decision makers were empowered to adopt the specialized tool that best met their needs. And adoption spread like wildfire.

But as business users embraced this new world of self-service reports, dashboards, and visualizations, challenges emerged. Organizations found they were using multiple BI tools across their enterprise. Reports became siloed, which added to the legacy and redundancy challenges. Analytics assets such as reports, dashboards, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and PDFs proliferated, with multiple versions living in multiple places, using data from many, often inconsistent, sources. Costs increased as more and more users came on board. And users found themselves debating decisions because they didn’t know which version of the report they based the decision on was actually correct.

The challenges spread to IT departments as well. The teams that brought in these various tools needed IT’s help managing their output. But without intimate knowledge of the tools or their outputs, being the custodian of these tools was difficult at best. In an attempt to manage the myriad of analytics assets that sprung up from every tool that came their way, many IT departments began to custom-develop “portals” to help catalog which assets lived in which systems. But these rudimentary efforts were difficult to use and time-consuming to manage and maintain, with all of the other priorities in the business.

As challenges mounted, organizations knew there must be a better way to manage the BI and analytics chaos across their organization. And with organizations feeling pressured to increase the value of the thousands of reports and supporting assets they created, time was of the essence.

But how could organizations make sense of this convoluted analytics landscape of specialized tools, embedded analytics, and Excel reports?  Unlike their data and IT colleagues, these new analytics consumers live in processes – not data. They consume data in the form of reports. Or dashboards. Or visualizations. They need these analytics assets to make informed decisions, in the context of the process. And it’s critical that they feel confident that the report they are using is accurate and appropriate.

To overcome these challenges, many organizations implemented data governance and data catalogs. But these are tools for the consumers of data, including analysts and data scientists. Not those that are steeped in analytics. And while effective at cataloging data at the lowest level, governed data doesn’t matter if the report itself is incomplete, outdated, or simply inconsumable. Said differently, governed data and data catalogs alone do not address the real issue at hand: how can decision-makers consume reports in an experience designed with the analytics consumer in mind?

Decision-makers need a simple, business-friendly way to easily know which report is the one they need for the task at hand. A way to clear out the noise caused by multiple, similar versions of reports that all pull data from different, disparate sources and systems. They need visibility into where their report is coming from, so they can confidently narrow down their options to find the one they need to make critical business decisions. They need an analytics catalog. An analytics catalog helps business users access the analytics assets available across their enterprise. It provides color and context around the report so that they know they can use it to make business decisions. Without an analytics catalog and a simple unified view to take advantage of all of the analytics assets they’ve created, organizations will continuously find themselves with the inefficient report sprawl they face today. What started out as a small nucleus of core, well-defined reports inevitably morphs into a proliferation of analytics assets that are similar, yet not quite the same. They may use different data sources. Or have the same name, but use different underlying data. Or may simply be multiple versions of the same report created at different points in time.

Using an analytics catalog, analytics consumers can discover the analytics assets that best meet their needs, within an experience designed for them. They can clear the noise caused by the previous month’s reports that should have been purged (but weren’t) and old reports that are no longer accurate (or relevant). And they can access important insights from systems that were historically difficult to access or even unknown. The result is greater transparency into a shortlist of reports that business users can confidently use to make critical business decisions.

ZenOptics recognizes the challenges that the proliferation of analytics assets has caused for decision-makers and, ultimately, organizations as a whole. That’s why we developed an analytics catalog that provides a single, authoritative source for enterprise analytics assets. We use advanced integration technologies along with machine learning and AI to create an analytics catalog that brings cross-platform analytics assets together in a single interface to bridge the last mile from insights to decisions. The results? IT no longer needs to create custom “portals” to solve this challenge. And analytics consumers gain access to cross-platform analytics assets with inherited security permissions;  assurance that these assets are governed and organized to flow through prescribed paths for usability; and an accelerated, consistent, efficient, and confident decision-making process.

To learn more, watch our webcast entitled ”The Value of an Analytics Catalogue in a Data-Driven Enterprise.”

Written by ZenOptics CEO + Co-Founder Saurbh Khera